Root Causes and Aggressions Leading to World War II

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Root Causes

Revanchism and depression marked the society of the interwar period. The sanctions of the Treaty of Versailles and the consequences of the crash of 1929 favored the rise of dictatorships and the failure of democracies. Thus, certain foreign policies (Italy, Germany, and Japan) became radicalized by claiming their living space, international prestige, and improvement of the economy. This contrasted with the pacifist work of Pius XII that would not have an effect.

In a bid to achieve them, they opted for militarization. The economy would boost the arms industry, with the main powers responding poorly:

  1. The United States of America would stay out.

  2. The USSR would mistrust the West.

  3. France would trust the British.

  4. The United Kingdom would propose the policy of appeasement, accepting any compromise.

The Road to War: Aggressions

At the same time, certain initiatives jeopardized the work of the League of Nations:

  1. The Japanese invasion of Manchuria (1931) where, despite Chinese protests, the puppet-state of Manchukuo was established. After the sanctions, Japan left the League.

  2. Hitler's defiant attitude (1932-1936): in 1932, the Nazis suspended war reparations, which damaged the economy. The contenders refused to pay their debts to the US, isolating themselves even more. Later, Germany attempted a coup d’état in Austria and contravened the Treaty of Versailles in military matters.

  3. Finally, the Italian occupation of Ethiopia (1935-36), which definitively discredited the democratic powers.

More alarming were two conflicts:

  1. In 1936-1939 the Spanish Civil War took place: a confrontation between totalitarianism and democracy. Each nation positioned itself with each side and, despite the fact that a Franco-British committee agreed not to interfere, the support was confirmed.

  2. In 1937, Japan attacked China by surprise, taking advantage of internal strife. However, the nationalists under Chiang Kai Shek and the communists under Mao Zedong postponed their struggles and made a common front. The Second Sino-Japanese War dragged on longer than expected, until 1945.

Next, in 1938-39, Hitler would try to form the Third Reich:

  1. First, he introduced Nazis into the Austrian government. Thus, the Anschluss (union of Germany and Austria) was consummated; the European powers did not react.

  2. Secondly, he headed for Czechoslovakia. As there was a German minority, he claimed the autonomy of the Sudetenland. France and the United Kingdom convened the Munich Conference (1938), for which both gave in to the German. The country would be quickly overrun and divided into the Protectorate of Bohemia-Moravia and the puppet-state of Slovakia.

  3. Later, he forced Lithuania to cede Memel to Germany in 1939. At the same time, Mussolini was occupied Albania.

  4. Finally, he claimed the Polish corridor and the city of Gdansk from Poland. The United Kingdom and France rushed to ensure his safety. But it was too late because no one trusted those claims. On 1st September 1939, Germany invaded both territories. Two days later, the British and French rulers declared war on Hitler.

Vocabulary for the War: Strategies and States

Blitzkrieg: a German military strategy, consisting of a fast, violent attack on a specific place.

Scorched-earth policy: a Soviet military strategy, consisting of the destruction of everything that could be useful to an enemy.

A puppet-state: a government that exercises little or no real authority, as the real power is held by others.

The Resistance: an organization that secretly fights against an enemy having taken control of its country.

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