A State of War: How World War Two Was Precipitated



May 26, 2009


World War Two was devastating global catastrophe that took the lives of tens of millions of people, and left Germany in complete political, economic, and social devastation while simultaneously advancing the US and Russia’s positions as the leaders of the world, and allowing the rise of Stalin and communism. This paper will analyze the reason why Britain and France chose to punish Germany so severely post-WWI, and then continue on by explaining how, twenty years later, their governments allowed Hitler to amass unprecedented power in the first half of the 1930s. The paper will then discuss why the British government made such an abrupt ‘about turn’ in 1939, and within days decided to offer Poland a security contract to protect the nation from Hitler and the Nazis. This paper will argue that due to a series of poor decisions made by the Allied nations beginning with the Treaty of Versailles and continuing with their misjudgment of Hitler and Germany’s actions, WWII became an inevitable sequence to WWI.

“This morning the British Ambassador in Berlin handed the German Government a final note stating that unless we heard from them by eleven o'clock that they were prepared at once to withdraw their troops from Poland, a state of war would exist between us. I have to tell you that no such understanding has been received and that consequently this country is at war with Germany.” - Neville Chamberlain, September 3rd, 1939

At the end of World War One, none of Europe could fathom enduring another large scale conflict . Based on the idea that Germany had started WWI, the Treaty of Versailles was created as more of a punishment than anything else. Germany realized that the Treaty of Versailles was a means of revenge for France and Britain, and its people would remember the vindictive punishment in the near future. As Hitler capitalized on the conditions that the Treaty had created, Britain and France misread the threat that he posed to Europe, and consequently allowed him to invade many Eastern European countries, eventually causing the Second World War. The war began September 3, 1939 when Britain and France declared war on the Axis powers comprised of Germany, Japan, and Italy. Concluding on V.E day in 1945, the war took the lives of between 30 to 60 million civilians and soldiers, not including the approximately 25 million who died due to war related famine and disease. Of those tens of millions, over 6 million Jews were subjected to the starvation, sickness, and torture of the Nazi death camps that were operated under the Hitler’s brutal hand. At the end of World War Two, Germany, a country which had been at the epicenter of progress for decades, was too poor and shattered to rebuild for many years. World War Two also carved a path for Stalin and his regime of communism, as well as furthering the US’s position as the leader of the world. The question then remains: what caused the death, the victories, and the losses that constituted World War Two? Due to a series of poor decisions made by the Allied nations beginning with the Treaty of Versailles and continuing with their misjudgment of Hitler and Germany’s actions, WWII became an inevitable sequence to WWI.

The first mistake made by Britain and France was the decision to punish Germany severely for causing World War One. The Allies had won the First World War after fighting against the German, Austro-Hungarian, and Ottoman Empires between the years 1914 and 1918. The majority of Europe had decided to label Germany as the primary instigator of the war, and created a document that would record the Allied nations’ regulations to be placed on the defeated country. Woodrow Wilson had wanted to add different, more lenient stipulations that would hopefully prevent all future conflicts from erupting-- a list of regulations entitled the 14 Points. However, the representatives that met in Versailles, France in 1919 finally voted on the Treaty of Versailles without Wilson’s additions, because no one—neither Britain and France or the US Congress—would back his decisions. The most significant stipulations in the Treaty stated that the German people would be forced to pay billions in reparations, their army would be reduced to 100,000 men, and German land would be annexed. Wilson’s plan had included an Open Covenants clause, the independence of numerous countries, and the creation of the League of Nations; whereas the 14 Points were meant to make the Great War the ‘war to end all wars’, the final version of the Treaty of Versailles was created solely to punish Germany. David Lloyd George, an English politician, had realized that punishing Germany too harshly would lead to dire consequences for the entire world, but because of an upcoming election he voted in favor of the Treaty so as to appease the British populace . If Lloyd George had chosen to support Wilson’s idea, his additions most likely would have been attached to the final Treaty, and Germany would have settled relatively content with the bill . Instead, the Allied nations signed the Treaty of Versailles without the 14 Points, which only added salt to the wound that Germany was nursing after WWI.

