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Posted on May 31st, 2012, by

The World War II was probably the greatest tragedy in the history of mankind. Obviously, there was no other war which was so destructive and which took so many lives as the World War II. At the same time, it was a great lesson all people have to learn since the modern world possesses weapon which are much more destructive than that of the period of the Second World War. This is why it is hardly possible to presuppose the consequences if the World War III could ever outbreak. On the other hand, it is necessary to realize the fact that the World War II did not occur by chance but, instead, it was the result of the policy of the leading states of that epoch and their unwillingness to focus on the peaceful way of the development. Instead, the leading nations viewed the military aggression as the major solution of all the problems the countries faced in that epoch.

It should be said that nowadays it is extremely important to clearly realize the major factors that contributed to the outbreak of the World War II because they can help better understand what can lead to the global military conflict.

This knowledge will apparently help prevent any similar tragedies in the future. At the same time, it will also help better understand the depth of the tragedy of 1939-1945 since practically all states of the world directly or indirectly were affected by the war and its effects were extremely significant even after the end of the war.

In order to better understand the factors that actually led to the outbreak of the World War II, it is necessary to analyze in depth the economic and political situation in all major players of the international politics of that epoch, focusing not only on the UK, the US, the USSR and their allies but also on the situation in Nazi Germany and its allies.

Economic crisis

On analyzing the major factors contributing to the outbreak of the World War II, it is primarily necessary to dwell upon the economic situation in the world before the beginning of the war. It is not a secret that often economy is the major cause of military conflicts. Consequently, it is necessary to analyze the economic development of the world in that epoch in order to understand what actually the economic factors leading to the global military conflict were. In this respect, it should be said that the epoch after the World War I may be characterized as an extremely difficult period in the socio-economic development of the world. In fact, many countries, including the leading ones, suffered a profound socio-economic crisis shortly after the end of the World War I that resulted in social instability, riots and even revolutions that affected many countries and in some of them revolutions were quite successful, for instance in Russia[1].

At the same time, such social turbulence in Europe as well as in other parts of the world was basically determined by purely economic factors. However, it is worthy of mention that Europe traditionally played the leading role in the world politics and, in fact, defined the world politics. In other words the leading European countries actually defined the development of the world in that epoch and these countries were probably in the most difficult economic position basically because of the destructive effects of the World War I[2].

Nevertheless, it should be pointed out that there were practically a couple of decades between the two world wars.

This is why it would be logical to presuppose that any socio-economic or political problems could have been solved within such a period of time. However, in actuality, the situation basically deteriorated. Naturally, it is necessary to agree that the economic development of some countries, notably, those which had won the World War I, was quite dynamic and it is even possible to estimate that these countries had managed to recover from the numerous post-war problems. However, the economic stability in the world was still an unattainable goal which was rather a kind of ideal than a realizable objective. In this respect, it should be pointed out that the economic growth that followed the World War I practically within a decade resulted in a profound economic crisis which struck the entire world in the late 1920s-1930s. The period known as the Great Depression resulted in the significant deterioration of the socio-economic situation in practically all countries of the world and it was quite natural that the profound economic crisis soon affected the national policy of all concerned states. To put it more precisely, the deterioration of socio-economic situation in Europe, America and Asia resulted in the radicalization of the national policy. In this respect, it should be said that even the countries with a well-developed and historically deeply rooted democracy radical ideas became quite popular. As a result, such extreme movements as fascism and communism grew more and more popular.

It should be said that the profound economic crisis in the late 1920s-early 1930s was quite unexpected at first glance in the context of the rapid economic growth that followed after the post-World War I economic recovery. For instance, by late 1920s European countries rebuild their factories and farms and could count for the products produced in the local economies. At the same time, the US as well as some other American countries, such as Canada and Argentina increased their agricultural production due to the export to Europe. Even developing countries started a rapid economic growth. For instance, East India produced huge amount of rubber, Java produced record crops of sugar[3]. However, such increase in production, along with the recovery of European economies resulted in the new wave of the economic crisis caused by the problem of the overproduction in the result of which the supply substantially overcame the demand. For instance, in 1929 there was 15,9 million tons of unsold wheat in the US, Canada and Argentina. As a result, the economies of these countries fully realized the danger of such overproduction.

Eventually, the economic crisis occurred on October 24, 1929, known as ”˜Black Thursday’ when the New York stock market crashed affecting the world economy dramatically and practically undermining the economic stability that had been just achieved leading to the deterioration of socio-economic situation not only in the US but in Europe as well as other countries of the world[4].

