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The second world war broke out on September 3rd 1939 after Hitler had ignored demands from Britain and France to withdraw from Poland. This is thought to be one of the main reasons for the outbreak of World War 2 but the possibility of war had been building up during the 1920s and 1930s after World War 1 for other reasons which can be thought of as coming from the failings of the allies or German aggression. Following World War 1 a treaty called the Treaty of Versailles was written but was felt to be unfair by the Germans and too weak by the allied forces. One element of the treaty was the formation of the League of Nations which was developed to be a peacekeeping organisation. It excluded Germany but could not prevent aggression as it had no army. The allies had also been soft on Germany who had been angered by the Great Depression and the Treaty of Versailles as a whole. This was called appeasement and when it ended it was a reason for the war to break out. The aggression in the German people and their leader Hitler, along with Allied failures, appear to be involved in the outbreak of World War 2 but the Great Depression also had a role.
In 1919, after World War 1, 32 countries met in Versailles and made a treaty called the Treaty of Versailles to make sure there was not another war and to influence Germany’s future. The people of Europe wanted lasting peace and this was supposed to make sure this happened. However many people felt that Germany should be made to pay a lot for the damage they had done. American President Woodrow Wilson put forward a plan based on 14 points. The main points were setting up the League of Nations and disarmament. The Germans had expected that the peace treaty would be based on Wilson’s 14 point plan. However, Britain and France were not willing to base the peace settlement on these 14 points. Instead, the treaty was to be much harsher than Germans had hoped. The Germans thought they had been punished too severely, told what to do and they were not able to argue. They were not happy and were humiliated. Their navy was shrunk, they could not unite with Austria (Anschluss) and the reparations were high which left Germany with little money. This public anger helped Hitler get into power as he promised to abolish the Treaty of Versailles and make Germany powerful which the people wanted. However, France did not think the treaty was severe enough. The Treaty of Versailles can therefore be thought of as one of the main factors that led to war.
Hitler had several goals that he wanted to achieve and would do anything to succeed. Once he got into power with the backing of the German people he was able to try and accomplish these. Hitler’s goals were to get rid of the Treaty of Versailles as he thought it was embarrassing for Germany, to unite German-speaking people, get lebensraum (which was taking land in the East that had been taken in the Treaty of Versailles), dominate Europe with a greater Germany including Auschlass (joining with Austria), invade countries and getting back the military. These aims were written down in his book “Mein Kampf” where he said he would use violence if necessary. All these incidents meant Hitler broke the Treaty of Versailles in lots of ways and that he broke international law. These would lead to war as he acted deliberately and did not think anyone would do anything about it. He was responsible for these deliberate actions and resorted to hostility in order to achieve his aims. This meant when the allies decided to do something war was inevitable.
Hitler’s violent actions should have been dealt with by The League of Nations as it was designed to be an international peacekeeping force. Unfortunately, it did not succeed in its aims, which were to get countries to work together in order to prevent wars and encourage disarmament. All members had to respect each other’s territory and help sort out disputes. The league could not enforce its decisions as it did not have an army and some countries did not join. This meant they could ignore the responsibilities of membership.
The league’s reputation was damaged by some international agreements that were signed without the league’s input. These included the Locarno treaties (France and Germany) and the Kellog-Briand Pact (65 countries including Germany, France and the USA). These showed that those nations had little faith in the league and wanted to sort disputes out for themselves. Germany, therefore, was able to see how powerless the league really was and thought they could take advantage of this.
America was not part of the League of Nations as the Supreme Court there did not allow it even though it had been a part of Woodrow Wilson’s 14 point plan. America wanted to build up its own defences and recover from the Great depression. This was known as “Isolationism” and did not end until the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbour in 1941, forcing America into World War 2. Isolationism made the League of Nations even weaker as some countries such as Germany and Japan were not scared that America would attack them or impose economic sanctions. However, the attack on Pearl Harbour proved this isolationism was failing and America had to act.
Two other events occurred where the league failed badly. This is a reflection of the failure of the allies as they could not organise the league very well and did not persuade other strong nations, such as the Americans, to join. The Manchurian crisis was where Japan invaded Manchuria. The League of Nations was too slow to respond to it partly because of the distance from Manchuria to Europe but also because it did not have an army of its own. This made it difficult to go against the Japanese. As a result, Germany and Italy agreed with Japan. Japan then got kicked out of the league. The Japanese did not leave Manchuria. Meanwhile, Mussolini saw an opportunity to take a risk and invade Abyssinia (now known as Ethiopia) especially when the league of Nations had done little to stop Japan. Thus the Abyssinian crisis caused more difficulties for the league which they handled badly and Italy got away with invading Abyssinia. Once again, a member of the league did not follow the rules by which they had agreed to abide by. At this time Britain and France tried to get Mussolini and Italy on their side in the Hoare-Laval pact. This failed as it was meant to be secret but was leaked. It did show that even Britain and France did not think the league was of any use as they did it all in secret. This was another example of member countries looking after their own interests before that of the league. Italy then decided to go over to Germany’s side. This made Germany stronger as it had a new ally and the League of Nations was seen to be really weak and not able to stand up to it. The League’s greatest weakness was that it was set up by the Treaty of Versailles. The Treaty was hated, especially by the Germans which meant the League was hated too.
In conclusion, the causes of the Second World War were largely due to Hitler and Germany’s aggression. He was willing to do anything to get his own way, including using force. The Germans broke the Treaty of Versailles in many ways, invaded Poland and challenged the ideals of the League of Nations. Hitler’s plans to build a greater Germany, Lebensraum and unite all German-speaking people into one big country ultimately led to the outbreak of World War 2. He also entered into agreements and then went against them. He was not trustworthy. The Allies’ failures to adequately deal with Hitler and their trust that Hitler would not want to go to war allowed him to take advantage of the situation. Once he had gone too far war was declared. I think the Allies may have been able to stop the war from happening when it did, but Hitler was so keen on having his own way he was not going to give in. Hitler was responsible for the war, but the allies could have done more to prevent it happening.
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