World War II Happen?
The world had barely stopped hemorrhaging from the ravages of the “War to End All Wars” when World War II broke out in 1939 following Germany’s invasion of Poland. Given the bloody and enormously costly outcome of the First World War and the efforts by the international community to forge an international organization that could arbitrate potential conflicts between countries in the interim, some observers today might question how the Second World War could occur in the first place. To gain some fresh insights into this question and formulate accurate answers, this paper provides a review of the relevant literature concerning the origins of World War II, followed by a summary of the research and important findings in the conclusion.
Review and Analysis
The official records indicate that World War I was fought between 1914 and 1918, but some analysts maintain that World War I was never really over and remained bubbling on the backburner of international relations following the surrender of Germany in 1918. In this regard, Carr (2005) reports that, “A misconception is that wars end in a specific year. World War I is considered to be over as is World War II; however, the socio-political, religious, and economic causes of these wars have not ended.”
Indeed, Carr goes so far as so suggest that even though the shooting war was over, World War I never ended in its entirety. According to Carr, “Timelines also demonstrate that World Wars do not end even though the major conflicts of that war may be declared over by major conflict de facto cessation or treaty.”
Likewise, Shevin-Coetzee and Coetzee (2010) suggest that resentment by the Axis powers in general and Germany in particular over the harsh settlement terms of World War I began boiling to the surface before the ink was even dry on the Treaty of Versailles.
According to one historian, “Many of the seeds of World War II in Europe were sown by the Treaty of Versailles that ended World War I. In its final form, the treaty placed full blame for the war on Germany and Austria-Hungary, as well as exacted harsh financial reparations and led to territorial dismemberment.”
While it is reasonable to suggest that there was enough blame to share for World War I to go around, the Treaty of Versailles placed the entire blame for the war on the German people and forced them to pay out the nose for the privilege. For instance, Hickman (2012) adds that, “The need to pay war reparations, coupled with the instability of the government, contributed to massive hyperinflation which crippled the German economy. This situation was made worse by the onset of the Great Depression.”
Given these circumstances, the stage was set for yet another war and the handwriting was on the wall for all to see — but many chose to ignore these signs until more substantive action was taken by Germany.
This resentment over the terms of the Treaty of Versailles was translated into new foreign policy objectives for Germany during the interwar period. For instance, Corum (2004) advises that, “A central goal of Nazi foreign relations was to ensure German domination of the economies of Central Europe to include Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Poland, Rumania, Bulgaria, and Yugoslavia.”
In an effort to create additional living space for the German people, Germany’s foreign policy extended to the economic sphere wherein it sought to gain dominance before it ever invaded Poland in 1939. According to Corum, “Through its foreign trade and investment policies of the 1930s Germany made a conscious effort to push out British and French trade and influence in the region and supplant it with German domination.”
By this point in time, Germany had recovered sufficiently from the drubbing it took in World War I to reassert its dominance in its pursuit of living space for the German people. According to Corum, “There was little subtlety in the German policy of asserting its dominance in Central Europe. The small nations had to make realistic accommodations with Germany in order to survive.”
Likewise, according to Bassett (2008), Germany began cracking down on domestic dissent during this period as well. For instance, Basset notes that, “When church leaders spoke out against Nazi abuses, the German regime subjected Christians to more abuse than before.”
While Germany’s intentions in Europe were becoming apparent, there was some debate over its intentions concerning the West in general and the United States in particular. For instance, Divine (1969) reports that prior to World War II, many analysts believed that Hitler had hostile intentions towards the United States despite the fact that there was little or no evidence that there was any discernible Nazi aggression taking place in the Western Hemisphere at the time.
Nevertheless, most authorities agree that the cause of World War II can be attributed to one primary source: Adolf Hitler. According to deMause (2008), “Historians’ conclusions about what caused them are that Germans were simply obeying Hitler, a case of mass hypnosis by one man: Historians are, rightly, nearly unanimous that…the causes of the Second World War were the personality and the aims of Adolf Hitler, the war Hitler started was one which he alone wanted, and only one European really wanted war — Adolf Hitler.”
In reality, Adolf Hitler may have been the primary instigating force that compelled Germans to march off to war lemming-like yet again, but the historical record shows that many German people were in fact supportive on Hitler’s agenda up until the very end. According to deMause, “Germans were simply reenacting their embedded childhood feelings that they deserved being liquidated because they were ‘bad.’ . . . War was chosen by Germans as a massive suicidal ritual that would quiet their explosive inner voices.”
