World War II - The Causes

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World War II, or the Second World War, took place from 1939 to 1945. It involved most of the world's major countries divided into two opposing forces: the Allies and the Axis. In total, more than 100 million military personnel were mobilized during the war. Read on to learn more about the causes, events, and results of the war.

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World War I, Treaty of Versailles
The signing of the Treaty of
Versailles ended World War I,
but laid the foundations for
the start of World War II.

At the end of World War I (June 28, 1919), the Allies - including France, Britain, the U.S., and Italy - created a contract called the Treaty of Versailles that outlined the Central Powers' punishments for starting the war. The harshest penalties were for Germany (the most powerful country of the Central Powers), including paying 6,600 million British pounds, giving up some of its land for several years, agreeing to never merge with Austria, and limiting its military tremendously. The German people disliked these new rules, but as the losers of the war, they could not protest.

Hitler's Rise to Power

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Hitler's Mein Kampf
Hitler wrote Mein Kampf, which
described his struggle for power
and outlined his philosophy,
policies and beliefs.

Things soon got worse for the Germans, and for the rest of the world as well, when the stock market crash in October of 1929 signaled the start of the Great Depression. The crash brought on unemployment, poverty and despair throughout Germany. And in these times of trouble, a man named Adolf Hitler was becoming increasingly powerful. He had already become head of the NSDAP (a.k.a. the Nazi Party), had tried without success to take over the government (later known as the Beer Hall Putsch), and had written a book called "Mein Kampf" in prison. Then, in 1933, Adolf Hitler, by promising the people revenge for the Treaty of Versailles, was elected the German Chancellor. Later, he used a law in the German Constitution (Article 48, the Enabling Act) to appoint himself Fuhrer of Germany.

Aggression and Appeasement

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German Army Buildup
Hitler built up Germany's army
to an incredible strength.
Soon, he believed they were
ready to re-arm the Rhineland.
All of these actions were
strictly forbidden in the
Treaty of Versailles.

Once he became Fuhrer, Hitler withdrew from the League of Nations, an organization created by the Treaty of Versailles to keep peace in Europe, and began to rebuild Germany's military, which was strictly against the Treaty of Versailles. Soon, Hitler decided to station soldiers in the Rhineland, an area that had been demilitarized. After re-arming the Rhineland, Hitler set his sights on combining Germany with Austria. By this time, Neville Chamberlain, the British Prime Minister, had become worried about Hitler's increasing aggressiveness, but hesitated to do anything because he feared Hitler might try to invade Britain.





Neville Chamberlain "Peace in our Time."
When he returned to
Britain after the
Munich Conference,
Chamberlain said he
believed that he and his
country might now have
"peace in our time."

The final example of Chamberlain's weakness came when Hitler announced that he wanted a part of Czechoslovakia called the Sudetenland. His reasoning was that the people in the Sudetenland spoke German and were of German origin; therefore they should be part of Germany. To negotiate an agreement, Chamberlain, Hitler, Benito Mussolini (the Italian dictator), and Edouard Daladier (a representative from France) all met in Munich. At the Munich Conference, they decided that Hitler could have Czechoslovakia if he promised not to invade any more countries. However, as soon as Hitler occupied the Sudetenland, he proceeded to take over the whole of Czechoslovakia! When Chamberlain realized what had happened, he agreed to protect Poland. Because a large number of Jews lived in Poland, and Hitler hated Jews and wanted to exterminate them, Poland was a likely target for Hitler's next attack.

The Final Steps to the War

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Splitting Poland
In this cartoon, Germany
is represented by the wolf and
Russia is the bear. Both of them
have teamed up and agreed
to split "Poland",
represented by Goldilocks.

Surprisingly, though Britain guaranteed Poland protection, the Soviet Union, led by Stalin, signed the Nazi-Soviet Pact in August 1939. In this agreement, the Soviet Union and Germany publically promised not to attack each other, and secretly promised to split up Poland between themselves. So, after ensuring that the Soviet Union, the closest country to Poland, would not attack, Hitler invaded Poland on September 1, 1939. Two days later, France and the British Empire (including Australia and New Zealand) declared war on Germany. World War II had begun.


Books on World War II

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  • The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by William L. Shirer
  • The Story of World War II by Donald L. Miller
  • The Second World War: A Complete History by Martin Gilbert
  • The Historical Encyclopedia of World War II by Marcel Baudot
  • Winston's War: Churchill, 1940-1945 by Sir Max Hastings


Links to other sites on WWII

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