Who To Blame for the World War II
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Who To Blame for the World War II
World War II began on the 3rd September when Britain and France
declared war on Germany after they had invaded Poland. Ever since the
end of WWI Europe had been divided into different camps. The ideas of
peace during the 1920s and 30s had been designed to eliminate the gaps
between the camps. Unfortunately, this never worked and so Europe was
still divided into two main camps when war was declared. Britain and
France in Western Europe were the leaders of one camp. And they faced
the other European powers, which consisted of Germany and Italy in the
other camp. There were also many smaller countries in both camps
including Croatia, Bulgaria and Slovakia all members of the
Anti-Comintern Pact and therefore included with the Axis Powers.
The main members and founders of the Anti-Comintern Pact, Germany,
Italy and Japan were all seen as the 'bad guys' because of their
aggressive foreign policies. All three countries' foreign policies
involved attacking other countries for resources or land and this is
why they were separated from other European countries and branded
Italy was the first country to pursue their aggressive ways in Europe
when Mussolini turned them into a Fascist country in 1922. Because of
this, they are often seen as the beginning cause to WWII, which isn't
necessarily true. Italy alone didn't do anything bad enough to start a
war, but when you put Italy's, Germany's and Japan's actions together
then you get the reasons for WWII. Italy being a Fascist country
wasn't a problem, until he started killing his oppositions and taking
land by force that wasn't his. Had the League of Nations worked
properly, then Mussolini would probably have been stopped after the
Corfu incident, but as it stood he was given what he wanted and
allowed to think that using force was acceptable. Most of the
incidents that occurred in Europe in the 1920s and 30s could have been
solved if someone had done something different or if something else
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had been made to happen, but none of them were because countries
either didn't want to get involved, couldn't afford to get involved
(even more so after the depression) or just couldn't be bothered.
Mussolini continued to use force in Europe and else where to get what
he wanted, and he was just allowed to do so for fear of causing
What the world leaders didn't see was the rise of the Nazi Party in
Germany led by Adolf Hitler, who adopted a very similar style to that
of Mussolini's after seeing how successful he had been. Once again you
could say that had Mussolini been stopped earlier, he wouldn't have
inspired Hitler and therefore the same thing may not have been started
in Germany. As it happened, Mussolini and Hitler became very good
friends, because of their similar interests, and signed several
treaties together. These included the Rome-Berlin Axis, the
Anti-Comintern Pact, and the Pact of Steel. They also both helped
Franco in the Spanish Civil War, and mutually agreed that Germany
could take control of Austria. The last agreement that they made, the
Pact of Steel, stated that if one of the two countries went to war,
then the other had to go to war to help them, which would ensure that
any war became a European war, if not a global war. All of these pacts
were bringing war closer, but they were a result of both countries,
and not just one. It takes two people to sign a pact, so they are both
responsible for the consequences of it, and one cannot be more so than
Making pacts wasn't the only thing that Germany did during the run up
to WWII. Hitler also pursued his foreign policy aims, left the League
of Nations and started to openly re-arm. One of his foreign policy
aims was to tear up the treaty of Versailles, so naturally he would do
the opposite to what it said. In the 1920s, Hitler didn't do anything
because he didn't have any power; the only thing he could do was to
rally public support for his Nazi Party. This is exactly what he did,
and in 1933 he was elected as German Chancellor. The first thing that
he did was to withdraw from the League of Nations. He also spoke about
re-arming and building more aircraft, and then in 1935, he openly
announced conscription for all men. This is the time when Britain and
France should have and could have acted to stop Hitler taking any more
liberties. They didn't do anything because France didn't have a strong
enough leader to act without Britain's support and Britain had
problems in her own empire. From then on Hitler got more powerful and
more confident, and Britain and France had missed their chance to stop
him. You could argue that it was partly Britain and France's faults
for not acting when they should have done that WWII started, but blame
is usually for doing something wrong, not for not doing anything.
The treaty of Versailles had forbidden any troops in the Rhineland,
but Hitler was going against the treaty as part of his foreign policy.
In 1936 he marched into the Rhineland, but instead of meeting of the
League intervening like they should have done, there was no one to
oppose him and he was allowed to have the Rhineland. Naturally he was
happy and once again it had been proven that if you wanted something,
force was the best way to get it. One of Hitler's biggest steps to war
was when he invaded the Sudetenland. The Sudetenland was largely
populated by Germans, but it belonged to Czechoslovakia. This didn't
bother Hitler, and in 1938, he invaded the Sudetenland. After doing
this, the British Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, pursued a
policy of Appeasement towards Germany, which meant giving in to the
demands that were reasonable. Chamberlain had several meetings with
Hitler before they eventually signed the Munich Agreement, which
stated their desire never to go to war with one another again. This
didn't really bother Hitler either, because he still invaded Poland on
1st September 1939, and he knew that he could only get away with so
much and that eventually he would have to go to war.
