To what extent was Hitler responsible for the outbreak of the second world war in 1939?
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World war two taking place in 1939 is a turning point in history. The war happened because of a combination of multiple factors. The growth of different forms of totalitarianism, the harshness of the Treaty of Versailles, the policies of nations, the world economic crisis and the failure of appeasement were the major causes.
World war one from the beginning till the end engendered many transformations of the world. The outcomes were spectacularly heavy. The populations of the nations confronted to the horror of the war were traumatised by what they had had to go through. The losses were counted in millions around the world with more than 18 million dead and more than 70 million soldiers mobilized. After the victory against the Axis, Europe assisted to a ravaging economic decline. The important loss of young men creating a birth deficit and an aging of the population were a problem for countries’ economy for labour. The populations were weakened and desperate, having been harshly brutalised and slaughtered.
The governments having difficulty reconstructing their country thought it right to impose reparations to the responsible for the outbreak of the war and so the losers. Many treaties were signed and imposed on the Axis. The treaty of Versailles the most important of the treaties was signed in June 1919 to end the war and wasn’t negotiated between the Allies and Germany. The Allies believing that they had won imposed on Germany their terms condensed in the Treaty of Versailles. The Treaty was established to make Germans pay for what they had done to the countries, to prevent any other attack and give independence of countries that had been occupied by the Germans. They wanted justice though Georges Clemenceau also wanted revenge and to punish severely Germany for the damages done in the war. Germany through the treaty saw much of the territory he had gained during the four year of battle withdrawn and all German colonies were handed to Britain and France.
Germany had a tax to pay for reparations for the damages done so important that Germany would never be able to pay, had to reduce its army to a few thousand men and was forbidden to have an air force nor submarines removing the power Germans thought they commanded. The occupation of the Rhineland was also imposed by the Treaty. As they were aware of the conditions of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, the Allies wanted to be as tough as Germany had been 2 years before towards Russia forcing the country hand to Germany some of its land. This is why the terms of the Treaty were severe towards Germany.
The Germans felt pain and anger towards the harshness of the treaty of Versailles. They felt it was unfair as they hadn’t been able to take part in the talks. They refused signing it for many reasons. They said they weren’t to blame for the war, that the reparations asked would just provoke general famine and death around the country. Also the division of the territory was unfair leaving to the Germans 9 tenth of its precedent territory and loosing 10% of Germany’s population. Instead of handing their fleet they sank it all. All of these oppositions to the Treaty of Versailles led to a French occupation of the Ruhr in January 1923 forcing Germany to follow the orders of the Treaty. But this occupation of the French will accentuate the economic crisis Germany is going through which will then lead them in the Nazi’s clutches.
The Germans felt humiliated by the conditions placed on them, mugged and weren’t prepared to accept defeat in 1919. The German workers disillusioned refused working for France who had humiliated them. Strikes will follow and paralyse all industries leading to the depreciation of the Mark in astounding proportions with 1 dollar having a value of 18,000 marks and which will even reach higher numbers by October 1923. With the tolerance of this hyperinflation, the government of Germany frees himself from the national debt at a good price but on a long term, this economic sabotage will destroy and so ruin Germany’s economy.
One of Hitler’s aims was to abolish the Treaty of Versailles as it was a constant reminder to the Germans of their humiliation in world war I. Hitler did not accept that he and the German army had lost the war, and he was determined to make Germany Great again. To do so, his Germany will rearm in 1935 as he didn’t accept having a tiny army to defend his country from a possible attack. The rearmament alarmed the French who started to feel insecure and reinforced the Maginot line though stayed passive. Britain on its side was sympathetic to Germany allowing Germany’s navy army to be more substantial. The demilitarised Rhineland stood as France’s best guarantee against a future attack from Germany. But once Germany will again break the Treaty of Versailles by remilitarising his troops in 1936 and introducing conscription on which Britain didn’t react and where France stayed passive, France has lost its peace assurance by letting Hitler get away.
