Out of all the wars that the world has gone through, none has been more devastating as world war II. But what caused this war? Well, world war II had six major causes: anger over the Versailles Treaty, the failure of peace efforts after world war I, the rise of Fascism, the goals of Hitler, the isolationism by America and Britain, and the re-armament of Europe. This paper will go over each of these causes individually and then draw some conclusions about world war II.
The first cause of world war II was the intense anger over the Versailles Treaty. Germany was very angry over two things and the first of which was the many territorial losses they had to endure as a result of the treaty. They lost two cities on the French-German border and as per Wilson’s thirteenth point Poland was re-formed with access to the Baltic Sea, which went right through Germany. Giving Poland Sea access split Germany into two parts, the main part of Germany, and a small portion to the North of the Danzig corridor. The Danzig corridor really inflamed Germany for many years, but they really could not do anything about the situation because they lost world war I. Another country that was angry over the Versailles Treaty was Italy. They were angry because they thought that the land that they had received as a payment for their participation in the Allied effort against Germany did not offset the cost of the war, nor did it satisfy their ambitions to grow. The final country that was angry over the Versailles Treaty was Japan. They were also a victor over Germany and they wanted to gain control over China as reward for their participation in the war. This, however, did not happen and they were angry over the situation.
The second cause of world war II was the failure of the many peace efforts that occurred after world war I. The League of Nations, which was one of Wilson’s fourteen points and part of the Versailles Treaty, was a forum in which nations could settle their disputes with one another. The problem was that the League did not have any real power. The only thing it could do was try to persuade the offending nation to concede and if that did not work out they could impose economic sanctions on that country. But the league had so little power that the sanctions it passed were normally ignored and it could do nothing from that point on. Another failed peace effort was the Washington Conference. At this conference the principal naval powers agreed to limit their navies according to a fixed ratio. But again none of the powers really went through with their agreement. Yet another failed peace effort was the Locarno Conference. This conference produced a treaty between France and Germany stating that the border between the two countries was guaranteed. However, we know that this treaty failed because Germany invaded France during world war II. The final failed peace effort was the Paris Peace Act. At this conference all of the major countries, excluding Russia, and many smaller countries agreed that war was not a national policy and stated that they would try to resolve problems through diplomatic means. The only way that war was acceptable in this act was by means of self-defense. These did not directly cause world war II, but they made it possible by their obvious lack of power. Countries still did not trust each other enough to follow through with the good ideas that they had.
The third cause of world war II was the rise of Fascism. Fascism was a movement that began before world war I, but did not become a serious political power until Benito Mussolini took control of the Italian government in 1922. Under Mussolini Italy became a Totalitarian government where labor unions were abolished and political opponents were killed or silenced. This caused many things to happen to Italy’s social and economic problems. The first of these problems was the lowered living standard of the Italian people. The people lost their eight hour work day protection and their wages were lowered by the government. Mussolini acknowledged that the living standard had gone down, but explained it by saying that the Italian people were not used to eating much anyway, so they would not feel the lack of food as badly as others. Another thing the Fascist government caused was an increased birthrate in Italy. Mussolini wanted women to have more children so that he could create a larger army in the future. In this way he felt that he could have a large army by the time he was ready to go to war for more land. Mussolini used tactics much like the communists in that he had total control over all of the Italian population and could have people killed whenever he wanted. Italy, however, was not the only country to fall under Fascism. Germany adopted this form of government only it was called national socialism. It’s leader was Adolf Hitler and it called itself the Nazi party. The Nazi party differed slightly from Mussolini’s government in that the Nazi’s were more racist and believed that it was their destiny to make the world subject to the perfect German people. They were particularly hateful to the Jewish people, which was proven after they started to exterminate all of the Jews within central Europe after world war II started. These events did not directly cause world war II, but they brought us to the brink of war. People that listened to these dictators believed that these men could bring them to world domination.
The fourth cause of world war II was the goal’s of the German dictator, Hitler. He had a vision of the German people becoming a master race and dominating the entire world, but he also knew that he could not achieve all this during the war he intended to start. He, however, had two major goals which was to bring all of central Europe together and form a larger Germany and to create more room for Germany to grow by taking over Poland. His first move was to test the other European powers by inserting troops into Germany’s coal mining area next to France. This was forbidden by the Treaty of Versailles and Hitler wanted to see how far he could push his adversaries before they would strike back. If Britain had not been so passive to Hitler they might have stopped this war before it ever started. They, however, allowed Hitler to do this because they did not want to start another war. Hitler then pushed the European powers further and further until he invaded Poland and Europe had no choice but to react.
