Causes and consequences of World War II

World War II (1939-1945) was a large-scale armed conflict , stemming largely from World War I (1914-1919).

Certainly, the conflicts dragged on since the Treaty of Versailles, added to a set of factors of a diverse nature, were a breeding ground for the growing hostility that would end in the most violent of the wars faced by humanity.

Let us know what were its most determining causes and consequences.

Causes of World War II

The Treaty of Versailles and German humiliation

Sessions of the Treaty of Versailles, in the Hall of Mirrors.

The Treaty of Versailles forced Germany to accept full responsibility for the World War I conflict. Consequently, absolutely humiliating and excessive terms of surrender were imposed on him.

Among other things, the treaty required Germany to:

  • to consign arms and military ships to the Allies;
  • reduce the German army to 100 thousand soldiers;
  • distribute among the victors the territories annexed or administered by Germany;
  • pay outrageous compensation to the Allies.

Such conditions prevented the recovery of Germany, which aroused the popular unrest of the German nation, resentment and the desire for revenge.

 Ignorance of the agreements with Italy after the Treaty of Versailles

In World War I, Italy did not want to join the declaration of war by the Triple Alliance, to which it belonged along with Germany and Austria-Hungary. For its part, the Triple Entente offered him territorial compensation in exchange for fighting alongside it, which he accepted.

The commitment acquired by the Allies was unknown in the Treaty of Versailles, and Italy only received a part of what was agreed. This aroused the desire to claim Italy, especially in those who fought on the war front, such as Benito Mussolini.

 Growing ethnic tensions

Ethnic tensions grew in this period and set the stage for confrontation. They were a consequence of the territorial distribution promoted in the Treaty of Versailles.

Thus, on the one hand, a resentful Italy longed for a claim against the Allies; on the other, in an oppressed Germany it aroused the desire for territorial restoration and expansion.

Along with this, in Germany the perception grew that the Jewish economic power, which controlled a large part of the financial system, represented an obstacle to the development of the national economy. This strengthened antisemitism.

 The Rise of National Socialism and Fascism

Benito Mussolini and Adolfo Hitler in a military parade.

The discontent was giving rise to the appearance of a new ideological trend of the ultra-right, which sought to confront the advance of the liberal capitalist democracies and Russian communism, through a nationalist, ethnocentric, protectionist discourse with an imperialist vocation.

This trend was represented by the Italian Fascism of Benito Mussolini, who rose to power in 1922, and the German National Socialism, or Nazism .

The great Depression

At the beginning of the 1920s, countries like France and the United Kingdom had had a rapid economic recovery. However, the Crash of 1929 began the Great Depression, which put the liberal democracies in check.

The Great Depression took its toll around the world, but the reaction was most noticeable in Germany and Italy, countries previously affected by the Treaty of Versailles. There, the popular rejection of economic liberalism and the democratic model was exacerbated.

It can be said that the Great Depression revived German National Socialism which, before the Crash of 1929, tended to lose political strength. In this way he facilitated the rise to power of Nazism in 1933, under the leadership of Adolf Hitler.

The Japanese invasion of Manchuria in 1931

By the early 20th century, Japan had become an economic and military power, but after the Great Depression, it faced new customs barriers. The Japanese wanted to secure the market and access to raw materials, so after the Manchuria train incident, in which a section of the railway was blown up, they blamed China and expelled its army from the region.

The Japanese formed the Republic of Manchukuo, a sort of protectorate under the collaborationist leadership of the last Chinese emperor, Puyi.

The League of Nations, in solidarity with China, refused to recognize the new state. Japan withdrew from the Society in 1933. In 1937 it invaded China and started the Sino-Japanese War. This opened a new flank on the international scene.

The 1935 Italian invasion of Abyssinia-Ethiopia.

At the beginning of the 20th century, Italy had already guaranteed control of Libya, Eritrea and Somalia. However, the territory of Abyssin (Ethiopia) was more than desirable. Thus, on October 3, 1935, they invaded Abyssinia with the support of Germany.

The League of Nations tried to sanction Italy, which withdrew from the organization. The sanctions were suspended shortly thereafter. Faced with the weakness shown by the League of Nations, Mussolini maintained his purpose, managed to make Emperor Haile Selassie abdicate and, finally, proclaimed the birth of the Italian Empire.

Failure of the League of Nations

Created after the First World War to guarantee peace, the League of Nations tried to lessen the rigor of the measures against Germany, but its comments were not listened to.

In addition, under the fear of unleashing an armed conflict, the organization did not know how to deal with the German, Italian and Japanese expansionist initiatives. Failing in its mission, the League of Nations was dissolved.

