The roots of World War I were embedded in nineteenth century political, social, and economic movements. World War II emerged from the aftermath of the conflicts that led to the 19141918 war. Conditions in Europe after the Paris peace settlement, coupled with aggressive, totalitarian nationalism were major factors contributing to the outbreak of World War II. Real and perceived injustices, the collapse of the concept of collective security, as well as indecisive national policies represent additional factors. The German Weimar Republic was the government most strained by the Great War and its aftermath. The Nazi Party played on awakened nationalism and heightened socioeconomic problems to gain control of Germany. The Great Depression fostered decisions not contemplated in an earlier era, particularly in Germany. By the mid-1930s the postwar hope for peace sponsored by the newly formed League of Nations had collapsed, as Japan invaded Manchuria (1931) and Italy attacked Ethiopia (1935). A crucial test for France came in March 1936 when German troops reoccupied the Rhineland in a deliberate violation of the Versailles Treaty and the Locarno Pacts of 1925. The failure to act against this blatant disregard for international agreements only increased the appetite of Hitler and Mussolini, who went on to support the fascist rebels during the Spanish Civil War of the late 1930s. Meanwhile, the Nazis brought increasing pressures against Austria and Czechoslovakia. A crisis in the spring of 1938 over the Sudetanland of Czechoslovakia set the stage for the effective destruction of the most successful of the central European states that were created at the end of World War I. The Munich Conference averted immediate war, but it emboldened Hitler, left England and France apparently impotent, and moved Italy into Hitlers diplomatic embrace. In a surprise move the communist state of the Soviet Union and the fascist state of Germany became strange bedfellows by signing the Nazi-Soviet Pact of 1939, sealing Polands fate and beginning a war that lasted nearly five years in Europe but spanned three continents and all oceans, and involved most of the nations of the world. From the invasion of Poland in September, 1939, to the collapse of France in the summer of 1940, the Germans experienced complete military success. Churchills Britain would not yield, however, and a German aerial bombing assault proved counterproductive. By the end of 1941, the German invasion of Russia had been stopped just west of Moscow, and Japan had launched a surprise air attack against American ships and naval facilities at Hawaii, quickly bringing the United States into World War II. By the summer of 1943, though far from over, the tide was clearly turning in favor of the Allies. Russian pressures in the east and the Normandy invasion in mid-1944 put the Germans almost totally on the defensive. By May, 1945, the war was over in Europe, and two nuclear attacks brought Japanese surrender in August of that year. The second "Great" war of this century was over, and with it European domination of the planet came to an end. In the power vacuum thus created, the United States and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics moved from a reluctant wartime partnership to being deadly adversaries. It is this postwar juxtaposition of global "superpowers" that emerged as the dominant factor of the Western state system for nearly 50 years.
After reading this chapter you should understand:
- The long-term and immediate causes of World War II.
- The course of battles and economic management during the war.
- Nazi racism and the Holocaust.
- The impact of the war on the people of Europe.
- Wartime diplomatic relations and plans for the postwar world.