The fifth cause of world war II was American and British isolationism. After world war I America turned away from Europe and went back to its domestic problems. The American people did not want anything to do with European affairs because many of the debts that were accrued during the war were not being paid and Americans were very bitter. Britain also turned to its domestic problems and did not want to interfere in Continental Europe’s problems. If one or both of these countries had attempted to stop Hitler when he first came into power he probably would have been thrown out of office and world war II might have been prevented.
The final cause of world war II was a direct result from all of the previous causes, and that is the rearmament of all the European powers. Tensions started to increase as Hitler tested the European powers and most if not all countries began to increase their armies and navies. This brought war closer because it meant that the government leaders were prepared to use force to resolve the problems that Hitler was causing, and it raised tensions even higher than they already were.
In conclusion, world war II was not an extension of world war I, but world war I was a big cause of world war II. Most of the causes of world war II came out of the Treaty of Versailles, and if that treaty had been better there might not have been world war II. Nevertheless, world war II happened and we can only learn from the mistakes we see from the past.
Filed Under: History, World War 2 (WW2)
Some long-term causes of World War II are found in the conditions preceding World War I and seen as common for both World Wars. Supporters of this view paraphrase Carl von Clausewitz: World War II was a continuation of World War I by the same means. In fact, World Wars had been expected before Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler came to power and Japan invaded China.
Among the causes of World War II were Italian fascism in the 1920s, Japanese militarism and invasions of China in the 1930s, and especially the political takeover in 1933 of Germany by Hitler and his Nazi Party and its aggressive foreign policy. The immediate cause was Britain and France declaring war on Germany after it invaded Poland in September 1939.
Problems arose in Weimar Germany that experienced strong currents of revanchism after the Treaty of Versailles that concluded its defeat in World War I in 1918. Dissatisfactions of treaty provisions included the demilitarization of the Rhineland, the prohibition of unification with Austria (including the Sudetenland) and the loss of German-speaking territories such as Danzig and Eupen-Malmedy despite Wilson's Fourteen Points, the limitations on the Reichswehr making it a token military force, the war-guilt clause, and last but not least the heavy tribute that Germany had to pay in the form of war reparations, which became an unbearable burden after the Great Depression. The most serious internal cause in Germany was the instability of the political system, as large sectors of politically active Germans rejected the legitimacy of the Weimar Republic.
After his rise and take-over of power in 1933 to a large part based on these grievances, Adolf Hitler and the Nazis heavily promoted them and also ideas of vastly ambitious additional demands based on Nazi ideology, such as uniting all Germans (and further all Germanic peoples) in Europe in a single nation; the acquisition of "living space" (Lebensraum) for primarily agrarian settlers (Blut und Boden), creating a "pull towards the East" (Drang nach Osten) where such territories were to be found and colonized, in a model that the Nazis explicitly derived from the American Manifest Destiny in the Far West and its clearing of native inhabitants; the elimination of Bolshevism; and the hegemony of an "Aryan"/"Nordic" so-called Master Race over the "sub-humans" (Untermenschen) of inferior races, chief among them Slavs and Jews.
Tensions created by those ideologies and the dissatisfactions of those powers with the interwar international order steadily increased. Italy laid claim on Ethiopia and conquered it in 1935, Japan created a puppet state in Manchuria in 1931 and expanded beyond in China from 1937, and Germany systematically flouted the Versailles treaty, reintroducing conscription in 1935 with the Stresa Front's failure after having secretly started re-armament, remilitarizing the Rhineland in 1936, annexing Austria in March 1938, and the Sudetenland in October 1938.
All those aggressive moves met only feeble and ineffectual policies of appeasement from the League of Nations and the Entente Cordiale, in retrospect symbolized by the "peace for our time" speech following the Munich Conference, that had allowed the annexation of the Sudeten from interwar Czechoslovakia. When the German Führer broke the promise he had made at that conference to respect that country's future territorial integrity in March 1939 by sending troops into Prague, its capital, breaking off Slovakia as a German client state, and absorbing the rest of it as the "Protectorate of Bohemia-Moravia", Britain and France tried to switch to a policy of deterrence.
