Causes of WW2

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By José Carlos Palma 

The Second World War is related to the expansion of totalitarianism in Europe and had as a direct cause the Germanic expansionism in that period. In addition, the defeat in the First War became a source of humiliation and the cause of a serious economic crisis that hit Germany in the 1920s.

This scenario allowed the rise of extreme right-wing radicalism, whose maximum exponent was Nazism. The Nazis were critical of the terms of the Treaty of Versailles, advocated the militarization of Germany, and held openly anti-Semitic views. The growth of the Nazis during the Weimar Republic (1919-1933) was exponential, largely due to Adolf Hitler.

The Nazis finally took power in Germany in 1933 and began building a totalitarian government. Progressively, they sought to recover the German economy and reorganize the German army (destructured since the First War). Once the German military forces were strong enough, territorial expansion began.

The territorial expansion advocated by the Germans was part of an element of Nazi ideology that advocated the formation of a “living space” that would house the Aryans. The prosperity of the Germans would be guaranteed through the exploitation of people seen as “inferior”, such as the Slavs.

In the late 1930s, Germans turned, at first, against Austria, a nation historically of German language and culture. Plans for the unification of Germany and Austria had been floated after the First War but were stopped during the negotiations that led to the signing of the Treaty of Versailles.

In 1938, the Germans launched a massive campaign to secure the unification of the two countries. This came to fruition in March 1938 at an event known as the Anschluss. Afterward, the Germans turned against Czechoslovakia, because of a region of that country called Sudetenland.

German demands on the Sudetenland alarmed the British and French, and diplomatic tensions in Europe increased. To get around this situation, the Munich Conference was organized in 1938. At this conference, the British and French, fearful that a war would start, gave in to German pressure and allowed the Germans to invade Czechoslovakia.

An important point of the Munich Conference is that the British and French demanded from Hitler the commitment that Czechoslovakia would be Germany’s last territorial claim. Hitler made that deal, but he was bluffing. He did not believe that the British and French would have the courage to declare war on the Germans.

So, in 1939, Hitler set his sights on Poland. As the tension between Germany and Poland increased, the British and French signed military agreements with the second country to protect it, in case of aggression by the first. As Hitler did not believe the French and British response, he ordered the attack against Poland on September 1, 1939.

This act of aggression was considered the trigger for World War II, as, days later, the United Kingdom and France declared war on Germany.

Participating countries

World War II had dozens of participating nations, with varying degrees of involvement in the war effort. This conflict was fought by Axis nations against Allied nations, being:

  • Allies: UK, France, USA and USSR (main forces);
  • Axis: Germany, Italy and Japan (main forces).

*Expert in international relations, such as foreign policy, international trade, domestic security, international security, developing nations, and domestic security, intelligence.

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