The Allied nations’ Treaty, in conjunction with the Great Depression, contributed to the creation of conditions in Germany that allowed Hitler and the Nazis to come to power. Between 1919 and 1933, Germany struggled to rebuild from the economic devastation it had faced from WWI and the Great Depression. Because the country’s financial situation had been destroyed by the fiscal stipulations in the Treaty of Versailles, when the Great Depression struck, the country crumbled under the weight of the debt it owed to the US. It is reasonable to believe that Germany could have slowly recovered from WWI, especially because the country had built a thriving industrial economy in the years leading up to the Great War . But because of the added deficit caused by the Great Depression, the country was unable to recover. Dissatisfied with the actions of the Weimar Republic, the German people were in need of a leader who could improve the living conditions in the country. During the post-WWI years, Hitler slowly began his rise to power, able to capitalize on Germany’s hurt pride and economy and eventually lead the entire nation into following his fascist philosophy. Hitler denounced the weakness of the Weimar Republic, and spoke of restoring Germany to what he believed to be their rightful position—at the forefront of the world. The German people responded positively to the improvements Hitler spoke of and eagerly supported his party by 1933. The Allied nations had grossly underestimated the reverberations that harsh punishment would cause. Their decision to do so carved out a pathway for Hitler’s rise to power, and became one of the primary causes of World War Two

Hitler began to rise in power during 1933, and the Allied nations, though aware of his actions, misjudged the threat he posed for many years. Hitler did not intend to start another great war; his primary goal was to rebuild the German Empire. While campaigning in Germany, Hitler emphasized the Aryan race’s right to lebensraum, or living space. According to B.H. Liddell Hart, the Allied nations were aware of Hitler’s agenda, which disregarded all of the stipulations as stated in the Treaty of Versailles . Despite their knowledge, France and Britain did nothing to hinder Hitler’s actions because they correctly believed that the Nazis would expand eastward, not affecting them in the West. Lord Halifax, an influential English politician during the time period, was an exemplar for Britain and France’s treatment of the Nazi situation. According to Liddell Hart, Lord Halifax had, in an interview, “gave Hitler to understand that Britain would allow him a ‘free hand’ in Eastern Europe.” He continues on to explain that while Halifax may not have intended as much, the meeting had given Hitler the impression that Britain sympathized with his desire for lebensraum, and that impression had, “proved of crucial importance.”

Hitler believed that he had approval from Britain and France, and felt encouraged to fulfill his conquest of Eastern Europe since he knew he would not be stopped . Neither of the Allies demonstrated any objection when Hitler invaded Austria, as they knew this did not directly affect them. His next mission was to absorb Czechoslovakia into the German Reich, however here he faced extreme concerns from his Chief of General Staff and the leading German generals . They warned Hitler that Britain and France would react if he pushed his conquest too far. Hitler assured them that the two nations would not fight, and he was correct. Both countries had already, in private discussions decided to allow Germany to expand its territory even though it undermined the Treaty . British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, “acceded to Hitler’s crippling demands for Czechoslovakia and in concert with the French agreed to stand aside while that unhappy country was stripped of both territory and defences. ” Hitler once again was given an unspoken green light from these two countries, and now believed that he could do as he pleased in Eastern Europe unscathed by the Allies. Liddell Hart argues that, “Hitler became overweeningly confident of a continued run of easy success.” Britain and France had allowed Hitler a ‘free hand’ for too long, and gave him the confidence to continue conquering Eastern Europe, eventually causing him to set his eyes upon Poland, a country that had just recently been guaranteed protection by the Allied nations.

Even though Britain had been severely weakened by the First World War and was still in no condition to fight another large scale war, the government decided to offer Poland its support in the event that Hitler invaded the country. At the beginning of 1939, Britain wrongly assumed that Germany’s current economic issues would hinder Hitler’s invasions. B.H Liddell summarized Britain’s attitude during the period as follows, “Ministers assured friends and critics that Germany’s economic plight made her incapable of going to war .” When Hitler invaded Prague, Chamberlain and the rest of the British government did next to nothing. “Within a few days, however,” says Liddell Hart, “Chamberlain made a complete ‘about turn.’” and on March 29th, he offered Poland support against Hitler and the Nazis. Liddell Hart argues that the “predominant influence” on Chamberlain’s change in attitude was caused by his realization of just how bad the Hitler situation had become . He most likely felt that the country’s officials could no longer turn a blind eye to Hitler’s blatant undermining of the British government. Politicians who had been in favor of sweeping this disastrous situation under the rug, finally admitted just how much of a danger Hitler was, and decided to take immediate action . Even though Britain was finally taking measures against Hitler and the Nazis, according to Liddell Hart, “The Polish Guarantee was the surest was to produce an early explosion, and a world war.” Britain had neither the financial, nor military power to combat the army that Hitler had been building since 1933, and again made a bad decision when it decided to proffer its help to Poland. When Hitler’s troops began to invade Poland, the Allied nations were now forced to take military actions against him because of the Polish Guarantee. Hitler knew that Britain and France were too weak to inflict any damage on the German Army, and disregarded their threats of war. The Allied nations were then forced to declare war on Hitler and the Nazis, beginning the massive bloodbath of World War Two.