As Nazi attentions turned towards resolving the "Polish Corridor Question" during the summer of 1939, Britain and France committed themselves to an alliance with Poland, threatening Germany with a two-front war. On their side, the Germans assured themselves of the support of the USSR by signing a non-aggression pact with them in August, secretly dividing Eastern Europe into Nazi and Soviet spheres of influence.
The stage was then set for the Danzig crisis to become the immediate trigger of the war in Europe started on 1 September 1939. Following the Fall of France in June 1940, the Vichy regime signed an armistice, which tempted the Empire of Japan to join the Axis powers and invade French Indochina to improve their military situation in their war with China. This provoked the then neutral United States to respond with an embargo. The Japanese leadership, whose goal was Japanese domination of the Asia-Pacific, thought they had no option but to pre-emptively strike at the US Pacific fleet, which they did by attacking Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941.
Meanwhile, the Axis in Europe had brought the Soviet Union into the war as an active belligerent by attacking eastwards in Operation Barbarossa (June 1941).
Main article: Anti-communism
The internationalist-minded, radical Bolsheviksseized power in Russia in November 1917, with the goal of overthrowing capitalism across the world. They supported communist parties in many countries and helped set up similar regimes in Hungary and Bavaria, Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia. By 1920 there was a corridor of anti-communist border states just west of Russia. However, these states feuded among themselves, and such alliances they formed, like the Little Entente, were unstable.
Italian and German fascism were in part a reaction to international communist and socialist uprisings, in conjunction with nationalist fears of a Slavic empire. A further factor in Germany was the success of Freikorps (voluntary paramilitary groups of World War I veterans) in crushing the Bolshevik Bavarian Soviet Republic in Munich in 1919. Many of these veterans became early components of the Nazis' SA ("Stormtroopers"), which would be the party's troops in the street warfare with the communist paramilitary Roter Frontkämpferbund in the decade before 1933. The street violence would help shift moderate opinion towards the need for Germany to find an anti-communist strongman to restore stability to German life.
Expansionism is the doctrine of expanding the territorial base (or economic influence) of a country, usually by means of military aggression. In Europe, Italy under Benito Mussolini sought to create a New Roman Empire based around the Mediterranean. It invaded Albania in early 1939, at the start of the war, and later invaded Greece. Italy had also invaded Ethiopia as early as 1935. This provoked angry words and an oil embargo from the League of Nations, which failed.
Under the Nazi regime, Germany began its own program of expansion, seeking to restore the "rightful" boundaries of historic Germany. As a prelude toward these goals the Rhineland was remilitarized in March 1936.
Also, of importance was the idea of a Greater Germany, supporters hoped to unite the German people under one nation state, which included all territories where Germans lived, regardless of whether they happened to be a minority in a particular territory. After the Treaty of Versailles, a unification between Germany and a newly formed German-Austria, a successor rump state of Austria-Hungary, was prohibited by the Allies despite the majority of Austrian Germans supporting such a union.
In Asia, the Empire of Japan harbored expansionist desires towards Manchuria and Republic of China.
Main articles: Japanese militarism, Statism in Shōwa Japan, and Militarism
Militarism is the principle or policy of maintaining a large military establishment, with the view that military efficiency is the supreme ideal of a state. A highly militaristic and aggressive national ideology prevailed in Germany, Japan and Italy. This attitude fuelled military advancement and expansion as well while their revolutionary motivated background were commanding an increase in propaganda, which led to increased tensions among the Axis powers and their opponents in the run up to the war. In addition to this, the leaders of militaristic countries often feel a need to prove that their armies are important and formidable, and this was often a contributing factor in the start of conflicts, including the aggressive foreign policy of Germany (European expansionism), Italy (the Second Italo-Abyssinian War) and Japan (the Second Sino-Japanese War), which in itself is a contributing factor to the World War.
Main articles: Racial policy of Nazi Germany, Lebensraum, and Drang nach Osten
Twentieth-century events marked the culmination of a millennium-long process of intermingling between Germans and Slavs. Over the centuries, many Germans had settled in the east (examples being the Volga Germans invited to Russia by Catherine the Great, and the Ostsiedlung in medieval times). Such migratory patterns created enclaves and blurred ethnic frontiers. The rise of nationalism in the 19th century made race a centerpiece of political loyalty. The rise of the nation-state had given way to the politics of identity, including Pan-Germanism and Pan-Slavism. Furthermore, Social-Darwinist theories framed the coexistence as a "Teuton vs. Slav" struggle for domination, land and limited resources. Integrating these ideas into their own world-view, the Nazis believed that the Germans, the "Aryan race", were the master race and that the Slavs were inferior.
