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Thomas Jones
Where does the blame lie for the outbreak of war in September 1939?

1939 saw the outbreak of the Second World War (WWII), a brutal war which spread across the world,
ending with allied victory in 1945. This essay will examine the causes WWII. The build-up to WWII
started instantly after World War 1 (WWI). The Paris Peace Talks, and more specifically, the terms of
the Versailles Treaty, victimised, and subsequently crippled Germany. Political instability, as well as
economic turmoil led to the rise of Adolf Hitler and the National Socialist German Workers Party
(NSDAP), whos aggressive foreign policy would be the main catalyst in the outbreak of war. The
NSDAP signed an alliance with the Fascist regime in Italy, the Pact of Steel, this provided Germany
with a valuable wartime ally. The Soviet Union, led by Joseph Stalin, signed the Non-Aggression pact
with Germany, despite them later fighting against each other. The pact allowed Germany to invade
Poland, which served as the final trigger for the wars outbreak, bringing allied powers Britain and
France into the war.

The build-up to WWII starts at the end of WWI in 1918, when Europe was re-shaping itself. The end
of WWI saw the fall of several empires, including the Ottoman Empire, The Austro-Hungarian, the
Tsarist Russian empire, and the German Empire.1 Following WWI, the Paris Peace Talks began,
perhaps the most important treaty being the Treaty of Versailles. The Treaty of Versailles was written
mostly by the Allied powers, Britain, France, and America. Germany had little involvement or choice
in the treaties construction. France was especially bitter during the negotiations, this was because a
great deal of the brutal stalemate had occurred on French soil, causing unthinkable damage to the
nation.2 France insisted that Germany must bear the responsibility for the war, and subsequently must
pay reparations, this part of the treaty was called German war guilt. Other outcomes of the treaty
included the return of Alsace-Lorraine to France, as well as the return of several territories to Belgium
and other neighbouring countries, the demilitarisation and French occupation of the Rhineland, and
restriction on the size of the German military (100,000 troops, no navy).3 The Treaty of Versailles did
exactly as France had intended it, weaken Germany beyond repair, and ensure Germany could not be
strong as she was before the war. The harshest of the treaties terms, the reparations, caused
hyperinflation in Germany, and thus a great deal of poverty. Pictures taken at the time show Germans
using money as fire fuel, as It was cheaper than wood, and using money as insulation or wallpaper.4
The extent of the hyperinflation caused a great deal of desperation, which saw German people turning
to extremist politics, this caused political instability, which led to the rise of Hitler years later.

1
Shepley, Nick, Britain, France, And Germany and the Treaty of Versailles, (Andrews UK, 2011)
P.6.
2
Shepley, Nick, Britain, France, And Germany and the Treaty of Versailles, (P.11-13.
3
Hillstrom, K, World War 1 and the Age of Modern Warfare, (Omnigraphics, 2013) P.109.
4
Photograph, 1923, Found in Crew, D. F, Hitler and the Nazis, (Oxford University Press, 02/01/2006)
P.34.
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Thomas Jones

The rise of Hitler can be attributed to the Treaty of Versailles, as well as the failures of the Weimar
government. The Treaty of Versailles harsh treatment of Germany caused hyperinflation, which led to
widespread political unrest. Hitler used Germanys frail state to rise to power and implement a fascist
state. The rise of Hitler can be attributed to the failures of the Weimar government as much as it can to
the actions of Hitler himself.5 Many Germans were sceptical of its new democratic system. The
importation of jazz music, Hollywood film and various types of modern art was not appreciated by a
great amount of Germans, who viewed it as a dangerous symptom of the decline of German
culture.6, it is also notable that this occurred at a time where nationalist views were thriving. Although
the Weimar Government was not destroyed by the hyperinflation which ended in 1924, it was unable
to boost the German economy during the great depression of 1929.7 The great depression caused
widespread poverty and unemployment in Germany, this saw a great amount of people lose faith in the
Weimar government and turn to extremist politics. It is also important to acknowledge the threat of
communism, there were communist parties who wished for a revolution, like that of in Russia in 1917.
The Weimar Government failed to ease the minds of those who feared communism, this perhaps caused
Germans to turn to the National Socialists.

