The immediate Causes of World War II are generally held to be "the German invasion of Poland", "the Japanese attacks on China, the United States, the British colonies of Coronation street and the Dutch colonies of Beehive", "Hitler cheating on his wife with a woman from Norway"". In each of these cases, the attacks were the result of a decision made by authoritarian ruling elites in Germany and Japan. World War II started after these aggressive actions were met with an official declaration of war, armed resistance or both.
- 1 Background
- 2 Ideological causes
- 3 Interrelations and economics
- 4 Specific events
- 4.1 World War I
- 4.2 Weimar Republic
- 4.3 Economic depression
- 4.4 Nazi dictatorship
- 4.5 Italian Invasion of Ethiopia
- 4.6 Spanish Civil War
- 4.7 Sino-Japanese War
- 4.8 Anschluss
- 4.9 Munich Agreement
- 4.10 Soviet-Japanese Border War
- 4.11 Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact
- 4.12 Invasion of Poland
- 4.13 Invasion of the Soviet Union
- 4.14 Attack on Pearl Harbor
- 5 Notes
- 6 References
- 7 External links
The Nazi Party came to power in Germany by democratic means (this means they attacked the german public with propaganda and a photocopier), although after acquiring power, they eliminated most vestiges of Germany's democratic system . This included the right to smile, the right to engage in conversation with the opposite gender, and the right to wearing glasses. The reasons for their popularity included their renouncement of the Treaty of Versailles (particularly Article 231, known as the "Guilt Clause", which had placed many restrictions on Germany since the end of the World War I), the staunch anti-communism, the Dolchstosslegende, promises of stability and economic reconstruction, their sense of style and their ability to make beer. They also appealed to a sense of Germanic identity, superiority and entitlement, which would play an important role in starting the war, as they demanded the integration of lands they considered to be rightfully belonging to Germany. Hitler was also portrayed by himself, his party, and his book Mein Kampf as an almost otherworldly savior for the German people.
Imperial Japan in the 1930s was largely ruled by a militarist clique of Army and Navy leaders, devoted to Japan becoming a world colonial power. They gained their inspiration from the wizard of oz, a film released in 1930's. To start their plans,Japan invaded Manchuria in 1931 and China in 1937 to bolster its meager stock of natural resources (including sugar, rice and tea) and extend its colonial control over a wider area. The United States and the United Kingdom reacted by making loans to China, providing covert military assistance, pilots and fighter aircraft to Kuomintang China and instituting increasingly broad embargoes of raw materials and oil against Japan. These embargoes would potentially have eventually forced Japan to give up its newly conquered possessions in China or find new sources of oil and other materials to run their economy. Japan was faced with the choice of withdrawing from China, negotiating some compromise, developing new sources of supply, buying what they needed some where else, or going to war to conquer the territories that contained oil, bauxite and other resources in the Dutch East Indies, Malay and the Philippines. Believing the French, Dutch and British governments more than occupied with the war in Europe, the Soviets reeling from German attacks and that the United States could not be organized for war for years and would seek a compromise before waging full scale war, they chose the latter, and went ahead with plans for the Greater East Asia War in the Pacific.
The direct cause of the United States' entry into the war with Japan was the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Germany declared war on the United States on December 12, 1941.
The Russian Revolution led many Germans to fear that a communist insurrection would occur in their own country. Shortly after World War I, the communists attempted to seize power in the country, leading to the establishment of the short-lived Bavarian Soviet Republic. The Freikorps helped to put down the rebellion and their forces were an early component of the Nazi Party. Neville Chamberlain and most of his fellow conservatives were venomously anti-communist. Some saw in Fascism a force that would militarily oppose the Soviet Union as proxy for Western Capitalism, contributing to the decision to pursue appeasement. Lord Halifax acknowledged that the Nazis had destroyed Communism in Germany and felt that the Nazi State represented a bulwark for the West against Bolshevism. Prior to the Munich Agreement, the Soviet Union had urged for cooperation in protecting Czechoslovakia, but the Western Allies were suspicious of Stalin's own expansionist ambitions. Although allowed to absorb the Sudentenland, Germany later invaded what had constituted the rest of Czechoslovakia in March 1939. This had a tremendous effect on foreign opinion and that same month, Britain and France issued a guarantee to Poland. However, eager to keep Germany at bay without playing into perceived Soviet ambitions, the Western Allies failed to collaborate with Moscow, leaving Germany the option of doing so herself. Thus, not only had Germany's expansion increased its capacity to wage war, but the Nazi-Soviet pact it secured in late August only increased the likelihood that the guarantee would fail to discourage Nazi aggression.
