Why had international peace collapsed by 1939

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Last updated: November 11, 2019

Hitler was never secretive about his plans to abolish the treaty of Versailles. As early as 1924, in his book Mein Kampf he laid out his plans for Germany if the Nazis were ever to come to power. When Hitler came to power in Germany in 1933, he openly pledged to reverse the terms of the treaty of Versailles and exploited the anger that the Germans felt as a result of their treatment from the treaty. Hitler hated the treaty and branded the German leaders who had signed it ‘the November criminals’.He saw the treaty as a constant reminder to the German people of their defeat in the First World War and their humiliation at the hands of the allies. Hitler also played on their feelings of despair brought on by the effects of the Depression to build up support for his policy.

Many Germans also still felt that they had not actually lost the war, and that they were actually backstabbed by the allies when making cease fire agreements. Hitler set out to destroy the Treaty of Versailles and challenge the other nations of Europe.By the time he came to power, some of the treaty’s terms had already been changed.

For example: Germany was no longer making reparation payments, however most of the treaty’s points were still in place, and Hitler set out to demolish these remaining points of the treaty. Hitler also wanted to expand German territory by reclaiming land that the treaty of Versailles had taken away from Germany. It was this territory that Hitler wanted back, as well as to join small German minority areas with Germany.Not only this but Hitler also set out to gain extra ‘lebensraum’ for Germany by carving out an empire in eastern Europe. In the 1930’s there were two incidents that really tested the League of Nations. The Manchurian crisis and the Abyssinian crisis. The depression had given America a hard blow, and both the Americans and the Chinese put up trade barriers against Japanese goods.

The collapse of the American market put the Japanese economy in crisis, and without this much needed trade Japan couldn’t feed its people.High mountains covered most of Japan and there was little farmland from which the Japanese could grow their own food. The Japanese depended on China to import their food from, as well as raw materials such as iron ore and coal. Japans leaders were in no doubt as to the solution to Japan’s struggles – a Japanese empire would solve their problems, and Japan was ready to create one by force.

In 1931, Japan found an excuse to attack China by claiming Chinese soldiers had sabotaged a Japanese-owned railway in the region of Manchuria.In retaliation, Japans army invaded the region and overran all Chinese forces, setting up a puppet government there, which did exactly as the Japanese told it to. It was later made clear that Japans army was in control of Japanese foreign affairs when they were told to withdraw by Japan’s civilian government after they had bombed Shanghai, but they (the army) refused to do so. China appealed to the league for help; however, Japan claimed that it was acting in self-defence and not as an aggressor, since China was in a state of such disorder that Japan had to resort to militarism to settle this ‘local’ dispute.This was a serious test for the League of Nations since Japan was such an important member, and as such needed careful handling.

The league eventually decided that Japan had acted unlawfully and judged that Manchuria should be returned to China, however, instead of withdrawing, Japan announced plans to invade more of China, arguing still that this was all in self-defence. Japan was outvoted 42 to 1 that they should leave the area, however smarting at the leagues insult Japan withdrew from the league, continuing to invade the Chinese province of Jehol one week later.The league was seemingly powerless, discussing economic sanctions against Japan, however they would have been meaningless without the support of the USA, Japan’s main trading partner. Besides, Britain was more interested in up keeping good relations with Japan than in agreeing to sanctions. Banning arms sales to Japan was also discussed within the league, however member nations couldn’t even agree to that. The prospect of Britain and France risking their navies in a war with Japan was zero, and the only two nations that could have removed Japan from Manchuria by force, the USA and the USSR weren’t even members of the league.Many excuses were offered for the failure of the here, such as Japan was too far away and that Japan was a ‘special’ case.

The League had failed hopelessly in this dispute, exemplifying its weakness and turning a blind eye to the situation, giving Hitler confidence that it was not strong enough to stop him in doing something similar to this. Also, a comparable predicament arose in Abyssinia in 1935, when Mussolini invaded the region.The origins of this dispute lay back in the previous century, when in 1896 Italy suffered a humiliating defeat at the hands of a poorly equipped band of tribesmen when they attempted to take over the area. Mussolini wanted revenge for this humiliating defeat, and also had his eye on the fertile lands and mineral wealth of Abyssinia.

