World War I (WWI) was a global conflict that began in 1914, involving the Central and Allied Powers. During this time, the Central Powers, which consisted of Germany, Austria-Hungary and Italy, who soon switched sides, went to war with the Allied Powers, which included France, Britain, Russia and later the United States. Tensions were already growing in Europe due to militarism, alliances, imperialism and nationalism, which meant that it was only a matter of time until war would break out. This conflict was instigated by the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. War was soon declared due to Serbia rejecting Austria-Hungary’s ultimatum, bringing the two countries and its allies into combat. Following the victory of the Allies, the Treaty of Versailles was signed, which brought the war to an end. The formation of the treaty was primarily done by the Allies, which would explain the vindictive attitude towards Germany. It is arguable whether the Treaty of Versailles or Hitler and the Nazis were to blame for the initiation of World War II (WWII). However, some of the terms included in this pact, such as the War Guilt Clause, territorial loss and formation of the League of Nations make it evident that the Treaty of Versailles was the most responsible for WWII, despite Hitler and the Nazis carrying out the conflict and anti-Semitic acts. The War Guilt Clause fueled the German’s hatred towards the Allies, territorial clauses led to the rise of Hitler and the Nazis, and the League of Nations’ failure to maintain peace by not responding to Germany’s advances, led to another global war.
From a German standpoint, the War Guilt Clause, which made Germany accept responsibility for the start of WW1 and its damages, created hatred towards the Allies. In the German newspaper, Deutsche Zeitung, it read, “The disgraceful Treaty is being signed today. Don’t forget it! We will never stop until we win back what we deserve.” This statement presents the overt resentment Germans had for the treaty and specifically the War Guilt Clause which justified the harsh conditions imposed on Germany. The backlash stems from the belief that they did not deserve the blame that was attributed to them. The humiliation and anger caused by accepting the claim, developed a mindset more open to armed conflict with the Allies. Additionally, the War Guilt Clause essentially obligated Germany to make reparations. The massive sum that needed to be paid, left Germany in an economic depression. This severely affected the lives of citizens, which created further resentment. In the book, The Shame of Survival: Working Through a Nazi Childhood, by Ursula Mahlendorf, she reports the outrage over tax increases, salary cuts for civil service employees and businesses going bankrupt. With the country facing mass unemployment and starvation, there was no one to blame other than the Allies who had proposed reparations in the first place. As a result of this, Germans started to lean toward right-wing politics as Hitler promised to abolish the Treaty of Versailles. Under the guise of reducing reparations, the War Guilt Clause was made to humiliate and tear Germany’s economy apart, which eventually led to WWII as nationalism in Germany grew. While the effects of reparations were the cause of Hitler’s rise to power, it is also notable to mention the territorial distribution’s role in inflation and widespread interest in Nazism.
Due to the territorial losses mentioned in the Treaty of Versailles, rapid inflation occurred, making life extremely difficult for Germans. This change was associated with the Weimar government, creating a distrust as they had allowed for this to happen. During the January of 1919 and March 1920, violent uprisings from both left-wing Spartacists and right-wing Kapp Putsch had occurred in order to overthrow the Weimar Republic. This event in itself shows the disdain and lack of support the government had due to its decision to sign the peace settlement. The mistrust created from this is what ultimately helped the Nazi Party gain traction since the current state of Germany’s government was unstable and weak. Unfortunately, Germany was deprived of the territories that generated most of its income, inevitably leading to the price of goods to increase and monetary value to decrease. As a result of this hyperinflation, the Weimar government essentially lost control of the economy, allowing the Nazis convincing propaganda material. This shows that the general public was easily persuadable as they were blinded by their intense dislike of the Weimar government. Information that was spread was kept vague in order for the Nazi Party to appeal to more people. With the population unaware of the complete ideology, the Nazi Party was seen as a solution to the political instability and economic problems caused by the effects of territorial loss. However, Hitler and the Nazis’ rise to power is only the second most responsible for starting WWII, when considering the failure of the League of Nations.
The League of Nations was established to prevent international conflict. However, when Germany remilitarized the Rhineland, clearly violating one of the terms of the treaty and the Locarno Pact, the members of the organization did nothing to intervene. In a document written by the former British Foreign Secretary, it states, “From information given by the Service Ministers it transpired that our position at home and in home waters was a disadvantageous one, whether from the point of view of the Navy, Army or Air Force, or anti-aircraft defence. In addition, public opinion was strongly opposed to any military action against the Germans in the demilitarised zone. In particular, the ex-Service men were very anti-French.” In this excerpt, it reveals that Britain had feared another conflict, due to unfavourable conditions. They saw no issue with Germany reoccupying the Rhineland since it was theirs in the first place. France had also been too afraid to go against Germany without support from Britain, despite their weakened military strength. In another instance, the organization had failed to take action when Hitler annexed Austria. Two weeks after the Anschluss, Winston Churchill declared, 'A country like ours, possessed of immense territory and wealth, whose defences have been neglected, cannot avoid war by dilating upon its horrors, or even by a continuous display of pacific qualities, or by ignoring the fate of the victims of aggression elsewhere. War will be avoided, in present circumstances, only by the accumulation of deterrents against the aggressor.' In his speech, he points out that war cannot be avoided by appeasement, and can only be prevented by countering the aggressor, which in this case is Nazi Germany. This acknowledges that the League of Nations had not done anything to stop Germany, and instead, encouraged Hitler to move forward. With the lack of interference from the League of Nations, Hitler knew that the organization wouldn’t oppose his advances, as they feared another war. Hitler continued to violate what was agreed, eventually leading to the outbreak of WWII. This depicts the large role the League of Nations had in initiating the war, in conjunction with the War Guilt Clause and territorial distribution.
The overall causes of WW2 derive from the Treaty of Versailles and the unfair propositions forced upon Germany. The War Guilt Clause had humiliated Germany to such a great extent that the country had loathed the Allies. Making them claim responsibility for WWI justified reparations, deliberately leading to a collapse of the German economy. Additionally, the territory lost had exacerbated the damages done by reparations, further fueling hatred and nationalism within Germany. This would allow Hitler and the Nazi Party to rise to power, as the Weimar Republic was unstable. Also, the League of Nations that was created under the Treaty of Versailles, had failed to appropriately deal with Nazi Germany and its repeating offences. The consequences of these events make it clear that the Treaty of Versailles was most responsible for WW2, rather than Hitler and the Nazis who committed the horrendous acts.
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