The cause of the Second World War is something that is hard to talk about. It is something that, if one thinks they know the answer, they will not listen to any new evidence. As you read this, you no doubt have already thought of how World War II started: German aggression, Hitler, Pearl Harbor, Japanese aggression, the Tripartite Pact. While they are all true, some more than others, one must first start a little further back in history. Before the Third Reich, before the Japanese Empire began it’s war march, before Hitler. Lets begin with the accumulation of industrial colonial powers that led to the First World War.
The beginning of World War One is attributed to the web of alliances and influences across Europe set afire with one assassination. First, Arch Duke Ferdinand was assassinated by a disgruntled Serbian in 1914. In a flash of rage, the Austro-Hungarian Empire declared war against the tiny Serbian nation. The Russian Empire, looking for influence in the region had promised to protect Serbia and declared war against the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Austrio-Hungarian Germanic brothers, the newly formed German Empire, took up arms against the Russians. The French were allies with the Russian Empire and declared war against the Germans. The Germans declared was against Belgium to go around France and attack at a better point. Belgium fell quickly but pulled Great Britain into the fray. Later, the Americans were provoked when they intercepted a German sub trying to bring Mexico into a war to retake their lost land from the United States. Yes, it is a bit confusing and I admit I simplified it tremendously. It helps of you drew a map of the conflict but keep in mind there are many other players in the war (The Ottomans, Italians, Japan, and others).
After years of fighting, the First World War came to a bloody and depressing stalemate – the very first large scale trench war. The European fighters were relieved when the United States came into the war forcing the Germans into an unconditional surrender. Peace treaties now a days are relatively forgiving compared to the peace treaty for World War I. Every nation on every side was mad, weary, and bitter. There were one million British dead, one million seven hundred thousands Frenchmen gone, four hundred sixty thousand Italians gone, and over one million seven hundred thousands Russians and Turks dead – making it far too easy for revenge to seep it’s way into the peace treaty – the dreaded Treaty of Versailles.
Although the Treaty of Versailles ended the First World War, it brought an unsettled fire to Germany – one that will be stoked and used by Adolf Hitler to come to power. It was not the aggression by Hitler or the authoritarian dictators across the world that started the war – it was the brutal Treaty of Versailles. And many historians are slowly coming to the same conclusion. A.J.P. Taylor claimed that, “If this [German problem] were settled, everything would be settled; if it remained unsolved, Europe would not know peace” The only thing the treaty accomplished was a short-term relief to the Allies, and a podium for Hitler and Nazi Germany to rise to power.
The Treaty reduced the German army to no larger than one hundred thousand men, eliminated their air force, submarines, and most heavy surface vehicles, stripped Germany of Alsace-Lorraine, Danzig, and other territorial land – but even with this castration of the once proud German people – the most outrageous and suppressing part of the treaty was Article 231, also known as the war guilt clause which stated
“The Allied and Associated Governments affirm and Germany accepts the responsibility of Germany and her allies for causing all the loss and damage to which that Allies and Associated Governments and their nationals have been subjected as a consequence of the war imposed upon them by the aggression of Germany and her allies”
It held Germany completely responsible for the war, the war damages, and deaths from the first catastrophic war – but because the Germans suffered over two million deaths and were completely stretched thin – the German leaders bit their lip and signed the Treaty. Signing the treaty then was completely pointless because the Allies already negotiated the Treaty on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month – and signed it without any German representative. In the aftermath of the war, Former Chancellor of Germany, Franz von Papen, captured the feelings of all Germans saying, “The grave errors and injustices contained in the Versailles treaty can only be explained by the state of hysteria engendered in the Allied Powers by years of hate-filled and untrue propaganda.” There were a good amount of Allies who thought the same thing. Winston Churchill remarked, “All sorts of races who counted for nothing, or stood aside from, or were protected in the dire struggle of the world, hurried up with their pretensions while the great combatants la gasping. Them came the period which was easy to predict, when the victors forgot and the vanquished remembered”
So, the Germans lay in defeat and stripped of any real power. The reparations they owed to the Allies kept them suppressed and unable to gain any sort of power. The decades of poverty only resulted in Hitler’s claim to power – which he got legally. He was voted into power because the German people were looking for any hope – hope that they would not find abroad. Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Lloyd George, expressed the attitude of the victors by suggesting they, ” Squeeze Germany until the pips squeak”. And the Allies meant it – Germany didn’t pay off their massive debt until October of 2010. The fuel for the fire – the Rage of the Reich – is used by Adolf Hitler over and over to rally the German people who, desperate for relief, carried Hitler’s banner. Hitler denounced all debt from the Treaty of Versailles in 1933 declaring this ghastly statement
“It is not wise to deprive a people of the economic resources necessary for its existence without taking into consideration the fact that the population dependent on them are bound to the soil and will have to be fed. The idea that the economic extermination of a nation of sixty-five millions would be of service to other nations is absurd. Any people inclined to follow such a line of thought would, under the law of cause and effect, soon experience that the doom which they were preparing for another nation would swiftly overtake them. The very idea of reparations and the way in which they were enforced will become a classic example in the history of the nations of how seriously international welfare can be damaged by hasty and unconsidered action…