You are on page 1of 5

When The Great War came to an end in November 1918, the suffering of the nations

involved was so appalling that many hoped never to repeat such an experience again.
The fact that the Second World War took place just twenty years later is indeed
intriguing. Until now, the debate on who is to be blamed for causing the war is still on,
with many historians coming to different conclusions. There were three prominent
underlying factors from the 1920s onwards that can be evaluated when discussing the
causes of the war. They are the Treaty of Versailles, the weakness of the League of
Nations and the world economic crisis of the early 1930s. In short, these factors formed
the basis for the starting of a war by providing a tense atmosphere in Europe. However,
the Treaty of Versailles and the weakness of the League could only be responsible to a
limited extent as Europe in the mid 1920s was on the road to recovery, with peaceful
foreign policies that could have prevented war. Clearly, more major factors were
needed in order for a war to breakout. In fact, the three main parties responsible for
causing the war were the appeasers (British and French), the Soviet Union and Hitler. In
addition, the different viewpoints of historians are also compared in the course of this
investigation.
The policy of appeasement adopted by the British and the French was a factor that
played a critical role in the outbreak of the war. As the British Prime Minister, Stanly
Baldwin was the first to introduce appeasement in the mid 1930s. However, when
Neville Chamberlain came into office in 1937, he took appeasement to a whole new
level. According to the British government, the meaning of appeasement was
pacification through the settlement of issues by negotiation and compromise. The
British pursued this policy with great confidence as they had several logical reasons to
justify their actions. It was only after the signing of the Treaty of Versailles, that many
British began to feel that Germany was indeed harshly and unjustly treated. They
were also afraid that Germany would turn towards aggression once again and perhaps
spark another war. Therefore, Britain was willing to give in to Hitlers demands as it was
a way of redressing Germanys legitimate grievances. Especially after the Wall Street
Crash of 1929, the British were interested for various reasons in the preservation of
peace. With a crippled economy, Britain could not afford to spend on rearming her
armed forces, and therefore was in no position to wage a war against aggressor nations.
Since an economically strong Germany was essential to achieve economic stability in
Europe, appeasement seemed appealing as it would not only strengthen the German
economy but also put an end to the political instability within Germany. Furthermore,
Britain would also benefit from trading with a financially strong Germany. Besides, since
most of the British still bared in mind the destruction and atrocities caused by the

Great War, there was a widespread appeal of pacifism in Britain. Chamberlains policy
of appeasement was therefore widely supported by the British as it was seen as a way
to prevent another devastating war from taking place. Furthermore, as the League of
Nations was proven to be unsuccessful in the preservation of peace, Chamberlain
believed that only a personal diplomacy between leaders could resolve conflicts.
Besides, as Chamberlain and other Conservatives feared Communism more than Nazism,
they hoped that Hitler would stop the spread of Communism to the West. This was
especially so during the 1930s when Stalins Russia was strengthening due to rapid
industrialization.
Although the policy of appeasement is often associated with both the British and the
French, it is important to note that in the beginning, the French did not always support
appeasement. Unlike Britain, France was more interested in ensuring her national
security and the suppression of Germany. The French strongly believed that in order to
preserve the peace in Europe, Germany had to be severely weakened. However, as
France was significantly weakened and divided as a result of much political upheaval
caused by a constant change in governments, the French subsequently subscribed to
Britains policy of appeasement.
In the eyes of the appeasers, the policy of appeasement was intended strictly to
preserve peace in Europe. However, this was misinterpreted by Adolf Hitler, who in turn
saw it as a weakness of Britain and France. In 1933, Hitler came into power with a goal
to make Germany into a great power again. Through his foreign policies, Hitler hoped to
achieve this by overthrowing the Treaty of Versailles, strengthening the armed forces,
recovering lost territory and uniting all Germans within the Reich. This ambition of his
was another factor that played a critical role in the outbreak of the war.
Hitler saw himself as catalyst of the will to Germanic greatness, and he believed that
Germany would only become strong again through the use of aggression and war. In
1934, Hitler posed a direct challenge to the Treaty of Versailles by rearming the German
armed forces. He managed to do so by reintroducing conscription and ordering the mass
production of submarines, tanks and aircrafts. Upon announcing Germanys rearmament
programme in 1935, the initial response of the British and the French amounted to
little more than solemn protestations and appeals to the League of Nations. At the
Stresa Conference, Britain, together with France and Italy did not attempt to stop
Hitlers rearmaments. Instead, they only assured the protection of Austrias sovereignty.
Similarly, even the League of Nations did not attempt to restrict Hitlers aggressive
rearmament plans as there were no economic or military sanctions imposed. As a
result of appeasement, Hitlers confidence grew significantly.

