Before the world could recover completely from the havoc caused by the First World War (1914-18), it was shocked to learn about the outbreak of the Second World War – (1939-45). The interval between the end of the First World War and the beginning of the Second World War was 20 years and 9 months.
Lack of Vision and Self-complacence:
The great statesmen of the victorious nations in the First World War who drafted Peace Treaties at the Paris. Conference (1919-20) had, according to their own beliefs, made all the necessary arrangements for everlasting peace or prevention of war. President Woodrow Wilson wanted the First World War to be the Last World War. The world was made safe for peace and democracy. Germany and the other Central Powers had been humbled and made to bite the dust, and there seemed to be no ghost of a chance of war mongering nations rising again.
The pity was that statesmen ignored realities. What they all wished did not happen, and whatever would never be conceived in the wildest of dreams actually happened. From the ashes of Germany rose Hitler more terrible than Kaiser Wilhelm II. Germany and her partners were thirsting for blood. Italy and Japan, which were among the victorious countries, felt unhappy, as they had not secured enough spoils of war. Great discontent prevailed all over the world.
Democratic states were shattered, and nations like Germany started arming themselves fully. Hitler Germany openly declared her aggressive intentions. Italy robbed Abyssinia. Japan seised Manchuria, and still there was no real check on these nations preying on the weak nations.
The League of Nations failed miserably and became a laughing stock of the world. Big nations in the League shirked their duty of nipping aggressive Germany, Italy, Japan and Russia in the bud. But they were in a world of self-complacence. The early aggressive career of Hitler did not shake them from their slumber. The result was Germany, Italy and Japan finally ruined themselves, and brought the whole world to great destruction.
Causes of the Second World War:-
We may briefly analyses the causes of the Second World War (1989-45).
Rise of Dictatorship and Failure of Democracies:
The problems created by the First World War were difficult to be solved. In Italy, Germany, Soviet Russia, Spain, Portugal and several other countries, dictators rise and created confidence and hope among the people. They were able to solve most of the problems and bring about post-war reconstruction. On the other hand, democracy failed miserably, and it was uprooted by dictators. The rise of dictatorship and the failure of democracy were bad for world peace, as dictators were wedded to the principle of might is right, and desired to make war for imperialist expansion. Dictators like Mussolini, Hitler, Stalin and Tojo had contempt for democracy and peace. They wanted to impose totalitarian control on the people and declare war on weak countries. The failure of leaders in democratic countries to destroy dictatorship proved to be an important cause of the Second World War.
Race for Armaments:
Dictatorships were racing for armaments. Italy, Germany and Japan armed themselves to the teeth. Though the leaders in democratic countries were fully aware of the stock-piling of all kinds of the latest lethal weapons, they did not make real efforts to check the armament race, In fact in certain cases, even democracies supplied aggressive countries like Italy essential supplies to prosecute aggressive and Unjust wars. Leaders in England and other countries were hypocritical, as they condemned the race for armaments in the, speeches, but secretly encouraged aggressive nations to arm themselves. They had no moral courage to act against the Wrong, doers through the League of Nations, as they themselves War guilty of dominating over weak and backward nations. Italy Germany and Japan felt that there was nothing wrong, if they built empires on the blood of poor and weak nations, as England, France and other democracies also had done the same thing earlier.
Vindictive and Unjust Treaty of Versailles:
The Treaty of Versailles (1919) was very vindictive and units. It was a dictated and imposed treaty, and Germany’s consent was not taken in drafting the various terms of the treaty. Even though Kaiser’s Germany was primarily responsible for the First . World War, the victorious nations had no moral right to treat Germany with contempt. Under the leadership of Hitler, Germany decided to repudiate the unjust treaty and prepare for a great trial of strength with the victorious powers. If the victorious nations took revenge on Germany through the Treaty of Versailles, Germany swore to take revenge on England and her allies, who had humiliated her. From the ruins of Germany in 1918, there arose a titanic and blood-thirsty Germany ready to throw a challenge at Britain.
Thus the Treaty of Versailles vitiated the international atmosphere, and sowed the seeds of the Second World War.
Failure of the League of Nations:
The League of Nations failed in its primary purpose of preventing the race for armaments, and of punishing nations which committed acts of aggression. Unfortunately the Covenant of the League of Nations was a product of the Treaty of Versailles, As the League was tied to a vindictive treaty, it could not act justly and fairly. The League was dominated by big powers, which spoke of high international principles from the League platform, but practiced the most disgusting type of hypocrisy.
Aggressive Nationalism and Imperialism:
Aggressive nationalism and imperialism formed an important factor in creating international tension and rivalry. England, France and other countries, which were talking about peace and international understanding, had big empires, and they were not ready to part with territory. Germany, Italy and Japan felt that they also should have mighty empires to be on a par with their rivals in empire building. Therefore imperialist expansion was linked with aggressive nationalism. Hitler, Mussolini and Tojo created a strong spirit of aggressive nationalism and militant imperialism, and paved he way to the Second World. War Japan annexed Manchuria, Italy annexed Ethiopia, Germany began to annex the neighboring states, and Soviet Russia pounced on the weak countries of Eastern Europe. These acts of aggression were in plain words nothing but open acts of international robbery and gangster-ism. The military dictators, who were international gangsters, made common cause and decided to shed more and more blood to strengthen themselves. When the democracies final check the expansion of Hitler, Mussolini and Tojo, it was too late, and the Second World War broke out.