Mussolini gained his chance to attack in 1934, when a clash arose between Italian and Ethiopian soldiers 80 miles inside Abyssinia, and the Italian dictator immediately began preparing his nation for an invasion.Haile Selassie, the Abyssinian emperor appealed to the league for help. The league found itself playing for time in this dispute, with its member nations inconclusive about the courses of action they should take to stop this, as well as Britain and France actually secretly negotiating with Italy behind the scenes, promising to give them Abyssinian land if they would stop their invasion, and also hoping to gain them as allies against any German insurrection. In the end, Britain and France’s plans backfired, with Italy actually eventually forming an agreement with Germany called the Rome-Berlin Axis.Mussolini got what he wanted in the end, at no cost to Italy, and in the process totally proved the leagues ineffectiveness at managing such crises. The league could not use the same excuses here as it had with the Manchurian crisis, since this dispute was right on its doorstep, and there were a number of actions it could have taken from the start to prevent this disaster.

This had been a disaster for the league, and had – in conjunction with the Manchurian crisis serious consequences for world peace.Hitler took these two crises and the way in which the League of Nations handled them as his cues for the way in which he should behave if he wanted to attain his goals, also using this time to get away with reclaiming the lost German territory of the Rhineland. These actions of his would later have great consequences, eventually leading to the outbreak of the Second World War, in conjunction with the way in which he was allowed to get away with doing so by Britain and France, and to a lesser extent the league. 936 saw Hitler making his first move in his bid to reclaim lost German territory.

The demilitarisation of the Rhineland was one of the terms of the treaty of Versailles, and Hitler’s first big risk came as he moved troops into the area. Hitler already knew that many people in Britain were now beginning to feel that the terms of the treaty of Versailles were quite harsh, and so his gamble was on whether or not the French would intervene, using the fact that France and the USSR had recently signed a treaty with one another, promising to protect each other from any attack from Germany.Hitler’s luck held and his risk had paid off, with the league concentrating moreover on the Abyssinian crisis at the time than anything else, and so began the policy of appeasement that Britain and France were to follow for the coming three years towards Germany. The policy of appeasement was followed by Britain and France in the hope of avoiding war by giving Hitler what he wanted, however was soon to prove to be to their own detriment as Hitler’s demands grew increasingly more unreasonable and hostile, with the two nations finding themselves in an increasingly weaker position to contest Hitler.Britain and France followed this policy for a number of reasons: * Both Nations did not feel that they were ready for another war, with their armed forces unable to compete with Hitler’s increasingly more advanced and well-equipped army. * Both Britain and France were more worried about the growing influence of communism, and saw that Hitler was at least a buffer to this, since they didn’t even see him as their main threat at the time. * Britain and France were also still suffering from the effects of the depression, with huge debts to repay and high unemployment rates.

American leaders were determined not to be dragged into another war, and Britain and her allies were not sure that any upcoming war with Germany could be won without the support of the Americans. * Both Britain and France did not want to repeat the horrors of the great war.* Britain in particular was beginning to feel that the terms of the treaty of Versailles were harsh, and as a nation assumed that Germany would become peaceful again once it had been done justice. It was also not at all certain that Britain’s empire and commonwealth states would support a war against Germany. Appeasement proved itself unsuccessful however with the eventual outbreak of war, instead allowing Hitler to get away with unlawfully doing as he pleased, in the hope of rebuilding a great Germany. In 1939, Nazi Germany and the communist USSR – to the world’s surprise – formed a pact with one another, that greatly helped Hitler in his upcoming pans to invade Poland and reclaim land that he felt was rightfully Germany’s.

Without the pact it is highly unlikely that Hitler would have actually invaded Poland, since without the alliance with the USSR then Germany would have been in a far weaker position to attack Poland, and the counterattack from Britain and her allies would almost certainly have crushed Germany. Both countries however entered the pact dishonestly, with the USSR aiming to bide time to prepare its forces for war, and hoping for Germany to be weakened by an offensive from Britain and France.Germany entered the pact with equally false intentions, promising to divide Poland between themselves and the USSR; however, never actually planning on letting them keep the land. Both countries were aware of each other’s ulterior motives, however entered in good faith that the pact would ultimately benefit them.

The counterattack itself was yet another gamble on Hitler’s behalf, however, it proved to be one gamble too many when Britain and France did actually declare war on Germany in 1939, keeping their promise to defend Poland from any German hostility, and ending the appeasement regime they had been following now for all too long.

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