The second world war

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1. Like the First World War, the Second World War (1939-45) was caused by a number of

2. They were:

a. The failure of collective security

b. The effects of the Great Depression

c. The policy of appeasement

d. Shortcomings of the Paris Peace Settlements

e. Events leading to the war

The failure of collective security
1. Collective security means that member an international body act collectively to punish any

nation that takes aggressive action against another nation.

2. In the inter-war period, four attempts were made to keep the peace: the establishment of the

League of Nations, the Locarno Treaties, the Kellogg-Briand Pact and the calling of disar-

mament conferences.
3. The League of Nations

a. Background and aims

i. President Wilson’s suggestion for keeping peace was put into effect when the League

of Nations was formed in 1920.

ii. Its primary aim was to promote peace by collective security and to encourage

international co-operation.

iii. To achieve this aim, League members could punish an aggressor by applying economic

sanctions, i.e. trade stoppage or take military action to stop aggression.

b. Structure and functions of the League of Nations (*see TB p. 141/142)

c. Success and failure of the League

It was successful in settling disputes between small nations, but it failed in every dispute

involving one or more major powers.

i. Early successes - In the 1920s it succeeded in settling disputes between small nations

(e.g. between Sweden and Finland, and between Greece and Bulgaria).

ii. Failures

- In 1931, Japan invaded Manchuria. The League condemned the action and asked

Japan to withdraw. Japan ignored the League and withdrew the League in 1933.

- Italy also ignored the League when she invaded Abyssinia in 1935.

- In 1936, Hitler sent German troops into the Rhineland. (It was a violation of the

Treaty of Versailles which demilitarised the Rhineland.) Again the League did


d. Why the League failed to preserve peace

i. The League found it difficult to act because not all the great powers were members

at the same time. The United States, the world’s most powerful nation, never joined.

Germany and Soviet Union were not allowed to join at the beginning.

ii. The League was “toothless”. It did not have an army to carry out military sanctions.

iii. Member-nations ignored it whenever its decisions went against their own interests.
4. The Locarno Treaties, 1925

a. The second attempt at collective security was the signing of the Locarno Treaties.

b. In 1925, the representatives of Germany, France, Belgium, Britain and Italy met in

Locarno in Switzerland to work out a way to keep peace by collective security.

c. They signed the Locarno Treaties and agreed to respect the Franco-German and the

Belgian-German borders, and to settle conflicts of any kind by peaceful methods.

5. The Kellogg-Briand Pact, 1928

a. The third attempt at collective security was the signing of the Kellogg-Briand Pact.

b. In 1928, 65 countries signed the Kellogg-Briand Pact. The signing countries promised

not to go to war as a way of solving their disputes.

6. The signing of these treaties and pact was regarded as the height of international co-

operation, but it failed to keep the peace.

7. The failure of disarmament conferences

a. In the inter-war period, several attempts were made to limit armaments, but all of them


b. The Washington Conference, 1921-22

i. In order to discuss naval disarmament, the representatives of Britain, France, Italy,

Portugal, Belgium, Holland, Japan, China and the U.S.A. attended the Washington


ii. However, the conference did not achieve any important limitations of armaments.

- The Five-Power Naval Treaty stopped competition in capital ships, but it did not

limit the number of light cruisers, submarines and other naval equipment.

- Nothing was done to reduce land forces, war planes and heavy guns.

c. The Geneva Conference, 1932-33

i. This last attempt to limit armaments before the Second War was sure to fail because

the leading powers never agreed to disarm.

ii. In 1933, Hitler withdrew Germany from the conference and started a programme of


iii. Following its failure, an arms race began in Europe which was even more rapid than

the build-up of arms before the First World War.

The effects of the Great Depression

1. The Great Depression contributed to the Second World War because it resulted in the rise

of totalitarianism.

a. Many people began to think that only a strong government could stop the economic

decline caused by the Great Depression and lost confidence in democracy.

b. This attitude strengthened the power of dictators like Mussolini and helped military

dictatorships to gain power in Japan and Germany.
2. The economic problems that resulted from the Great Depression provided a major reason

for the expansionist policies of the military dictatorships in the 1930s.

The policy of appeasement
1. Appeasement is the policy of giving in to the demands of aggressive powers out of fear or

indifference, or in the hope of avoiding a major conflict, usually at the expense of weaker

2. In the 1930s, the western European democracies, in particular Britain and France, abandoned

the idea of collective security and adopted a policy of appeasement.

a. They hoped that by granting concessions to aggressors like Hitler and Mussolini, a general

war could be avoided.

b. The victorious powers, except France, felt guilty about the harshness of the Versailles

Treaty and were therefore inclined to let Hitler do as he pleased.