Interrelations and economics
Problems with the Treaty of Versailles
Main article: Treaty of Versailles
The Treaty of Versailles was neither lenient enough to appease Germany, nor harsh enough to prevent it from becoming the dominant continental power again. Germans largely saw the treaty place the blame, or "war guilt," on Germany and Austria-Hungary and punish them for their "responsibility" rather than working out an agreement that would assure long-term peace. The treaty provided for harsh monetary reparations, separated millions of ethnic Germans into neighboring countries, territorial dismemberment, and caused mass ethnic resettlement. In an effort to pay war reparations to Britain and France, the Weimar Republic printed trillions of marks, causing extremely high inflation of the German currency (see Hyperinflation in the Weimar Republic).
The treaty created bitter resentment towards the victors of World War I, who had promised the people of Germany that U.S. President Woodrow Wilson's Fourteen Points would be a guideline for peace; however, the US played a minor role in World War I and Wilson could not convince the Allies to agree to adopt his Fourteen Points. Many Germans felt that the German government had agreed to an armistice based on this understanding, while others felt that the German Revolution of 1918–1919 had been orchestrated by the "November criminals" who later assumed office in the new Weimar Republic.
The German colonies were taken during the war, and Italy took the southern half of Tyrol after an armistice had been agreed upon. The war in the east ended with the defeat and collapse of Russian Empire, and German troops occupied large parts of Eastern and Central Europe (with varying degree of control), establishing various client states such as a kingdom of Poland and the United Baltic Duchy. After the destructive and indecisive battle of Jutland (1916) and the mutiny of its sailors in 1917, the Kaiserliche Marine spent most of the war in port, only to be turned over to the allies and scuttled at surrender by its own officers. The lack of an obvious military defeat was one of the pillars that held together the Dolchstosslegende ("Stab-in-the-back myth") and gave the Nazis another propaganda tool at their disposal.
French security demands
French security demands, such as reparations, coal payments, and a demilitarized Rhineland, took precedence at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919 and shaped the Treaty of Versailles by severely punishing Germany; however, Austria found the treaty to be unjust which encouraged Hitler's popularity. Ginsberg argues, "France was greatly weakened and, in its weakness and fear of a resurgent Germany, sought to isolate and punish Germany....French revenge would come back to haunt France during the Nazi invasion and occupation twenty years later."
Paris Peace Conference (1919)
As World War I ended in 1918, France, along with the other victor countries, were in a desperate situation regarding their economies, security, and morale. The Paris Peace Conference of 1919 was their chance to punish Germany for starting the war. The war "must be someone's fault – and that's a very natural human reaction" analyzed historian Margaret MacMillan. Germany was charged with the sole responsibility of starting World War I. The War Guilt Clause was the first step towards a satisfying revenge for the victor countries, namely France, against Germany. France understood that its position in 1918 was "artificial and transitory". Thus, Clemenceau, the French leader at the time, worked to gain French security via the Treaty of Versailles.
The two main provisions of the French security agenda were reparations from Germany in the form of money and coal and a detached German Rhineland. The French government printed excess currency, which created inflation, to compensate for the lack of funds in addition to borrowing money from the United States. Reparations from Germany were necessary to stabilize the French economy. France also demanded that Germany give France their coal supply from the Ruhr to compensate for the destruction of French coalmines during the war. Because France feared for its safety as a country, the French demanded an amount of coal that was a "technical impossibility" for the Germans to pay back. France wanted the German Rhineland demilitarized because that would hinder a German attack. This gave France a physical security barrier between itself and Germany. The inordinate amount of reparations, coal payments, and the principle of a demilitarized Rhineland were viewed by the Germans to be insulting and unreasonable.
