When Hitler came to power in 1933 he had three main aims, the abolishment of the treaty of Versailles, to expand German territory and to defeat communism.
As most of the German population, Hitler believed that the Treaty of Versailles was unjust. Germany’s defeat in World War One and their humiliation by the Allies was constantly reminded by the Treaty. Hitler had promised that he would reverse the treaty. The terms of the treaty, within the self-interest of ‘the big 3’ was meant to secure peace and so by abolishing it, Hitler had started to cause distrust in international peace between nations.
The treaty had taken land away from Germany and Hitler pledged to take this territory back. He wanted to unite with Austria and wanted to carve out an empire in Eastern Europe to give extra Lebensraum (living space) for Germans. For this, war was inevitable and so the chances of lasting peace diminished.
A German empire forged from the Soviet Union would also help Hitler in his other aims, the defeat of Communism or Bolshevism. Hitler was anti-communist (believed as the buffer against it) and believed that the Bolsheviks helped defeat Germany in WW1 and still wanted to take over Germany.
In the 1930s there were two incidents that really tested the League of Nations, the Manchurian and Abyssinian crisis’.
Both the Manchurian and Abyssinian Crisis’ made it easier for Hitler to achieve his objectives because of the falling of the League’s sense of authority and power. Hitler’s ambitions and dreams had been spurred on by the fact that he had witnessed these incidents go by, and the League had let them get away with it. Hitler was a risk-taker, and the fall of the League encouraged him more, as that was one less power to worry about.
In 1936 Hitler he started his policy of reclaiming lost German territory. Sending troops into the Rhineland, and making anti-communist alliances with Japan and Italy, it was the Allies’ policy of Appeasement that let him get away with all of these things.
Britain and France followed this policy of Appeasement for many reasons. Britain was not ready for war, and didn’t want to repeat the horrors of WW1. The wanted to avoid war at any cost, the USA did not support it, and Britain was not sure that the British Empire and the Commonwealth (e.g. Canada) would. Both Britain and France were at this time still in a great economic depression, with high unemployment and large debts, which to them were of higher priority. Many Britons believed Hitler wanted to be a peaceful nation again and that the Treaty of Versailles was unfair anyway, and at least Hitler was standing up to Communism, a grave concern for both Britain and France.
This policy was advantageous for Hitler and a stepping stone to war, as it put too much trust in Hitler’s promises. Appeasement was based on the mistaken idea that Hitler was trustworthy, which with hindsight we know wasn’t true. Appeasement allowed Germany to grow too strong. Germany was not only recovering lost ground, it was becoming much more powerful than Britain or France, which tempted Hitler to use his strengths. Appeasement again encouraged Hitler’s aggression, as each gamble he got away with pushed him to take bigger risks. A huge factor is that Appeasement scared the USSR. It sent the message to the Soviet Union that Britain and France would not stand in Hitler’s way of advancing eastwards, which later to led to the Nazi-Soviet pact.
It was in 1939 when Hitler made the agreement with Stalin. Hitler and Stalin, two arch-enemies agreed not to attack each other, and privately, agreed to share Poland between them. Stalin was driven to the agreement as he had had designs on large sections of eastern Poland and wanted to take over the Baltic States that had been part of Russia in the tsar’s day. He also was not convinced that Britain and France would be strong and reliable enough as allies against Hitler. For Hitler, this was again, one less power to stop him in his missions. It was this pact that cleared the way for Germany’s invasion of Poland.
When Hitler invaded Poland in 1939, he was sure that Britain and France would not take the trouble to go to war with Germany. But Hitler was met with a nasty surprise. Britain and France did keep their pledge, and so declared war on Germany. Hitler had not expected this as Britain and France had previously let him get away with so much, but Hitler had started a war that for Germany was too soon and against the ‘wrong’ opponents. For the Allies’, it was the invasion of Poland that was the breaking point, they thought Hitler would be content with the gain of the lost German territories, but Hitler wanted more. Appeasement ceased, and the Allies had to step in. War began in Europe, and international peace had collapsed.
Although it was Hitler’s actions which led to war, many other factors were important in making the war happen. The policy of appeasement, the problems caused by the peace treaties, the Nazi-Soviet pact, and the failure of the League of Nations combined, created a great tension that forced peace out of Europe, and was the creation of World War Two.
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