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Causes of the Second World War

  

   

From the first day that he "seized power," January 30, 1933, Hitler knew that only sudden death awaited him if he failed to restore pride and empire to post-Versailles Germany.   His close friend and adjutant Julius Schaub recorded Hitler's jubilant boast to his staff on that evening, as the last celebrating guests left the Berlin Chancellery building: "No power on earth will get me out of this building alive!"  

David Irving, Hitler's War: An introduction to the new edition (1989).

   

Links

Long and short-term causes - an excellent resource from History Learning.

More ideas

The Great Depression as a cause of war

  

- BBC debate-podcast on what caused the war

 

A Marxist view - emphasises the economic causes.

Building up German Hegemony in Central Europe, 1933-8 - very detailed and difficult 

 

Historians have suggested many reasons why World War Two broke out in 1939.  However, have you realised that the World War II was the culmination of the inter-war period, and that your whole course of study has been building up to understanding it?

You ALREADY KNOW the key causes of the war - because you have been studying them!

  

The four most important causes, therefore, were (click on the yellow pointers to see HOW they helped to cause war):

  • 1.  The Treaty of Versailles solved nothing  more
    • •  Reparations left many people in the victorious nations feeling guilty.
    • •  The loss of all that land to other countries simply made Hitler's early aggression look justified.
    • •  Self-determination surrounded Germany by a lot of small nation states that fell easy prey to Germany.
    • •  Most of all, the Treaty made the Germans angry, just waiting their chance for revenge.
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  • 2.  The League of Nations failed to keep the peace  more
    • •  It was weak from the beginning, and had spectacular failures in Manchuria and Abyssinia, and it failed to prevent Hitler breaking the Treaty of Versailles.
    • •  It failed to achieve disarmament, which resulted in an arms race.
    • •  Countries left the failing League, and realised that they would have to fight a war.
    • •  Britain and France abandoned collective security, and turned instead to appeasement.

        

  • 3.  Appeasement encouraged aggression  more
    • •  Appeasement encouraged war.   It made Hitler think no one dare stop him, which encouraged him to go further and further until in the end he went too far.
    • •  The Sudetenland led Stalin to make the Nazi-Soviet Pact, because he believed he could not trust Britain.

    Powerpoint presentation explaining the cartoon

    This drawing by the British cartoonist David Low (20 March 1935) is titled 'Cause comes before effect'. (Four days earlier Hitler had held his 'Freedom to Rearm' military rally where he denounced the disarmament clauses of the Versailles Treaty and announced the reinstatement of conscription in Germany.)

    Click here for the interpretation

        

  • 4.  Hitler was expansionist  more
    • •  Many historians still think that the Second World War was Hitler's personal war, and that he always intended to fight a war - as a re-run of a First World War he did not believe that German had lost fairly.

    Powerpoint presentation explaining the cartoon

    This drawing by the British cartoonist Sidney 'George' Strube (2 September 1939) is titled 'Juggernaut'.

    Click here for the interpretation

        

  • 5.  Eight Steps to War  [SCRAMCUP]

    In addition, the events leading up to the war played a part in starting the fighting.  Each event created anger in the allies.   This anger grew until Chamberlain declared war on Hitler on 3rd September 1939.

    EIGHT events have been identified by historians as being especially significant in causing war (click on the yellow pointers to see HOW they helped to cause war):

    • Saar Plebsicite, 1935
      • •  It broke the Treaty of Versailles
      • •  It started a rearmament race
      • •  It divided the nations opposing Germany.
    • Conscription and Re-armament, 1935
      • •  It broke the Treaty of Versailles
      • •  It started a rearmament race
      • •  It divided the nations opposing Germany.
    • Rhineland, 1936
      • •  It broke the Treaty of Versailles
      • •  It was the first military action by Hitler and it was successful
      • •  France lost the opportunity to stop Hitler once and for all.
    • Austria, 1938
      • •  It broke the Treaty of Versailles
      • •  It was the first time Hitler had annexed land outside Germany
      • •  It marked the beginning of Mussolini's support for Hitler
      • •  It marked the first time Chamberlain appeased Hitler because Austria was 'too far away to help'.
    • Munich, 1938
      • •  It was the first time Hitler took land that was not simply redressing the Treaty of Versailles
      • •  It convinced Hitler that Chamberlain and Daladier were 'worms' who could be bullied
      • •  It convinced Stalin that Chamberlain and Daladier would not stand up to Hitler and led him to make the Nazi-Soviet Pact
      • •  The German army, hoping Hitler would be humiliated by the allies, had planned to topple him when he was; his success meant the end of any hope of getting rid of Hitler.
    • Czechoslovakia, 1939  more
      • •  It discredited appeasement and demonstrated that Hitler's promises could not be trusted
      • •  It was the first time Hitler had annexed a non-German people; thus it appear to prove that he wanted to dominate the whole world
      • •  Czecholsovakia was a democracy, which worried the other western democracies
      • •  It convinced Chamberlain that Hitler would ot be stopped by negotiation, and led him to make the Polish Guarantee (which was the eventual trigger of the war)
      • •  It outraged the British people, and got them ready for war (where in September 1938 they had been overwhelmingly in favour of peace).
    • USSR/Nazi Pact, 1939  more
      • •  It was the agreement which made Hitler brave enough to invade Poland
      • •  It was seen as a disgusting act of political cynicism which convinced British people of the need for a war to stop this evil man.
    • Poland, 1939  more
      • •  The Polish Guarantee was the end of appeasement - a 'non-negotiable' which provoked war
      • •  The Polish Guarantee was the promise that prevented Chamberlain cutting another deal with Hitler in August 1939
      • •  The Polish Guarantee was the decision which threw Stalin into the Nazi-Soviet Pact the invasion of Poland was the event which explicitly caused Britain to declare war on 3 September 1939.

  

 

Activity: 

Look at the first four causes of war.  Click on the headings and think about HOW they helped to cause the war.

Which do you think was most important, and why?

   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Activity: 

Look at the seven events which helped to cause the war.  Click on the headings and think about HOW they helped to cause the war.

Which do you think was most important, and why?

   

 

Extra:

Write the essay: 'Why did war break out in 1939?'

•  Write your essay in five paragraphs, as on this webpage.

•  Look back through your notes, and include relevant information from your studies.

•  Remember to PEE every paragraph, citing evidence, and explaining how each event helped to cause the war

•  Include logical connectives such as 'therefore', 'consequently' and 'because of this...'.

   

Now, can you adapt the information in this essay to write the essay in a slightly different form: 'Was the policy of appeasement the most important reason for the outbreak of the Second World War?   Explain your answer.'