Events preceding World War II in Europe

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The events preceding World War II in Europe are closely tied to the rise of fascism and communism.

Fascism Form of radical, right-wing, authoritarian ultranationalism

Fascism is a form of radical, right-wing, authoritarian ultranationalism, characterized by dictatorial power, forcible suppression of opposition, and strong regimentation of society and of the economy, which came to prominence in early 20th-century Europe. The first fascist movements emerged in Italy during World War I before it spread to other European countries. Opposed to liberalism, Marxism, and anarchism, fascism is placed on the far-right within the traditional left–right spectrum.

Communism socialist political movement and ideology

In political and social sciences, communism is the philosophical, social, political, and economic ideology and movement whose ultimate goal is the establishment of the communist society, which is a socioeconomic order structured upon the common ownership of the means of production and the absence of social classes, money, and the state.

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Aftermath of World War I

World War II is generally viewed as having its roots in the aftermath of World War I, in which the German Empire under Wilhelm II, with its Central Powers, was defeated, chiefly by the United Kingdom, France, and the United States.

World War II 1939–1945 global war

World War II, also known as the Second World War, was a global war that lasted from 1939 to 1945. The vast majority of the world's countries—including all the great powers—eventually formed two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis. A state of total war emerged, directly involving more than 100 million people from over 30 countries. The major participants threw their entire economic, industrial, and scientific capabilities behind the war effort, blurring the distinction between civilian and military resources. World War II was the deadliest conflict in human history, marked by 50 to 85 million fatalities, most of whom were civilians in the Soviet Union and China. It included massacres, the genocide of the Holocaust, strategic bombing, premeditated death from starvation and disease, and the only use of nuclear weapons in war.

Aftermath of World War I Period after the conclusion of World War I

The Aftermath of World War I saw drastic political, cultural, economic, and social change across Eurasia, Africa, and even in areas outside those that were directly involved. Four empires collapsed due to the war, old countries were abolished, new ones were formed, boundaries were redrawn, international organizations were established, and many new and old ideologies took a firm hold in people's minds.

German Empire empire in Central Europe between 1871–1918

The German Empire, also known as Imperial Germany, was the German nation state that existed from the unification of Germany in 1871 until the abdication of Kaiser Wilhelm II in 1918.

The victors blamed Germany entirely for the war and all resulting damages; it was Germany that effectively started the war with an attack on France through Belgium. France had, in 1871, suffered a defeat in the Franco-Prussian War, and demanded compensation for financial devastation during the First World War, which ensured that the various peace treaties, specifically the Treaty of Versailles would impose tough financial war reparations and restrictions on Germany in the aftermath of World War I.

Franco-Prussian War significant conflict pitting the Second French Empire against the Kingdom of Prussia and its allies

The Franco-Prussian War or Franco-German War, often referred to in France as the War of 1870, was a conflict between the Second French Empire and later the Third French Republic, and the German states of the North German Confederation led by the Kingdom of Prussia. Lasting from 19 July 1870 to 28 January 1871, the conflict was caused by Prussian ambitions to extend German unification and French fears of the shift in the European balance of power that would result if the Prussians succeeded. Some historians argue that the Prussian chancellor Otto von Bismarck deliberately provoked the French into declaring war on Prussia in order to draw the independent southern German states—Baden, Württemberg, Bavaria and Hesse-Darmstadt—into an alliance with the North German Confederation dominated by Prussia, while others contend that Bismarck did not plan anything and merely exploited the circumstances as they unfolded. None, however, dispute the fact that Bismarck must have recognized the potential for new German alliances, given the situation as a whole.

Peace treaty agreement between two or more hostile parties which formally ends a state of war

A peace treaty is an agreement between two or more hostile parties, usually countries or governments, which formally ends a state of war between the parties. It is different from an armistice, which is an agreement to stop hostilities, or a surrender, in which an army agrees to give up arms, or a ceasefire or truce in which the parties may agree to temporarily or permanently stop fighting.