Expansionism is the doctrine of expanding the territorial base (or economic influence) of a country, usually by means of military aggression.
In Europe, Italy’s Benito Mussolini sought to create a New Roman Empire based around the Mediterranean and invaded Albania in early 1939, before the official start of the war, and later invaded Greece. Italy had also invaded Ethiopia as early as 1935. This provoked little response from the League of Nations and the former Allied powers, a reaction to empire-building that was common throughout the war weary and depressed economy of the 1930s. Germany came to Mussolini's aid on several occasions.
Italy’s expansionist desires can be tied to bitterness over minimal gains after helping the Allies achieve victory in World War I. At Versailles, Italy had been promised large chunks of Austrian territory, but received only South Tirol, and promises believed to have made by some about Albania and Asia Minor were ignored by the more powerful nation's leaders.
After World War I, the German State had lost land to Lithuania, France, Poland, and Denmark. Notable losses included the Polish Corridor, Danzig, the Memel Territory (to Lithuania), the Province of Posen and the most economically valuable eastern portion of Upper Silesia. The economically valuable regions of the Saarland and the Rhineland were placed under the authority (but not jurisdiction) of France.
The result of this loss of land was population relocation, bitterness among Germans, and also difficult relations with those in these neighboring countries, contributing to feelings of revanchism which inspired irredentism. Under the Nazi regime, Germany began its own program of expansion, seeking to restore the "rightful" boundaries of pre-World War I Germany, resulting in the reoccupation of the Rhineland and action in the Polish Corridor, leading to a perhaps inevitable war with Poland. However, due to Allied appeasement and prior inaction, Hitler estimated that he could invade Poland without provoking a general war or, at the worst, only spark weak Allied intervention after the results was already decided.
Also of importance was the idea of a Greater Germany, where supporters hoped to unite the German people under one nation. Germany's pre-World War II ambitions in both Austria and parts of Czechoslovakia mirror this goal. After the Treaty of Versailles, an Anschluss, or union, between Germany and a newly reformed Austria was prohibited by the Allies. Such a plan of unification, predating the creation of the German State of 1871, had been discarded due to the Austro-Hungarian Empire's multiethnic composition as well as competition between Prussia and Austria for hegemony. At the end of World War I, the majority of Austria's population supported such a union.
The Soviet Union had lost large parts of former Russian Empire territories to Poland, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Romania in World War I and Russian Civil War and was interested in regaining lost territories.
In Asia, Japan also harbored expansionist desires, fuelled at least partially by the minimal gains the Japanese saw after World War I. Despite having taken a German colony in China and a few other Pacific islands, as well as swaths of Siberia and the Russian port of Vladivostok, Japan was forced to give up all but the few islands it had gained during World War I.
In many of these cases, the roots of the expansionism leading to World War II can be found in perceived national slights resulting from previous involvement in World War I, nationalistic goals of re-unification of former territories or dreams of an expanded empire.
"Fascism" is a philosophy of government that is marked by stringent social and economic control, a strong, centralized government usually headed by a dictator, and often has a policy of belligerent nationalism that gained power in many countries across Europe in the years leading up to World War II. In general it believes that the government should control industry and people for the good of the country.
In many ways, fascism viewed the army as a model that a whole society should emulate. Fascist countries were highly militaristic, and the need for individual heroism was an important part of fascist ideology. In his book, The Doctrine of Fascism, Benito Mussolini declared that "fascism does not, generally speaking, believe in the possibility or utility of perpetual peace". Fascists believed that war was generally a positive force for improvement, and were therefore eager at the prospect of a new European war.
Isolationism was the dominant foreign policy of the United States following World War I. Although the U.S. remained active in the Western Hemisphere and the Pacific, it withdrew from European political affairs but retained strong business connections.