Hitlers attempt to overthrow the Government with force in 1923 failed, as the army did not offer their
support. Hitler was put on trial, and imprisoned for 7 months.8 Following Hitlers release, he decided to
overthrow the government by legal means. In 1924, the NSDAP was only voted for by 3 percent of the
electorate9, however by 1932, the party won 37.3 percent of the popular vote.10 Hitler used many
strategies to gain so many votes between 1924 and 1932, the NSDAP appealed to groups who they felt
were not represented by an existing party, they used rallies, propaganda, and Hitlers impressive public
speaking to gain such popularity. The NSDAP appealed to various German groups. During the great
depression, the communist party and the social democrats gained great support from workers, the
NSDAP could not appeal to the workers. The NSDAP claimed to be saviours of the middle class, and
vowed to stop strikes and combat a communist revolution, this gained the party support from the middle
class. The NSDAP gained great support from farmers due to their fear of communism, and the parties
policy of self-sufficiency, which would see farmers richer than ever. The NSDAP gained great support

5
Waite, R. G. O, Guilt Feelings and Perverted Sexuality, (Lexington, 1973) P.85.
6
Crew, D. F, Hitler and the Nazis, (Oxford University Press, 02/01/2006) P.19.
7
Crew, D. F, Hitler and the Nazis, P.19.
8
Crew, D. F, Hitler and the Nazis, P.41.
9
Crew, D. F, Hitler and the Nazis, P.41.
10
Geary D, Who Voted for the Nazis? (October 1998), P.8. Found in Paxton O R, Europe in the
Twentieth Century, 4th ed, (Melbourne, 2002) PP.323-331.
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Thomas Jones
from protestants in rural areas,11 this perhaps because there was a pre-existing Catholic party, the
NSDAP offered protestants their own party. Hitler often spoke of how the German people had been
betrayed by politicians, he blamed Jews and Social Democrats for Germanys defeat in WWI. Hitler
vowed to make Germany superior once again. Hitlers rhetoric regarding WWI and rebuilding Germany
appealed to soldiers and nationalists. Through propaganda and Hitlers talent for public speech, the
NSDAP gained a great deal of popularity among German people, however it is notable that prior to
Hitlers appointment as chancellor in 1933, the NSDAP had lost some support. Historian Richard Geary
explains that support for the NSDAP actually dropped as low as it had been since 1928, and that Hitlers
appointment as chancellor was not due to the popular vote, quoting Hitlers appointment as
Reichskanzler was not the result of acclamation by a majority of the German people. Rather it ensued
from a series of political intrigues with Conservative elites.12 The implementation of a Fascist state
in Germany was not inevitable. The Treaty of Versailles and Germanys defeat in WWI crippled her,
however the failure of the Weimar government allowed Nazism to prevail. Had the Weimar government
appealed to traditionalist German values, and more importantly boosted the German economy, Nazism
would have been avoided. Hitler used Germanys frail state to gain support from susceptible groups,
and once appointed chancellor, he was able use legal means to become dictator, and implement a Fascist
state.

The policies and ideas of the NSDAP and Hitler are a great cause of WWII. Hitlers main ambitions
were to regain and gain territory in Eastern Europe for the German people, Hitler called this
Lebensraum, or living space. German Fascism was based on racial policies, which were particularly
anti-Semitic. Hitlers goal was to create a nation of pure Germans, meaning people of Aryan ethnicity,
the Programme of the NSDAP, written in 1920 states that; Only those who are members of German
blood, without regard to religion, can be members of the German nation. No Jew can, therefore, be a
member of the nation..13 The NSDAP also opposed communism, and wished to abolish it. Hitler saw
communism as a Jewish evil, he referred to the spread of communism as Jewish Bolshevisation in
his writings.14 In 1935, Hitler began building Germanys army, conscription was introduced and Hitler
agreed on a naval pact with Britain, allowing Germany a small naval fleet.15 Hitler first announced his
war aims in 1937, in a meeting known as the Hossbach conference. During the meeting, Hitlers plan
for Lebensraum was clearly outlined. It was Hitlers desire to expand Germany into Russia, this of course
meant conquering Poland first. It was stated during the conference that the first objectives were to

11
Geary, D, Who Voted for the Nazis? P.9. Found in Paxton O R, Europe in the Twentieth Century,
PP.323-331.
12
Geary, D, Hitler and Nazism, (Taylor and Francis, 2001) P.23.
13
Kertesz, G.A, Programme of the NSDAP, (25 February 1920) in Documents in the Political
History of the European Continent, (Oxford, 1968) P.410.
14
Hitler, A, Mein Kampf, (Boston, 1943) P.698.
15 The History Place, The History Place, the Triumph of Hitler, Hitler Reveals War Plans (2001).
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occupy Austria and Czechoslovakia, both of which were completed in 1938. The policies written in the
Programme of the NSDAP, Hitlers personal writings, and most importantly, Hitlers clear outlining of
his war aims during the Hossbach conference, are all clear pieces of evidence which prove that Hitler
did have plans for war in Europe, and was not just an opportunist. The war aims of Hitler was the most
significant cause of WWII.