Treaty of Versailles one of the treaties that ended the First World War

The Treaty of Versailles was the most important of the peace treaties that brought World War I to an end. The Treaty ended the state of war between Germany and the Allied Powers. It was signed on 28 June 1919 in Versailles, exactly five years after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, which had directly led to World War I. The other Central Powers on the German side of World War I signed separate treaties. Although the armistice, signed on 11 November 1918, ended the actual fighting, it took six months of Allied negotiations at the Paris Peace Conference to conclude the peace treaty. The treaty was registered by the Secretariat of the League of Nations on 21 October 1919.

The British naval blockade of Germany was not lifted until the treaty was signed at the end of June 1919.

Blockade of Germany

The Blockade of Germany, or the Blockade of Europe, occurred from 1914 to 1919. It was a prolonged naval operation conducted by the Triple-Entente powers during and after World War I in an effort to restrict the maritime supply of goods to the Central Powers, which included Germany, Austria-Hungary and the Ottoman Empire. It is considered one of the key elements in the eventual Allied victory in the war. The German Board of Public Health in December 1918 claimed that 763,000 German civilians died from starvation and disease caused by the blockade up until the end of December 1918. An academic study done in 1928 put the death toll at 424,000.

Rise of fascism

After several liberal governments failed to rein in these threats, and the fascists had increased their public profile by highly visible punishment expeditions to supposedly crush the socialist threat, King Victor Emmanuel III of Italy invited Benito Mussolini to form a government on 29 October 1922. The fascists maintained an armed paramilitary wing, which they employed to fight anarchists, communists, and socialists.

Socialism is a range of economic and social systems characterised by social ownership of the means of production and workers' self-management, as well as the political theories and movements associated with them. Social ownership can be public, collective or cooperative ownership, or citizen ownership of equity. There are many varieties of socialism and there is no single definition encapsulating all of them, with social ownership being the common element shared by its various forms.

Victor Emmanuel III of Italy King of Italy from 1900–1946

Victor Emmanuel III was the King of Italy from 29 July 1900 until his abdication on 9 May 1946. In addition, he held the thrones of Ethiopia and Albania as Emperor of Ethiopia (1936–1941) and King of the Albanians (1939–1943). During his reign of nearly 46 years, which began after the assassination of his father Umberto I, the Kingdom of Italy became involved in two world wars. His reign also encompassed the birth, rise, and fall of Italian Fascism.

Benito Mussolini Duce and President of the Council of Ministers of Italy. Leader of the National Fascist Party and subsequent Republican Fascist Party

Benito Amilcare Andrea Mussolini was an Italian politician and journalist who was the leader of the National Fascist Party. He ruled Italy as Prime Minister from 1922 to 1943; he constitutionally led the country until 1925, when he dropped the pretense of democracy and established a dictatorship.

Within a few years, Mussolini had consolidated dictatorial power and Italy became a police state. On 7 January 1935, he and French Foreign Minister Pierre Laval signed the Franco-Italian Agreement, giving him a free hand in the Abyssinia Crisis with Ethiopia, in return for an alliance against Hitler. There was little international protest. He then sent large forces into Eritrea and Italian Somaliland, the two Italian colonies that bordered Ethiopia.

Police state is a term denoting a government that exercises power arbitrarily through the power of the police force. Originally, the term designated a state regulated by a civil administration, but since the beginning of the 20th century it has "taken on an emotional and derogatory meaning" by describing an undesirable state of living characterized by the overbearing presence of the civil authorities. The inhabitants of a police state may experience restrictions on their mobility, or on their freedom to express or communicate political or other views, which are subject to police monitoring or enforcement. Political control may be exerted by means of a secret police force that operates outside the boundaries normally imposed by a constitutional state. Robert von Mohl, who first introduced the rule of law to German jurisprudence, contrasted the Rechtsstaat with the anti-aristocratic Polizeistaat.

Pierre Laval French politician

Pierre Jean-Marie Laval was a French politician. During the time of the Third Republic, he served as Prime Minister of France from 27 January 1931 to 20 February 1932, and a second time from 7 June 1935 to 24 January 1936.

