After a decade of what many may call as “peace” considering the magnitude to which destruction overshadowed all other aspects of life during the First World War, the world was yet again on the dawn of a new war that would revolutionize the future. In these years, called the post-depression years, political unrest was a common element among the world super powers. For instance, Germany’s Nazi regime was on the up rise after years of economic and social struggles throughout the country due to the heavy losses suffered at the end of the First World War. Once again, Germany, this time under Adolf Hitler had formed a regime to take on world super powers to gain land, power and regain the dignity lost after WWI. If it were not for “Hitler’s restless quest for empire, war might have been avoided”1.
The war itself was a “technologically advanced” one compared to that of 1914 and thus the scare of a nuclear war was more prominent among civilians. More importantly, the social struggle which was clearly evident in Germany was a manipulating factor for the next uprising regime in Germany. Without such a social discontent, one may question Germany’s ability to form a strong government that gained the support of many blinded citizens. The exact origins of such a treacherous war cannot be established without referring to the countless underlying issues that slowly ruptured international relationships. In present times, it is difficult to imagine the dismay of the largest war in human history, which engulfed much of the globe, and resulted in 51.8 million casualties.2
The Second World War can be said to have originated after the 1st world war ended with the nations of the Triple Entente losing to those of the Triple Alliance. Hatred towards the Triple Alliance was created by the German people, and the idea of revenge immediately followed after the Paris Peace Settlement was signed in 1919. The German Chancellor, Adolf Hitler was a major contributor towards the war, as well as being the person responsible for the Holocaust, which was known to be “the systematic, bureaucratic, state-sponsored persecution and murder of approximately six million Jews by Hitler’s Nazi regime”3. The origins of such a massive war are always debatable and should be pondered by many.
The Second World War was said by Overy to be “brought about by the interplay between specific factors, of which Hitler was one, and the more general causes making for instability in the international system”4, which were the negative implications of the Treaty of Versailles, and also the failure of the League of Nations to act in a proper manner when Hitler began to mobilize and rearm a newly unified Germany.
The 28th of June 1919 proved to be a significant date as it was when the Treaty of Versailles was signed at the Hall of Mirrors in the Palace of Versailles. The main terms of the Treaty of Versailles that dealt with Germany were mostly concerning the military aspects of the country where the German army was according to McDonough, “limited to 100,000 men, conscription was abolished, and tanks and aircrafts were prohibited”5, as well as “the navy was slimmed down to a coastal force of 36 vessels, and the building of battleship and submarine vessels was outlawed”6. Being left with a devastated nation and an economy in utter turmoil, the Weimar Republic was left hated by the German people and therefore, the government found it difficult to appease both its people and the victors at the same time.
In addition to this, there were also colonial and land claims being transferred from Germany as “It [Germany] lost 13% of its territory, including Alsace-Lorraine, Eupen, Malmï¿½dy, North Schleswig, West Prussia and Posen (Poznan)”7, and “all German colonies became mandates and the allies insisted that the German government agree to uphold a democratic constitution and allow free elections in its own country”8. On top of this unbelievable demand, the Germans were required to pay most if not all of the financial compensation for countries, which was “decided by the Reparations Committee in 1921, was set at ï¿½6,600 million”9.
Naturally, the terms that were asked to be met by the Germans were outrageous and the German government made things worse as they printed more money so that they could pay back their debts. This led to hyperinflation as the government overprinted their money in order to pay therefore “resulting in high food prices among other commodities.”10 The people became dissatisfied with their government and anti-British and French sentiments broke out as well. As a result, “civil unrest ensued which was hard to contain due to the limited size of the army.”11 Furthermore, despite the harsh terms of the Treaty of Versailles, Germany could not be prevented from preparing for the Second World War. The important thing that should be noted is the British-French relationship which was strained heavily when Britain’s and France’s attitude towards implementing the Treaty with full force differed.