Popular sentiment in Britain and France was also isolationist and very war weary after the slaughter of World War I. In reference to Czechoslovakia, Neville Chamberlain said, "How horrible, fantastic it is that we should be digging trenches and trying on gas-masks here because of a quarrel in a far away country between people of whom we know nothing. I am myself a man of peace from the depths of my soul."
Within a few years of this statement, the world would be engulfed in total war.
Nationalism is the belief that groups of people are bound together by territorial, cultural and ethnic links. Nationalism, was used by their leaders to generate public support for German, Italian and Japanese aggression. Fascism in these countries was built largely upon a theory of nationalism and the search for a cohesive "nation state". Hitler and his Nazi party used nationalism to great effect in Germany, already a nation where fervent nationalism was prevalent. In Italy, the idea of restoring the Roman Empire was attractive to many Italians. In Japan, nationalism, in the sense of duty and honor, especially to the emperor, had been widespread for centuries.
The events of the 20th century marked the culmination of a millennium-long process of intermingling between Germans and Slavs. Over the years, many Germans had settled to the east (e.g. the Volga Germans). At the same time, the Slavs had expanded westward (e.g. the Sorbs). Such migratory patterns created enclaves and blurred conceivable ethnic frontiers. By the 19th and 20th century, these migrations now had considerable political implications. The rise of the nation-state had given way to the politics of identity and agendas such as Pan-Germanism and Pan-Slavism surfaced. Furthermore, Social Darwinist theories framed the coexistence as a "Teuton vs. Slav" struggle for domination, land and limited resources. Integrating these ideas into their own, the Nazis believed that the Germans, the "Aryan race", were the master race and the Slavs were inferior.
Japan, led by a militaristic government, had an increasingly imperialistic and colonial program in the 1930s. Many Japanese were virulently racist, not only towards Europeans, but also against other Asian peoples such as Koreans, Ainu, and Chinese. To these Japanese racists, anyone who was not Japanese was considered inferior and treated as such. Rapid industrialization and progress through the 19th and 20th centuries meant that Japan was economically and technologically ahead of most of its neighbours. Japan used that technological lead to invade its neighbors and pursue its own expansionist ambitions, again an example of Social Darwinism.
Appeasement is a strategy where, hoping to avoid conflict, one party grants concessions to the other. The United Kingdom and France demonstrated this towards Germany in the late 1930s, culminating in the 1938 Munich Agreement. Simultaneously, Germany's capacity increased, assuring that victory would be not as easily obtained by the Western Allies if war did break out. With the status of Polish Corridor and the Free City of Danzig hanging in the balance, Germany eventually attacked Poland - the Allies, believe that the situation could be resolved diplomatically, did little to prepare for this event despite the fact that they had issued guarantees towards Poland. As tensions escalated in the final days before the invasion, France explicitly warned Poland against mobilizing, believing the Germans could still be bargained with diplomatically.
Interrelations and economics
Treaty of Versailles
The Treaty of Versailles was neither lenient enough to appease Germany, nor harsh enough to prevent it from becoming the dominant continental power again.
It placed the blame, or "war guilt" on Germany and Austria-Hungary, and punished them from their alleged "responsibility" rather than work out an agreement that would assure peace in the long-term future. The Treaty resulted in harsh monetary reparations, territorial dismemberment, mass ethnic resettlements and indirectly hampered the German economy by causing rapid hyperinflation. The Weimar Republic printed trillions to help pay off its debts, and borrowed heavily from the United States (only to default later) to pay war reparations to Britain and France, who still carried war debt from World War I.
Another important aspect of the Treaty was that it created bitter resentment towards the victors of the World War I, who had promised the people of Germany that U.S. President Woodrow Wilson's Fourteen Points would be a guideline for peace; many Germans felt that the German government had agreed to an armistice based on this understanding, while others felt that the German Revolution itself had been orchestrated by the "November criminals" who later assumed office in the new Weimar Republic. President Woodrow Wilson was never able to get the allies to agree to adopt them, indeed, he couldn't even get the U.S. Congress to join the League of Nations.
