World War II shook the foundations on which human civilizations thrived on this planet. This event, marred by death and destruction, crippled the world economy. The Second World War serves as a lesson for generations to come, that aggression and violence of any kind is certainly not the way to win the world.
The economical, social and political situation in Europe during the early decades of the 20th century was the main cause of a widespread conflagration which resulted in a global conflict. Aggressive nationalism, extreme patriotism and the belief that one’s race and country has the moral right to rule the entire world led to this war. The consequences of the war were mind-numbing. 60,000,000 is the approximate or recorded count of deaths during this war. The reasons that led to this death and destruction were as flagrant as the consequences. A brief account of significant events that led to World War II, the war chronology and its aftermath are presented below.
The Main Causes of World War II:
World War II was a fallout of the World War I. The race to acquire global areas and wealth led to a bitter fight among the European countries. England, France, Germany, Italy, Russia or the Soviet Union of those times and Japan in Asia were involved in a direct conflict. The signing of the Treaty of Versailles in France on June 28, 1919 sowed the seeds of a deep turmoil in Germany. The victorious nations imposed humiliating conditions on Germany and the defeated nations. This led to strong resentment from such countries against the victorious powers, resulting in an outburst in the form of World War II. The rise of Adolf Hitler’s Nazism in Germany, and fascism of Benito Mussolini in Italy were the catalysts behind the approaching storm that would sweep through the world.
Timeline of Important Events
- In 1931, Japan invaded Manchuria in Asia. Hitler rose to power in Germany and along with Japan, he withdrew from the League of Nations in 1933.
- Germany regained the Saar province, it had lost in the Treaty of Versailles; and Italy invaded the African nation Ethiopia.
- By 1936, the Nazi army had marched on to Rhineland and Italian forces had occupied Ethiopia.
- In 1938, Germany annexed Austria and set their sights on Czechoslovakia. Meanwhile, large scale massacre of Jews in specially set up concentration camps was carried out by the Nazis.
- The Sino-Japanese war began in Asia in 1939, when Japan attacked China. The same year, German forces invaded Poland inviting huge attention regarding its aggression. Two days later, Britain and France declared war on Germany and the World War II formally began in Europe. German forces launched a fierce operation against the French forces on their border. Russia and Germany had signed a non-aggression pact amongst themselves. Hence, Russia too attacked Poland, aiding Germany. Poland declared an unconditional surrender to avoid further losses in 1939. Soviets launched a big offensive against Finland, getting themselves expelled from The League of Nations. The German U-boats and warships battled the English forces in the Atlantic Ocean near the British Isles causing severe losses to British merchant ships. USA maintained a neutral stance in these circumstances.
- In 1940, in Britain, Winston Churchill was elected the new Prime Minister and wartime rationing was commenced. German strategy of attacking with lightening speed ‘Blitzkrieg’ had created havoc in Europe. Holland (western part of The Netherlands), Belgium and France surrendered to the German army. Britain offered stiff resistance and refused to budge under the constant German air raid attacks and launched a counter-offensive. Italy declared war on France and sided with Germany. These two countries along with Japan signed a mutual cooperation tripartite pact creating a group called the Axis powers. Italian forces launched a big invasion in North Africa. The entire European region was converted into a battlefield with the disciplined and aggressive Nazi and fascist forces dominating all war fronts.
- Erwin Rommel, a powerful German Field Marshall and the Italian forces led the Axis powers to sweeping victories in North Africa. Other European nations such as Yugoslavia, Greece and Romania became vassals of the German superiority and entered the war on the side of the Axis powers. As Britain was proving to be a tough nut to crack, Hitler turned his attention to the rest of Europe. In order to sustain the war-preparedness of its troops, Germany breached the non-aggression pact with Russia and attacked it with full force. Three major Russian cities came under German authority. Russia immediately sought assistance from Britain.
- The German U-boats were creating problems for the American and British ships. In Asia, Japan invaded many countries, once it established firm control over China. Americans were creating obstructions for the ambitious Japanese expansion plans, hence Japan launched a heavy aerial attack on the American naval base at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. All these events led to the Americans formally joining the war on the British side.
- The warring factions were divided into two groups: the Allied forces consisting of Britain, France, China, USA and Russia versus the Axis powers of Germany, Japan and Italy.
- The early 1940s saw the Axis powers dominating all the war fronts. However, after USA entered the war, the Allied forces attacked with renewed vigor. The situation began reversing during 1942-1943. The Anglo-American forces won back all their territories captured by Italy and Germany in a span of three years. Italy gave up its resistance and surrendered on September 8, 1943. France was freed of German dominance and later, the allied forces marched towards Berlin, the capital of Germany. On the other side, Russian forces recaptured their land under Germany and marched into Berlin from the eastern side. On April 30, 1945, Hitler committed suicide and finally on May 8, 1945, Germany surrendered bringing the war in Europe to an end.
- Japan was putting up stiff resistance, even in 1945. Although many Asian countries were wrested back from Japanese influence, the war in China was still going on. In this situation, America dropped an atom bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima on August 6, dealing a massive blow to Japan. Russia declared war on Japan the next day and attacked the Manchuria province under Japanese control. On the 9th of August, America dropped a second atom bomb on the Japanese city of Nagasaki. Almost 180,000 people were killed in a matter of minutes on those two days. Emperor Hirohito of Japan was forced to make an unconditional surrender, bringing the Second World War to an end.
- Countless people were affected in the war leaving the continent of Europe in ruins. Post World War II, the world was divided into pro-communists countries led by Russia and pro-capitalists led by the US. Colonialism was dealt a severe blow and many countries in Asia and Africa gained independence from their oppressive European rulers.
World War II is an ugly chapter in human history and countries of the world must seriously work together for peace and harmony, in order to avert any such disasters in the future.