The emergence of Fascism in European countries other than Germany following WWI must be taken
into consideration as an underlying cause of WWII. Fascism first formed in Italy, Italians were not
satisfied with the outcomes of the peace treaties. Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini used this to rise to
power, as nationalist rhetoric appealed to Italians at the time. Fascism emerged in Spain and Romania,16
there was also a fascist party in Britain, however the party never gained control of the nation. The
Fascist movements in Italy and Germany were highly nationalistic and militaristic, key principles of
Fascism were contempt for communism and democracy.17 The Fascist dictatorships believed in the
superiority of their nations, and were willing to use militarism to increase their power over the world.
Germany and Italy formed an alliance in 1939 to support each other in their war aims.

The Pact of Steel brought together the fascist states of Italy and Germany, both politically and militarily.
The final document was signed in Berlin, May 1939.18 Negotiations for the Pact of Steel began much
earlier than when it was signed in 1939. A draft was created in May 1938.19 It can be assumed based on
negotiations starting as early as 1937, that both Italy and Germany had war motives in Europe, and saw
each other as vital in their plans. The Pact of Steel is relevant as it provided Germany with a necessary
ally, the pact brought together the Axis powers. A secret part of the alliance, written into the final draft
of the Pact shows that the two countries vowed to back each other militarily, stating in article 3 Article
III, The High Contracting Parties bind themselves even now, in the event of a war waged in co-
operation based on Article II, to initiate negotiations of any kind with the enemy only in mutual
understanding, and to conclude armistices, peace pre- liminaries, and peace itself only in complete
agreement with each other.20

16
Bullock, A, Fascism in The Fontana Dictionary of Modern Thought, 2nd Ed, (London, Harper
Collins Publishers, 1988) p.308.
17
Robertson, D, Fascism in The Routledge Dictionary of Politics, (London, Routledge, 2004)
p.183.
18
Watt, D. C, International Affairs (Royal Institute of International Affairs 1944-), Vol. 33, No. 2
(Apr., 1957), pp. 185-197
19
Watt, D. C, International Affairs (Royal Institute of International Affairs 1944-), Vol. 33, No. 2
(Apr., 1957), pp. 185-197
20
Official draft documents, 1939, found in D. C. Watt, International Affairs (Royal Institute of
International Affairs 1944-), Vol. 33, No. 2 (Apr., 1957), pp. 185-197.
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Thomas Jones
this again demonstrates the war aims of the nations. It is fair to assume, that had the two Fascist states
not signed the Pact of Steel in 1939, Germany would not have invaded Poland, triggering the outbreak
of war.

Following the end of WWI, The League of Nations was formed. The purpose of the league was to
preserve world peace, and to act as a governing body during Europes transition out of wartime. 21 The
League of Nations was unsuccessful, as it failed to achieve its only job, to preserve peace. The League
failed to stop Hitler from building his military base, and failed to enforce the terms of the Versailles
treaty. The League failed for two main reasons, it did not have a military force, and none of the Leagues
nations were obliged to provide one, and secondly, it could only impose economic sanctions on nations
that were part of the league. When Germany left the league in 1933, there was little the league could do
to enforce the terms of the Versailles treaty. Hitler was able to begin building his military, eventually
Germany was strong enough to annex Austria, and invade Czechoslovakia, without any intervention
from the League of Nations. Another of the Leagues great failures was the Abyssinia crisis. Mussolini
had interests in Abyssinia, and in December 1934, shots were fired between Italian and Abyssinian
soldiers.22 The League did little to intervene, in September 1935 large amounts of Italian troops were
stationed on the border of Italian Somaliland and Abyssinia. Italys aims in Africa created tension with
Great Britain. During the Abyssinian crisis, British Foreign minister Sir John Simon was quoted as
saying We have warned Italy in plain terms that if it comes to a choice between Italy and the League
we shall support the League.23 Conflict of interest in Africa between Italy and Britain could have
pushed Italy into alliance with Germany, perhaps as Italy could not compete with Britains naval fleet.
The League of Nations was a cause of WWII, as it failed to preserve peace, by allowing the rise of
Hitler, and being unable to suppress the imperialistic goals of other European nations.