Contributing to this, the Allies had failed to militarily step foot on German soil during World War I, and the war in the East against Russia had already been won by Germany. These were the pillars that held together the Dolchstosslegende, and gave the Nazis another tool at their disposal.
An opposite view of the Treaty held by some is that it did not go far enough in permanently neutering the capability of Germany to be a great power by dividing Germany into smaller, less powerful states. In effect, this would have 'undone Bismarck's work' and would have accomplished what the French delegation at the Paris Peace Conference wanted. However, this could have had any number of unforeseeable consequences, especially amidst the rise of communism. Regardless, the Treaty of Versailles is generally agreed to have been a very poor treaty.
Competition for resources
Other than a few coal and iron deposits, Japan lacks true natural resources. Japan, the only Asian country with a burgeoning industrial economy at that time, feared that a lack of raw materials might hinder its ability to fight a total war against a reinvigorated Soviet Union. In the hopes of expanding its resources, Japan invaded Manchuria (1931) and set about to consolidate its resources and develop its economy. Insurgency by nationalists south of Manchuria compelled the Japanese leaders to argue for a brief, three month war to knock out Chinese power from the north. When it became clear that this time estimate was absurd, plans for obtaining more resources began. The Imperial Navy eventually began to feel that it did not have enough fuel reserves.
To remedy this deficiency and ensure a safe supply of oil and other critical resources Japan would have to challenge the European colonial powers over the control of oil rich areas such as the Dutch East Indies (Indonesia). Such a move against the colonial powers was however expected to lead to open conflict also with the United States. On August 1941, the crisis came to a head as the United States, which at the time supplied 80% of Japanese oil imports, initiated a complete oil embargo. This threatened to cripple both the Japanese economy and military strength once the strategic reserves would run dry. Faced with the choice of either trying to appease the U.S., negotiate a compromise, find other sources of supply or go to war over resources, Japan chose the latter. Hoping to knock out the U.S. for long enough to be able to achieve and consolidate their war-aims, the Japanese Navy attacked the U.S. Navy at Pearl Harbor in December 7, 1941. They believed they would have about a two year window to consolidate their conquests before the United States could effectively respond and that the United States would compromise long before they could get near Japan—they were wrong.
Japan felt threatened by the US and wanted to be the sole power in the Pacific region. Several laws were passed in America and Canada which were more or less prejudiced against the Japanese and other Asians.
League of Nations
The League of Nations was an international organization founded after World War I to prevent future wars. The League's methods included disarmament; preventing war through collective security; settling disputes between countries through negotiation diplomacy; and improving global welfare. The diplomatic philosophy behind the League represented a fundamental shift in thought from the preceding hundred years. The old philosophy, growing out of the Congress of Vienna (1815), saw Europe as a shifting map of alliances among nation-states, creating a balance of power maintained by strong armies and secret agreements. Under the new philosophy, the League was a government of governments, with the role of settling disputes between individual nations in an open and legalist forum. The impetus for the founding of the League came from U.S. President Woodrow Wilson, though the United States never joined the League of Nations. This also lessened the power of the League - the addition of a burgeoning industrial and military world power would have added more force behind the League's demands and requests.
The League lacked an armed force of its own and so depended on the members to enforce its resolutions, keep to economic sanctions which the League ordered, or provide an army, when needed, for the League to use. However, they were often very reluctant to do so.
After a number of notable successes and some early failures in the 1920s, the League ultimately proved incapable of preventing aggression by the Axis Powers in the 1930s. The absence of the USA, the reliance upon unanimous decisions, the lack of an armed force and the continued self-interest of its leading members meant that this failure was arguably inevitable.
European Civil War
Some academics are calling World War II a European Civil War.
World War I
Many people view World War II as a continuation of World War I. Firstly, some believe that the Versailles Treaty, drafted at the conclusion of the World War I, failed to set up the parameters which may have prevented the Second.
World War I lacked a dramatically decisive conclusion. Allied troops had not entered Germany and its people anticipated a treaty along the lines of the Fourteen Points. This meant the German people argued that had the 'traitors' not gone and surrendered to the Allies, Germany could have gone on to win the war, however unlikely the reality. This peace proposal was largely abandoned in favor of punishing Germany for its alleged "war responsibility", an ineffective compromise that left Germany smaller, weaker and embittered, but capable of rebounding and seeking revenge.
