World War II

Path to War

The German Path to War

The war started with the belief of a single man named Adolf Hitler. He believed that all Germans belonged to a superior Aryan race and thought that Germany was capable of building a great civilization. His plan was to find land to the east of Germany by declaring war on the Soviet Union and resettling its lands with Germans peasants.

The Treaty of Versailles had limited Germany’s military power so Hitler posed as a man of peace to stress the fact that Germany wished to revise the unfair provisions of the treaty. By doing this, he could announce a new air force, expand Germany’s army from 100,000 to 550,000 troops. France, Great Britain, and Italy were too busy to worry about Hitler because of the Great Depression. Hitler took further advantage of the situation and sent German troops to Rhineland which was supposed to be a demilitarized area.

By 1937, Hitler believed that Germany was a “world power” and decided to union with Austria. He threatened to invade Austria so Austria had no choice but to let Austrian Nazis be in charge of its government.

Hitler’s next objective was to destroy Czechoslovakia so he demanded that Germany be given Sudetenland, an area in northwestern Czechoslovakia that was inhabited largely by Germans. At a conference in Munich, British, French, German, and Italian representatives reached an agreement that met all of Hitler’s demands.

At last, the Western states reacted to the Nazi threat when Hitler took control of Bohemia and Moravia in western Czechoslovakia. But at the same time, France and Britain realized that only the Soviet Union was powerful enough to help contain Nazi aggression. They began political and military negotiations with Stalin, the Soviet dictator.

When Hitler discovered that the West and the Soviet Union might make an alliance, he made an agreement with Stalin. On August 23, 1939, Germany and the Soviet Union signed the Nazi-Soviet Nonaggression Pact. Hitler offered Stalin control of eastern Poland and the Baltic states if it does not attack german troops.

The Japanese Path to War

Just like Germany, Japan expanded its territories. It started with Manchuria in 1931 and soon took over North China. Chiang Kai-shek, the leader of China, did not want to have a war with Japan, but Japan moved steadily southward and eventually clashed forces south of Beijing. The Japanese seized the Chinese capital of Nanjing in December but Kai-shek refused to surrender.

Part of Japan’s plan was to seize Soviet Siberia, with its rich resources so it started cooperating with Germany. But because of the nonaggression pact between Germany and the Soviet Union, it was not possible. Japan needed raw materials badly to be able to spread its empire so it decided to go to Southeast Asia. But this would risk war European colonial powers and the United states. The United States warned that it would apply restrictions intended to enforce international law. Japan was caught in a dilemma so it launched a surprise attack on U.S. and European colonies in Southeast Asia.

Essential Questions

How can the want for power lead a nation into war?

How can race culture and ethnicity impact war?

World War II: How Did It Start?
World War II: Which Countries Fought?