World War II resulted from a series of issues, many of which were caused by World War I (previously called “The Great War”). While the roots of World War I stemmed from the move towards nationalism during the late Nineteenth Century, the roots of WWII came from the way countries dealt with each other at the end of the Great War. This paper will discuss the causes of World War II.
A significant cause of the war was the treaty that ended it. The Treaty of Versailles was signed in 1919; it discussed the terms for the defeat of Germany. However, the treaty was both too strong and not strong enough. The treaty was too strong because it placed all blame for the war on the Axis nations, of which Germany was dominant. The harshness of the treaty led to a strong level of revanchism in parts of Germany. Revanchism refers to the movement among individuals in a country in which they display unusually strong feelings towards “lost” sections of their country. As is obvious to anyone who has examined the changing maps of Europe during history, the borders of the various countries have changed significantly over the centuries. Countries that existed (such as Prussia) no longer do. The country was dissolved and absorbed into other countries. These various regions that are “lost” may create a sense of nationalism in others. Germans began to desire the provinces and regions that they had lost as a result of their defeat. The Treaty led to Germany losing parts of it as a country. Its citizens resented this loss and a sense of revanchism developed.
Furthermore, the Germans received all of the “war-guilt” associated with World War I. War-guilt refers to the idea of how much a country or a people should be held responsible for the devastation and massive loss of life and property that results from a war. The Treaty of Versailles did not use the word “guilt.” However, it made it apparent that Germany was to blame for the First World War. This also allowed for Germany to pay reparations for the war. The article was quite controversial; it demanded that Germany accept all of the losses of the war. Obviously, this was meant as a punitive aspect of the treaty.
Due to these aspects, German nationalism began to occur within the 1920s. Germans struggled with a high level of inflation, as a result of the damages caused by the war. Essentially, the German money became worthless. The German citizens suffered as a result of this. This allowed for leaders, particularly a young leader named Adolf Hitler, to seek a group to blame for the German troubles. Hitler began to profess a strong sense of German nationalism, as well as revanchism, to the struggling people of Germany. The people of Germany were essentially vulnerable enough to listen to Hitler. Furthermore, Hitler began to seek out a scape-goat for all of the German problems. He chose the Jewish people, a group that has traditionally struggled for acceptance by various countries. As he gained power, he convinced himself and the German people that the Jewish people were evil.
It must also be noted that a strong sense of fascism that developed in Italy at the time as well. Fascism developed from a strong sense of Italian nationalism. Since Italy had been united as a country only a few decades before World War I, it finally began to recognize its potential for strength. The leaders of the Fascist movement in Italy argued that they were the natural successors to the glorious Ancient Roman Empire, which had controlled the world. They convinced the people that Italians should rule the world once more. This created a dangerous sense of nationalism among the people; this would lead to the rise of fascism. Italy’s cooperation with Germany and the formation of an alliance was not prohibited by the treaty. In this way, the treaty was too weak. This alliance would desire the world, leading to World War II.