The Second World War is the exemplar for a war that was unnecessarily provoked. This war, more than almost any other, could have been prevented if Britain and France had thought out the possible reverberations of their decisions. The representatives at Versailles who ignored Wilson’s forewarnings created conditions that set the stage for one of the most infamous villains, and precipitated Hitler’s frighteningly powerful dictatorship in the near future. Continuing with Britain and France’s mismanagement of the rise of the Nazi party, World War Two was the byproduct of the “lethargy and folly of the British and French governments. ” On being asked by President Roosevelt about what World War Two should be called, Winston Churchill responded, “The Unnecessary War. There never was a war more easy to stop than that which has just wrecked what was left of the world from the previous struggle.” The tens of millions of deaths, the torture, the terror, and the anguish that are synonymous with World War Two could have all been prevented if Britain and France had not been adamant on punishing Germany post-WWI, and if the two countries hadn’t so gravely underestimated the threat that Hitler posed to Europe and the rest of the world. World War Two remains a painful reminder of the fallibility of man and governments, but will hopefully serve as an admonition to future generations of the destruction and evil that we are capable of, and how a few carefully thought out measures can prevent another global catastrophe.

Works Cited

1. Backon, Joel. Wallingford, CT, May 21, 2009.

2. Buchanan, Patrick J. Churchill, Hitler, and the Unnecessary War. New York: Random House Inc., 2008.

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4. Hart, B.H Liddell. History of the Second World War. Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press, 1999.

5. Rantzau, Brockdorff-. "A German View of the Treaty of Versailles." World War 1: Consequences. (accessed April 13, 2009).

6. WorldWar2.net. World War 2 Famous Quotes. 2006. www.worldwar-2.net (accessed May 24, 2009).


1. Backon, Joel. Wallingford, CT, May 21, 2009.

2. Buchanan, Patrick J. Churchill, Hitler, and the Unnecessary War. New York: Random House Inc., 2008.

3. Encyclopedia Britannica. World War II. 2009. www.britannica.com (accessed May 12, 2009).

4. —. World War II. 2006. www.britannica.com (accessed May 15, 2009).

5. Hart, B.H Liddell. History of the Second World War. Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press, 1999.

6. Rantzau, Brockdorff-. "A German View of the Treaty of Versailles." World War 1: Consequences. (accessed April 13, 2009).

7. Rossel, Seymour. The Holocaust: The Fire That Raged. United States: Franklin Watts, 1989.

8. WorldWar2.net. World War 2 Famous Quotes. 2006. www.worldwar-2.net (accessed May 24, 2009).

Title Page Pictures

1. Barach, Arnold Bauer. Mass Grave at Bergen Belsen Concentration Camp. Photograph. A.B. Barach. May 1945. Accessed 25 May. 2009 <www.bobpiper.co.uk>

2. ESEA. French Flag. Computer Processed Image. n.d. ESEA. Accessed 25 May. 2009. < www.e-s-e-a.com>

3. Evans, M. British Flag. Computer Processed Image. Evans, M. March 12 2009. Accessed 25 May. 2009 <www.graphiteworks.files.wordpress.com>

4. Ewing & Harris. David Lloyd George. Photograph. 1918. Library of Congress. Accessed 25 May. 2009 <www.wikimedia.org>

5. Ewing & Harris. Woodrow Wilson. Photograph. c1900-1920. Accessed 25 May. 2009 <www.visitingdc.com>

6. Nottingham Evening Post. Paper from VE Day. Photograph. May 8 1945. Accessed 25 May. 2009 <www.flickr.com>

7. Walker, Josh. German Flag. Computer Processed Image. n.d. US Eventing. Accessed 25 May. 2009. <www.useventing.com>

8. --.Adolf Hitler. Photograph. n.d. Accessed 25 May. 2009 < www.image.guardian.co.uk>

9. --.Flag of the United States of America. Computer Processed Image. 2005. Accessed 25 May. 2009 www.wikipedia.org

10. --. Men Running from Collapsing Building. Photograph. n.d. Accessed 25 May. 2009 <www.downturk.info>

11. --.Winston Churchill. Photograph. n.d. Accessed 25 May. 2009 < www.johnstodderinexile.files.wordpress.com>

12. --. World War II Soldiers in Training. Photograph. c1930. Accessed 25 May. 2009 <www.todaysseniorsnetwork.com>