The popularity of radical ideas was, to a significant extent, determined by the promises of the rapid economic recovery and further progress of national economies that was one of the major needs of the pre-World War II epoch.

It should be pointed out that the economic centers which were traditionally placed in Europe started to move westward and gradually the US started to play increasingly more important role in the world economy. For instance, before the World War I, the US was $4 billion in debt to European countries while after the war it was owed $10 billion by countries in Europe[5]. In such a way, substantial debts also contributed to the outbreak of the World War II since they stimulated many countries to more aggressive international policy.


Obviously, the growing economic problems in practically all leading countries, as well as in developing ones, affected dramatically the international politics. In fact, it is necessary to underline that in the result of the deterioration of the economic situation, the leading powers of the world tended to increase its international impact. Basically, the efforts of the leading world powers resulted in the growing imperialism and further colonization of developing and under-developed countries. At the same time, as there remained really few territories for the further expansion, the conflicts between the most powerful states were practically inevitable. It is worthy of mention that this trend was typical not only for European countries, which traditionally were the leaders in the colonization of developing countries, but also for other countries of the world. In this respect, it is worthy of mention Japan which started its expansion in Asia invading the neighboring countries without paying any attention to the declarative opposition of the world community.

At this point it should be said that Japanese aggressive policy perfectly illustrate the inability or, to put it more precisely, the unwillingness of the leading powers of the world to interfere in the affairs of the countries which fate did not affect directly their own development. What is meant here is the fact that in 1931 Japan invaded Manchuria and expanded into China until 1937. Obviously, it was an unveiled aggression from the part of Japan. In such a situation, international community, namely the League of Nation was supposed to undertake steps to protect China from Japanese aggression but, in actuality, the League of Nation practically controlled by the leading European states and the US simply ignored this fact and the international community did not really interfered into the conflict.

Obviously, this was a serious precedent when aggressor remained unpunished.

On the other hand, Japan perfectly illustrated that the military invasion could be not just unpunished but also extremely profitable since the occupation of China was economically beneficial for Japan. No wonder, European states, including the UK and France, as the leading European powers, also continued their imperialist policy in Asia and Africa. The latter is particularly important because due to the fact that these countries won the World War I, their imperialist policy actually threatened to change the balance of power in Europe making the UK and France considerably stronger compared to the rest of Europe.


Naturally, in such a situation Germany and its allies could not remain passive and they also started to develop their own plans of the improvement of socio-economic situation. Taking into account the historical context and experience of other states, it seems to be quite logical that Germany and its allies viewed imperialism as the effective strategy to improve the situation considerably. However, in the result of the World War I, Germany and its allies were deprived of all colonies and formally could not have any military force that made their imperialist plans unrealizable. In such a situation, Germany, as one of the major powers in Europe, could not simply wait when the UK and France overcome it. In fact, strengthening of the UK and France was a direct threat to German national interests. Moreover, politically and economically Germany and its allies were in a disadvantageous position compared to the countries that won the World War I[6]. As a result, the revanchism became the major trend in the national policy of Germany and its allies.

Practically, this means that Germany simply intended to reestablish status quo which had been violated in the result of its defeat in the World War I. In other words, Germany naturally attempted to regain its leading positions that actually implied the violation of the existing international legal norms and rapid militarization of the country. The latter was practically inevitable because Germany was deprived of any other tools with the help of which it could influence the world policy. This is why it is possible to estimate that the imperialist policy of the leading countries such as the UK and France, as well as the US, which role had increased substantially after the World War I, provoked Germany to the revanchist policy since Germans naturally felt injustice of the effects of the World War I and, what is more important, they were unwilling to give in the leadership to other countries   only because they lost the war.

In such a situation, the national revanchism turned to be so popular that it brought to power the Nazi part in Germany and other fascist parties in countries which were German allies, such as Italy. At the same time, Nazi regime made revanchism its major strategy and actually, it was a variation of imperialism that was typical for other leading powers of that epoch. To put it more precisely, Germans and its allies simply wanted to change the balance of power in the world in their favor.

Attempts to appease Hitler

In such a situation, the policy of the UK and France as well as the US seems to be quite strange because they did not only ignore the strengthening of Germany as a significant military power but they also actively cooperated with Germany and remained ignorant to its aggressive policy just like they ignored the aggressive policy of Japan in Asia.