Likewise, Snell (1962) emphasizes that the causes of World War II extended beyond Hitler and Germany to include actions by the Western powers as well. In this regard, Snell reports that, “Responsibility [for World War II] was not exclusively placed on a single nation, though Germany’s primary guilt was clearly affirmed. Western appeasement of Nazi Germany was criticized, as was Soviet appeasement in 1939.”
In fact, isolationists in the Untied States were adamant about keeping America out of the war in Europe and Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor solidified American popular opinion along these lines. Many Americans believed that the war in Europe was Britain’s responsibility and the war in the Pacific was America’s bailiwick. If Hitler had left well enough alone (especially with respect to the Soviet Union), he might just have consolidated his power and won the European war. According to deMause, “Hitler’s gratuitous declaration of war against the U.S. For no reason after Pearl Harbor was particularly suicidal.”
Even the war-happy militaristic Japanese, though, were fighting World War II for reasons other than those attributed to them by many Western analysts. For instance, based on their analysis of letters and diaries from kamikaze pilots near the end of World War II, Cook and Cook (1991) concluded that most of the pilots gave their lives for their families and Japan rather than the Japanese emperor.
In this setting, it is little wonder that World War II was forced to be dragged out to its grisly nuclear conclusion in 1945.
The research showed that World War II was started in 1939 following German’s invasion of Poland, but some authorities maintain that World War I was never really over and that World War II was just a continuation of this global conflict. The research also showed that many researchers agree that the cause of World War II can be attributed to Adolf Hitler, but it is reasonable to conclude that he had the support and cooperation of the German people during his ascendancy to power. This outcome was shown to be attributable to the resentments felt by the German people over the harsh terms of the Treaty of Versailles, resentments that began to manifest themselves almost immediately. In the final analysis, World War I was not the War to End All Wars, but was rather just an uninterrupted prelude to the global conflagration that would follow between 1939 and 1945.
Bassett, R.L. (2009, Fall). “Sacred Causes: The Clash of Religion and Politics, from the Great
War to the War on Terror.” Journal of Psychology and Christianity, 28(3), 281-289.
Carr, F.M. (2005, January 1). “World War I to World War IV: A Democratic-Economic
Perspective.” Journal of Economics and Economic Education Research, 6(1), 117-121.
Cook, H. & Cook, T. (1991). Japan at War: An Oral History. New York: New Press.
Corum, J.S. (2004, Summer). “The Luftwaffe and Its Allied Air Forces in World War II: Parallel
War and the Failure of Strategic and Economic Cooperation.” Air Power History, 51(2),
deMause, L. (2008, Summer). “The Childhood Origins of World War II and the Holocaust.” the
Journal of Psychohistory, 36(1), 2-5.
Divine, R.A. (1969). Causes and Consequences of World War II. Chicago: Quadrangle Books.
Hickman, K. (2012). “World War II Europe: The Road to War.” Military History. [online]
Shevin-Coetzee, M. & Coetzee, F. (2010). The World in Flames: A World War II Sourcebook.
Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Snell, J.L. (1962). The Outbreak of the Second World War: Design or Blunder? Boston D.C.
Carr, F.M. (2005, January 1). “World War I to World War IV: A Democratic-Economic Perspective.” Journal of Economics and Economic Education Research, 6(1), p. 117.
Carr, p. 117.
Shevin-Coetzee, M. & Coetzee, F. (2010). The World in Flames: A World War II Sourcebook. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Hickman, K. (2012). “World War II Europe: The Road to War.” Military History. [online] available: http://militaryhistory.about.com/od/worldwarii/a/wwiieurcauses.htm.
Hickman, p. 1.
Corum, J.S. (2004, Summer). “The Luftwaffe and Its Allied Air Forces in World War II: Parallel War and the Failure of Strategic and Economic Cooperation.” Air Power History, 51(2), p. 4.
Corum, p. 4.
Corum, p. 5.
Bassett, R.L. (2009, Fall). “Sacred Causes: The Clash of Religion and Politics, from the Great War to the War on Terror.” Journal of Psychology and Christianity, 28(3), p. 281.
Divine, R.A. (1969). Causes and Consequences of World War II. Chicago: Quadrangle Books, p. 9.
deMause, L. (2008, Summer). “The Childhood Origins of World War II and the Holocaust.” The Journal of Psychohistory, 36(1), p. 2.
deMause, p. 3.
Snell, J.L. (1962). The Outbreak of the Second World War: Design or Blunder? Boston D.C. Heath, p. viii.
deMause, p. 3.
Cook, H. & Cook, T. (1991). Japan at War: An Oral History. New York: New Press.
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