World War 2 was a global military conflict which involved all the great powers, as suggested in the title , the role of Hitler is debatable for its importance however to assess this one must observe the other intertwined causes .I , personally agree to a large extent that Hitler was primarily responsible for causing WW2. In my essay I have divided these causes into 3 large themes, the failure of collective security and enforcement of peace (with respect to the great powers), Economic weakness in Europe and finally the role of Hitler, his ideology and final miscalculation at Poland.
From the very end of World War 1, upon the severe Treaty of Versailles (TOV) there was huge resentment and humiliation which the German people faced , the treaty was generally regarded as to harsh, the great powers of France Britain and America slowly gave concessions to Germany, the young plan , dawes plan reduced reparations significantly , large American lending undermined their TOV, improving Germany’s condition greatly yet not removing the deep feelings of resentment .
A second point is the failure of the League of Nations (LON) in the 1930s during and after the great depression, as countries learnt to be self sufficient , their imperial designs increased . in the Manchurian and Abyssinian crisis , the LON was seen as weak , ineffective in protecting China and modern day Ethopia to Japan and Italy respectively. This increased ambitions of the leaders and gave confidence to them whislt greatly reducing the influence of the LON as a peacekeeper. Indeed the disarmament conference was a huge defeat for the LON as it failed to get all countries to disarm , which eventually resulted in the beginning of German rearmament. This was the first step backwards against all the good work the LON had done before and resulted in the adverse effect of increased suspicions and other countries rearming in anticipation of conflicts. , the failure of the United States and the Soviet Union to play an active role in peacekeeping in LON also hindered its effectiveness.
Thirdly , there was an inability of Britain and France to ensure international peace , they achieved a predominance out of proportion to their real strength this directly resulted in the Western adoption of the policy of appeasement , appeasement failed to be effective as it is only viable especially to a leader of Hitler’s ideologies from a position of strength , Britain and France although regarded as great powers even after the War were struggling with many domestic and international problems. Hitler fully exploited this foreign policy for example in the remilitarisation of the Rhineland which blatantly broke the TOV and the Locarno treaty. With lack of military strength among its many other problems, France had to ‘give in’ indeed in the words of the French Historian Maurice Baumont, “A blow had been aimed not at France but at the treaty of Versailles.” This policy allowed Hitler freedom to act first and then offer concessions and discuss after. He also took over Austria , then Czechoslovakia at the Munich agreement under the pretext of “Lebensraum” (living space) for Germans . Britain and France adopted this policy especially towards Germany also for the fact that it saw Germany as an enemy against Communism. Their increased appeasement to Germany resulted in increased tension and their failure to win support from the Soviet Union , whereas Hitler took full advantage and created the Nazi Soviet Pact.
Economically the European Powers were greatly weakened after WW2 and compounded by the Great Depression. This engendered a growing mood of resentment and disillusionment with the capitalist system in general and with the more powerful trading economies such resentment was expressed in ideas of self sufficiency or autarky.
This led to protectionist and isolationist policies which undermined collective action and cooperation. It stimulated the desire for empire building from the “have not” countries who resented the fact that Britain and France could fall back on their empire. Also the fear of Japan, Italy and Germany asserting their right to empires had the effect of sharpening conflicts over markets and raw materials, undermining economic cooperation and once again arousing dreams of imperial conquest. It is Important to note it was the political hostility generated from these protectionist policies in economic rivalry that encouraged more aggressive expansionist policies , such as the Manchurian and Abyssinian crisis.
The Great Depression resulted in much hardship for the people and allowed for the emergence of extremist ideologies such as Nazism which the people could believe and trust in.
The nature of the Nazi Ideology of deep difference with democracy and communism made international cooperation difficult, his emphasis on extreme Nationalism Darwinism, stressing that War was natural, his great public speaking skills convinced and prepared his people for War when others were afraid of the possible atrocities. Also the emphasis on the individual leader meant that there were no restraints on his ambition, no one to question his decisions.
Indeed Hitler did understand the feelings of the people and often played on the resentment of the TOV and promised a Great Germany and revival from the current terrible economic conditions. Upon his installation as the Fuhrer he was a great opportunist, his remilitarisation of the Ruhr as the French were between Governments, the idea of living space as a pretext to controlling Austria and most of Czechoslovakia. Hitler’s ideas were extreme, other leaders perhaps would have at most remilitarised the Ruhr as a sign of protest to the TOV before sitting on the increase in public support and opinion. Hitler however is known to have had a long term plan, even when he was in jail years before he became the Fuhrer his belief that a second World War was inevitable (suggested in his book Mein Kampf) was largely because of his own aggressive actions of rearmament and expansion.
It too was Hitler’s miscalculation of British and French actions with respect to Poland which was the immediate cause of WW2. Hitler thought the Munich Agreement hag given him the green light and thus over confidence set in. Simultaneously Britain and France realised that Appeasement had failed and in a favourable set of international and domestic conditions.
In conclusion, I agree that Hitler was primarily responsible for the cause of WW2 to a large extent as the other causes although important, are understandable or justified. America which had helped out greatly in WW1 had to respect its people’s feelings to stay out of European affairs and this caused the ineffectiveness of the LON as a peacekeeping organisation as it had little strength for the task. Economically, the route taken of Autarky and empire building was seen as necessary at the time and the Policy of Appeasement was virtually compulsory due to economic difficulties , lack of military strength and guilt of such a harsh peace treaty . However Hitler’s actions were fuelled by passion , unnecessary egotistical , Nationalistic actions , similar to his decision to exterminate millions of Jews , his international policies , decisions were uncalled for , indeed without his pressure on Poland , war would not have happened.
Anglo Chinese School Independent History notes on origins of WW2
Modern World History by Ben Walsh