Unlike its predecessor, World War II didn’t start because of the assassination of a significant leader, thankfully. However, we can pinpoint its spark to both recurring and new causes alike. Some of them are similar to WWI’s, such as militarism and imperialism but others are unprecedented like economic downturns and the rise of totalitarianism.
Global Economic Crisis
The Great Depression led to the collapse of countless governments across the world, especially the US and Western Europe. The lack of government activity fermented chaos and resentment among locals who called for action.
Even after these sentiments were alleviated by the eventual end of the crisis, it is actually the main reason behind Adolf Hitler’s rise to power through his platforms to use imperialism as the key to restart Germany’s economy. As recently appointed Chancellor of Germany at the time, his bold promises to get Germany out of reparation payments (WWI) and become a leading power in Europe won over the German populace who felt bitter and cheated as the main group held accountable in the Treaty of Versailles.
Unsustained Peace Settlement After WWI
The Paris Peace Conference failed to solve the problems of imperialism and proper accountability, leaving the former Allies and Central Powers in very awkward political and diplomatic situations. The existence of mandates gave Hitler a reason to justify his invasions of German-speaking regions as a form of unifying his people - the “superior race” - under one flag.
Italy also felt left out in the reward distribution of the Versailles Treaty, hardly receiving any territories despite fighting for the Allies during WWI. This ultimately sparked nationalism and ambitions to acquire what they weren’t able to before under Benito Mussolini. In the same decade, Italy had already risen as a fascist dictatorship, clear evidence that the peace settlement was hardly effective in the long run.
Rise of Fascist and Totalitarian Regimes
As briefly mentioned earlier, fascism and totalitarianism proliferated and expanded mainly due to two reasons:
Discontent towards WWI peace settlement. Germany felt humiliated and cheated by the fact that they were the first to blame despite the fact that they only supported Austria-Hungary against Serbia, the first two countries who actually declared war against each other.
The Great Depression and the global economic crisis. Capitalism is clearly not the most effective economic system even after the war. Mussolini and Hitler sought alternatives, and they found their niches within fascism and Nazism (a form of fascism), respectively, to avoid a repeat of the depression that killed, starved, and crippled millions worldwide.
Aggressive Militarism by Hitler and Nazi Germany
A direct response to the rise of Nazi totalitarianism and staunch nationalism motivated by revenge against the Allies and personal justice, Hitler began to mobilize his forces. A total of 13.6 million troops served Nazi Germany throughout the course of WWII. He also ordered the swift construction of naval destroyers as a show of might.
Neighboring countries started to be concerned of Germany’s rapid mobilization, but they chose to remain passive with the hopes of it ending soon. Previous adversaries like France and Belgium issue warnings for Hitler to stop to no avail. Seeing that Hitler won’t do anything dramatic, the entire world remained on their toes as they waited on what he'd do next. As long as he doesn’t invade anyone nearby, nothing’s going to happen, right?
During the Interwar Period, Japan consolidated its hold over Asia. Years before WWII started, it entered the Berlin Pact with Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany - a symbol of their agreement on solidarity, allied assistance, and splitting the bounty after the war. Known as the Axis Powers, they resolved to acquire more land and create a new balance of power that centers on their tripartite axis.
With allies at his side, Germany proceeded to annex Austria (Anschluss) in March 1939 to everyone’s shock. France and Britain condone this as a form of appeasement in exchange for Hitler’s word on not invading any territory any further. When he violated this promise by invading Poland in September 1939, the two western European countries finally realized that there’s no other way around and promptly declared war on Germany. After 20 years of uncertain peace, the world appeared to be at war once again.
Activity 4: Because of You. Is each of the following a cause to WWI, WWII, both, or neither?
Assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand
Rise of Fascist & Totalitarian Regimes
Unsustained Peace Settlement
Global Economic Crisis
ANSWERS - Activity 4: Because of You
Assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand = WWI
Imperialism = both
Rise of Fascist & Totalitarian Regimes = WWII
Militarism = both
Unsustained Peace Settlement = WWII
Alliance Systems = WWI
Global Economic Crisis = WWII
Karen’s Outbursts = neither