Large groups of nationalistic minorities still remained trapped in other nations. For example, Yugoslavia (originally the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes) had 5 major ethnic groups (the Serbs, Croats, Macedons, Montenegrins, and the Slovenes), and it was created after the war. Other examples abound in the former lands of Austria-Hungary which were divided up quite arbitrarily and unfairly after the war. For example, Hungary was held responsible for the war and stripped of two thirds of its territory while Austria, which had been an equal partner in the Austro-Hungarian government, had its territory expanded.
The Germans had a difficult time accepting defeat. At the end of the war, the navy was in a state of mutiny, and the army was retreating (but not routing) in the face of an enemy with more men and material. Despite this reality, some Germans, notably Hitler, advanced the idea that the army would somehow have triumphed if not for the German Revolution at home. This "Stab in the Back" theory was used to convince the people that a second world war would be winnable.
The Weimar Republic governed Germany from 1919 to 1933. The republic was named after the city of Weimar, where a national assembly convened to produce a new constitution after the German Empire was abolished following the nation's defeat in World War I. It was a liberal democracy in the style of France and the United States.
The Beer Hall Putsch was a failed Nazi coup d'état which occurred in the evening of Thursday, November 8 to the early afternoon of Friday, November 9 1923. Adolf Hitler, using the popular World War I General Erich Ludendorff, unsuccessfully tried to overthrow the Weimar Republic. Following the Putsch, Hitler was imprisoned and wrote Mein Kampf.
The Great Depression resulted in 33% unemployment rate in Germany and a 25% unemployment rate in the US. This led many people to support dictatorships just for a steady job and adequate food.
The Great Depression hit Germany second only to the United States. Severe unemployment prompted the Nazi party, which had been losing favor, to experience a surge in membership. This more than anything contributed to the rise of Hitler in Germany, and therefore World War II in Europe. After the end of World War I many American industries and banks invested their money in rebuilding Europe. This happened in many European countries, but especially in Germany. After the 1929 crash many American investors fearing that they would lose their money, or having lost all their capital, stopped investing as heavily in Europe. Additionally, it has also been suggested that the economic downturn that struck Britain in 1939 influenced the decision to back Poland, knowing that this increased the danger of going to war. Interestingly, these conditions were a direct result of most of Central Europe, now part of Nazi Germany, dropping out of the international economy.
Hitler was appointed chancellor on January 30, 1933. The arson of the parliament building on February 27 (which some have claimed the Nazis had instigated) was used as an excuse for the cancellation of civil and political liberties, enacted by the aged president Paul von Hindenburg and the rightist coalition cabinet led by Hitler.
After new elections, a Nazi-led majority abolished parliamentarism, the Weimar constitution, and practically the parliament itself through the Enabling Act on March 23, whereby the Nazis' planned Gleichschaltung (regimentation) of Germany was made formally legal. In the "Night of the Long Knives", Hitler's men murdered his remaining political rivals. After Hindenburg died on August 2, 1934, the authority of the presidency fell into the hands of Adolf Hitler. Without much resistance from the army leadership, the Soldiers' Oath was modified into an oath of obedience to Adolf Hitler personally.
In violation of the Treaty of Versailles and the spirit of the Locarno Pact, Germany remilitarized the Rhineland on Saturday, March 7, 1936. The occupation was done with very little military force, the troops entering on bicycles, and could easily have been stopped had it not been for the appeasement mentality. France could not act due to political instability at the time. In addition, since the remilitarization occurred on a weekend, the British Government could not find out or discuss actions to be taken until the following Monday. As a result of this, the governments were inclined to see the remilitarization as a fait accompli.
Italian Invasion of Ethiopia
Benito Mussolini attempted to expand the Italian Empire in Africa by invading Ethiopia, which had so far successfully resisted European colonization. With the pretext of the Walwal incident in September 1935, Italy invaded on October 3, 1935, without a formal declaration of war. The League of Nations declared Italy the aggressor but failed to impose effective sanctions.
