Causes of World War II
World War I was one of the most destructive wars in modern history. Nearly ten million soldiers died as a result of hostilities. The enormous losses on all sides of the conflict resulted in part from the introduction of new weapons, like the machine gun and gas warfare, as well as the failure of military leaders to adjust their tactics to the increasingly mechanized nature of warfare. A policy of attrition, particularly on the Western Front, cost the lives of hundreds of thousands of soldiers. Alongside these statistics, was the fact that vast areas of north-eastern Europe had been reduced to rubble. The victors from World War I were in no mood to be charitable to the defeated nations and Germany in particular was held responsible for the war and its consequences. With failures in the Treaty of Versailles, the League of Nations, and Britain and France's appeasement to Hitler and his rise to Chancellor, these factors and more were the reasons that led the world into it's second World War.
In January 1918, some ten months before the end of World War I, U.S. President Woodrow Wilson had written a list of proposed war aims which he called the “Fourteen Points.” Eight of these points dealt specifically with territorial and political settlements associated with the victory of the Entente Powers, including the idea of national self-determination for ethnic populations in Europe. The remainder of the principles focused on preventing war in the future, the last proposing a League of Nations to arbitrate international disputes. Wilson hoped his proposal would bring about a just and lasting peace: a “peace without victory.” When German leaders signed the armistice in the Compiègne Forest on November 11, 1918, many of them believed that the Fourteen Points would form the basis of the future peace treaty, but when the heads of the governments of the United States, Great Britain, France, and Italy met in Paris to discuss treaty terms, the European contingent of the “Big Four” rejected this approach.
Viewing Germany as the chief instigator of the conflict, the European Allied Powers decided to impose particularly harsh treaty obligations upon the defeated Germany. The Treaty of Versailles, presented for German leaders to sign on May 7, 1919, forced Germany to concede territories to Belgium, Czechoslovakia, France, and Poland. Perhaps the most humiliating portion of the treaty for defeated Germany was the "War Guilt Clause," which forced the German nation to accept complete responsibility for initiating World War I. As such, Germany was liable for all material damages, and France's premier Georges Clemenceau particularly insisted on imposing enormous reparation payments. The newly formed German democratic government saw the Versailles Treaty as a “dictated peace”. Although France, which had suffered more materially than the other parties in the “Big Four,” had insisted upon harsh terms, the peace treaty did not ultimately help to settle the international disputes which had initiated World War I. The combination of the war guilt clause, reparation payments and the limitations on the German military were particularly onerous in the minds of most Germans, represented one of the platforms that gave radical right wing parties in Germany, including Hitler's Nazi Party, such credibility to mainstream voters in the 1920s and early 1930s.
The League of Nations came into being after the end of World War One. The League of Nation's task was simple - to ensure that war never broke out again. After the turmoil caused by the Versailles Treaty, many looked to the League to bring stability to the world. If a dispute did occur, the League, under its Covenant, could do three things - these were known as its sanctions. It could call on the states in dispute to sit down and discuss the problem in an orderly and peaceful manner. This would be done in the League’s Assembly - which was essentially the League’s parliament which...
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