After his rise to power in 1933, Hitler led Germany on a mission of invasion and occupation. He had instilled into the country a desire for expansion in Europe, and in the years leading up to the Second World War, he expanded the army far beyond what was agreed in the Treaty of Versailles. This was the treaty which followed the end of the First World War – it caused Germany to undergo significant disarmament, and forbade the country from forming allegiances and invading other territories.
The Treaty of Versailles included some terms which many Germans considered unduly harsh, and bred a feeling of resentment in the German population. The fiscal depressions of the 1920s and early 30s caused almost all European economies to collapse, meaning that Germany was unable to pay the extortionate reparation fees that had been set in the Treaty, and other countries – in particular, the USA – began to act with more lenience towards Germany. As such, when Hitler rose to power and formed an alliance with Austria, thought this was also banned in the Treaty of Versailles, many other countries decided to overlook it, given how extreme the terms had been in the first place. Hitler took advantage of this, and by the middle of 1939, had occupied much of what was then Czechoslovakia, and had set his sights on Poland. It was the invasion of Poland which caused Britain to take action and declare war.
It is almost indisputable that the actions of the Nazi party – the then leaders of Germany – were the cause of the outbreak of the Second World War, but one can certainly argue that other events laid the foundations for those actions to have gone ahead, such as the uncompromising approach of the Treaty of Versailles, and the turn-the-other-cheek attitude of other countries in the early 1930s. If other countries had not been so lenient with Germany when, say, Hitler significantly expanded the army in 1935, then perhaps later events could have been avoided. The German population had immense confidence in Hitler – a charismatic leader who promised to right all the wrongs of the past twenty years. Had the USA, or Britain, or Russia, or France intervened at any earlier point, it is possible that Germany would not have been strong enough to hold off a foreign threat, and the confidence that German citizens had in the Hitler regime might have been diminished.
One can also argue that, had the terms of the Treaty of Versailles been less extreme, the German population might not have come to have been so passionately resentful of its treatment, and thus there would have been no need for the charismatic Hitler-figure to right all the wrongs. However, had the terms not been so harsh, it would have been easier for Germany to recover earlier, and perhaps Europe may have been thrown into a second war before it had sufficiently recovered from the first.
There are many ‘if’s and ‘but’s about history, and where the outbreak of war is concerned, it is often difficult to firmly determine where blame must be placed. However, it is widely agreed that Hitler and the Nazi regime was the driving force which led Europe into the Second World War. It certainly seems convincing that there were things other countries could have done to have at least attempted to stand in Hitler’s way, but the German Fuhrer was set on a path of destruction, and it seems unlikely that much could have stopped him in his thirst for domination on the European stage. The question of who started the Second World War must, therefore, be answered with the blame being placed on Nazi Germany.
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