World War 2

Causes and Events

World War II Online Course - Universal Class

World War II

The instability created in Europe by the First World War (1914-18) set the stage for another international conflict–World War II–which broke out two decades later and would prove even more devastating. Rising to power in an economically and politically unstable Germany, Adolf Hitler and his National Socialist (Nazi Party) rearmed the nation and signed strategic treaties with Italy and Japan to further his ambitions of world domination. Hitler's invasion of Poland in September 1939 drove Great Britain and France to declare war on Germany, and World War II had begun. Over the next six years, the conflict would take more lives and destroy more land and property around the globe than any previous war. Among the estimated 45-60 million people killed were 6 million Jews murdered in Nazi concentration camps as part of Hitler's diabolical "Final Solution," now known as the Holocaust.

Adolf Hitler

Adolf Hitler (German: [ˈadɔlf ˈhɪtlɐ] ( listen); 20 April 1889 – 30 April 1945) was an Austrian-born German politician and the leader of the Nazi Party (German: Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei (NSDAP); National Socialist German Workers Party). Hitler was chancellor of Germany from 1933 to 1945 and dictator of Nazi Germany (as Führer und Reichskanzler) from 1934 to 1945. He was at the centre of the founding of Nazism, the start of World War II, and the Holocaust.

A decorated veteran of World War I, Hitler joined the German Workers' Party, precursor of the Nazi Party, in 1919, and became leader of the NSDAP in 1921. In 1923, he attempted a coup d'état, known as the Beer Hall Putsch, in Munich. The failed coup resulted in Hitler's imprisonment, during which time he wrote his memoir, Mein Kampf (My Struggle). After his release in 1924, Hitler gained popular support by attacking the Treaty of Versailles and promoting Pan-Germanism, anti-semitism, and anti-communism with charismatic oratory and Nazi propaganda. After his appointment as chancellor in 1933, he transformed the Weimar Republic into the Third Reich, a single-party dictatorship based on the totalitarian and autocratic ideology of Nazism. His aim was to establish a New Order of absolute Nazi German hegemony in continental Europe.

Hitler's foreign and domestic policies had the goal of seizing Lebensraum ("living space") for the Germanic people. He directed the rearmament of Germany and the invasion of Poland by the Wehrmacht in September 1939, resulting in the outbreak of World War II in Europe. Under Hitler's rule, in 1941 German forces and their European allies occupied most of Europe and North Africa. By 1943, Hitler's military decisions led to escalating defeats. In 1945 the Allied armies successfully invaded Germany. Hitler's supremacist and racially motivated policies resulted in the systematic murder of eleven million people, including an estimated six million Jews, and in the deaths of between 50 and 70 million people in World War II.

In the final days of the war, during the Battle of Berlin in 1945, Hitler married his long-time mistress, Eva Braun. On 30 April 1945, less than two days later, the two committed suicide to avoid capture by the Red Army, and their corpses were burned.

Causes of World War Two

The causes of World War Two can be divided into long term causes and short term causes. There can be little doubt that one of the long term causes of the war was the anger felt in Weimar Germany that was caused by the Treaty of Versailles. Another long term cause was the obvious inability of the League of Nations to deal with major international issues. In the 1930’s these would have been in Manchuria and Abyssinia. In both conflicts the League showed that it was unable to control those powers that worked outside of accepted international law. In the case of Manchuria it was Japan and in Abyssinia it was Mussolini’s Italy.

With such apparent weakness, Hitler must have known that at the very least he could push the boundaries and see what he could get away with. His first major transgression was his defiance of the Versailles Treaty when he introduced re-armament into Nazi Germany. The expansion of all three arms of the military was forbidden by treaty. Hitler, however, ignored these restrictions. The world’s powers did nothing. The same occurred in 1936 when Nazi Germany re-occupied the Rhineland. Forbidden by Versailles, Hitler felt confident enough to ignore it. Europe’s failure to react was also demonstrated when Austria and the Sudentenland were occupied. Only when it became obvious that Hitler was determined to expand east and that what was left of Czechoslovakia and region Poland were to be his next targets, did the major powers of Europe react. Hitler’s reference to the Munich Agreement as a “scrap of paper” made clear his intentions. However, in 1938, very many in the UK had supported Neville Chamberlain’s attempts at avoiding war (appeasement) and public opinion was on his side. This only changed when it became clear that appeasement had failed and the public rallied to the side of Winston Churchill – the man who had insisted that Chamberlain had taken the wrong course of action.

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