The other main power in the Anti-Comintern Pact was Japan. Whilst
Japan weren't involved in the European part of the war because they
were so far away, they certainly contributed to the war, and it was
because of Japan's attacks on the USA that it became a global war. In
WWI, Japan fought on the side of the Allies and the Versailles Peace
settlement gave Japan former German colonies from the Pacific and
German rights in Shantung.
Japanese relations with America got off to a bad start because America
didn't like Japanese retention of Shantung. However, they did get
better when Japan took part in the Washington Naval Conference and
agreed the ratio of 5:5:3 between the American, British and Japanese
fleets. Japan still had lots of domestic problems, which were made
worse by the depression in 1939. Their main problem was a lack of raw
materials because they had to import everything from abroad. In 1931,
the Japanese army decided to invade Manchuria to try and solve this
problem. Unfortunately, all they managed to do was push themselves
further away from Britain and American, and closer to war with China.
The Japanese Government instructed the army to withdraw from Manchuria
after the Chinese had appealed to the League of Nations, but the army
ignored them, and the League of Nations' follow up action was to send
a commission to investigate. Lord Lytton, head of the commission, told
the League of Nations Council that Japan should be ordered to leave
Manchuria, which they did. Japan ignored this and promptly left the
League of Nations.
The growth of the Japanese military after more invasions of Chinese
provinces for resources meant that they gained more power in the
government. They used this power to force the government to follow a
more aggressive foreign policy, like that of Italy's and Germany's.
The USSR were feeling continually threatened by Japan, and ordered
communist parties to join with other political parties to help stop
the spread of Fascism. In China, the communists joined up with the
Nationalists, who wanted to drive the Japanese out of North China. In
response to this, Japan signed the Anti-Comintern Pact with Germany,
which brought them closer together, and took Japan further from the
Western Powers. At the beginning of WWII, Japan weren't on either
side, because they still had relations with America, Britain and
Germany. This meant that they couldn't fight for just one side. With
all of the resources that Japan had captured from China they were now
in a very strong position and would be a valuable ally and a dangerous
enemy. As it happened, Japan signed the Tripartite Pact with Germany
and Italy in 1940 and so completely severed their relations with
Britain and America. Japan didn't do a lot until they bombed Pearl
Harbour in 1941 and brought America into the war. From then on, what
had been a European war was now a World War.
Of course, it wasn't just these three countries that caused the war;
there were several other factors that certainly contributed towards
the war. Chamberlain's policy of appeasement towards Germany was one
of these factors. There was great speculation about whether
Chamberlain was doing the right thing, but when he came back with the
Munich Agreement it looked like peace would remain in Europe.
Unfortunately, all that the Munich Agreement did was to postpone war,
not prevent it. It also gave Hitler a lot of the things that he needed
to fight a war; new raw materials, more soldiers, and more factories
to build tanks, guns etc. Despite giving in to Hitler there was still
going to be a war, and appeasement could never have stopped it. I
don't think appeasement was to blame for the war, because by the time
that Chamberlain created this policy, war was almost certain anyway
and I don't think that appeasement changed anything enough to be
However, the depression played a very big part in the causes of the
war. Whilst it wasn't a direct cause of the war, it was the reason
behind other causes. The reason that countries were invading other
countries was because the depression had hit their industries so hard
that they needed to take over other countries industries to recover.
This spelt bad news for smaller countries that bordered large
countries. It also meant that any large countries that had treaties
with smaller countries might have to fight to protect them if there
was a threat of invasion. There were lots of alliances being made
during the 1930s because countries were very weak after the depression
and by making alliances with other countries it meant they could
portray the image of having powerful allies, even though their allies
were in exactly the same position. This is how Europe became divided
into two camps, because all of the small countries were allying with
the larger powers, and they either joined with Britain and France or
Germany and Italy.
The failure of the League of Nations was also crucial in the years
that led up to the war. By the mid 1930s, the League had failed to
keep the peace so many times that there were very few countries who
were willing to listen to them. This was demonstrated when Japan
invaded China and the League's advice to cut trade with them was
completely ignored. From that point on it was clear that the League of
Nations had absolutely no power to keep the peace, and it was no
longer a threat to Hitler. Had the League acted correctly over
disputes in the 1920s then it would have had more respect in the 1930s
and may have been able to stop the war. There were places where the
League succeeded in keeping peace, but because they were minor in
relation to disputes such as the Abyssinian crisis and the Corfu
incident, they weren't paid any attention. I believe that the League
of Nations' failures did contribute towards the war, and that part of
the blame could be placed on the council for not acting when it should
have done. The League of Nations was the only way in which Hitler
could have been stopped without going to war, but the opportunity to
do so was ignored so many times that going to war became the only
Overall, I don't believe that anything or anyone is solely to blame
for World War II, but all of the countries are equally to blame,
because they all did things that caused the war and they all did
things that had no effect on the war. I think the League of Nations
played a big part in the causes of World War II, firstly because it
did nothing to stop Germany and Italy and secondly because none of the
member countries paid any attention to it and just did whatever they
felt like. I also believe that it's not just Germany, Italy and Japan
that are to blame. I think that Britain, France and the USSR could
also share some of the blame for doing things or not doing things. For
example, Britain allowing Germany to build up her navy to 35% of
Britain's. So in conclusion, the blame for WWII can be shared among
most of the European powers, as well as the depression, the policy of
appeasement and the League of Nations.
