The Second World War
The First World War and its harsh peace treaties sowed the seeds for the Second World War. The similarity in its cause and characteristics with those of the First World War were superficial.
Causes of the Second World War
Though the German invasion of Poland was the immediate cause for the outbreak of the war, the real cause were much deeper and varied in character. These were as follows:
Dissatisfaction with the Treaty of Versailles
- The treaty by which the First World War came to an end, created more problems than it had solved. Germany had to cede many of its territories and many new nations were created. The treaty was based on the spirit of revenge and was forced on Germany.
- German colonies were forcibly taken away and divided among the victors. Germany, so that Poland could reap benefits, was divided into two parts. Germany was burdened with huge war indemnities, her military power also got reduced.
- This humiliation gave rise to the spirit of revenge and Germany started looking for an opportunity to do away with the harsh treaty. Hence, the war became inevitable.
Rise of Fascism and Nazism
- The rise of extreme nationalism in Italy and Germany in the form of Fascism and Nazism, respectively contributed to the causes which led to the Second World War.
- Italy wanted to revive the glory of the old Roam Empire and joined Anti-Comintern Pact in 1937 and formed a 10 years alliance with Germany in 1939.
- Mussolini established Dictatorship in Italy and demonstrated nation’s imperialistic designs by attacking Abyssinia. Hitler wanted to re-establish the prestige of Germany. He flouted the military causes of the Treaty of Versailles and declared re-armament in 1936 and started regaining its lost territories on all frontiers.
- In 1938, Hitler annexed Austria and dismembered Czechoslovakia. Thus, both the leaders through their acts, furthered the war.
Policy of Appeasement
- Britain and France followed the Policy of Appeasement i.e., the policy of conciliating an aggressive power at the expense of some other country towards Germany and Italy.
- They decided to accept the hostile demands of the aggressive nations to gain peace. They knew that for both Germany and Italy, the Treaty of Versailles was too harsh and humiliating and if the grievances of Germany were removed, it would not disturb the world peace.
- They also wanted to check the rising tide of Communism and Russian Bolshevism and therefore, allowed Germany to rearm and to re-militarise the Rhineland and capture Austria and Czechoslovakia.
- Due to this policy, Fascism and Nazism survived for long and thus, were able to unleash the Second World War.
Japanese Invasion of China
- Japan’s ambitions rose after the First World War and she was determined to dominate the far East. In 1931, Japan invaded Manchuria and occupied it, despite the League’s opposition. Japan also started an undeclared war against China in the same year.
- Japan joined the Berlin-Rome axis to form the Berlin-Rome-Tokyo axis to further its policy of expansion and conquest. In 1933, Japan left the League of Nations ans started occupying the British and American properties in China.
- Britain and France felt that this appeasement policy could be used to weaken China and thus, started following the same. Thus, a war was inevitable under these circumstances.
Failure of the League of Nations
- The League of Nations was created to prevent future wars. However, the USA did not join the League, which proved to be a blow to the League. Even those, who joined the League were not interested in the principle of collective security.
- The League succeeded in allying the threat of war in cases, where the parties involved were small nations, but did nothing when Poland, with the backing of France seized a part of Lithuania in 1920.
- In 1923, Italy refused to submit to the League’s intervention and settled the dispute with Greece by direct mediation of Great Britain and France. Thereafter in every crisis, the League was either defied or ignored..
- League’s authority was flouted by Japan, when it seized Manchuria in 1931 and by Italy, when it conquered Ethiopia in 1936.
- Countries of Europe lost faith in League’s usefulness as it failed to maintain International peace. Therefore, they themselves entered into mutual political and military alliances.
Hitler’s Invasion of Poland
Germany lost its port city of Danzing, which was given to Poland as a part of the Treaty of Versailles. The city was mainly inhabited by Germans. Poland was accused of committing atrocities against Germans living there.
On 1st September, 1939, the German armies marched into Poland. France and Britain gave an ultimatum to Germany. In reply, Germany attacked France. On 3rd September, Britain and France declared war against Germany. Thus, the invasion of Poland marked the beginning of the Second World War.
Events of the Second World War
German armies marched into Poland on 1st September, 1939. Germany after receiving an ultimatum from Britain and France, attacked France as a response. This led to both Britain and France declaring a war on Germany on 3rd September, 1939.
Formation of Alliances
Germany’s attack on France was referred to as blitzkrieg meaning a ‘lightning war’. Germany annexed Norway, Denmark, Holland, Belgium and France. Hitler invaded Russia in June, 1941. But the Germans failed, when the Soviets launched a counter attack.
