C. Why did World War II break out two decades after World War I?

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Why did World War II break out two decades after World War I?

World War I ended in November 1918. Germany, as well as Austria-Hungary, Turkey1 and Bulgaria2, had been defeated by a worldwide combination of allies including Britain, France and the United States. Peace treaties were then signed with the defeated countries in 1919-1920. In the two decades that followed, the Powers tried to avoid the possibility of another war, but they failed. World War II broke out in 1939.

      1. Did World War I sow the seed for World War II?

        1. Which country suffered the most in the peace treaties of 1919-1920?

Study Sources A and B.

Source A

Key terms of Treaty of Versailles

The following map shows the territory lost of Germany under the Treaty of Versailles.

Source B

The peace treaties signed with the other defeated states.

Refer to the maps below, can you identify the major territorial changes in Europe before and after World War I?

Europe 1914 Europe 1919



Refer to Sources A and B.

Which country suffered the most in the settlement of World War I, as shown in Sources A and B? The table below will help you to find out the answer.

Put a ‘√’ against the country that had to accept the treaty term stated on the left.
Treaty terms





Loss of territory

Reduction in armed forces


War guilt

Which country suffered the most?

Personal Opinion (Teachers can request students to explain their choices.)

        1. Was the settlement of World War I able to keep peace?

Study Sources C, D, E and F.

Source C

The following cartoon was published in Britain in 1919. The ‘Tiger’ is meant to represent Clemenceau, the Prime Minister of France. The child in the cartoon is labeled ‘1940 Class’, that is, those who would be the soldiers of 1940.


Source D

The following comment on the Treaty of Versailles was written by a British historian in 1966.

Source E

The following shows how a German newspaper, Deutsche Zeitung, announced the news of the Treaty of Versailles in June 1919.

Source F

The editor of the a British newspaper, Daily Graphic, 5 July 1919, wrote the following

Refer to Sources C, D, E and F

          1. Which source(s) show(s) that the settlement would possibly arouse resentment among Germans? Explain your answer.

Explanati on


Students should explain according to the information given in Source C. (e.g.: the crying child without clothing represented Germany, he would take revenge on the victors. As shown in the cartoon, the child was labeled “1940 class”, meaning that the child would be the soldier of 1940. And it predicted a future war.)


Germany might re-conquer the lost territories.


The “evildoers” were not satisfied with the treaty. The evildoers were the Germans

          1. Which source(s) show(s) that the settlement with Germany was not harsh enough? Explain your answer.



As the Versailles Settlement did not weaken Germany enough, her ambition was not suppressed. The major part of her strength was untouched.

          1. Some people consider that the Treaty of Versailles was too harsh to Germany. The Germans became very resentful and determined to re-gain what they had lost. This sowed the seed for World War II. Which source(s) show(s) the impacts of the settlement of World War I in this aspect?



The settlement caused ill feelings of the Germans who tried to revenge by starting another war.

C, E & F

The punishment was not effective. Germany was not weakened and could expand again.


      1. Was Hitler to blame for World War II?

Besides the legacy of World War I, World War II was also caused by several other factors. It has been usually believed that Hitler caused World War II. However, should he be totally responsible? Was he assisted by circumstances?

a.Why did the Germans expand in the 1930s?

Study Sources A, B, C and D.

Source A

The following shows the Dow Jones Industrial (the US share market) Average Year-end close 1919– 1933.


Source B

The impact of the Wall Street Crash in 1929 on world economy and on Germany.

For everyday life of Americans during the Great Depression, please refer to

Source C

The poster below was published in Germany by the Nazi Party in 1932. The slogan says, ‘Our last hope – Hitler’.

Hitler made promises to satisfy the needs of most Germans and gained their support. For example, he gained the support from workers and the unemployed by promising them employment and security for. He promised to rearm the country and thus gained support from former soldiers and army officers. He promised to abolish the Versailles Treaty. Germans believed that Hitler was a strong leader who could solve the economic problems.

Source D

The following shows the relationship between German unemployment and Nazi vote share.


Put arrows to link up the following bubbles, which explain how the general desire of the Germans made expansion inevitable.

        1. Why was so little done to stop Hitler’s aggression?

World War II broke out in September 1939 when Hitler invaded Poland. Why was so little done by other countries to stop Hitler’s aggression?

Study Sources A and B.
Source A

The following speech was made in 1938 by Neville Chamberlain (the British Prime Minister from 1937 to 1940) after he had promised to give the Sudetenland (See Source B) to Germany in the Munich Conference. He wanted to avoid war by giving Hitler everything he demanded. This policy was known as appeasement.

Source B
Hitler violated the Treaty of Versailles and rearmed Germany. In 1936, he reclaimed the Rhineland demilitarized zone from French control. France was in particular position to act but did not do so fearing war. Austria was traditionally and culturally bound to Germany. In 1938 Hitler annexed Austria to Germany which again violated the Treaty of Versailles. In 1939, Hitler wanted to take over Sudetenland from Czechoslovakia. In the Munich Conference, the European countries scarified the interest of Czechoslovakia in exchange for a promise from Hitler that this would be the end of his expansion. Neville Chamberlain, Prime Minister of Britain, declare “Peace in our time”. Weeks later Hitler annexed the rest of Czechoslovakia by force violating the Munich Pact. On 1 September 1939, Germany invaded Poland. At this point, Hitler could not be ignored and Britain and France declared war on Germany on 3 Septermber 1939.
Refer to Sources A and B

          1. Does Source B show that the view of Chamberlain as shown in Source A was right? Give evidence from Source B to support your answer.

Suggested answer: No. Students should support their answer with evidence about

Hitler’s expansion from Source B.

          1. What was the responsibility of Chamberlain and Hitler for causing World War II, as reflected in Sources A and B?

Responsibility for causing World War II


His appeasement policy encouraged Hitler’s expansion.


Germany’s territorial expansion threatened peace in Europe. This initiated other countries to join World War II.

      1. How did the war become worldwide?

World War II was the most destructive war in history. The Second World War started with the German invasion of Poland. At first, it was a European war between the Axis (Germany, Italy, Japan) and the Allies (Britain and France). It was not until 1941 when the Soviet Union and United States were driven into the warfare that the European war really developed into a global war.

When and why did the USA join World War II?

In 1941, after the Pearl Harbour Attack


Steven Waugh. Essential Modern World History. UK.: Nelson Thornes, 2001.

Christopher Culpin. Making History (New Edition): World History from 1914 to the Present. London: Collins Educational, 1997.

1 Turkey: The Ottoman Empire was dissolved after World War I and Turkey was formed.

2 Bulgaria: It became fully independent from Ottoman Empire in 1908.

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