Germany's reaction to Treaty of Versailles
"No postwar German government believed it could accept such a burden on future generations and survive ...". Paying reparations is a classic punishment of war but in this instance it was the "extreme immoderation" that caused German resentment. Germany made its last World War I reparation payment on 3 October 2010, ninety-two years after the end of World War I. Germany also fell behind in their coal payments. They fell behind because of a passive resistance movement against the French. In response, the French invaded the Ruhr, the region filled with German coal, and occupied it. At this point the majority of Germans were enraged with the French and placed the blame for their humiliation on the Weimar Republic. Adolf Hitler, a leader of the Nazi Party, attempted a coup d'état against the republic to establish a Greater German Reich known as the Beer Hall Putsch in 1923. Although this failed, Hitler gained recognition as a national hero amongst the German population. The demilitarized Rhineland and additional cutbacks on military infuriated the Germans. Although it is logical that France would want the Rhineland to be a neutral zone, the fact that France had the power to make that desire happen merely added onto the resentment of the Germans against the French. In addition, the Treaty of Versailles dissolved the German general staff and possession of navy ships, aircraft, poison gas, tanks, and heavy artillery was made illegal. The humiliation of being bossed around by the victor countries, especially France, and being stripped of their prized military made the Germans resent the Weimar Republic and idolize anyone who stood up to it.
Competition for resources and markets
Other than a few coal and iron deposits, and a small oil field on Sakhalin Island, Japan lacked strategic mineral resources. At the start of the 20th century in the Russo-Japanese War, Japan had succeeded in pushing back the East Asian expansion of the Russian Empire in competition for Korea and Manchuria.
Japan's goal after 1931 was economic dominance of most of East Asia, often expressed in Pan-Asian terms of "Asia for the Asians.". Japan was determined to dominate the China market, which the U.S. and other European powers had been dominating. On October 19, 1939, the American Ambassador to Japan, Joseph C. Grew, in a formal address to the America-Japan Society stated:
the new order in East Asia has appeared to include, among other things, depriving Americans of their long established rights in China, and to this the American people are opposed ... American rights and interests in China are being impaired or destroyed by the policies and actions of the Japanese authorities in China.
In 1937 Japan invaded Manchuria and China proper. Under the guise of the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere, with slogans as "Asia for the Asians!" Japan sought to remove the Western powers' influence in China and replace it with Japanese domination.
The ongoing conflict in China led to a deepening conflict with the U.S., where public opinion was alarmed by events such as the Nanking Massacre and growing Japanese power. Lengthy talks were held between the U.S. and Japan. When Japan moved into the southern part of French Indochina, President Roosevelt chose to freeze all Japanese assets in the U.S. The intended consequence of this was the halt of oil shipments from the U.S. to Japan, which had supplied 80 percent of Japanese oil imports. The Netherlands and Britain followed suit. With oil reserves that would last only a year and a half during peace time (much less during wartime), this ABCD line left Japan two choices: comply with the U.S.-led demand to pull out of China, or seize the oilfields in the East Indies from the Netherlands. The Japan government deemed it unacceptable to retreat from China.
Problems with the League of Nations
Main article: League of Nations
The League of Nations was an international organization founded after World War I to prevent future wars. The League's methods included disarmament; preventing war through collective security; settling disputes between countries through negotiation diplomacy; and improving global welfare. The diplomatic philosophy behind the League represented a fundamental shift in thought from the preceding century. The old philosophy of "concert of nations", growing out of the Congress of Vienna (1815), saw Europe as a shifting map of alliances among nation-states, creating a balance of power maintained by strong armies and secret agreements. Under the new philosophy, the League was a government of governments, with the role of settling disputes between individual nations in an open and legalist forum. The impetus for the founding of the League came from U.S. President Wilson, though the United States never joined. This lessened the power and credibility of the League—the addition of a burgeoning industrial and military world power would have added more force behind the League's demands and requests.
The League lacked an armed force of its own and so depended on the members to enforce its resolutions, uphold economic sanctions that the League ordered, or provide an army when needed for the League to use. However, they were often very reluctant to do so.
After numerous notable successes and some early failures in the 1920s, the League ultimately proved incapable of preventing aggression by the Axis powers in the 1930s. The reliance upon unanimous decisions, the lack of an armed force, and the continued self-interest of its leading members meant that this failure was arguably inevitable.
The Mason-Overy Debate: "The Flight into War" theory
In the late 1980s the British historian Richard Overy was involved in a historical dispute with Timothy Mason that mostly played out over the pages of the Past and Present journal over the reasons for the outbreak of World War II in 1939. Mason had contended that a "flight into war" had been imposed on Adolf Hitler by a structural economic crisis, which confronted Hitler with the choice of making difficult economic decisions or aggression. Overy argued against Mason's thesis, maintaining that though Germany was faced with economic problems in 1939, the extent of these problems cannot explain aggression against Poland and the reasons for the outbreak of war were due to the choices made by the Nazi leadership.