The Russian Revolution of 1917 is significant as it led to the emergence of the Soviet Union, led by
Joseph Stalin. The revolution saw the first communist state, which made communism a genuine fear in
other European countries. Tsar Nicholas ii abdicated in March 191724, after losing support of the
military. The provisional government took over Russia, but due to the continuation of Russias
involvement of WWI, the Bolsheviks were able to revolt in November 1917 (October on the old Russian
calender, hence October Revolution),25 and establish a communist state. The emergence of the Soviet
Union inspired communist parties in other European countries, including Italy and Germany. It can be
said that communism attributed to the rise of fascism in Italy, and especially led to the rise of the Nazi

21
Wilson, H. H, The League of Nations, (New York, J. Cape & H. Smith, 1929) P.13.
22
Henig, R, The League of Nations, (Haus Publishing, 2010) P.159.
23
Henig, R, The League of Nations, P.161.
24 Paxton, R.O, Europe in the Twentieth Century, 4th Ed, (Pearson, Melbourne, 2002) P.121.
25 Paxton, R.O, Europe in the Twentieth Century, P.127.
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party in Germany. The Soviet Union acknowledged that surrounding European countries, were keen to
suppress communism. In 1939, the Soviet Union entered a Non-Aggression pact with Germany, this
allowed Germany to invade Poland. The pact was broken when Germany invaded the Soviet Union in
1941.

The outbreak of war in 1939 was due to a build-up of long term causes, as well as final triggers. It is
fair to say that WWII was to a great extent, a continuation of WWI. In Germany, Hitler was able to rise
to power due to the failures of the Weimar government, and the harsh terms enforced by the Versailles
treaty. Mussolini was able to rise to power due to the political instability caused by WWI. The Soviet
Union was established following the collapse of the Romanov Autocracy and the Provisional
Government, the failures of both governments can be directly linked to WWI. In various ways, WWI
and its aftermath allowed radical politicians with aims for war and domination to rise to power in
Germany, Italy and Russia. The League of Nations failure to suppress the war aims of these nations
allowed them to form alliances, and build armys capable of fighting a European war. The long-term
causes of WWII were the Treaty of Versailles, the war aims of Hitler, Mussolini, and Stalin, and the
failure of the League of Nations. The build-up to WWII was long, the two most important short term
causes were; the alliance between Germany, and the pact between Germany and the Soviet Union. Once
the non-aggression pact was signed between Germany and the Soviet Union, war was inevitable.
Germany invaded Poland in September 1939, and war was declared by Britain and France, marking the
start of the Second World War.
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Thomas Jones

Bibliography

Primary Sources
Photograph, 1923, Found in Crew, D. F, Hitler and the Nazis, (Oxford University Press, 02/01/2006)
P.34.
Official draft documents, 1939, found in D. C. Watt, International Affairs (Royal Institute of
International Affairs 1944-), Vol. 33, No. 2 (Apr., 1957), pp. 185-197.
Hitler, A, Mein Kampf, (Boston, 1943) P.698.

Secondary Sources
Bullock, A, Fascism in The Fontana Dictionary of Modern Thought, 2nd Ed, (London, Harper
Collins Publishers, 1988)
Crew, D. F, Hitler and the Nazis, (Oxford University Press, 02/01/2006)
Geary D, Who Voted for the Nazis? (October 1998), P.8. Found in Paxton O R, Europe in the
Twentieth Century, 4th ed, (Melbourne, 2002)
Geary, D, Hitler and Nazism, (Taylor and Francis, 2001)
Henig, R, The League of Nations, (Haus Publishing, 2010)
Hillstrom, K, World War 1 and the Age of Modern Warfare, (Omnigraphics, 2013)
Kertesz, G.A, Programme of the NSDAP, (25 February 1920) in Documents in the Political History
of the European Continent, (Oxford, 1968)
Paxton, R.O, Europe in the Twentieth Century, 4th Ed, (Pearson, Melbourne, 2002)
Robertson, D, Fascism in The Routledge Dictionary of Politics, (London, Routledge, 2004)
Shepley, Nick, Britain, France, And Germany and the Treaty of Versailles, (Andrews UK, 2011)
The History Place, The History Place, the Triumph of Hitler, Hitler Reveals War Plans (2001).
Waite, R. G. O, Guilt Feelings and Perverted Sexuality, (Lexington, 1973)
Watt, D. C, International Affairs (Royal Institute of International Affairs 1944-), Vol. 33, No. 2 (Apr.,
1957)
Wilson, H. H, The League of Nations, (New York, J. Cape & H. Smith, 1929)
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Thomas Jones