The Versailles Treaty is often referred as nearly the basic reason that caused the World War II. Hitler spoke of diktat of Versailles that deprived the German nation of its right to existence (Kolkey 259). Prominent western historians like Barnett in fact agreed with Hitler, talking of “chain reaction that lead to World War II” (Barnett 318, see also: Sulzberger 8-10). World War I was indeed a global disaster and its concluding peace treaty was disastrous for the losers. But were World War I and the Treaty of Versailles a primary cause of World War II? In other words, was World War II inevitable after Versailles? In this paper I will argue that World War I was not less inevitable than the World War II. These wars and the interwar period constituted an indissoluble chain of circumstances that were to happen in this or that manner.
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French marshal Foch fatefully observed that this was not peace, but “armistice for 20 years” (Henig 52). In order to understand this Foch’s assumption one needs to place World War I and World War II in a broader context of European history. Boemeke, Feldman and Glaser wrote that “the real legacy of Versailles was neither peace nor settlement, but rather a seventy-years crisis – marked by continuing European civil war, rise of communism and fascism as international movements, inflation, depression, the breakdown of world economy” (Boemeke, Feldman and Glaser 451).
Summarizing the causes of World War II proposed by various historians one can determine the following causes: totalitarian movements like Fascism, Nazism and Communism, anti-Semitism, ideas of Aryan race, nationalism, economic depression, the lost generation of the World War I (see: Dowswell, Croizer, Weinberg).
Examination of the named reasons demonstrates that many of them emerged already before the World War I. Communist and nationalistic ideas were popular in Europe since early XX century and they were among reasons of World War I. The idea of Aryan race circulated in Europe already in the late XIX century being extremely popular in Britain and France and later in Germany (Arvidsson 143). Economic depression of the 30-s was hardly related to World War I, since it originally emerged in the USA. Even anti-Semitism could be found in Europe already during World War I. American president Wilson was “sure that Jewish influence had been responsible for America’s entrance into World War I” and pointed the attention of Versailles delegates to the Jewish migration as one more volcano Europe was sitting on (Weinberg 40).
Perhaps the most important consequence of World War II and Versailles was the “lost generation” of young men who fought at war. They appeared to be a kindly soil for totalitarian concepts. Young Germans easily felt under influence of Nazi propaganda that explained reasons of defeat and miserable living conditions in Germany in easy and understandable terms. This also related to Russia where communism became possible as a result of World War I and collapse of the Empire (Sulzberger 8). Thus Europe had a necessary degree of violence that caused Europeans to fight in the World War II. Europe suffered from unsettled conflicts and could not find another settlement except for war. World War I has not settled those conflicts, so another global struggle had to emerge. Versailles caused World War II only to the extent to which these conflicts have not been settled in 1919.
1. Arvidsson, Stefan, Aryan Idols. University of Chicago Press, 2006;
2. Barnett, Corelli. The Collapse of British Power. London: Pan, 2002;
3. Boemeke, Manfred Franz, Feldman, Gerald D., Gläser, Elisabeth. The Treaty of Versailles: a reassessment after 75 years. Cambridge University Press, 1998;
4. Crozier, Andrew J. The causes of the Second World War. Wiley-Blackwell, 1997;
5. Dowswell, Powel. The Causes of World War II. Heinemann Educational Books, 2003;
6. Weinberg, Gerhard L. Germany, Hitler, and World War II: essays in modern German and world history. Cambridge University Press, 1996
7. Henig, Ruth. Versailles and After, 1919-33. Routledge, 1995;.
8. Kolkey, Jonathan Martin. Germany on the march: a reinterpretation of war and domestic politics over the past two centuries. University Press of America, 1995;
9. Sulzberger, Cyrus Leo. World War II. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1985;
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