World War II: Causes, Impact, and Legacy

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What Was World War II?

World War II, a global armed conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, was a total war in two distinct aspects. Firstly, civilian populations became primary targets and the war's most tragic victims. Secondly, the conflict engulfed all continents, marking it as one of the most brutal and inhumane wars in history.

Driven by Nazi expansionism, World War II represented an ideological struggle. It pitted democracy and socialism against fascism, even sparking civil conflicts within the Axis powers—Germany, Italy, and Japan. The Allied forces—including Britain, France, the USA, and the Soviet Union—fought for liberal democratic principles.

As the largest armed conflict in human history, World War II resulted in unprecedented destruction, particularly in Europe. The continent's global standing diminished, paving the way for the USA's rise to prominence. The war's aftermath led to the emergence of two superpowers, the USA and the Soviet Union, locked in an armed peace known as the Cold War. This period also witnessed the liberation of European colonies.

Causes of World War II

The causes of World War II can be categorized as long-term and short-term factors.

Long Term Causes

  1. The Failure of the League of Nations

    The Treaty of Versailles, intended to ensure peace after World War I, bred resentment in Germany. Hitler exploited this sentiment to justify his expansionist ambitions.

  2. The Great Depression

    The 1929 stock market crash in New York triggered a global depression that had catastrophic consequences for the German economy.

Short Term Causes

  1. Failure of the League of Nations

    Established after World War I to maintain peace, the League of Nations ultimately failed to fulfill its purpose. Tasked with sanctioning aggressor nations, the League relied on its member countries for enforcement and lacked an independent international force. This inherent weakness became evident when the League failed to act against Japan's invasion of Manchuria and Italy's invasion of Abyssinia. Hitler's violations of the Treaty of Versailles further exposed the League's impotence.

  2. Appeasement Policy and Non-Intervention

    European countries, desperate to avoid war, adopted a policy of appeasement towards Hitler. They made concessions, even at the expense of international treaties, mirroring their earlier responses to Japan and Italy. This emboldened expansionist powers and contributed to the outbreak of war.

    The non-intervention policy during the Spanish Civil War exemplified the dangers of appeasement. While Hitler and Mussolini supported the military coup, Western democracies failed to assist the Spanish Republic. This inaction exposed the weakness of Western democracies, significantly increasing the likelihood of a larger conflict and bolstering Germany's rearmament efforts.

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