However, the unwillingness of the countries that won the World War I to escalate conflict with Germany may be explained by their intention to appease this country and its leader, Hitler, who dreamed about the creation of the third Reich[7]. In such a context, the policy of the UK and France seems to be quite logical but, in actuality, it turned to be not very effective.

To put it more precisely, neither the UK nor France undertook any active steps against Germany when it actually annexed Austria and factually occupied Western Czechoslovakia in the result of the Munich Agreement in 1938[8].

In fact, there were only vocal protests against the actions of Germany which had little effect on its policy. No wonder that Hitler had realized that he was free to act according to his own will and to the current capabilities of German army and economy. In this respect, it is worthy of mention that in the result of the close cooperation of Germany with other countries including its formal opponents, such as the UK, France, the US, German economy progressed rapidly under the rule of the Nazi regime not in the last turn due to the total militarization of the company that was a part of the strategic revanchist plans of Nazis.

Obviously, such a policy of the leading world powers was totally erroneous since, instead of appeasing Hitler they simply provoked Germany to the further aggressive actions against weaker states. In this respect, it is worthy to remind about the expansion of Japan in Asia that also remained unpunished. As a result, it was clear that the leading world powers were absolutely indifferent to the fate of weak states and they could easily sacrifice them as long as they manage to preserve peace with Germany and other revanchist states[9]. This is why the occupation of Poland by Germany on September 1, 1939 was a logical consequence of the policy of appeasing of Hitler.

The communist threat

However, the indifference of the UK and France to the aggressive policy of Germany was motivated not only by their unwillingness to start the confrontation with this country but it was also determined by the new threat from the East.

To put it more precisely, the strengthening of Germany could be viewed as an attempt of Western countries to create a powerful buffer between Western Europe and the USSR because this country could be really dangerous to the UK, France and other countries[10]. The reason was quite obvious ”“ the threat of communism overshadowed the threat of fascism which was only developing in Germany and some other European countries, such as Italy and Spain. At any rate, Germany could be viewed as an antagonistic power to the communist regime in the USSR that was obviously beneficial to Western countries.

However, this strategy was also erroneous and it contributed to the outbreak of the World War II considerably. In fact, it is obvious that the attempts to support Nazi Germany as an antagonist of the communist USSR totally failed because, due to the favorable international policy, Germany had managed to strengthen its economy and army and become a serious power in Europe and the world. At the same time, it was also obvious that, being unpunished for its aggression, Germany was not limited in its actions and soon, together with the USSR, occupied Poland.

In such a situation, Western countries perfectly realized the extent to which their policy was erroneous and, at that moment, on September 1, 1939, it became obvious that the World War II was inevitable because Germany was absolutely uncontrollable while its coordinated actions with the USSR was a direct evidence of the failure of the policy of Western countries to confront Germany and the USSR.


Thus, it is possible to conclude that the World War II started in the result of the series of mistakes and deterioration of socio-economic situation in the world. To put it more precisely, the deterioration of economic situation in the world and the lack of balance in the world politics resulting in the deprived positions of the countries that lost the World War I compared to the winners led to the revanchist policy and growing radicalism in the world. Eventually, the indifference of the leading world powers to the fate of minor states resulted in the strengthening of Germany and its allies that, along with its revanchism, led to the outbreak of the World War II.

[1] Keegan, J. (1989) The Second World War. New York: Allyson & Brooks.


[2] Liddell H, (1970). History of the Second World War. New York: New Publishers.


[3] Keylor, W.R. and J. Bannister. (2004) The Twentieth Century World. New York: Random House.


[4] Shirer, W. L. (1959). The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, London: Simon & Schuster.


[5] Overy, R. (1995). Why the Allies Won. New York: Random House.


[6] Ellis, J. (1999). Brute Force: Allied Strategy and Tactics in the Second World War. Chicago: McGraw Hill.

[7] Bauer, E. (2000). The History of World War II. New York: New Publishers.


[8] Weinberg, S. M. Gerhard L. (2005).  A World at Arms: A Global History of World War II. New York: New Publishers.

[9] Harrison, M. (1998). “Resource Mobilization for World War II: The U.S.A., UK, U.S.S.R., and Germany, 1938”“1945” in The Economic History Review, Vol. 41, No. 2. (May, 1988), pp. 171”“192.


[10] Gilbert, M. (1995).  Second World War. New York: Random House.


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