The Abyssinia Crisis was a crisis in 1935 originating in what was called the Walwal incident in the then-ongoing conflict between the Kingdom of Italy and the Empire of Ethiopia. The League of Nations ruled against Italy and voted for economic sanctions, but they were never fully applied. Italy ignored the sanctions, quit the League, made special deals with Britain and France and ultimately established control of Ethiopia. The crisis discredited the League and moved Fascist Italy closer to an alliance with Nazi Germany.

Britain attempted to broker peace but failed; Mussolini was bent on conquest. Britain declared an arms embargo on both Italy and Ethiopia, but cleared its warships from the Mediterranean, further allowing Italy unhindered access. Shortly after the League of Nations exonerated both parties in the Walwal incident, Italy attacked Ethiopia, resulting in the Second Italo-Abyssinian War.

Shortly after Italy conquered Ethiopia, the Spanish Civil War began, seen by many as a proving ground for World War II, Germany provided troops, weapons, and other aid to Francisco Franco's nationalists. Italy also provided troops. On 7 April 1939, Italy invaded Albania. After a short campaign Albania was occupied and joined Italy in a personal union.

Rise of Nazi Germany

Paul von Hindenburg and Adolf Hitler presided over the abolition of German democracy in 1933 Bundesarchiv Bild 183-S38324, Tag von Potsdam, Adolf Hitler, Paul v. Hindenburg.jpg
Paul von Hindenburg and Adolf Hitler presided over the abolition of German democracy in 1933

The Nazi Party, led by Adolf Hitler, blamed Germany's ruined economy on the harshness of the Versailles Treaty, on faults of democracy, and on the stab-in-the-back legend. In Germany, as in post-Austro-Hungarian Austria, citizens recalled the pre-war years under autocratic rule as prosperous but the post-war years under weak democratic rule as chaotic and economically disastrous.

The situation was further aggravated by the worldwide economic depression that followed the Wall Street Crash of 1929. Left- and right-wing anti-democratic parties in the Reichstag—the German parliament—obstructed parliamentary work, while different cabinets resorted to government by Article 48 of the Weimar constitution. This enabled the president and Cabinet to bypass the Parliament.

While many states refused to become involved in the Spanish Civil War, notably Britain and France, troops were sent by both Hitler and Mussolini to aid the Spanish Nationalists, which included those with fascist leanings. It would prove to be a precursor to many of the tactics and methods employed in the Second World War, such as the Bombing of Guernica, which aimed to see how effective bombing of civilian areas could be. Spain was non-belligerent during World War II—although Spanish volunteers fought in Russia—but the civil war division of fascism versus democracy and communism was repeated.

German expansionism

Defence expenditures of major belligerents of World War II from 1930 to 1938 Graph top7 def expd 1930-38.png
Defence expenditures of major belligerents of World War II from 1930 to 1938

Meanwhile, in Germany, once political consolidation— Gleichschaltung —was in place, the Nazis turned their attention to foreign policy with several increasingly daring acts. On 16 March 1935, Hitler ignored the Versailles Treaty and ordered Germany to re-arm, reintroducing military conscription. The treaty had limited the German Reichswehr to 100,000 men with few arms.

These steps produced nothing more than official protests from the United Kingdom and France; they were more serious about enforcing the economic provisions of the treaty than its military restrictions. Many Britons felt the restrictions placed on Germany in Versailles had been too harsh, and they believed that Hitler's aim was simply to undo the extremes of the treaty, not to go beyond that. This sentiment was underscored by the signing of the Anglo-German Naval Agreement, which authorized Germany to build a fleet one third the size of the Royal Navy.

Hitler moved troops into the Rhineland on 7 March 1936. But, as before, Hitler's defiance was met with inaction, despite Poland's proposal to put the Franco-Polish Military Alliance into action. In 1936, Hitler demanded a private meeting with Arnold J. Toynbee, a British historian, philosopher of history, research professor of International History at the London School of Economics and the University of London and author of numerous books. He was visiting Berlin at the time to address the Nazi Law Society. Toynbee accepted.

