World War II


World War II started in Europe, but soon became a global conflict that dwarfed all previous wars in geographical extent and in human and materials losses suffered. Intense fighting took place on three continents- Europe, Africa, and Asia- and on the seas, lands, and oceans around the globe. More nations (over 50) were fighters in the war than in any other war in the history of the World. The chief antagonists on the Allied side were Great Britain, France, the United States, the Soviet Union, and China. On the opposing side were Germany, Italy, and Japan, making up the so-called Axis powers.


Many of the causes of World War II were similar to those that brought on the First World War. After WWI, many nations wanted to prevent another war by establishing what could be called a house of peace. The foundations of this house included: the Versailles Treaty, the League of Nation, disarmament conferences, and the Kellogg-Briand Pact, which attempted to outlaw war. Unfortunately, the house of peace crumbled for a number of reasons, most of them due to the actions of the Axis powers. Militarism played a very large role for the causes of WWII. Large amounts of money were spent on weapons. Military strength was seen as a source of national pride. The leaders of the Axis powers were always seen in military dress, and made it a national priority to make their military very strong. It like if you have a room that keeps on filling up with thousands of dollars each dayÖeventually your going to want to spend it.


Another cause of WWII was nationalism and racism. The Axis nations saw themselves as superior to others and with the right therefore to extend their great culture and their borders (the German ďmaster raceĒ theory, the Italian wish to revive the ancient Roman Empire, the Japanese pride based on Shinto teachings and the necessity to established Japanese order in Asia) to other people. Imperialism was also another cause for WWII. The Axis nations sought to take over other lands for political, racist, and economic reasons. Japan moved into China (1931, 1937); Italy conquered Ethiopia (1938); and Germany annexed Austria (the Anschluss, or union) and Czechoslovakia (1938, 1939). This revival of imperialism struck fear into the Allies hearts, seeing that they might be next on the list for annexation.


Another major cause was the failure of collective security. The democratic nations of Europe and the United States did little to curb the aggressive policies of Germany, Italy, and Japan. The League of Nations condemned some of these aggressive moves but was unable to take any military action. Eventually this dog pile of aggressive actions was growing in Europe, and no one could stop it. The final major cause of the war was appeasement. To give in to a potential aggressor, hoping that the aggressor will be content and not commit any further harmful acts is called appeasement. It later came to mean the policy of accepting territorial aggression against small nations in the hope of avoiding war. British Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, at the Munich Conference in 1938, followed this policy. Here, he agreed to accept German annexation of the Sudetenland (German speaking Czechs) portion of Czechoslovakia in return for Hitlerís guarantee of independence for the rest of Czechoslovakia. The policy proved to be a failure when Hitler later sent the German army to occupy all of Czechoslovakia in violation of the Munich Agreement. That action proved to Hitler that the Europeans feared him, and would do anything to prevent a full-scale war. As one can see, war was practically inevitable especially with a charismatic and insane leader trying to conjure it all up.


The German attack on Poland in September 1939 was the actual start of WWII. Britain and France finally realized that they would have to use military force to stop Hitlerís megalomaniac aggression and threat to conquer all of Europe. Just prior to its attack on Poland, Germany signed a non-aggression pact with the Soviet Union. Under this agreement, Russia would take over eastern Poland and the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania and would not contest Hitlerís attempt to take over western Poland. Also, Russia and Germany promised not to fight each other. Russia made