Causes of World War Two
World War Two was a conflict between The Allies and The Axis Powers. The Allies consisted of Britain and its foreign territories, France and later on in the War, America. The Axis Powers were Germany, Japan and Italy. War was declared on the 3rd of September 1939 (Ganeri, Martell, Williams 2007), when Germany failed to meet the Allies’ demands that Germany should not invade Poland. There are several reasons why Germany wanted to invade Poland, and why the Allies did not want them to. These reasons are all essentially the causes of World War Two. The causes are all noteworthy, however, they all lead back to a common source; the Treaty of Versailles.
The Treaty of Versailles is the source of all the Causes of World War Two, and is therefore the most important cause as a basis for the others. The Treaty of Versailles was the peace treaty between the Allies and Germany, regarding the repercussions for Germany and the formation of the League of Nations. The most important clauses in the Treaty included Germany taking full responsibility for The First World War, Germany losing all of its colonies and much of its territory and having to pay £6.6 billion in reparations (Clare 2014). Not only was this humiliating for the German people, it spiralled the nation into an immense recession and close to a civil war. This made many Germans believe that what their country needed was a strong, totalitarian government. This can be shown by the election of Adolf Hitler as Chancellor of Germany in 1933. Therefore, it is through Hitler that the effect of The Treaty of Versailles can physically be demonstrated.
Because of the effect of the Treaty of Versailles upon Germany, Hitler was able to start World War Two. When Adolf Hitler came to power, he had three major goals in mind, which were stated in his book, Mein Kampf. His goals were, to destroy the Treaty of Versailles, create a Greater Germany and to conquer land for Germany in Eastern Europe (BBC, 2015). He did end up achieving these goals, revoking the Treaty in 1936, getting Germany in a better economic situation and annexing Austria and Czechoslovakia before World War Two. He also made alliances such as the anti-comintern pact with Japan, and Italy later joining. Hitler’s aggressive expansion and refusal to comply with the terms of the Treaty of Versailles were two examples of the Allies failed attempts to appease him.
The failure of appeasement by the allies was effectively what allowed World War Two to escalate into a major war. As Hitler was rapidly growing more powerful and expanding his territory throughout the 1930s, the allies believed that they could avoid a war by trying to appease Hitler by allowing him certain violations of the Treaty of Versailles. Initially the Allies believed that Hitler’s strong German nation may have stopped communism from spreading into Western Europe. As time went on however, it became apparent that Hitler was becoming more of a threat than communism, and the Allies simply wanted to avoid a repeat of the First World War. An example of an attempt made by the Allies to appease Hitler was British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s meeting with Hitler in 1938 while making the Munich agreement. The leaders both signed a waiver stating that they would “solve their differences through consultation to assure peace” (Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2015). By this point however, Hitler had become so powerful by this point after annexing Austria and most of Czechoslovakia that Hitler was able to start another world war. The League of Nations was set up to stop another war from happening, therefore, the fact that it completely failed at doing so makes it another cause.
The League of Nations did not do what it was primarily set up to do; avoid another world war. The League of Nations was founded as the result of the Treaty of Versailles, as some of its clauses regarded its founding. The League was supposed to “provide a forum for resolving international disputes” (US Department of State, 2015), however it did not stop the outbreak of World War Two, which could be regarded as quite a failure. The reason it did not stop the War was because it had no real power. For example, when Japan invaded Manchuria in 1931 it was asked to stop the invasion by the League, or many of the countries would embargo Japan. Japan responded to this by leaving the League and continuing with the invasion. The case was almost identical with Germany, as the League of Nations could do nothing to prevent them from violating the Treaty of Versailles seeing as none of its countries were willing to challenge Germany and it did not have a force of its own.
The result of the Treaty of Versailles was almost the antithesis of what it was intended to be. It led to another world war, even bloodier than the first, Germany became powerful enough to annex most of mainland Europe, and the League of Nations was almost a complete failure. While it may have been Hitler’s fault for starting World War Two, it cannot be argued that the Treaty of Versailles was the reason for a person such as Hitler being able to come into power. In the words of Winston Churchill regarding the Treaty, “To stop another war was the supreme object and duty of the statesmen who met… around the peace table. They made great errors” (NBC News 1949)
HistoryOnTheNet 2014, World War Two-Causes, viewed 17 March 2015, http://www.historyonthenet.com/ww2/causes.htm
History Learning Site 2015, The Treaty of Versailles, viewed 20 March 2015, http://www.historylearningsite.co.uk/treaty_of_versailles.htm
Clare, John D, What were ‘reparations’, and what changes were made to the Treaty of Versailles over this issue in the period 1919–1932?, viewed 25 March 2015, http://www.johndclare.net/EA7.htm
BBC 2015, Hitler’s Rise to Power, viewed 25 March 2015, http://www.bbc.co.uk/schools/gcsebitesize/history/mwh/germany/hitlerpowerrev1.shtml
Ganeri, A, Martell, HM, Williams, B 2007, World History, Paragon, Bath
Carrodus, g, Delany, T, McArthur, K, Smith, R 2012, Oxford Big Ideas Australian Curriculum History 10, Oxford University Press, Melbourne
Encyclopaedia Britannica 2015, Munich Agreement, viewed 29 March 2015, http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/397522/Munich-Agreement
US Department of State, Office of the Historian 2015, The League of Nations, 1920, viewed 30 March 2015, https://history.state.gov/milestones/1914-1920/league
Sir Winston Churchill Remarks on the Failures of the Treaty of Versailles 31 March 1949, Television Program, NBC Universal Media, New York, retrieved from https://archives.nbclearn.com/portal/site/k-12/flatview?cuecard=628