In the meeting, Hitler emphasized his limited expansionist aim of building a greater German nation, and his desire for British understanding and cooperation. Toynbee was convinced of Hitler's sincerity, and endorsed Hitler's message in a confidential memorandum for the British prime minister and foreign secretary. [1]

The first non-violent German conquest was Austria. After Italy had joined Germany in the Anti-Comintern Pact, quickly removing the main obstacle of an Anschluss of Austria, Germany announced the annexation on 12 March 1938, making it the province Gau Ostmark of what was now Greater Germany.

Czechoslovakia

Chamberlain, Daladier, Hitler, Mussolini, and Ciano pictured before signing the Munich Agreement Bundesarchiv Bild 183-R69173, Munchener Abkommen, Staatschefs.jpg
Chamberlain, Daladier, Hitler, Mussolini, and Ciano pictured before signing the Munich Agreement

With Austria secured, Hitler turned his attention to the German-speaking population of Sudetenland border regions of Czechoslovakia. Czechoslovakia had a large and modern army backed with a sizable armament industry, and had military alliances with France and the Soviet Union. It also had informal links with the United Kingdom, largely due to the United Kingdom being militarily allied with France.

Despite this, Hitler, encouraged by reluctance of major European powers to stop his violation of post World War I treaties, was prepared to risk war. He was convinced that France would shrink back again, not fulfilling her treaty obligations to Czechoslovakia. His first order was to seize Sudetenland, based on the right of self-determination for a unification with Germany. This region formed about a third of Bohemia (western Czechoslovakia) in terms of territory, population and economy, and was claimed to be vital for Czechoslovakia's existence. With Austria in German hands, this part of Czechoslovakia—equipped with a defense system that was larger than the Maginot Line—was nearly surrounded by Germany.

Following lengthy negotiations and blatant war threats from Hitler, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain with French leaders tried to appease Hitler. In the Munich Agreement of 30 September 1938, the major European powers allowed German troops to occupy the Sudetenland, for the sake of "peace for our time". Czechoslovakia had already mobilized over one million men and was prepared to fight for independence, but was not allowed to participate in the conference.

When the French and British negotiators informed the Czechoslovak representatives about the agreement, and that if Czechoslovakia would not accept it, France and Britain would consider Czechoslovakia to be responsible for war, President Edvard Beneš capitulated. German forces entered the Sudetenland unopposed, celebrated by the local ethnic German population. Soon after, Polish and Hungarian forces also invaded parts of Czechoslovakia.

Poland annexed the Zaolzie area. Hitler continued to put pressure on the Czech government. On 14 March, Slovakia declared its independence under Jozef Tiso, which was recognized by France, Britain and other important powers. The following day, Emil Hácha accepted a German occupation of the remaining parts of the Czech lands. From the Prague Castle, the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia was proclaimed by Hitler.

The Memel Territory, separated from Germany since 1920 and annexed by Lithuania, was returned to Germany, under a German–Lithuanian treaty concluded after the 1939 German ultimatum to Lithuania. The preparations for the Second World War were also made in the economic sphere, as the German government exerted pressure on weaker governments to place their economies at the disposal of the German war machine. One such case was the German–Romanian economic agreement of 23 March 1939.

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Axis powers Alliance of countries defeated in World War II

The Axis powers, also known as "Rome–Berlin–Tokyo Axis", were the nations that fought in World War II against the Allies. The Axis powers agreed on their opposition to the Allies, but did not completely coordinate their activity.

Munich Agreement 1938 cession of German-speaking Czechoslovakia to the Nazis

The Munich Agreement or Munich Betrayal was an agreement concluded at Munich, September 29, 1938, by Germany, Great Britain, France and Italy. It provided "cession to Germany of the Sudeten German territory" of Czechoslovakia. Most of Europe celebrated because it prevented the war threatened by Adolf Hitler by allowing Nazi Germany's annexation of the Sudetenland, a region of western Czechoslovakia inhabited by 800,000 people, mainly German speakers. Hitler announced it was his last territorial claim in Europe, and the choice seemed to be between war and appeasement.

