It is not in doubt that both World War One and World War Two left an indelible mark on the global landscape both literary and otherwise. The two world wars were momentous events throughout the history of human civilization. Millions of lives of soldiers and civilians were lost during the two wars. Very many crimes against humanity were committed during the two wars. However, the two wars served as important catalysts in the transformation of the political and socio-economic environment around the world and Europe in particular. The two wars accelerated the downfall of many feudal kingdoms that existed in the years up to mid twentieth century. The Second World War ushered in the sovereignty and independence of many nations in Asia and Africa.
As important as the two wars were in the human civilization, understanding their relationship has been a tricky affair. Some scholars have looked at the two wars as separate events in human history (Dowswell, 2008). Hordes of others have looked at the two wars as one war separated by twenty years of uneasy peace. Either approach is justified in its arguments. However, I tip the scales to the argument that World War One and World War Two was one big war separated by twenty years of uneasy peace. While my opinion is informed by review of literature from various scholars, I will attempt to support this premise from the causes of the two wars and the unsolved issues from World War One. I will show that the unsolved issues emanating from the First World War fueled the Second World War. This will be achieved through the use analysis and three specific examples to illustrate my premise. The two world wars are better understood as one big war that was separated by twenty years of uneasy peace and the simmering of unresolved matters and desire for territorial gains. The unresolved issues from the First World War caused the Second World War thereby making the two wars one big war separated by twenty years of uneasy peace.
The two world wars are better understood as one event separated by twenty years of uneasy calmness. Nationalism, imperialism and expansionism are some of the examples that exemplify this premise. All these are philosophies that greatly contributed to the start of the First World War. Some scholars argue that chain of events resultant from the assassination of the Archduke of Austria Hungary started the war. This notwithstanding, I hold that the origins of the First World War went deeper to involve cultures, national politics, the intricate web of alliances, economics and the counterbalances developed by European powers dating back to 1870 (Turner, 1970).
Nationalism and imperialism was a thorny subject in Europe in the period leading to the First World War. Countries like France and the United Kingdom amassed great wealth by controlling trade and resources in foreign markets and territories. Britain had strategies of economic exclusion. Other empires like Italy, Germany, Russia and Austria-Hungary also hoped to create foreign territories in order to gain an economic advantage. However, their ambitions ended up in frustration. This caused tension between various powers in Europe. This was evident especially during the Anglo-German rivalry in the scramble and partition of Africa.
It is evident that competition for resources, market and economic advantages over other powers in continental Europe caused tension between the countries. The control of foreign markets, resources and people provided the much needed market for manufactured goods for powers in Europe. The foreign territories also provided cheap labor to produce the raw materials for the factories in Europe. The income gained was used to equip the military arms of the countries involved. For instance, Britain had the most powerful navy in Europe owing to the wealth it had amassed in the previous century in its overseas territories. Different powers in Europe formed a web of alliances with other powers in order to protect their interests.
Towards the end of the war, the Treaty of Versailles was coined in order to officially end the war. The provisions of the treaty were more punitive towards Germany than any other participant in the war. More precisely, German was found the bear the biggest burden in the war. As such, Germany lost most of its overseas colonies and prewar territories. Other countries were rewarded with coal resources and strips of land. Germany’s military power was also limited in order to prevent Germany from reviving itself into a military power. Its army was forbidden to produce poison gas, tanks and military aircraft and was to comprise of no more than a hundred thousand men. It is noteworthy that prior to this treaty, a German national politician signed the peace agreement on behalf of Germany, an act that was viewed by many generals as unnecessary since their military options were not hopeless at the time. The Treaty of Versailles ended the war but created many new issues and left other issues unresolved, a factor that caused the Second World War.
Various activities leading to the second world war show that the two wars were but one big war linked by the unresolved issues from World War One. For instance, the reparations entrenched in the Treaty of Versailles aimed at punishing Germany for its role in the First World War and granting France resources for postwar construction. Germany felt compelled to sign the treaty by the allure of the fourteen points of Wilson that led to the signing of the armistice. Germany felt cheated and attempts to refuse the signage of the Treaty of Versailles were met by ultimatums from the allied forces. The 132 billion gold dollars worth of reparations would have taken Germany more than eighty years to repay. Given that Germany was not solely responsible for the First World War, this was a difficult pill to swallow.