Policy of Appeasement:
Instead of crushing the power of Hitler and other dictators, England, which had a dominant voice in the League of Nations, followed a cowardly policy and went out of the way to appease Hitler. In March 1938, Hitler openly invaded Austria, put the Prime Minister in prison, crushed all opposition and annexed the country. Here a special mention should be made of the Munich Pact, which was an agreement signed on September 30, 1938 at Munich in Germany by the Premier Neville Chamberlain of England, Premier Edouard Daladier of France, Benito Mussolini of Italy and Chancellor Adolf Hitler of Germany. This authorized Germany to annex the Sudetenland, part of Czechoslovakia along the, German border having predominantly German speaking population. Britain and France guaranteed the new Czech borders. This was a cowardly act of Chamberlain and Daladier.
Czechoslovakia was thrown to the wolves, and the acts of the international bully were openly blessed. This cowardly act of Chamberlain demoralized the weak nations around Germany. Britain thus encouraged a blood-thirsty dictator by offering him more blood of weak-countries. Feeling that his feet were on firm ground, Hitler captured Bohemia, Moravia and Slovakia by March 1939. He did not stop there. He compelled Lithuania to give Germany the port of Memel on the Baltic, and pressurized Poland to allow him to have the city of Danzig. He began to bully Poland also to allow Germany a motor road to Danzig through the Polish Corridor.
Peace-loving people all over the world were shocked at the manner in which Germany like a tiger in the midst of cattle gobbled small countries one by one. They realized that the word of the statesmen of Britain and other countries in the League of Nations had a hollow and hypocritical sound. The world Was doomed in 19389. The international tiger went in search of new Victims, and the Second World War broke out in September 1939.
Course of the War:-
Nazi Invasion of Poland:
The Second World War started when Hitler invaded Poland on September 1, 1939. England and France, who had made an alliance with Poland, had decided to challenge Germany, if she dared to attack that country.
England and France:
England and France declared war on Germany on September 3.
Fall of Poland:
Within a fortnight the Nazi war machine overwhelmed Poland and Warsaw surrendered. Germany occupied Western Poland. Stalin’s Russia lost no time in pouncing on Eastern Poland and occupying it. In fact Russia secured a bigger share of Poland than Germany. Poland fell very easily, because England and France were not equal to the task of stopping Hitler’s armies.
Lull for Eight, Months:
Since the Nazi conquest of Poland there was a lull in war for eight months.
Invasion of Denmark and Norway:
In April 1940 Hitler invaded Denmark and Norway, and succeeded in annexing both. The king of Norway fled to London. Hitler made the Norwegian Major, Quisling, as head of Norway. Since then the term Quisling conveys the evil meaning of traitor.
Soviet Russia was glad at the rapid progress of German conquest, as she secured an opportunity to annex Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia.
Conquest of Luxembourg, Belgium and Holland:
In May 1940 Germany annexed Luxembourg, Belgium, and Holland.
Fall of France:
On June 14, 1940, Paris surrendered and France fell. The conquest of this big power shocked the world. The French Government resigned and Marshal Petain, the old hero of the First World War, assumed charge and signed an armistice with Germany on June 22, 1940, The Germans allowed Petain to nominally rule over a small part of France, while the whole of northern and western France were under their occupation. Petain made Vichy his headquarters. General de Gaulle went into exile.
Courageous Stand of England:
England’s turn to face the Nazis courageously came in 1940 after the collapse of France. By that time, the whole of Europe had fallen. As Belgium surrendered, he British were trapped in large numbers in Flanders. The British had to face ceaseless artillery fire and bombardment for about four months. The British docks were in flames, In Britain Neville Chamberlain stepped down, and Winston Churchill became Premier. In the Battle of Dunkirk, the British troops faced a defeat the like of which perhaps England had never suffered in her history. The British withdrew from Dunkirk. It was believed that only 30,000 were trapped, but later it was found that the number of men reaching the English Shore was 335,000. The tragedy at Dunkirk will ever remain in British memory.
Hitler thought it was not necessary to invade England, as his Luftwaffe could force Britain to surrender by terrible bombing and England could be out off by submarines. The British made history by, their stubborn defense. England was saved, as the Royal Air Force finally won the air battle. However, England was isolated, and she had misery particularly in 1940 and 1941.
Entry of Italy:
As Paris was about to fall in June 1940, Italy under Mussolini entered the war thinking that the Allied side would collapse soon, and Italy could share with Germany the spoils of war after an early victory. His calculations were proved to be wrong. The Italian army captured Nice and the French. districts on the border of Italy. Italian armies also conquered British Somali land in East Africa and entered Egypt. In October 1940 advancing from Albania the Italian army invaded Greece.