As Chamberlain thought Germany had suffered a lot and wanted peace over the world seeking through negotiations and compromises. The British firmly agreed that the Treaty of Versailles was unfair, some even approved to several of Hitler’s policies and most of all, the British were « afraid » of the growth of communism and hoped that a strong Germany would be able to stop it. This appeasement policy broke the Treaty of Versailles. Chamberlain’s trust in Hitler caused him a lot of harm. The politician gave way to Hitler on a number of occasions trying to buy off Hitler which was an error. Hitler managed to invade Austria, Czechoslovakia and the Sudetenland without a major problem.
The appeasement let Hitler grow stronger, dominate other nations and feel as he could do anything he wanted.
Hitler took advantage of the appeasement Policy and had even more ambitious territorial dreams.
The crisis of 1929 has by the past ruined considerably the economies of the nations and the accession of fascist regimes in Italy and Germany will encourage the extreme right parties to accede to power. Hitler having managed finding his way through to the leadership and the third Reich with his party will have the task of mobilizing the entire German population in favour of one idea: the greatness of the nation, put as an absolute value in a perspective of conquest and domination. He believed that the Aryan race was genetically superior and destined to rule over others and that he had the right to invade eastern Europe and make the Slav peoples Germany’s slaves. At the same time in other countries, the war had done many damages and other fascist and totalitarianism countries such as Italy and Japan will aim to an expansion of their territory having the same believes in commemoration of the great killings of 1914-1918. They are hoping for a vengeance.
Fascists and members of the third Reich will go further than just creating a strong and powerful country of theirs. Mussolini’s and Hitler’s regimes will want domination and the axis powers will become hungry of territory and resources. They will be opposed to democracy and communism using force if needed. Hitler blamed the communists for Germany’s defeat in WWI and thought they were trying to conquer his country. Both men will install a system of supervision of all society, will develop a propaganda of all moments and will establish a great terror through police eliminating all opponents. They will use methods used to make everyone devote to their nation, the party and his leader.
In many other European countries, the unemployment rate grew incredibly high sharpening social tensions because of the economic crisis of the 30s they were facing. Afraid that the communists sustained by USSR or that the nazis or fascists financed by Italy and Germany would reach their country, some other European countries installed dictatorships resembling sometimes to fascism. Fear reigned in these countries.
The fascist and dictatorship countries occupied a larger and larger area before the declaration of WWII. This is not only the case in Europe but for instance Italy invaded Abyssinia in 1935 and Japan did the same in Manchuria in 1931 The third Reich has a figure of high and powerful dominance and will try to create a « new Europe » that would be devoted to Hitler.
In all cases developed above, it must be noted that the League of Nations (the ancestor of the UN) didn’t play its role to promote international peace and security as it was weak and had hard times to stop aggressions involving the above major powers so as to prevent any war. two of the reasons for this weakness is certainly the absence of the powerful USA in the league of nations and it had no military forces to command. America’s consistent refusal to use nothing more than words in support of the league had shown just how helpless the international community was when it came to enforcing the peace. The league had failed to help China and Abyssinia against Japan and Italy.
The lack of unity between Britain and France contributed to the failure of the League of Nations. The democracies were too passive towards the Axis powers. For example, France wouldn’t do anything without Britain’s support. She lost the will to maintain a firm stand against Hitler’s dismantling of the treaty of Versailles. France and Britain acted too slowly in seeking agreements with the Soviet Union to check Germany even if Britain was the most reluctant. With the appeasement policy, Britain let Hitler gain power as the country was sympathetic towards Germany. Because France couldn’t act against Britain nothing was done to stop Germany from getting stronger and stronger.
The alliance between Poland and Britain was strong and Britain declared war to Hitler after he had invaded Poland on the 1st September 1939.
In conclusion, the war was caused by a combination of factors even if Hitler’s aims and actions were the main causes of the outbreak of world war two. Europe was divided and fascist aggressions became more and more frequent causing tensions on the fragile continent impoverished. If the democratic powers hadn’t failed in stopping these aggressions, maybe the second world war wouldn’t have happened.