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Causes of the Second World War
From the first day that he "seized power," January 30, 1933, Hitler knew
that only sudden death awaited him if he failed to restore pride and empire
to post-Versailles Germany. His close friend and adjutant Julius Schaub
recorded Hitler's jubilant boast to his staff on that evening, as the last
celebrating guests left the Berlin Chancellery building: "No power on earth
will get me out of this building alive!"
David Irving, Hitler's War: An introduction to the new edition (1989).
Historians have suggested many reasons why World War Two broke out in
1939. However, have you realised that the World War II was the
culmination of the inter-war period, and that your whole course of study has
been building up to understanding it?
You ALREADY KNOW the key causes of the war - because you have been studying
The four most important causes, therefore, were (click on the headings to see HOW
they helped to cause war):
1. The Treaty of Versailles solved nothing
Reparations left many people in the victorious nations feeling guilty.
The loss of all that land to other countries simply made Hitler's early
aggression look justified.
Self-determination surrounded Germany by a lot of small nation states
that fell easy prey to Germany.
Most of all, the Treaty made the Germans angry, just waiting their
chance for revenge.
2. The League of Nations failed to keep the peace
It was weak from the beginning, and had spectacular failures in
Manchuria and Abyssinia, and it failed to prevent Hitler breaking the
Treaty of Versailles.
It failed to achieve disarmament, which resulted in an arms race.
Countries left the failing League, and realized that they would have to
fight a war.
Britain and France abandoned collective security, and turned instead to
3. Appeasement encouraged aggression
Appeasement encouraged war. It made Hitler think that no one dare
stop him, which encouraged him to go further and further until in the end
he went too far.
The Sudetenland led Stalin to make the Nazi-Soviet Pact, because he
believed he could not trust Britain.
Look at the first four causes of war.
Think about HOW they helped to
cause the war?
Which do you think was most important,
and why?
This drawing by the British cartoonist David Low (20 March 1935) is titled 'Cause comes
before effect'. (Four days earlier Hitler had held his 'Freedom to Rearm' military rally where
he denounced the disarmament clauses of the Versailles Treaty and announced the
reinstatement of conscription in Germany.)
Click here for the interpretation
4. Hitler was expansionist
Many historians still think that the Second World War was Hitler's
personal war, and that he always intended to fight a war - as a re-run of a
First World War he did not believe that German had lost fairly.
This drawing by the British cartoonist Sidney 'George' Strube (2 September 1939) is titled
He gives a Nazi salute while he rides in a tank with swastika wheels and a mailed fist =
Nazi militarism/the attack on Poland. He is ignoring traffic lights, and placards carrying the
warnings of world leaders = he is ignoring appeals for peace/negotiation. He is advancing
determinedly towards a precipice = a world war which will destroy him. The message of
the cartoon is that Hitler is foolishly going to war and world disaster.
Events (the Eight Steps to War)
In addition, the events leading up to the war played a part in starting the
fighting. Each event created anger in the allies. This anger grew until
Chamberlain declared war on Hitler on 3rd September 1939.
SEVEN events have been identified by historians as being especially
significant in causing war (click on the headings to see HOW they helped to
cause war):
 Hitler's Rearmament rally, 1935
o It broke the Treaty of Versailles
o It started a rearmament race
o It divided the nations opposing Germany.
Look at the seven events which helped
to cause the war. Think about HOW
 The Remilitarization of the Rhineland, 1936
o It broke the Treaty of Versailles
they helped to cause the war.
Which do you think was most important,
o It was the first military action by Hitler and it was
and why?
o France lost the opportunity to stop Hitler once and
for all.
 The Anschluss, 1938
o It broke the Treaty of Versailles
o It was the first time Hitler had annexed land outside
o It marked the beginning of Mussolini's support for
o It marked the first time Chamberlain appeased Hitler
because Austria was 'too far away to help'.
 Sudetenland and The Munich Agreement, 1938
o It was the first time Hitler took land that was not
simply redressing the Treaty of Versailles
o It convinced Hitler that Chamberlain and Daladier
were 'worms' who could be bullied
o It convinced Stalin that Chamberlain and Daladier
would not stand up to Hitler and led him to make the
Nazi-Soviet Pact
o The German army, hoping Hitler would be
humiliated by the allies, had planned to topple him
when he was; his success meant the end of any hope
of getting rid of Hitler.
 The invasion of Czechoslovakia, 1939
o It discredited appeasement and demonstrated that
Hitler's promises could not be trusted
o It was the first time Hitler had annexed a nonGerman people; thus it appear to prove that he
wanted to dominate the whole world
o Czechoslovakia was a democracy, which worried the
other western democracies
o It convinced Chamberlain that Hitler would to be
stopped by negotiation, and led him to make the
Polish Guarantee (which was the eventual trigger of
the war)
It outraged the British people, and got them ready
for war (where in September 1938 they had been
overwhelmingly in favor of peace).
The Polish Guarantee, 1939
o It was the end of appeasement - a 'non-negotiable'
which provoked war
o It was the decision which threw Stalin into the NaziSoviet Pact
o It was the promise that prevented Chamberlain
cutting another deal with Hitler in August 1939
o It was the event which explicitly caused Britain to
declare war on 3 September 1939.
The Nazi-Soviet Pact, 1939
o It was the agreement which made Hitler brave
enough to invade Poland
o It was seen as a disgusting act of political cynicism
which convinced British people of the need for a war
to stop this evil man.
'Was the policy of appeasement the most important reason for the outbreak of the Second World War? Explain your answer.'