3. The policy of appeasement had the opposite effect. Instead of pacifying aggressors, it

encouraged them to be more aggressive.

Shortcomings of the Paris Peace Settlements
1. The peace treaties dictated upon the defeated countries by the victors were too harsh.
2. In the case of Germany, national resentment against the Versailles Treaty did much to bring

Hitler, an aggressor, to power.

3. Italy, although a victor, was also dissatisfied with the peace settlement because she failed to

gain all the territories she had hoped for. This dissatisfaction also did much to help

Mussolini to rise to power. He promised to bring glory to Italy by territorial expansion.
4. Therefore, the unwise peace settlements of 1919 had sowed the seeds of the Second World


Events leading to WWII

A series of events broke out between 1936 and 1939 which eventually led to a total war:

1. Formation of the Axis Powers

a. In 1936, Germany and Italy signed a pact for joint action and friendly collaboration. It

was called the Berlin-Rome Axis. Italy agreed not to interfere with Nazi action in Austria,

whilst Germany recognised Italy’s occupation of Abyssinia.

b. In 1936, Germany and Japan singed the Anti-Comintern Pact. It was aimed at preventing

the spread of communism. In fact it was another military alliance of the aggressors.

c. The three Axis powers - Germany, Italy and Japan began threatening their neighbours.
2. Spanish Civil War (1936)

a. A civil war broke out in Spain in 1936 between the Republicans and the Nationalists led

by General Franco.

b. General Franco was a Fascist and he called for the support of Mussolini and Hitler. The

Republicans were backed by the U.S.S.R. and volunteers from the U.S.A. and Europe.

c. The civil war lasted until 1939 when Franco occupied the capital and turned Spain into a

Fascist state.
3. Anschluss with Austria 91938)

In 1938, Hitler annexed Austria in the Anschluss (union). It violated the Treaty of Versailles.

4. Seizure of the Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia (1938)

a. In 1938 the British Prime Minister, Chamberlain, signed the Munich Agreement with

Hitler. The agreement recognised Hitler’s ambition in the Sudetenland in the north of

Czechoslovakia, where a large German population lived. In return Hitler promised not to

invade the rest of Czechoslovakia.

b. Then Hitler seized the Sudetenland.

5. Invasion of Czechoslovakia (1939)

In 1939 Hitler broke his promise and invaded Czechoslovakia. Britain and France still

followed the appeasement policy.
6. Invasion of Poland and the outbreak of the Second World War

a. The Nazi-Soviet Non-Aggression pact (1939)

i. Hitler’s next target was Danzig and the Polish Corridor.

ii. Before invading Poland, Hitler signed a non-aggression pact with Stalin in 1939.

iii. Hitler and Stalin agreed to divide Poland between themselves, and not to attack each


b. Outbreak of the war

Hitler started a “blitzkrieg war” (a lightning war) against Poland in 1939. Then Britain

and France declared war on Germany. The Second World War broke out.

The course of the Second World War

The Second World War was fought between 1939 and 1945 in several stages:

1. Phoney War, 1939-40

There was no major fighting between October 1939 and April 1940.

  1. Axis Victories, 1940-41

a. German troops swept across Western Europe, taking Belgium, the Netherlands and France.

b. At the height of their power in 1941, German and Italian troops conquered vast territories

in Europe, the Balkans, Russia and Africa.

  1. Japan attacked Pearl Harbour in December 1941 and took over the whole of Southeast


  1. Encirclement of Italy and Germany, 1941-44

a. The U.S.A. entered the war in December 1941; U.S.S.R. launched a counter-offensive

against Germany.

  1. Germany and Italy had to fight a two front war in which they gradually lost to the Allies.

  1. Defeat of Germany, 1944-45

a. The Allies successfully landed in Normandy on D-Day (Delivery Day), 6 June 1944, and

fought their way into Germany.

  1. Berlin fell to the Red Army in 1945 and Hitler committed suicide.

  2. Germany surrendered on VE Day (Victory Day in Europe), 7 May 1945.

  1. Defeat of Japan, 1945

a. The Japanese navy lost its supremacy after the Battle of Midway in June 1942.

b. In August 1945, the U.S.A. dropped two atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

  1. Japan surrendered unconditionally on 15 August 1945.

Reasons for Axis Defeat

1. The industrial and manpower strengths of the Allies outmatched those of the Axis:

  1. The U.S.A. was the “arsenal of democracy”, with an inexhaustible supply of war goods.

  2. Germany’s industrial capacity was quickly exhausted when the Allies won control of the

air and the sea in 1943.
2. Over-extended magnitude of Axis conquests:

  1. The Axis troops were involved in occupying far-away territories.

  2. They were later cut off and exterminated by the Allies forces.

3. Poor co-ordination:

  1. The Axis powers never fought in a joint effort.

  2. The Allies had frequent meetings to discuss war plans.

4. Strong resistance to the Axis conquerors:

Because of the cruelty of the Axis conquerors, the people in the occupied areas often

resisted bravely and strongly.

