Why did international peace collapse in 1939?
When Hitler came to power in in Germany in 1933 he had already planned out what he wanted Germany to accomplish - Why did international peace collapse in 1939? introduction. Hitler had written a book called Mein Kampf, in 1924 that stated his goals. His first goal was to abolish the Treaty of Versailles, he fought in World War I and felt that German politicians had “stabbed Germany in the back”, as far as he was concerned, the German Army did not lose that war. Another reason he wanted to abolish the Treaty of Versailles was because it greatly restricted the German Armed Forces and they were forced to demilitarise the Rhineland.
His second goal was to expand German territory since it had been deeply limited after World War I and believed that the German people needed Lebensraum, or living space, and Anschluss, or unity, with Austria. There were Germans living in Czechoslovakia, mostly the Sudetenland, and Poland, including Danzig, and he was determined to unite them under one Reich. His third goal was to stop communism, since he had a fascist government, which was the opposite of Russian communism, or Bolshevism.
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Hitler believed that Bolsheviks had helped defeat Germany in World War I and they still planned on taking over Germany. The first essential is the expulsion of the Marxist poison from the body of our nation. ” (Hitler’s Mein Kampf, 1924) Here Hitler is saying that the first priority for the German nation was to dispose of all communist ideas in it, which he rapidly did when he went into power. This could be interpreted as the most important factor to cause World War II because Hitler had been motivated by the unjust treaty to take extreme measures in Europe, for example the invasion of Czechoslovakia and the remilitarisation of the Rhineland.
Hitler had such an ambition to abolish the Treaty of Versailles that he was willing to go to war again to get rid of it. Others might argue that this was not the most important cause of the war since the problem of Germany obeying the Treaty of Versailles because a stronger League of Nations could have easily stopped the German rearmament, and because the reparations had been dealt with before the depression through the Dawes and Young plans. In the 1930s there were two incidents that really tested the League of Nations, the invasion of Manchuria by Japan and the invasion of Abyssinia by Italy.
The League of Nations had been militarily weak throughout al of its existence, since it had no permanent army of its own. Hitler had been watching the League of Nations closely as they faced several crises, but in the end, the League of Nations never acted properly on situations that required military intervention. When Japan invaded the Chinese province of Manchuria, Hitler was aware of the fact that the League of Nations would not act against powerful countries. This event helped build up Hitler’s confidence for the gamble he would take later on.
In 1936, when Italy started the conflict in Abyssinia, Hitler knew the two things: firstly, that the League of Nations would not act militarily against Germany, and secondly that the League of Nations was distracted with that crisis and it gave him the perfect opportunity to occupy the Rhineland. Since France and Germany had signed an agreement to protect each other against Germany, he used that as an excuse to protect his own frontier. As he expected, the League of Nations did nothing about it, and it was the first step he took towards World War II.
Lastly, it showed Hitler that Mussolini was a potential ally for him since they were both fascist and they wanted to accomplish similar goals. This could be thought of as the most important factor that contributed to World War II because without either of these crises occurring, Hitler would never had found the confidence to try to expand his territory, and if France had not been so distracted by the Abyssinian crisis they would have fought for the Rhineland instead of letting Germany take it, and they probably would have won since the German Army was not nearly as powerful as the French army at that time.
On the other hand, it could be said that even if these two events did not happen or if the League had reacted to the situations Hitler still would have tried his plan for expansion since his own ambitions and hate towards the Treaty of Versailles would have led them all to war anyways. In 1936 Hitler began his policy of reclaiming lost German territory; however in 1935 the Anglo-German Naval Agreement had begun a policy of appeasement in Britain, and later in France. Appeasement consisted in letting Germany have what they want in order to prevent a war.
When Hitler started to take back territory into Germany, Britain and France could start to see how it was acceptable since they understood how the Treaty of Versailles was unfair. Some reasons why Britain and France gave in to Germany and allowed Hitler to get what he wanted was because they were determined to prevent another war, they were not militarily prepared to fight, their own economic problems felt more important to them, and they were not certain of the support they would receive from the British Empire or the USA, which was in a policy of isolationism.
Every time Hitler took a step forward towards reclaiming the lost German territory he faced no opposition by Britain and France, only Italy interfered with one of his plans of Anschluss in 1934, but he accomplished in 1938 when they were allies. In the Munich Conference, Britain, France, Germany and Italy had hoped to come to an accord, and they did; however Hitler disobeyed the agreement later on and faced no opposition from Britain and France.
If the French had taken any action we would have been easily defeated” (Hitler speaking of the German march into the Rhineland) Hitler had no intention on fighting French troops in the Rhineland, as shown in the source, which is why he sent his army with the instruction of retreating if faced with any opposition. If the French had opposed to Germany, Hitler would have been greatly humiliated in Germany and abroad since may German generals were still uncertain about him.