In an act of retaliation, Germany printed over one billion paper Deutsche marks and sold them into the open market as part of the payment in reparations. After the horrendous inflation that ensued, Germany requested a four year extension on the reparations. In a unilateral decision, Belgian and French forces occupied the Ruhr region. This prompted hyperinflation after the factories shut down due to the boycott by the workers. This was followed by an economic meltdown rendering the occupation by the French military a failure. This caused a rift in the Allied forces especially because of the unilateral decision to occupy the region and the subsequent military failure. The displeasure caused the withdrawal of American troops (Duiker, & Spielvogel, 2007).
The coining of the Treaty of Versailles, the nature in which the Allied Forces got Germany to sign the treaty and the insistence of the French on the reparations caused great tension between the Allied Forces and Europe in general. This would then cause a chain of events that would cause the Second World War. The events show that even in the signing of the Treaty of Versailles, the war was not over. The events will show that the war was only paused for twenty years, a period in which more investments into the war, realignments were made and new battle lines drawn. This confirms the premise that the two wars were not separate events even though they were twenty years apart.
The rearmament of the German military after the rise of Adolf Hitler as a dictator is another example exemplifying the unresolved issues from the First World War. As espoused earlier, the Treaty of Versailles in part attempted to preempt the revival of Germany as a military power. The terms of the treaty forbid Germany to produce poison gas, tanks and military aircraft and to comprise an army of no more than a hundred thousand men. Germany’s economy was refinanced out of the collapsed it had suffered by grant from the United States and the extension of the repayment period of the reparations to 1988. Its economy continued to flourish due to massive spending on weapons.
After Hitler, the former Chancellor attained presidency, he consolidate all the executive powers and started a massive propaganda branding the Jews responsible for the woes of the Germans in the early 1930s. After the non-interference of the Allied Forces in the annexation of Ethiopia, then Abyssinia by Italy, Hitler moved his troops into the demilitarized Rhine region. This move saw the termination of the Treaty of Versailles. It was after this time that Hitler oversaw the grand scale rearmament of the Germany army. France and Great Britain watched helplessly as the German rearmament unfolded. This increased suspicion in Europe as the other powers were unsure of the objectives Hitler had thereby rearming his previously downsized military. This was especially exacerbated by the fact that Hitler has consolidated all executive powers and turned the otherwise democratic nation into a dictatorship (Hazen, 2006).
Another example that shows that the two wars were but one war paused for twenty years was the competition for markets and resources in foreign lands. Japan was a latecomer in the club of industrial nations. Say for iron and coal deposits, Japan lacked extensive natural resources. Much of resources had been taken up by Western powers by the time Japan was able to gain its colonies. The French Empire, the Dutch and British Empire and the influence of the United States and its assistance to China had Japan vexed. Japan was completely shut from the markets and resources controlled by the Western powers. Japan was determined to control China, the largest market and source of raw materials in Asia.
The United States branded Japan a threat to its rights in China through its activities. In retaliation, Japan invaded China in order to oversee Japanese domination in China over the influence by Western powers. America’s response to this was the freeze of all Japanese assets in America. As such, oil shipments to Japan were halted, with this seeing the end of 80 percent of all Japanese oil imports. This move was reciprocated by Netherlands and the United Kingdom. This left Japan with the option of accepting the demands by the United States to vacate China or seize from Netherlands the oil fields locate in the East Indies.
Competition for resources and foreign markets was the core reason for the First World War. The expansionist philosophies of European powers lead to the First World War. However, the treaty that ended the war did not address this among other issues. It only sought to punish Germany and Austria-Hungary for their perceived roles in the First World War. The treaty did not address the issue of acquisition of foreign territories and the settling of disputes that would arise from such expansionist moves. As such, when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, an American naval base due to its influence in China, America joined the Second World War by retaliatory attack in Japan. In punishing Germany and Austria-Hungary, the treaty only fueled more tension as evidenced by the rearmament of Germany after the German revolution. From the analysis, the two wars were not separate events but one big war only paused for twenty years by treaty.
Dowswell, P. (2008). The Causes of World War II. Paw Prints.
Duiker, W. J., & Spielvogel, J. J. (2007). World history. Belmont, Calif: Wadsworth/Thomson
Hazen, W. A. (2006). Everyday life: World War I. Tucson, Ariz: Good Year Books.
Turner, L. C. (1970). Origins of the First World War. New York. Norton