Luckily, this problem was resolved without too many problems with the Dawes Plan in which Germany “agreed to make regular annual payments in return for a substantial loan raised in the USA, and the French promised never again to use force to gain payment”12. Nevertheless, the social system and conditions were an indication of the people’s dissatisfaction as they did not have many jobs and also the price for food rose in Germany. Eventually they “voted to power a man who promised to rip up the Treaty of Versailles.”13 Although Germany had lost the First World War, the people themselves were not defeated and that, along with the strained relationship between the British and the French as a result of the Treaty of Versailles, aided in unifying the German people under Adolf Hitler and allowed for the rearming of Germany under his manipulative nature.
Hitler, a man of pride and dignity took the stage as chancellor of the German Empire affected the western democracies as well as Italy where Fascism was introduced nearly a decade ago during Benito Mussolini’s reign. As soon as he came to power, he withdrew the “German delegation from the Disarmament Conference and the League of Nations in October 1933.”14 After that, Hitler signed a “non-aggression pact with Poland in January 1934,”15 but this was done solely to “thwart a possible Franco-Polish alliance, and to bring Poland under German influence.”16 At around this time, the president died as well and the timing was perfect for Hitler to declare himself as the leader of the German people. In turn, he made sure that whether the people were obedient to the state or not, they should swear allegiance to him.
On the 16th of March 1935, a Nazi propaganda took place and the new regime was about to awake and build up to its greatest potential. During this speech that Hitler gave to the public, he announced that the German army was now “400,000 men stronger, conscription was introduced, the air force and navy were undergoing rapid programmes of expansion, and Hitler claimed that Germany was no longer bound by the military clauses of the Treaty of Versailles.”17 When the German troops marched into Rhineland on the 7th of March 1936, this came as a surprise to many; however, this was good for Hitler as his geographical position was perfect to attack the French. In addition, in 1936, Hitler and Japan agreed to sign the “Anti0Comintern Pact” which included Italy a year later. It was after this that this war became his personal war.
Furthermore, In March 1938, Hitler seized “a favourable diplomatic opportunity and occupied Austria, as he had intended since coming to power.”18 Hitler felt that the Aryan race and Jews fought for special powers and so his vision of Jews turned different in a negative way. This goes to say that he believed if Germany was to fulfil its “historic mission, the other great powers, which Hitler came to regard as degenerate, had to be pushed aside and world Jewry had to be annihilated in the process.”19 At this point, the League of Nations should be introduced as their failure to act upon the rising Nazi regime left the world in grave suffering.
The League of Nations appeared to be a good idea at the beginning, when Germany lost “all her colonies, which were handed over to several of the victorious powers.”20 Evidently, through those actions, we can see that power that the League had temporarily. Nevertheless, this power was doubted heavily by the super powers as they didn’t believe that the League of Nations had enough to bring down the Germans. The league, in 1926, settled an incident with Bulgaria and Greece which could have potentially turned into a war and would have been an early blow to the organization if it were to happen. Shortly after this, the Depression of the 1930s hit the world and a lot of countries suffered. In 1929, during the middle of October, the German economy collapsed when the “Wall Street Stock market in the United States of America, on which all German hopes of economic recovery were pinned, suddenly collapsed.”21. The weakness of many countries like Britain and France, due to the damages from WWI was a major factor in the demise of the League of Nations.
As each country was recovering, they went into a short period of semi-isolationism since they did not want to lose everything they had. This is turn let Germany get away with a lot more than it should have. In addition to this, the weaknesses of the League had been cruelly exposed on a number of occasions when an aggressor nation such as Germany successfully used force to get what it wanted and the League could do nothing. Overy explains that “this course set the mould for the 1930’s and any would-be dictator would have been very well aware that the League did not have the ability to enforce its decisions as it lacked an army.”22 Contradicting Overy, H.A.L. Fisher, another historian, states that “if the nations want peace, the League gives them the way by which peace can be kept.