Mason had argued that the German working-class was always to the Nazi dictatorship; that in the over-heated German economy of the late 1930s, German workers could force employers to grant higher wages by leaving for another firm that would grant the desired wage increases; that this was a form of political resistance and this resistance forced Adolf Hitler to go to war in 1939. Thus, the outbreak of the Second World War was caused by structural economic problems, a "flight into war" imposed by a domestic crisis. The key aspects of the crisis were according to Mason, a shaky economic recovery was threatened by a rearmament program that was overwhelming the economy and in which the Nazi regime's nationalist bluster limited its options. In this way, Mason articulated a Primat der Innenpolitik ("primacy of domestic politics") view of World War II's origins through the concept of social imperialism. Mason's Primat der Innenpolitik thesis was in marked contrast to the Primat der Außenpolitik ("primacy of foreign politics) usually used to explain World War II. In Mason's opinion, German foreign policy was driven by domestic political considerations, and the launch of World War II in 1939 was best understood as a "barbaric variant of social imperialism".
Mason argued that "Nazi Germany was always bent at some time upon a major war of expansion." However, Mason argued that the timing of such a war was determined by domestic political pressures, especially as relating to a failing economy, and had nothing to do with what Hitler wanted. In Mason's view in the period between 1936–41, it was the state of the German economy, and not Hitler's 'will' or 'intentions' that was the most important determinate on German decision-making on foreign policy. Mason argued that the Nazi leaders were deeply haunted by the November Revolution of 1918, and was most unwilling to see any fall in working class living standards out of the fear that it might provoke another November Revolution. According to Mason, by 1939, the "overheating" of the German economy caused by rearmament, the failure of various rearmament plans produced by the shortages of skilled workers, industrial unrest caused by the breakdown of German social policies, and the sharp drop in living standards for the German working class forced Hitler into going to war at a time and place not of his choosing. Mason contended that when faced with the deep socio-economic crisis the Nazi leadership had decided to embark upon a ruthless 'smash and grab' foreign policy of seizing territory in Eastern Europe which could be pitilessly plundered to support living standards in Germany. Mason described German foreign policy as driven by an opportunistic 'next victim' syndrome after the Anschluss, in which the "promiscuity of aggressive intentions" was nurtured by every successful foreign policy move. In Mason's opinion, the decision to sign the German-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact with the Soviet Union and to attack Poland and the running of the risk of a war with Britain and France were the abandonment by Hitler of his foreign policy program outlined in Mein Kampf forced on him by his need to stop a collapsing German economy by seizing territory abroad to be plundered.
For Overy, the problem with Mason's thesis was that it rested on the assumption that in a way not shown by records, information was passed on to Hitler about the Reich's economic problems. Overy argued that there was a difference between economic pressures induced by the problems of the Four Year Plan and economic motives to seize raw materials, industry and foreign reserves of neighboring states as a way of accelerating the Four Year Plan. Overy asserted that the repressive capacity of the German state as a way of dealing with domestic unhappiness was somewhat downplayed by Mason. Finally, Overy argued that there is considerable evidence that the German state felt they could master the economic problems of rearmament; as one civil servant put it in January 1940 "we have already mastered so many difficulties in the past, that here too, if one or other raw material became extremely scarce, ways and means will always yet be found to get out of a fix".
Main articles: Nazi Germany and Nazi Party
Hitler and his Nazis took full control of Germany in 1933–34 (Machtergreifung), turning it into a dictatorship with a highly hostile outlook toward the Treaty of Versailles and Jews. It solved its unemployment crisis by heavy military spending.
Hitler's diplomatic tactics were to make seemingly reasonable demands, then threatening war if they were not met; concessions were made, he accepted them and moved onto a new demand. When opponents tried to appease him, he accepted the gains that were offered, then went to the next target. That aggressive strategy worked as Germany pulled out of the League of Nations (1933), rejected the Versailles Treaty and began to re-arm (1935) with the Anglo-German Naval Agreement, won back the Saar (1935), re-militarized the Rhineland (1936), formed an alliance ("axis") with Mussolini's Italy (1936), sent massive military aid to Franco in the Spanish Civil War (1936–39), seized Austria (1938), took over Czechoslovakia after the British and French appeasement of the Munich Agreement of 1938, formed a peace pact with Stalin's Russia in August 1939, and finally invaded Poland in September 1939.