Japanese bombing of the Pear Harbor made the US join the war. Battle of Berlin made the Germans blocked between the Britain and the Americans on one hand and the Soviets on other. Hitler, after the allied forces closed in on Berlin, committed suicide.
Germans surrendered on 7th May, 1945. Japan’s refusal to surrender led the US dropping atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Japan finally surrendered on 2nd September, 1945, which marked an end to the war.
Chronology of Major Events
- 1st September – German armies marched into Poland.
- 3rd September – Britian and France declared war on Germany.
- Soon after, USSR attacked Eastern Poland.
- Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania became republics of the USSR.
- April-Germany completed its conquest of Norway and Denmark.
- May-Germany completed the conquest of Belgium and Holland.
- June-France fell into German hands.
- August – German Air Force began bombing on Britian.
- June-Hitler invaded Soviet Union.
- December – Japan attacked Pearl Harbor.
- 8th December – America joined the war.
- August – Hitler targeted Stalingrad.
- November – Soviet counter-attacked, Germans surrendered.
- April – Allied Powers attacked Germany from both the sides.
- 7th May – Hitler committed suicide.
- 8th May – Day of celebration of Victory in Europe.
- 6th August – 1st atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima.
- 9th August – 2nd bomb was dropped on Nagasaki.
- 2nd September – Japan surrendered unconditionally.
Spread of the War
Germany, Italy and Japan formed an alliance and were called the Axis Powers. Their opponents, led by Britian, France and the USA became the Allied Powers. The World War engulfed each country of Europe one after another. Only Sweden, Switzerland, Spain, Portugal and Turkey remained neutral until the last.
Bombings on Hiroshima and Nagasaki
The Americans started their offensive against Japan to liberate the islands in the South West Pacific. Long before the invasion, scientists were working on the most powerful weapon ever conceived-the ‘Atom Bomb’. The first such, bomb was detonated in a desert near New Mexico.
In 1945, days after the first bomb was dropped on Japan, American planes dropped leaflets warning about the weapon and urging the Japanese people and the Government to end the fighting.
On 6th August, 1945, the first atomic bomb ever to be used on humans, was dropped on Hiroshima. Despite the terrible destruction, the Japanese still refused to surrender.
On 9th August 1945, another bomb was dropped on Nagasaki. On 2nd September, 1945, Japan surrendered unconditionally. This marked the end of the Second World War.
Consequences of the Second World War
Defeat of the Axis Powers
- Upto the middle of 1942, Axis Powers met with remarkable success and captured large territories in Europe, Africa and Asia. However, in November 1942, Allied Forces recaptured African territories lost by France. This was followed by their victory over Italy. Italy made an unconditional surrender and signed an armistice.
- In March 1945, the Allied forces moved across the Rhine and dealt a death-blow to the German forces. Hitler was so disappointed that he committed suicide on 30th April, 1945.
- The Allied Forces, after Germany’s defeat, turned their attention towards Japan. Japan had occupied Hong Kong, Philippines, Singapore, Myanmar, parts of new Guinea and Indonesia.
- After bombings on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan offered to surrender on the terms of Potsdam declaration on 10th August and the war came to an end. After the war, the Axis Powers had to face the following consequences:
- Germany was divided into zones under the army of each of the Allied Powers.
- The Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) was administered by UK, France and the USA.
- German Democratic Republic (East Germany) was administered by the Soviet Union.
- Japan and Italy also became very weak. American army was to occupy Japan until 1952. All lands acquired by Japan, since 1895 , were taken away.
Formation of the UN
The failure of the League and the horrors of the World Wars led to a meeting of the Big Three – Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin at Yalta in February 1945. They resolved to convene a conference of the representatives of all the nations at San Francisco to draw up the Charter of the UN. This led to establishment of the United Nations Organisation on 24th October, 1945.
- Though, the USA and the Soviet Union fought together in co-operation during the World War, the apparent harmony between the two declined and old suspicion and ideological differences came to the forefront.
- Both the countries did not engage in actual fights, but there was a state of extreme political tension between the two. This state of tension is known as the Cold War, an atmosphere with no armed struggle, but the prevalence of a cold hostility. All these results divided the world into two blocs.
The Democratic and Capitalist Bloc
It is led by the USA. This bloc believed in Liberal Democracy based on Capitalism. America tried to maintain her influence by giving economic aid to different countries.
The Communist Bloc
It is led by the USSR, and was also called the Eastern Bloc or the Soviet Bloc. It believed in Communism based on Marxist theory. This bloc considered the Western style Democracy as force, meant only for the rich and upper middle class. Thus, the whole Europe got divided into power blocs. These two blocs openly propagated against each other, each from its own view points.