Listen to the audio of this blog post about the causes of World War 2
World War Two began in September 1939 when Britain and France declared war on Germany following Germany’s invasion of Poland.
Although the outbreak of war was triggered by Germany’s invasion of Poland, the causes of World War 2 are more complex.
Treaty of Versailles
In 1919, Lloyd George of England, Orlando of Italy, Clemenceau of France and Woodrow Wilson from the US met to discuss how Germany was to be made to pay for the damage world war one had caused.
Woodrow Wilson wanted a treaty based on his 14-point plan which he believed would bring peace to Europe.
Georges Clemenceau wanted revenge. He wanted to be sure that Germany could never start another war again.
Lloyd George personally agreed with Wilson but knew that the British public agreed with Clemenceau. He tried to find a compromise between Wilson and Clemenceau.
Germany had been expecting a treaty based on Wilson’s 14 points and were not happy with the terms of the Treaty of Versailles. However, they had no choice but to sign the document.
The main terms of the Treaty of Versailles were:
- War Guilt Clause – Germany should accept the blame for starting World War One
- Reparations – Germany had to pay 6,600 million pounds for the damage caused by the war
- Disarmament – Germany was only allowed to have a small army and six naval ships. No tanks, no airforce and no submarines were allowed. The Rhineland area was to be de-militarised.
- Territorial Clauses – Land was taken away from Germany and given to other countries. Anschluss (union with Austria) was forbidden.
The German people were very unhappy about the treaty and thought that it was too harsh. Germany could not afford to pay the money and during the 1920s the people in Germany were very poor. There were not many jobs and the price of food and basic goods was high. People were dissatisfied with the government and voted to power a man who promised to rip up the Treaty of Versailles. His name was Adolf Hitler.
Adolf Hitler became Chancellor of Germany in January 1933. Almost immediately he began secretly building up Germany’s army and weapons. In 1934 he increased the size of the army, began building warships and created a German airforce. Compulsory military service was also introduced.
Although Britain and France were aware of Hitler’s actions, they were also concerned about the rise of Communism and believed that a stronger Germany might help to prevent the spread of Communism to the West.
In 1936 Hitler ordered German troops to enter the Rhineland. At this point the German army was not very strong and could have been easily defeated. Yet neither France nor Britain was prepared to start another war.
Hitler also made two important alliances during 1936. The first was called the Rome-Berlin Axis Pact and allied Hitler’s Germany with Mussolini’s Italy. The second was called the Anti-Comitern Pact and allied Germany with Japan.
Hitler’s next step was to begin taking back the land that had been taken away from Germany. In March 1938, German troops marched into Austria. The Austrian leader was forced to hold a vote asking the people whether they wanted to be part of Germany.
The results of the vote were fixed and showed that 99% of Austrian people wanted Anschluss (union with Germany). The Austrian leader asked Britain, France and Italy for aid. Hitler promised that Anschluss was the end of his expansionist aims and not wanting to risk war, the other countries did nothing.
Hitler did not keep his word and six months later demanded that the Sudetenland region of Czechoslovakia be handed over to Germany.
Neville Chamberlain, Prime Minister of Britain, met with Hitler three times during September 1938 to try to reach an agreement that would prevent war. The Munich Agreement stated that Hitler could have the Sudetenland region of Czechoslovakia provided that he promised not to invade the rest of Czechoslovakia.
Hitler was not a man of his word and in March 1939 invaded the rest of Czechoslovakia. Despite calls for help from the Czechoslovak government, neither Britain nor France was prepared to take military action against Hitler. However, some action was now necessary and believing that Poland would be Hitler’s next target, both Britain and France promised that they would take military action against Hitler if he invaded Poland. Chamberlain believed that, faced with the prospect of war against Britain and France, Hitler would stop his aggression. Chamberlain was wrong. German troops invaded Poland on 1st September 1939.
Failure of Appeasement
Appeasement means giving in to someone provided their demands are seen as reasonable. During the 1930s, many politicians in both Britain and France came to see that the terms of the Treaty of Versailles had placed restrictions on Germany that were unfair. Hitler’s actions were seen as understandable and justifiable.