Wartime Diplomacy

The Big Three (the U.S.A., Britain and the U.S.S.R.) called for important diplomatic meetings that determined the course of the Second World War between 1941 and 1945. The major wartime conferences were:


Central Issues

Major Decisions

Atlantic Charter, 8/1941

War aims and future peace

- On board a warship, Roosevelt and Churchill signed the “Atlantic Charter” which stated that they would not seek to increase their lands if they were victorious. Every nation should be free to make its own choice of government.

- A permanent system of international security was to be set up after the war. It was the forerunner of the United Nations Organisation.

Casablanca Conference in Morocco, 1/1943

War plans against Germany

Roosevelt and Churchill agreed to attack Italy first. They re-assured Russia that only the unconditional surrender of the Axis powers was acceptable.

Cairo Conference in Egypt, 11/1943

Post-war treatment of Japan

-Roosevelt, Churchill and Jiang Jieshi signed the Cairo Declaration. China was to get back all the territories taken by Japan since 1894.

- Korea was to be become an independent state.

Teheran Conference in Iran, 11/1943

War plans and post-war settlements in Europe

- Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin met for the first time. It was agreed that the Anglo-American offensive would start in Western Europe. Russia would declare war on Japan after Germany was defeated.

- After the war, Germany was to be broken up. Russia would gain territories in Poland and Eastern Europe.

Yalta Conference in the U.S.S.R., 2/1945

Post-war territorial settlements

- Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin supported the setting up the United Nations.

- They agreed that Germany would be demilitarized, de-Nazified, de-industrialised and divided into three zones occupied by the Big Three.

- Germany would also have to pay heavy reparations, half of which would go the U.S.S.R.

- Russia was to get territories in Poland, Manchuria, North Korea, the southern Sakhalin and the Kuriles.

Potsdam Conference in Germany, 7/1945

Detailed arrangements of post-war settlements

- Truman, Attlee and Stalin agreed to divide Germany and Berlin into four zones occupied by the Big Three and France. The amount of reparations was cut, and the Allies would collect the payment from their zones. Nazi war criminals were to be tried for their war crimes.

- Japan was to surrender unconditionally and be occupied by Allied troops. But they could not reach an agreement on the post-war frontiers of Poland the forms of governments in Eastern Europe. As there was great mistrust between the Big Three, Truman adjourned the meeting in August.

Paris Peace Conference

1. The Paris Peace Conference of 1946 was under the control of the Big Four – Britain, the

Soviet Union, the U.S. and France.
2. They drafted the treaties with the five defeated nations.
3. Later, the peace treaties with Bulgaria, Finland, Hungary, Italy and Rumania were signed.

The settlement of Germany

1. Germany was divided into 4 zones, occupied separately by Britain, France, the United States

and the Soviet Union.
2. Regarding territorial loss, Germany gave up East Prussia to Poland the Soviet Union. She

also lost the city of Danzig to Poland.

3. All territories annexed by Hitler before and during the war were taken away, and restored to

the former owners.

4. To prevent future aggression by Germany, the Nazi Party was destroyed and the Nazi leaders

were executed or imprisoned. The country was also disarmed and its education system


The settlement of Japan

1. Japan was occupied by the Allied troops (mostly Americans) under the Supreme Commander

for the Allied Powers (SCAP), General MacArthur. The Peace Conference of San Francisco

was held to draft a treaty with Japan in 1951:

  1. Japan had to give up the territories she had acquired since 1894.

  2. The Allied countries which ad suffered form Japanese aggression could negotiate with Japan about war reparations.

2. By the terms of the San Francisco Peace Treaty, Japan was better treated than Germany. She

only lost territories which she had conquered or annexed.
3. Japan was demilitarized and democratized.

Results of the Second World War

1. The 6-year war resulted in 30 million deaths and immense physical destruction. Europeans

had to suffer poverty and starvation for some years.
2. In wartime the armies of the Europeans had been driven out of their Asian colonies by the

Japanese. After the war, it was impossible for the colonial powers to re-establish their rule.

A process of decolonization began.
3. A new balance of power emerged out of the war. Europe, exhausted militarily and

economically, lost its power and influence. Two new “super-powers” appeared – the U.S.A.

and the U.S.S.R.. The division of the world into two power blocs was due to the “Cold War

between them.

4. The war produced a destructive weapon – the atomic bomb. After the war the major powers

developed nuclear weapons.

5. The United Nations Organisation promotes international co-operation. In Europe, the

European Economic Community works towards regional co-operation.

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