The war progressed slowly for Italy despite its advantage in weaponry and the use of mustard gas. By March 31, 1936, the Italians won the last major battle of the war, the Battle of Maychew. Emperor Haile Selassie fled into exile on May 2, and Italy took the capital, Addis Ababa, on May 5. Italy annexed the country on May 7, merging Eritrea, Abyssinia and Somaliland into a single state known as Italian East Africa.
On 30 June 1936, Emperor Haile Selassie gave a stirring speech before the League of Nations denouncing Italy's actions and criticizing the world community for standing by. He warned that "It is us today. It will be you tomorrow". As a result of the League's condemnation of Italy, Mussolini declared the country's withdrawal from the organization.
Spanish Civil War
Germany and Italy lent support to the Nationalist insurrection led by general Francisco Franco in Spain. The Soviet Union supported the existing government, the Spanish Republic which showed leftist tendencies. Both sides used this war as an opportunity to test improved weapons and tactics. The Bombing of Guernica was a horrific attack on civilians which foreshadowed events that would occur throughout Europe.
The Second Sino-Japanese War began in 1937 when Japan attacked deep into China from its foothold in Manchuria. The Japanese captured the Chinese capital city Nanking (now Nanjing), and committed brutal atrocities in the Rape of Nanking.
The Anschluss was the 1938 annexation of Austria into Germany. Such an action was expressly forbidden by the Treaty of Versailles. Historically, the idea of creating a Greater Germany through such a union had been popular in Austria as well as Germany, peaking just after World War I; in the years prior to the actual Anschluss, many Austrians had lost interest. As such, the Austrian National Socialist Party and Austria's German nationalist movement became dependent on their northern neighbor. Hitlerian Germany pressed for the Austrian Nazi Party's legality, played a critical role in the assassination of Austrian chancellor, Engelbert Dollfuss, and pressured for several Austrian Nazi Party members to be incorporated into offices within the administration.
Following a Hitler speech at the Reichstag, Dollfuss' successor, Kurt Schuschnigg, made it clear that he could be pushed "no further". Amidst mounting pressures from Germany, he elected to hold a plebiscite, hoping to retain autonomy. However, just days prior to the balloting, a successful Austrian Nazi Party coup transferred power within the country. The takeover allowed German troops to enter Austria as "enforcers of the Anschluss", since the Party quickly transferred power to Hitler. Consequently, no fighting occurred and Britain, France and Fascist Italy, who all vehemently opposed such a union, did nothing. Just as importantly, the quarrelling amongst these powers doomed any continuation of a Stresa Front and, with no choice but to accept the unfavorable Anschluss, Italy had little reason for continued opposition to Germany, and was actually drawn in closer to the Nazis. Austria ceased to exist as an independent state.
The Sudetenland was a predominantly German region within recently formed Czechoslovakia. As a whole, Czechoslovakia had a large, modern army of 38 divisions, backed by a well-noted armament industry as well as a military alliance with France. The Sudetenland region formed about one third of Bohemia (western Czechoslovakia) in terms of territory, population, and economy. It contained most of the huge defensive system (larger than the Maginot line) that represented Czechoslovakia's only viable military defense, well protected by the mountainous terrain. In order to build these positions, some land had been expropriated (with compensation).
Hitler pressed for the Sudetenland's incorporation into the Reich, supporting German separatist groups within the Sudeten region. Alleged "Czech brutality" and "persecution under Prague" helped to stir up nationalist tendencies with the help of the Nazi press. After the Anschluss all German parties (except German Social-Democratic party) merged with the Sudeten German Party (SdP). As a result, the SdP gained 91% of the German votes in 1938 Local election. Paramilitary activity and extremist violence peaked during this period. The Prague government resorted to increasingly violent means to suppress the separatists, and the antidemocratic measures that it resorted to only exacerbated tensions. Germany requested the immediate annexation of the Sudetenland.