Appeasement

Appeasement in an international context is a diplomatic policy of making political or material concessions to an aggressive power in order to avoid conflict. The term is most often applied to the foreign policy of the British governments of Prime Ministers Ramsay MacDonald, Stanley Baldwin and Neville Chamberlain towards Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy between 1935 and 1939.

Locarno Treaties multilateral treaties negotiated in Locarno, Switzerland during October 1925

The Locarno Treaties were seven agreements negotiated at Locarno, Switzerland, on 5–16 October 1925 and formally signed in London on 1 December, in which the First World War Western European Allied powers and the new states of Central and Eastern Europe sought to secure the post-war territorial settlement, and return normalizing relations with defeated Germany. It also stated that Germany would never go to war with the other countries. Locarno divided borders in Europe into two categories: western, which were guaranteed by Locarno treaties, and eastern borders of Germany with Poland, which were open for revision.

The Stresa Front was an agreement made in Stresa, a town on the banks of Lake Maggiore in Italy, between French prime minister Pierre Laval, British prime minister Ramsay MacDonald, and Italian prime minister Benito Mussolini on April 14, 1935. Formally called the Final Declaration of the Stresa Conference, its aim was to reaffirm the Locarno Treaties and to declare that the independence of Austria "would continue to inspire their common policy". The signatories also agreed to resist any future attempt by the Germans to change the Treaty of Versailles. Some historians -like P. Buchanan in his "Churchill, Hitler and the Unnecessary War"- wrote that the Stress Front was the most important attempt to stop Hitler before the start of WW2.The Stresa Front broke down completely within two/three months of the initial agreement, just after the Italian invasion of Abyssinia.

Causes of World War II Discussion of the causes of World War II

Among the causes of World War II were, to a greater extent, the political takeover in 1933 of Germany by Adolf Hitler and his Nazi Party and its aggressive foreign policy, and to a lesser extent, Italian Fascism in the 1920s, and Japanese militarism preceding an invasion of China in the 1930s. The immediate cause was Germany invading Poland on September 1, 1939, and Britain and France declaring war on Germany on September 3, 1939.

Interwar period Period between the end of World War I and the beginning of World War II

In the context of the history of the 20th century, the interwar period was the period between the end of the First World War in November 1918 and the beginning of the Second World War in September 1939.

Timeline of events preceding World War II timeline

This timeline of events preceding World War II covers the events of the interwar period (1918–1939) after World War I that affected or led to World War II.

Remilitarization of the Rhineland

The remilitarization of the Rhineland by the German Army began on 7 March 1936 when German military forces entered the Rhineland. This was significant because it violated the terms of the Treaty of Versailles and the Locarno Treaties, marking the first time since the end of World War I that German troops had been in this region. The remilitarization changed the balance of power in Europe from France and its allies towards Germany, making it possible for Germany to pursue a policy of aggression in Western Europe that the demilitarized status of the Rhineland had blocked until then.

Kingdom of Italy kingdom on the Appenine Peninsula between 1861 and 1946

The Kingdom of Italy was a state which existed from 1861—when King Victor Emmanuel II of Sardinia was proclaimed King of Italy—until 1946—when a constitutional referendum led civil discontent to abandon the monarchy and form the modern Italian Republic. The state was founded as a result of the unification of Italy under the influence of the Kingdom of Sardinia, which can be considered its legal predecessor state.

Territorial evolution of Germany

The territorial changes of Germany include all changes in the borders and territory of Germany from its formation in 1871 to the present. Modern Germany was formed in 1871 when Otto von Bismarck unified most of the German states, with the notable exception of Austria, into the German Empire. After the First World War, Germany lost about 10% of its territory to its neighbours and the Weimar Republic was formed. This republic included territories to the east of today's German borders.