When Germany began re-arming in 1934, many politicians felt that Germany had a right to re-arm in order to protect herself. It was also argued that a stronger Germany would prevent the spread of Communism to the west.
In 1936, Hitler argued that because France had signed a new treaty with Russia, Germany was under threat from both countries and it was essential to German security that troops were stationed in the Rhineland. France was not strong enough to fight Germany without British help and Britain was not prepared to go to war at this point. Furthermore, many believed that since the Rhineland was a part of Germany it was reasonable that German troops should be stationed there.
In May 1937, Neville Chamberlain became Prime Minister of Britain. He believed that the Treaty of Versailles had treated Germany badly and that there were a number of issues associated with the Treaty that needed to be put right. He felt that giving in to Hitler’s demands would prevent another war.
This policy, adopted by Chamberlain’s government became known as the policy of Appeasement.
The most notable example of appeasement was the Munich Agreement of September 1938.
The Munich Agreement, signed by the leaders of Germany, Britain, France and Italy, agreed that the Sudetenland would be returned to Germany and that no further territorial claims would be made by Germany. The Czech government was not invited to the conference and protested about the loss of the Sudetenland. They felt that they had been betrayed by both Britain and France with whom alliances had been made. However, the Munich Agreement was generally viewed as a triumph and an excellent example of securing peace through negotiation rather than war.
This famous picture shows Chamberlain returning from Munich with the paper signed by Hitler declaring ‘Peace in our time.’
When Hitler invaded the rest of Czechoslovakia in March 1939, he broke the terms of the Munich Agreement. Although it was realised that the policy of appeasement had failed, Chamberlain was still not prepared to take the country to war over “..a quarrel in a far-away country between people of whom we know nothing.” Instead, he made a guarantee to come to Poland’s aid if Hitler invaded Poland.
Political Causes of World War 2: Failure of the League of Nations
The League of Nations was an international organisation set up in 1919 to help keep world peace. It was intended that all countries would be members of the League and that if there were disputes between countries they could be settled by negotiation rather than by force. If this failed then countries would stop trading with the aggressive country and if that failed then countries would use their armies to fight.
In theory the League of Nations was a good idea and did have some early successes. But ultimately it was a failure.
The whole world was hit by a depression in the late 1920s. A depression is when a country’s economy falls. Trade is reduced, businesses lose income, prices fall and unemployment rises.
In 1931, Japan was hit badly by the depression. People lost faith in the government and turned to the army to find a solution. The army invaded Manchuria in China, an area rich in minerals and resources. China appealed to the League for help. The Japanese government were told to order the army to leave Manchuria immediately. However, the army took no notice of the government and continued its conquest of Manchuria.
The League then called for countries to stop trading with Japan but because of the depression many countries did not want to risk losing trade and did not agree to the request. The League then made a further call for Japan to withdraw from Manchuria but Japan’s response was to leave the League of Nations.
In October 1935, Italy invaded Abyssinia. The Abyssinians did not have the strength to withstand an attack by Italy and appealed to the League of Nations for help.
The League condemned the attack and called on member states to impose trade restrictions with Italy. However, the trade restrictions were not carried out because they would have little effect. Italy would be able to trade with non-member states, particularly America. Furthermore, Britain and France did not want to risk Italy making an attack on them.
In order to stop Italy’s aggression, the leaders of Britain and France held a meeting and decided that Italy could have two areas of land in Abyssinia provided that there were no further attacks on the African country. Although Mussolini accepted the plan, there was a public outcry in Britain and the plan was dropped.
The main reasons for the failure of the League of Nations can be summarised into the following points:
Not all countries joined the League
Although the idea for the League of Nations had come from Woodrow Wilson, there was a change of government in the United States before the signing of the treaty and the new Republican government refused to join. As a punishment for having started World War One, Germany was not allowed to join and Russia was also excluded due to a growing fear of Communism. Other countries decided not to join and some joined but later left.
The League had no power.
The main weapon of the League was to ask member countries to stop trading with an aggressive country. However, this did not work because countries could still trade with non-member countries. When the world was hit by depression in the late 1920s countries were reluctant to lose trading partners to other non-member countries.
The League had no army
Soldiers were to be supplied by member countries. However, countries were reluctant to get involved and risk provoking an aggressive country into taking direct action against them and failed to provide troops.
Unable to act quickly
The Council of the League of Nations only met four times a year and decisions had to be agreed by all nations. When countries called for the League to intervene, the League had to set up an emergency meeting, hold discussions and gain the agreement of all members. This process meant that the League could not act quickly to stop an act of aggression.
All of these factors together were principal causes of World War 2.
Recommended Reading on Causes of World War 2
Operation Snow: How a Soviet Mole in FDR’s White House Triggered Pearl Harbor © 2012 by John Koster. To order this book, please visit its online sales page at Amazonor Barnes & Noble.