Re-militarization of the Rhineland
Main article: Remilitarization of the Rhineland
In violation of the Treaty of Versailles and the spirit of the Locarno Pact and the Stresa Front, Germany re-militarized the Rhineland on March 7, 1936. It moved German troops into the part of western Germany where, according to the Versailles Treaty, they were not allowed. France could not act because of political instability at the time. According to his official Biography, King Edward VIII, who thought the Versailles provision was unjust, ordered the government to stand down.
Italian invasion of Ethiopia (Abyssinia)
Main article: Second Italo-Abyssinian War
After the Stresa Conference and even as a reaction to the Anglo-German Naval Agreement, Italian dictator Benito Mussolini attempted to expand the Italian Empire in Africa by invading the Ethiopian Empire (also known as Abyssinia). The League of Nations declared Italy the aggressor and imposed sanctions on oil sales that proved ineffective. Italy annexed Ethiopia in May 7 and merged Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Somaliland into a single colony known as Italian East Africa. On June 30, 1936, Emperor Haile Selassie gave a stirring speech before the League of Nations denouncing Italy's actions and criticizing the world community for standing by. He warned that "It is us today. It will be you tomorrow". As a result of the League's condemnation of Italy, Mussolini declared the country's withdrawal from the organization.
Spanish Civil War
Main article: Spanish Civil War
Between 1936 and 1939, Germany and Italy lent support to the Nationalists led by general Francisco Franco in Spain, while the Soviet Union supported the existing democratically elected government, the Spanish Republic, led by Manuel Azaña. Both sides experimented with new weapons and tactics. The League of Nations was never involved, and the major powers of the League remained neutral and tried (with little success) to stop arms shipments into Spain. The Nationalists eventually defeated the Republicans in 1939.
Spain negotiated with joining the Axis but remained neutral during World War II, and did business with both sides. It also sent a volunteer unit to help the Germans against the USSR. Whilst it was considered in the 1940s and 1950s to be a prelude to World War II and It prefigured the war to some extent (as it changed it into an antifascists contest after 1941), it bore no resemblance to the war that started in 1939 and had no major role in causing it.
Second Sino-Japanese War
Main article: Second Sino-Japanese War
In 1931 Japan took advantage of China's weakness in the Warlord Era and fabricated the Mukden Incident in 1931 to set up the puppet state of Manchukuo in Manchuria, with Puyi, who had been the last emperor of China, as its emperor. In 1937 the Marco Polo Bridge Incident triggered the Second Sino-Japanese War.
The invasion was launched by the bombing of many cities such as Shanghai, Nanjing and Guangzhou. The latest, which began on 22 and 23 September 1937, called forth widespread protests culminating in a resolution by the Far Eastern Advisory Committee of the League of Nations. The Imperial Japanese Army captured the Chinese capital city of Nanjing, and committed war crimes in the Nanjing massacre. The war tied down large numbers of Chinese soldiers, so Japan set up three different Chinese puppet states to enlist some Chinese support.
Main article: Anschluss
The Anschluss was the 1938 annexation by threat of force of Austria into Germany. Historically, the Pan-Germanism idea of creating a Greater Germany to include all ethnic Germans into one nation-state was popular for Germans in both Austria and Germany.
One of the Nazi party's points was "We demand the unification of all Germans in the Greater Germany on the basis of the people's right to self-determination."
The Stresa Front of 1935 between Britain, France and Italy had guaranteed the independence of Austria, but after the creation of the Rome-Berlin Axis Mussolini was much less interested in upholding its independence.
The Austrian government resisted as long as possible, but had no outside support and finally gave in to Hitler's fiery demands. No fighting occurred as most Austrians were enthusiastic, and Austria was fully absorbed as part of Germany. Outside powers did nothing. Italy had little reason for continued opposition to Germany, and was if anything drawn in closer to the Nazis.
Main articles: Munich Agreement and Appeasement
The Sudetenland was a predominantly German region inside Czechoslovakia alongside its border with Germany. Its more than 3 million ethnic Germans comprised almost a quarter of the population of Czechoslovakia. In the Treaty of Versailles it was given to the new Czechoslovak state against the wishes of much of the local population. The decision to disregard their right to self determination was based on French intent to weaken Germany. Much of Sudetenland was industrialized.