The ideological confrontation

The Second World War, unlike the First, is the result of the ideological confrontation between three different political-economic models that competed to dominate the international scene. These trends under discussion were:

  • capitalist liberalism and liberal democracies, represented by France and England, especially, and later by the United States;
  • the communist system, represented by the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics;
  • German National Socialism (Nazism) and Italian Fascism.

Consequences of World War II

Demographic consequences: human losses

German concentration camp.

The direct and terrible consequence of the Second World War was the loss and/or disappearance of more than 66 million people.

Of that number, extracted from W. van Mourik, in Bilanz des Krieges (Ed. Lekturama, Rotterdam, 1978), only 19,562,880 correspond to soldiers.

The remaining difference corresponds to civilian losses. We are talking about 47,120,000. These numbers include the death by extermination of nearly 7 million Jews in Nazi concentration camps.

Economic consequences: bankruptcy of the belligerent countries

World War II implied a true mass destruction. Europe was seen not only devastated in human losses, but devoid of conditions to develop the economy.

At least 50% of the European industrial park was destroyed and agriculture suffered similar losses, unleashing deaths from famine. The same fate befell China and Japan.

In order to recover, the countries at war had to receive financial aid from the so-called Marshall Plan, whose official name is the European Recovery Program (ERP) or European Recovery Program.

This financial aid came from the United States of America, which also advocated establishing alliances that could stop the advance of communism in Western Europe.

Creation of the United Nations (UN)

After the evident failure of the League of Nations, at the end of the Second World War in 1945, the United Nations Organization (UN) was founded, in force to this day.

The UN officially emerged on October 24, 1945 when the Charter of the United Nations was signed, in the city of San Francisco, United States.

Its purpose would be to safeguard international peace and security through dialogue, the promotion of the principle of brotherhood between nations and diplomacy.

Division of the German territory

Occupation zones in Germany after the end of the war.

One consequence of World War II was the division of German territory among the victors. Following the Yalta Conference of 1945, the Allies took over four autonomous occupation zones. To do this, they initially established an Allied Control Council. The decision was ratified in Potsdam.

The territory was distributed as follows: France would administer the southwest; United Kingdom would be to the northwest; The United States would administer the south, and the USSR would take charge of the east. Poland would also receive the former German provinces east of the Oder-Neisse Line.

All this process implied in the east and the southeast persecutions, expulsions and migratory waves, which left the Germans frankly fragile.

Strengthening of the United States and the USSR as powers

The end of the conflict brought with it, especially, the spectacular rise of the US economy, both in industry and in agricultural production. To this would be added the benefits of being a creditor of Europe.

The US guaranteed a market and international hegemony, reaffirmed thanks to the military power represented by the invention and use of nuclear bombs.

The growth of the US was even expressed in culture. If the cultural center of the West was in Paris before the war, the focus later shifted to the US, where many European artists took refuge. It is not for nothing that American cinema demonstrated dizzying growth in the 1950s.

In 1949, North American hegemony found itself up against a competitor: the USSR, which was advancing as a military power by creating its first atomic bomb. Thus, the tensions between capitalism and communism polarized the world towards the Cold War.

Start of the Cold War

Shortly after establishing the occupation of German territory, the growing tensions between the capitalist bloc and the communist bloc gave rise to a rearrangement of said administration.

Thus, the western occupation zones united and formed the German Federal Republic (FRG) in 1949, to which the USSR responded by forming the German Democratic Republic (GDR) in the area under its control.

This translated into the beginning of the Cold War, which would only come to an end with the fall of the USSR in 1991.

Dissolution of the Japanese Empire and Japan joining the Western Bloc

Hiroshima nuclear bomb, August 6, 1945

After the imminent defeat in World War II, after the atomic bombs of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan had to surrender. On September 2, 1945, the Japanese Empire was dissolved, and Japan was occupied by the Allies until April 28, 1952.

During this process, the imperial model was replaced by a democratic model thanks to the design of a new constitution, promulgated in 1947. Only after the occupation, which would come to an end with the signing of the Treaty of San Francisco on April 28, 1952 , Japan would join the so-called Western or capitalist Bloc.

Finally, in 1960, the Security Treaty between the United States and Japan was signed between the leaders Dwight D. Eisenhower and Nobusuke Kishi, which would make both nations allies.

Start of decolonization processes

Part of the purposes of the UN, facing the causes and consequences of both world wars, was to promote decolonization in the world.

By decolonization is understood the eradication of foreign governments over a given nation, and the preservation of its right to have its own government.

This was reinforced from 1947, when the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was promulgated.

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