20th Century Europe Final

1395 words | 5 page(s)

The causes of World War II lay primarily in three areas: the widespread economic depression that befell Europe following the conclusion of World War I; the rise of Hitler and the Nazi Regime in the 1930’s and 1940’s due to the formation of the Weimar Republic, and Japan’s attack on the United States in 1941. As with many global conflicts, the origins of World War II can be found in economic disparities that characterized much of life in Europe in the 1930’s and 1940’s. Largely as the result of losses incurred during the first “Great War,” many European nations found it necessary to tighten their belts and increase austerity measures in an effort to economically rebound from the losses sustained during World War I.

Almost all of Western Europe fell into an economic depression following World War I. France and Britain found it necessary to devalue their currencies. Additionally, many French employers began to lay off vast numbers of foreign workers, primarily those who hailed from Italy, Spain, and Poland. These cost-cutting measures led to an overall sense of despair in Europe, which many historians have credited with creating the conditions in Germany that provided a favorable social and political environment for the rise of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party.

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Adolf Hitler began to consolidate power in Germany in the 1930’s. Germany had sustained some of the greatest economic losses in the course of World War I, and the “strongman” figure that Hitler portrayed on the German political stage made many people in that nation overlook his vicious ideology. In the aftermath of World War I, as well as the global decolonization that was occurring, Germany lost many of its colonies and annexed regions. Additionally, unemployment was at an all time high, hovering at close to thirty percent. Ehen the United States began to call in many of its short-term loans, Germany was unable to obtain credit to help with its post-war rebuilding processes. Many of Germany’s banks began to fail, as they were cut off from the global circulation of currency, and this caused the economy to, essentially, devolve into an all-out tailspin.

In short, Hitler came across as someone who could fix everything, and the common German was looking for some kind of relief from the terrible economic and social conditions that characterized post-World War I Germany. Additionally, the Nazis represented a daring ideological rejection of the modernity that many Germans felt had inflicted so much damage upon their country. Further, the other European powers failed to deal with the rise of Hitler during the 1930’s, even as his aggressive and confrontational behavior worsened. For instance, in 1933, Germany officially withdrew from the Disarmament Conference and the League of Nations, and no other European power said a word. Even when Germany sent troops to occupy the previously demilitarized zone of the Rhine, other European powers, including France, did nothing to stop him, and this is part of the reason that World War II began.

A third cause of World War II was the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Prior to the attack, the United States had been hesitant to participate in the war effort, viewing it largely as a European problem. However, with the attack of Pearl Harbor, the United States was drawn into the conflict, and this forever changed the trajectory of World War II. At this point, World War II was truly a global conflict, not simply one that was isolated to the European theater of war. It is difficult to state with any certainty whether the Nazi Party and Hitler would have remained in power in Germany had not this new element been introduced into the conflict, but it definitely established the United States as a new global superpower.

Nazi Germany failed to win World War II for several reasons, but there are two major geopolitical factors that contributed to the loss of Hitler in the war effort. The first factor was the military strength of Great Britain. Hitler initially tried to attack Britain via sea, which, considering the formidable powers of the British Navy, was an extremely ill-advised strategic move. Hitler used a combination of warships and U-boats in an attempt to invade Britain via a land-sea operation, but the Nazis simply did not have the naval resources necessary to successfully fight the British. Additionally, Winston Churchill proved to be a brilliant military strategist and was a skilled statesman, who was able to raise the morale and fighting spirit of the British troops, which would be essential in the air attacks that were about to occur as a result of Hitler’s humiliating defeat in the sea battle against Britain.

In early July 1940, Hitler’s troops attacked major British cities in a hail of bombing, in a battle that became known as the Battle of Britain. The Battle of Britain lasted from early July 1940 until late September 1940, and while Great Britain sustained severe losses as a result of the attack by Germany, they nonetheless prevailed. Although Germany was ruthless in their attack upon the British—cities such as London suffered from five to seven nights of nonstop bombing by the Nazis—the British were exceptionally well prepared for the fight. Great Britain, at this time, had an advanced radar warning system and an air to ground communication system. As a result of British military superiority, the German air force lost 2,376 planes and 2,500 troops. At the end of the Battle of Britain, Hitler was humiliated and demoralized by the losses he sustained, and furthermore, the German people who provided his support base began to question his strength and capabilities as a strongman-style political leader. In an effort to recoup his power and prestige, Hitler decided to attack Russia shortly after the conclusion of the Battle of Britain.

Hitler’s attack on Russia was ill advised, and went even more horribly wrong than did the invasion of Great Britain. One of Hitler’s major motivations for invading Russia was the creation of lebensraum, or a large living space for the Aryan people. In Hitler’s view, the Aryan people were a superior race, and deserved to have a large living space, at any cost. To Hitler, the Russians were Slavic, and thus an inferior race, and so he believed that he had every right to extinguish the Russians and co-opt their living space to expand the territory available to Aryans. Hitler’s ultimate goal was to turn the entire world into one large living space for the Aryan race, and he planned to start with the Slavic lands of Eastern Europe. However, Hitler’s plans did not go well for him. To begin with, Hitler severely underestimated the military capacity and the morale of the Russian Red Army.

The Russian troops were also exceptionally well prepared for the German invasion of their western border, and proved to be extremely devoted fighters. The Red Army made a spirited counterattack on December 5, 1941, and the Battle of Stalingrad of 1942-1943 was an excellent case in point of the resolve of the Red Army. The Battle of Stalingrad is widely referred to by many historians as the bloodiest and lengthiest battle in all of human history, and it was a crucial turning point in the fight between the Nazis and the Red Army. While the Russians lost many troops—close to 5 million by many estimates–in the course of the Battle of Stalingrad, they nonetheless continued to fight bravely against the Nazi invasion. Additionally, the Russians were aided by the climate.

Eastern Europe experienced an unusually early and severe winter in late 1941. Hitler had not planned for this wrinkle, and additionally thought the battle would be short-lived. As a result, the Nazi troops did not even have winter clothing and supplies that could help them sustain the harsh Russian winter, and this further weakened the Germans. Many Nazi troops simply froze to death in the battle. Hitler also did not anticipate that the Russians would receive a great deal of foreign aid. Russia received a huge amount of aid from the British in the war effort against the Germans, and even more surprisingly, from the United States. When Hitler was driven back by the Russians, he was essentially finished. He was bested to the west by the British and to the east by the Russians, and thus did not win World War II.

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