League or no League, a country which is determined to have a war can always have it.” Although this quote is significant towards exposing Hitler and Germany’s overall attitude, it also symbolizes the unjustifiable actions of Italy and Japan as they betrayed the League of Nations. Despite violations by the members within, the League was powerless and could not collectively facilitate any plan to stop the growing Nazi regime. The more the league tried to establish itself, the more the public hated it. Therefore, before the war even started to reveal its full potential, the league was close to useless as it had failed in its only attempt to stop Hitler and the rise of Nazism. One may question if the Second World War would have existed if the League of Nations acted responsibly by monitoring Hitler and taking appropriate measures to stop his rise.
The end of the “war to end all wars” was definitely not what it was called, as the period starting in the 1940’s revealed a totally advanced type of warfare in which underlying issues played a major role. The usual blame for the origins of the Second World War are placed upon Germany; however, it is appropriate to say that though Germany took advantage of the situation, the failure of both the League of Nations and the council who administered the signing of the Treaty of Versailles shows a potential weakness among all power, and therefore the blame can also be put on them. The Treaty of Versailles was a document that entirely humiliated Germany, and therefore, the German’s anger and frustration can be justified. Hitler was just a man who grabbed the right opportunity at the right time and thus prevailed to an extent.
His personality and leadership abilities led Germany into times of great national unity and unified a country that was once in pieces. Lastly, The League of Nations which was designed to prevent the Second World War failed to achieve its primary objective not solely because the United States was not a member, but more importantly due to the fact that the Western powers were unwilling and unable to hand over military forces to facilitate and implement plans with confidence so that the aggressors could be tamed. The war that was fought was a political war that could have been avoided; nevertheless, it was precisely a decade of anger accumulated within the souls of Hitler and his people who merely fought for their right to live without being constricted.
1 Overy, R.J. (1987). “The Origins of the Second World War”. England: Longman Group UK Limited.
2 History on the Nethttp://www.historyonthenet.com/WW2/statistics.htm
3 United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. December 4th, 2008. “The Holocaust”: Retrieved on January 10th, 2009: http://www.ushmm.org/wlc/article.php?lang=en&ModuleId=10005143
4 Overy, R.J. (1987). “The Origins of the Second World War”. England: Longman Group UK Limited.
5 McDonough, Frank. (1997). “The Origins of the First and Second World Wars”. New York: Cambridge University Press.
6 McDonough, Frank. (1997). “The Origins of the First and Second World Wars”. New York: Cambridge University Press.
7 McDonough, Frank. (1997). “The Origins of the First and Second World Wars”. New York: Cambridge University Press.
8 McDonough, Frank. (1997). “The Origins of the First and Second World Wars”. New York: Cambridge University Press.
9 History Learning Site. June 21st 2004. “The Treaty of Versailles” ; Retrieved January 29th 2009: http://www.historylearningsite.co.uk/treaty_of_versailles.htm
10 “Values of the most important German Banknotes of the Inflation Period from 1920 – 1923”
11 Mowrer, Edgar Ansel. Triumph and Turmoil. (London 1970)
12 McDonough, Frank. (1997). “The Origins of the First and Second World Wars”. New York: Cambridge University Press.
13 History on the Net Group. October 3rd, 2007. “World War Two Causes”: Retrieved on January 29th, 2009: http://www.historyonthenet.com/WW2/causes.htm
14 Overy, R.J. (1987). “The Origins of the Second World War”. England: Longman Group UK Limited.
15 McDonough, Frank. (1997). “The Origins of the First and Second World Wars”. New York: Cambridge University Press.
16 McDonough, Frank. (1997). “The Origins of the First and Second World Wars”. New York: Cambridge University Press.
17 McDonough, Frank. (1997). “The Origins of the First and Second World Wars”. New York: Cambridge University Press.
18 Overy, R.J. (1987). “The Origins of the Second World War”. England: Longman Group UK Limited.
19 Overy, R.J. (1987). “The Origins of the Second World War”. England: Longman Group UK Limited.
20 Overy, R.J. (1987). “The Origins of the Second World War”. England: Longman Group UK Limited.
21 McDonough, Frank. (1997). “The Origins of the First and Second World Wars”. New York: Cambridge University Press.
22 Overy, R.J. (1987). “The Origins of the Second World War”. England: Longman Group UK Limited.