Czechoslovakia had a modern army of 38 divisions, backed by a well-noted armament industry (Škoda) as well as military alliances with France and Soviet Union. However its defensive strategy against Germany was based on the mountains of the Sudetenland.
Hitler pressed for the Sudetenland's incorporation into the Reich, supporting German separatist groups within the Sudeten region. Alleged Czech brutality and persecution under Prague helped to stir up nationalist tendencies, as did the Nazi press. After the Anschluss, all German parties (except German Social-Democratic party) merged with the Sudeten German Party (SdP). Paramilitary activity and extremist violence peaked during this period and the Czechoslovakian government declared martial law in parts of the Sudetenland to maintain order. This only complicated the situation, especially now that Slovakian nationalism was rising, out of suspicion towards Prague and Nazi encouragement. Citing the need to protect the Germans in Czechoslovakia, Germany requested the immediate annexation of the Sudetenland.
In the Munich Agreement of September 30, 1938, British, French and Italian prime ministers appeased Hitler by giving him what he wanted, hoping he would not want any more. The conferring powers allowed Germany to move troops into the region and incorporate it into the Reich "for the sake of peace." In exchange for this, Hitler gave his word that Germany would make no further territorial claims in Europe. Czechoslovakia was not allowed to participate in the conference. When the French and British negotiators informed the Czechoslovak representatives about the agreement, and that if Czechoslovakia would not accept it, France and Britain would consider Czechoslovakia to be responsible for war, President Edvard Beneš capitulated. Germany took the Sudetenland unopposed.
German occupation and Slovak independence
Main articles: Protectorate of Bohemia-Moravia and Slovak Republic (1939–1945)
In March 1939, breaking the Munich Agreement, German troops invaded Prague, and with the Slovaks declaring independence, the country of Czechoslovakia disappeared. The entire ordeal was the last show of the French and British policy of appeasement.
Italian invasion of Albania
Main article: Italian invasion of Albania
After the German occupation of Czechoslovakia, Benito Mussolini feared for Italy becoming a second-rate member of the Axis. Rome delivered Tirana an ultimatum on March 25, 1939, demanding that it accede to Italy's occupation of Albania. King Zog refused to accept money in exchange for countenancing a full Italian takeover and colonization of Albania. On April 7, 1939, Italian troops invaded Albania. Albania was occupied after a 3 days campaign with minimal resistance offered by the Albanian forces.
Soviet–Japanese Border War
Main article: Battle of Khalkhin Gol
In 1939, the Japanese attacked west from Manchuria into the Mongolian People's Republic, following the earlier Battle of Lake Khasan in 1938. They were decisively beaten by Soviet units under General Georgy Zhukov. Following this battle, the Soviet Union and Japan were at peace until 1945. Japan looked south to expand its empire, leading to conflict with the United States over the Philippines and control of shipping lanes to the Dutch East Indies. The Soviet Union focused on her western border, but leaving 1 million to 1.5 million troops to guard the frontier with Japan.
See also: Free City of Danzig (interwar) and Polish Corridor
After the final fate of Czechoslovakia proved that the Führer's word could not be trusted, Britain and France decided to change tack. They decided any further unilateral German expansion would be met by force. The natural next target for the Third Reich's further expansion was Poland, whose access to the Baltic sea had been carved out of West Prussia by the Versailles treaty, making East Prussia an exclave. The main port of the area, Danzig, had been made a free city-state under Polish influence guaranteed by the League of Nations, a stark reminder to German nationalists of the Napoleonic free city established after the French emperor's crushing victory over Prussia in 1807.
After taking power, the Nazi government made efforts to establish friendly relations with Poland, resulting in the signing of the ten-year German–Polish Non-Aggression Pact with the Piłsudski regime in 1934. In 1938, Poland participated in the dismemberment of Czechoslovakia by annexing Zaolzie. In 1939, Hitler claimed extra-territoriality for the Reichsautobahn Berlin-Königsberg and a change in Danzig's status, in exchange for promises of territory in Poland's neighbours and a 25-year extension of the non-aggression pact. Poland refused, fearing losing de facto access to the sea, subjugation as a German satellite state or client state, and future further German demands. In August 1939, Hitler delivered an ultimatum to Poland on Danzig's status.
Polish alliance with the Entente
Main articles: British-Polish Military Alliance and Franco-Polish alliance (1921)
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Administered by the League of Nations
Annexed or transferred to neighboring countries by the treaty, or later via plebiscite and League of Nation action