This factor could be the most important one to cause World War II since the military intervention from Britain and France would have stopped Germany early on instead of declaring war once they were already more powerful. “They could have suppressed us but they let us through the danger zone. (…) They left us alone and let us slip through the danger zone. And when we were done, and well armed, better than they, then they started the war! (Goebbels, a member of Hitler’s government, speaking to German journalists, April 1940)
This source is evidence to the fact that Britain and France could have prevented the war if they had just reacted to the German threat, coming from an important member of Hitler’s government. Some argue that it was not the most important factor since it was an attempt from Depression torn countries, Britain and France, to deal with Germany without having to further destabilise their country. In 1939 Hitler made an agreement with Stalin to avoid any aggression between them, and secretly they also agreed to share Poland after they both invaded it.
It was known as the Nazi-Soviet Pact. This agreement helped Hitler gain the comfort of not having to fight a war on both fronts, since he knew he would not last long if he did. Hitler hated communists, but knew that the only way he would stand a chance was with Stalin as an ally. Stalin was afraid of the threat that Hitler posed to Germany, and he knew that eventually Hitler would turn back on their agreement just like he did with Locarno and the non-aggression pact with Poland, for example.
Stalin needed to buy some time for USSR; he needed to prepare for the moment in which Hitler would try to invade them. “It will be asked how it was possible that the Soviet government signed a non-aggression pact with so deceitful a nation, with such criminals as Hitler and Ribbentrop… We secured peace for our country for eighteen months, which enabled us to make military preparations. ” (Stalin in a speech, 1941) This source proves that Stalin was well aware of the purpose he had for signing the Nazi-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact, since he speaks of buying time for the USSR to make military preparations.
This factor of cause to World War II could be the most important since the German government and Hitler would never had attempted to fight a war on two fronts and would never have invaded Poland since the USSR was backing it up and Hitler did not quite know how strong the USSR was. On the other hand, it was not the most important factor since with or without the treaty taking Poland into Germany was in Hitler’s plan, and no matter what happened with the USSR he was still determined to get rid of communism.
The Nazi-Soviet Pact was a short-term trick so he could safely take Poland into the Reich. When Hitler invaded Poland in 1939, Britain and France already had signed agreements with Poland saying that they would declare war on Germany if they invaded Poland. Britain signed the Anglo-Polish Military Alliance Agreement in 1938, since France had signed one with Poland in 1920 and it remained active. The invasion of Poland was the last factor that affected the course towards war.
Hitler was not aware that his gamble would end there since he did not know that Britain and France would react the way they did, by declaring war, considering the fact that the whole time he was expanding and rearming they did not react. What happened in Poland was the end of appeasement, which happened to cause World War II. This factor of cause of World War II could be the most important since it was the final point between peace and war, and if Hitler hade decided not to invade Poland and stay with what he had already accomplished the war would never had happened and it all could have been avoided.
Reasons why it was not the most important factor in causing the war include the fact that the entire international community and the League of Nations could not have simply forgotten everything that had happened before the invasion of Poland to other countries that were affected, and appeasement would still have ended eventually causing the declaration of war when the policy ended.
Another reason why it was not the most important factor in causing the war was because Hitler would never had invaded Poland without the assurance he received through the Nazi-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact, which allowed him not to fight the war on two fronts and to take Poland without Soviet interference. Although it was Hitler’s actions, which led to war, many other factors were important in making the war happen, however, if any of the factors listed above had not happened, the war would never had occurred.
The war was caused by the combination of all the factors. However, some factors still had a greater impact on the cause of the war than others, and the most important factor in causing World War II was the Appeasement policy held by Britain and France in the time period in which Germany was rearming and expanding. If these countries had faced Germany as they were supposed to as the members of the League of Nations they were the war never would have happened. But even a greater cause of the collapse of international peace in 1939 was the end of appeasement.
When Hitler invaded Poland in 1939, after having faced no opposition in the past, he did not expect Britain and France to declare war on Germany. Hitler had taken his gamble on step too far by invading Poland instead of just keeping what he already had. “By surrendering to force, Chamberlain has encouraged aggression… our central contention, therefore, is that Mr Chamberlain’s policy [of appeasement] has throughout been based on a fatal misunderstanding od the psychology of a dictatorship. (The Yorkshire Post, December 1938) This source can be interpreted as true in the sense that the policy of appeasement was making Hitler take larger gambles every time and that Chamberlain had misjudged Hitler’s character. However, the source could be interpreted as incorrect since appeasement was justified at the time, and it was based on Britain and France’s desire to ensure peace and avoid war, and not Chamberlain’s misjudgement of Hitler as stated in the source.
In the end, if Britain and France had never adopted the policy of appeasement, the war was likely to have been avoided and international peace would have been ensured. And if Britain and France had not ended appeasement that way that they did, war would have also been evitable. Appeasement made Hitler go too far and would make him think no one dared stop him, which encouraged him to go further every time until his gamble went too far and appeasement ended, war was declared, and international peace collapsed in 1939.