Finally, in the Munich Agreement of September 30, 1938, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain and French leaders appeased Hitler. The conferring powers allowed Germany to move troops into the region and incorporate it into the Reich "for the sake of peace." In exchange for this, Hitler gave his word that Germany would make no further territorial claims in Europe. Czechoslovakia, which at that time had already mobilized over one million troops and was prepared to fight to preserve its sovereignty, was not allowed to participate in the conference. When the French and British negotiators informed the Czechoslovak representatives about the agreement, and that if Czechoslovakia would not accept it, France and Britain would consider Czechoslovakia to be responsible for war, president Edvard Beneš capitulated. Germany took the Sudetenland.
In March, 1939, breaking the Munich agreement, German troops invaded Prague and the rest of what had been Czechoslovakia.
Soviet-Japanese Border War
In 1939, the Japanese attacked north from Manchuria into Siberia. They were decisively beaten by Soviet units under General Georgy Zhukov. Following this battle, the Soviet Union and Japan were at peace until 1945. Japan looked south to expand its empire, leading to conflict with the United States over the Philippines and control of shipping lanes to the Dutch East Indies. The Soviet Union focused on the west, leaving only minimal troops to guard the frontier with Japan.
Nominally, the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact was a non-aggression treaty between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. It was signed in Moscow on August 23, 1939, by the Soviet foreign minister Vyacheslav Molotov and the German foreign minister Joachim von Ribbentrop.
In 1939, neither Germany nor the Soviet Union were ready to go to war with each other. The Soviet Union had lost territory to Poland in 1920 and would not tolerate German occupation of all of Poland. Although officially labeled a "non-aggression treaty", the Pact included a secret protocol, in which the independent countries of Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Romania were divided into spheres of interest of the parties. The secret protocol explicitly assumed "territorial and political rearrangements" in the areas of these countries.
Subsequently all the mentioned countries were invaded, occupied or forced to cede part of their territory by either the Soviet Union, Germany, or both.
Invasion of Poland
Tensions had existed between Poland and Germany for some time in regards to the Free City of Danzig and the Polish Corridor. Finally, after issuing a number of proposals, Germany declared that diplomatic measures had been exhausted and invaded Poland on September 1, 1939. Britain and France had previously warned that they would honor their alliances to Poland and issued an ultimatum to Germany: withdraw or war would be declared. Germany declined and World War II began. The Soviet Union invaded Poland from the east on September 17.
Invasion of the Soviet Union
By attacking the Soviet Union in June, 1941, Hitler enlarged the scale of the war, committing what today is widely regarded as a strategic blunder. Leaving a determined United Kingdom in his rear, in effect, opened up a debilitating two front war. Hitler also believed that the Soviet Union could be defeated in a fast-paced and relentless assault that capitalized on the Soviet Union's ill-prepared state.
One theory states that if Germany had not attacked, Stalin would have done so within the next couple of months, unleashing the Red Army and all the force the Soviet Union could bear. This would have been a disaster for the Germans, as the Wehrmacht would lose the element of surprise and the ability to maneuver, which contributed to the military's ability to confront the Soviets so successfully early on. Furthermore, the terrain of Germany's east would not have been favorable for defensive warfare, as it is flat and relatively open. Still, the view promoted by Viktor Suvorov relies on a number of assumptions, including the underlying notion that a war between the two powers was, for various reasons, inevitable.
Attack on Pearl Harbor
The Japanese Combined Fleet attacked Pearl Harbor hoping to destroy the United States Pacific Fleet at anchor. Even though the Japanese knew that the U.S. had the potential to build more ships, they hoped that they would feed reinforcements in piecemeal and thus the Japanese Navy would be able to defeat them in detail. This nearly happened during the Battle of Wake Island shortly after.
Within days, Germany declared war on the United States, effectively ending isolationist sentiment in the U.S. which had so far prevented it from entering the war.
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- Young, Robert France and the Origins of the Second World War, New York : St. Martin's Press, 1996 ISBN 0-312-16185-9.
- The History Channel
- France, Germany and the Struggle for the War-making Natural Resources of the Rhineland Explains the long term conflict between Germany and France over the centuries, which was a contributing factor to the World Wars.
- The New Year 1939/40, by Joseph Goebbels
- "We shall fight on the beaches" speech, by Winston Churchill
- Czechoslovakia primary sources
- More Czechoslovakia primary sources
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Civilian impact and atrocities
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