Causes of World War II
Many historians have traced the causes of World War II to problems left unsolved by World War I (1914-1918). World War I and the treaties that ended it also created new political and economic problems. Forceful leaders in several countries took advantage of these problems to seize power. The desire of dictators in Germany, Italy, and Japan to conquer additional territory brought them into conflict with the democratic nations.
After World War I ended, representatives of the victorious nations met in Paris in 1919 to draw up peace treaties for the defeated countries. These treaties, known as the Peace of Paris, followed a long and bitter war. They were worked out in haste by these countries with opposing goals; and failed to satisfy even the victors. Of all the countries on the winning side, Italy and Japan left the peace conference most dissatisfied. Italy gained less territory than it felt it deserved and vowed to take action on its own. Japan gained control of German territories in the Pacific and thereby launched a program of expansion. But Japan was angered by the peacemakers' failure to endorse the principle of the equality of all races.
The countries that lost World War I--Germany, Austria, Hungary, Bulgaria, and Turkey--were especially dissatisfied with the Peace of Paris. They were stripped of territory, arms and were required to make reparations (payments for war damages).
The Treaty of Versailles, which was signed with Germany, punished Germany severely. The German government agreed to sign the treaty only after the victorious powers threatened to invade. Many Germans particularly resented the clause that forced Germany to accept responsibility for causing World War I.
World War I seriously damaged the economies of the European countries. Both the winners and the losers came out of the war deeply in debt. The defeated powers had difficulty paying reparations to the victors, and the victors had difficulty repaying their loans to the United States. The shift from a wartime economy to a peacetime economy caused further problems.
Italy and Japan suffered from too many people and too few resources after World War I. They eventually tried to solve their problems by territorial expansion. In Germany, runaway inflation destroyed the value of money and wiped out the savings of millions of people. In 1923, the German economy neared collapse. Loans from the United States helped Germany's government restore order. By the late 1920's, Europe appeared to be entering a period of economic stability.
A worldwide business slump known as The Great Depression began in the United States in 1929. By the early 1930's, it had halted Europe's economic recovery. The Great Depression caused mass unemployment, wide spread poverty and despair. It weakened democratic governments and strengthened extreme political movements that promised to end the economic problems. Two movements in particular gained strength. The...