The German Occupation Medals were a series of awards, also known as the "Flower War medals", created to commemorate the annexation of Austria, Czechoslovakia and the Memelland by Nazi Germany in the interwar period. All three medals were designed by Professor Richard Klein, Director of the Munich School of Applied Arts and a favoured artist of the Nazi establishment.

Austria–Germany relations Diplomatic relations between the Republic of Austria and the Federal Republic of Germany

Relations between Austria and Germany are close, due to their shared history and language, with German being the official language and Germans being the largest ethnic group of both countries.

Fascism in Europe

Fascism in Europe was composed of numerous ideologies present during the 20th century which all developed their own differences from each other. Fascism was born in Italy, but subsequently several movements across Europe which took influence from the Italian faction emerged. Purists assert that the term "fascism" should only be used to mean the ideology of the National Fascist Party under Benito Mussolini in Italy, which ruled from 1922 to 1943. However, commonly other European regimes that showed strong similarities to Mussolini's governing are also described as fascist. European regimes often described as fascist or being strongly related to fascism include:

Italian Empire Italy during the era of modern European imperialism

The Italian colonial empire, known as the Italian Empire between 1936 and 1943, comprised the colonies, protectorates, concessions, dependencies and trust territories of the Kingdom of Italy. The genesis of the Italian colonial empire was the purchase in 1869 of Assab Bay on the Red Sea by an Italian navigation company which intended to establish a coaling station at the time the Suez Canal was being opened to navigation. This was taken over by the Italian government in 1882, becoming modern Italy's first overseas territory.

The timeline of the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact is a chronology of events, including Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact negotiations, leading up to, culminating in, and resulting from the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact. The Treaty of Non-aggression between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union was signed in the early hours of August 24, 1939, but was dated August 23.

Godesberg Memorandum

The Godesberg Memorandum is a document issued by Adolf Hitler in the early hours of 24 September 1938 concerning the Sudetenland and amounting to an ultimatum addressed to the government of Czechoslovakia.

International relations (1919–1939) covers the main interactions shaping world history in this era, with emphasis on diplomacy and economic relations. The coverage here follows Diplomatic history of World War I and precedes Diplomatic history of World War II. The important stages of interwar diplomacy and international relations included resolutions of wartime issues, such as reparations owed by Germany and boundaries; American involvement in European finances and disarmament projects; the expectations and failures of the League of Nations; the relationships of the new countries to the old; the distrustful relations of the Soviet Union to the capitalist world; peace and disarmament efforts; responses to the Great Depression starting in 1929; the collapse of world trade; the collapse of democratic regimes one by one; the growth of economic autarky; Japanese aggressiveness toward China; Fascist diplomacy, including the aggressive moves by Mussolini's Italy and Hitler's Germany; the Spanish Civil War; the appeasement of Germany's expansionist moves toward the Rhineland, Austria, and Czechoslovakia, and the last, desperate stages of rearmament as another world war increasingly loomed.

Fascist Italy (1922–1943)

Fascist Italy is the era of National Fascist Party government from 1922 to 1943 with Benito Mussolini as head of government of the Kingdom of Italy. The fascists imposed totalitarian rule and crushed political and intellectual opposition, while promoting economic modernization, traditional social values and a rapprochement with the Roman Catholic Church. According to Payne (1996), "[the] Fascist government passed through several relatively distinct phases". The first phase (1923–1925) was nominally a continuation of the parliamentary system, albeit with a "legally-organized executive dictatorship". Then came the second phase, "the construction of the Fascist dictatorship proper, from 1925 to 1929". The third phase, with less activism, was 1929 to 1934. The fourth phase, 1935–1940, was characterized by an aggressive foreign policy: war against Ethiopia, which was launched from Eritrea and Somaliland; confrontations with the League of Nations, leading to sanctions; growing economic autarky; and the signing of the Pact of Steel. The war itself (1940–1943) was the fifth phase with its disasters and defeats, while the rump Salò Government under German control was the final stage (1943–1945).

References

  1. McNeill, W. H. (1989). Arnold J. Toynbee: A Life. Oxford University Press. ISBN   0-19-506335-X.