World War II

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How did the Treaty of Versailles contribute to the start of World War II?

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The main issue with the Treaty of Versailles was that it was disastrous for Germany. After punishments are levied, a typical nation should accept them and go about its business, but when Hitler took charge, he used the punishments delivered by the treaty as a rallying point and openly defied them to begin World War II.

Namely, the Treaty of Versailles severely hampered Germany's military, forbidding it from rebuilding its navy after World War I. Not only did this leave Germany unprotected from potential attack, it also gave rise to major dissatisfaction among the German people. Because the nation was not allowed to engage in many of its former industries, unemployment skyrocketed, and people were left homeless and hungry. Hitler and the other Nazis used this ill will to galvanize the nation, garnering enough support to rebuild their army and launch attacks on neighboring countries, which eventually led to World War II.

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As pointed out, the harsh reparation terms of the Versailles Treaty created anger and discontent within Germany. Before the war, the newly unified Germany (unified since 1870) had been a rising world power, with a great deal of pride in their culture and a robust, expanding economy. Their military defeat and the terms of the surrender treaty humiliated the country. This paved the way for Hitler and his extremely nationalistic and militaristic supporters to build a movement based on righting the wrongs of the Versailles Treaty and renewing German pride. Hitler wanted to refight World War I, and, once he got into power, World War II was inevitable.

The National Socialists (the Nazi Party) also campaigned on the discontent caused by high unemployment. This unemployment rate directly relates to the Versailles Treaty, which limited the German army to 100,000 soldiers. Previously, the armed forces were much larger. The army had routinely absorbed into its ranks ambitious young men who came from lower class backgrounds and wanted to rise in the world. A soldier was highly respected in German society, and, if he did not die on the battlefield, could count on promotions and earning the income needed to buy a house, marry, and raise a family. When this outlet was cut off, many young men without class privilege found themselves in dead-end jobs with little prestige or with no jobs at all. They were ripe to be recruited into Hitler's army of brownshirts or into the Nazi party in other roles, such as spreading propaganda.

Ironically, the Germans had imposed similarly harsh sanctions on the French and grabbed French territory after their victory in the Franco-Prussian War, so the French and their allies were only responding in kind after World War I. However, it was easy for Hitler and his minions to forget that detail as they stirred up a sense of grievance. It wasn't until after World War II, when the Allies made an effort not to behave too punitively, that a lasting peace was established.

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The Treaty of Versailles helped contribute to the start of World War II. The Treaty of Versailles was very harsh on the Central Powers, and especially on Germany. Germany was required to pay $33 billion in reparations to the Allies. They also had to accept responsibility for starting World War I. Additionally, all Central Power countries lost land. Germany also had its military dismantled so that it couldn't go on the offensive.

These harsh terms created much resentment in Germany. Germany went into a severe depression after World War I. This allowed Adolf Hitler to come to power by promising to get revenge for the harsh treaty. He also promised to rebuild Germany’s economy and restore German pride.

Italy, which switched to the Allied side in World War I, felt it didn’t receive enough land from the Versailles Treaty. Benito Mussolini wanted to avenge this mistreatment. He promised to restore Italy to the glory days of the Roman Empire. He also promised to build up Italy’s economy.

The harsh Versailles Treaty created anger in Germany and in Italy. These countries wanted to get revenge for how they believed they were mistreated.

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To what extent did the Treaty of Versailles lead to the outbreak of WWII?

Most historians would argue that the Treaty of Versailles was a rather efficient cause of World War II. Among its more egregious provisions was the "war guilt clause" which shouldered Germany with complete and total responsibility for the war.  Additionally, Germany was compelled to pay reparations which were eight times greater than the entire country's net worth. Of course the reparations were not paid in full; however this caused tremendous resentment on the part of the German people, and proved fertile ground for the likes of Adolf Hitler to focus that resentment. The Treaty gave territory to France which was German in culture and language, which was also an untenable situation.

Additionally, Japan had come into World War I expecting to gain territory in Asia, primarily German territories. By the terms of the Treaty, Japan walked away empty handed. There is some argument that there was a racial element at work here, as Woodrow Wilson was quite racist. He had Ho Chi Minh thrown out of the Conference when he asked for self-determination of the people of Indochina.

Most of the mistakes made at the Treaty negotiations were because France and England were determined to cripple Germany; and Woodrow Wilson, who should have been more forceful, made broad concessions to assure the Treaty would include his dream of a League of Nations. The end result was too high a price for an organization that soon failed. Had Wilson been more forceful, perhaps World War II could have been avoided, although that is a subject of substantial conjecture.

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