The AngloGerman Naval Agreement signed in June 1935 was Britains form of
appeasement towards the German rearmaments. The terms of the agreement
acknowledged the German rearmament of her Navy and it was limited to thirtyfive
percent of the British fleet. It was the first time where the British openly approved a
German contravention of the Versailles Settlement. Besides, the signing of the
agreement was solely made by Britain, without the consent of France and Italy. The
agreement did not only undermine the mutual trust between Britain and France, but
also compromised the Stresa Front. As the agreement was effective in helping Germany
flout the Treaty of Versailles, Hitler felt assured that the appeasers would not stop his
rearmament programmes and perhaps even his goals to overthrow the treaty.
In 1936, Hitler ordered the remilitarization of the Rhineland. As the Rhineland was a
strategic military position from which the French could have struck at the heart of
Germanys power , reoccupying it removed a serious threat to Germanys sovereignty.
Prior to the reoccupation, the appeasers were well aware of Hitlers plans to carry out a
coup. However, they did not attempt to stop him from taking back what was
originally Germanys. France could have stopped Hitler by sending in troops, but
however she was afraid of waging a war with Germany, given the lack of British support.
Germany could then deter future French aggression by building heavy defenses and
deploying troops in the Rhine region. As a result, Hitler grew even bolder and he began
to challenge the balance of power in Europe.
The German annexation of Austria was finally successful in March 1938. Hitler saw the
annexation of Austria as a solution to the problems of Germanys warorientated
economy, and also as a way of uniting all Germans within the Reich. Following the
demonstrations staged by the Austrian Nazis on Hitlers order, German troops were sent
to occupy Austria. As Britain believed that Austria was under the sphere of German
influence, the responses of the appeasers were nothing more than protests. The
Anschluss with Austria did not only strengthen the friendship between Germany and
Italy, but it also provided Hitler with a direct passage into Southeast Europe.
Appeasement from Britain and France once again gave Hitler a confidence boost to
continue his conquest.
Following the Anschluss with Austria, Czechoslovakia was next on Hitlers agenda.
Assured by his previous successes, Hitler demanded for the incorporation of the
Sudetenland into the Third Reich. The Sudetenland was the wealthiest and the most
industrialized region of Czechoslovakia, with the largest population of German
minorities living outside Germany. In support of the Sudeten Nazis led by Henlein, Hitler
caused a widespread political turmoil with his propaganda campaign. Afraid that a war

might breakout, the appeasers called on the Czech President, Benes to make
compromises with Hitler. Hoping to resolve the issues, Chamberlain met Hitler on three
separate occasions. At Berchtesgaden, Hitler honored Chamberlains proposal that there
would be selfdetermination for Sudetenland. However, at Godesberg, Hitler demanded
the immediate impartment of Sudetenland into the Third Reich. Unwilling to
compromise any further, Chamberlain returned to Britain and ordered the armed forces
to prepare for war. At the Munich Conference, the Big Four gave in to Hitlers harshest
terms. The Czechs, on the other hand were forced to sign the agreement. Chamberlain
then signed another pact with Hitler, stating that the two nations would never go to war
again. As Hitler invaded the rest of Czechoslovakia in March 1939, it was clear that the
policy of appeasement was a failure. Hitler had now reached the limits of what the
appeasers were willing to tolerate from him. Despite the rising tension, Hitler took a
risk and invaded Poland. When he ignored the ultimatum issued by Britain and France to
stop his invasion of Poland, the appeasers declared war on Germany.
Besides appeasement and Hitler himself, there were other factors that contributed to
the outbreak of the war. Firstly, the Great Depression of the early 1930s led to the rise
of a totalitarian, Nazi Germany led by Hitler. By the late 1920s, the German economy
was on the road to recovery due to excessive American investments. As a result,
Germany subsequently became heavily reliant on the US backing given to them.
Following the Wall Street Crash of 1929, America withdrew its investments in Germany
and demanded the payment of the loans given to them earlier. The German economy
therefore went into a state of serious depression. Afraid of losing even more support
from the people, the Weimar government was unwilling to take the unpopular
measures that would be required to bridge the gap. Since the severe economic
problems in Germany were not resolved, the masses started to look towards the Nazi
Party for solutions to their woes. This significantly attributed to the rise of the Nazi
Party and Hitler.
Secondly, the weakness of the League of Nations made it incapable of preserving peace
in the 1930s. From the start, the League lacked the backing of the two superpowers,
USA and Russia. Following the United States Senates rejection of both the Treaty of
Versailles and the League, the USA subsequently adopted the policy of isolation. Russia
on the other hand was not incorporated into the League as there was a widespread fear
of Communism. Furthermore, its leading members, Britain and France each had their
own selfinterests. This in turn limited the purpose of collective security. This purpose
of the League was severely undermined on two occasions, namely the Japanese invasion
of Manchuria and the Italian invasion of Abyssinia. During the Abyssinian crisis, Italy

managed to conquer Abyssinia despite the economic sanctions imposed on her. As


Mussolini succeeded in flouting the League, it was no longer seen as an effective form
of collective security. The League was indeed effective in resolving humanitarian crises,
but however when it came to preserving peace, it was filled with flaws.
In conclusion, the outbreak of the Second World War was a shared responsibility mainly
between Hitler, Britain and France. The policy of appeasement which was intended by
Britain and France to preserve peace was misread by Hitler as a weakness. The
appeasers were partially responsible for causing the war as appeasement provided
Hitler with a platform to increase his demands with each success he attained.
Furthermore, they were inconsistent in their stand towards Hitlers aggression. As the
appeasers have been giving in to Hitlers demands since 1936, Hitler assumed that they
would do the same for his invasion of Poland. Unexpectedly, Britain and France declared
war on Germany and this sparked off the war. Hitler himself was also partially at fault
for causing the war as he misinterpreted the intentions of the appeasers and turned
towards aggression. The other underlying factors such as the Versailles Settlement, the
weakness of the League and the world economic crisis all played minor roles in the
outbreak of the war. They were primarily responsible for creating a tense atmosphere in
Europe but were too trivial to spark a war. The NaziSoviet nonaggression pact was also
partially responsible as it provided the assurance Hitler needed in order to invade
Poland without having to worry about a Soviet invasion. In short, the outbreak of the
war was the result of a series of misunderstandings and miscalculations made by the
respective leaders.