Rumanian, Bulgaria and Hungary.
In August 1940, Romania, who perhaps would have been helpful to England, was conquered and partitioned between Germany and Russia. Then Hungary and Bulgaria were also tied to Germany’s war chariot.
Hitler Betrayed and Attacked Russia:
We observed how as warmongers and aggressors Hitler and Stalin were friendly. They had shared the conquered territory and loot in 1939 and 1940. But Hitler wanted Germany alone to he the mistress of the world and wished to destroy Russia. On June 22, 1941, Hitler’s armies suddenly invaded Russia without giving any ultimatum. But what Hitler considered as a great step proved to be the beginning of his end. This attack showed how treacherous Hitler had become as Germany had signed with Russia a ten-year non-aggression pact. The Russian campaign proved to be too costly, as Germany did not have the adequate number of men and material to fight on the Russian front of about 1,800 miles. Hitler’s stupid attack on Russia proved to be a great blessing for Britain, who till then had to bear the brunt of Germany’s attack all alone.
Axis Powers :
Hitler was very much interested in the activities of Italy and Japan. He had formed a Berlin-Rome-Tokyo Axis, The Fascists under Mussolini of Italy had occupied. Greece in 1939.
England and her Allies had to deal simultaneously with the Germans and the Italians.
Egypt also became an important theater of war, as the Italians had overrun it.
In December. 1940, General Wavell of the British forces was able to expel the Italians from Egypt and enter Libya.
In the Far East, Japan, was great danger to England and her allies. She imitated Nazi Germany and entertained high ambitions. Like Italy and Germany, she had been scot-free, even when she had committed aggression against. China. Soviet Russia was afraid of Japan, and so she signed with Japan a treaty of non-aggression.
Pearl Harbour and Entry of America:
As in the First World War, the United States of America did not join the Second World War at an early stage. In 1939, a German raider seized the American City of Flint, but President F.D. Roosevelt condemned the suggestion of sending the boys of American. mothers to fight on the battle-fields of Europe.
On December 7, 1941 the Japanese airplanes suddenly attacked the American fleet in the Pearl Harbour (Hawaii) and heavily bombed it without giving any warning. This was a treacherous and unprovoked act, as the Japanese envoys were having talks on peace with America in Washington. The very next day, the USA declared war on Japan. Then Germany and Italy at once reacted and declared war on the USA.
Rapid Victories for Japan:
Japan Was fully prepared and moved from victory to victory in her career of conquest; but the United States had just started mobilizing her forces. Japanese overran Formosa, the -Philippines, Indonesia, Indo-China, . Malaya and Burma. The surrender of Hong Kong and Singapore (1942) brought British prestige to the lowest ebb in the world.
In the Philippine Islands, the Filipino and the American forces had to withdraw.
In 1942, which was a very bad year for Britain, the Japanese Were knocking at the gates of India. After conquering Singapore, Rangoon and Mandalay in Burma, Japanese planes thought of bombing the eastern coastal towns of South India, like VishakhaPatnam and Coconada, Madras was expecting bombs any bobent, People began to evacuate coastal towns in large numbers. Fortunately the tide turned in favor of Britain and America, as the fate of the world was hanging in the balance.
In 1941 the Russians had suffered heavily at the hands of the German invaders British Retreat in Africa. In Africa, British forces had to retreat on account of the onslaughts of the German General Rommel.
Ultimate Collapse of the Axis Powers:
The British, the Russians and the Americans forgot their differences and made common cause against Germany, Italy and Japan. President F. D. Roosevelt of America, Premier. Winston Churchill of England who promised only blood, sweat and tears, and Premier Joseph Stalin of Soviet Russia mobilized all their forces and fought with a singleness of purpose and great determination. Gradually, the tide turned in favor of the Allies.
General Dwight Eisenhower, who had become supreme commander in Western Europe, defeated the Germans in North Africa in May 1948.
In the same year the Russians fought heroically at Stalingrad -and defeated the Germans.
Surrender of Italy:
The attack of the Allies in Italy and Sieily and Italy’s helpless condition resulted in the overthrow of Mussolini, Mussolini had to resign and Marshal. Badoglio became the Italian Premier in September 1943. The new Italian government made peace with the Allies, and declared war on Germany.
1943 was a great year of important conferences, viz, of the Big Two (Churchill and Roosevelt) at Washington, and of the Big Three (Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin) at Tehran.
In 1944 the Germans faced great reverses. The recovery of France by the Allies was another heavy blow to Hitler,
On the Russian front the Nazis had to face a new offensive 1945 was the year of victory to the Allies.
Surrender of Germany:
In May 1945 Anglo-American, Canadian and Russian forces over-whelmed Germany. On May 2, 1945 Berlin collapsed. Hitler’s death was announced, and Germany formally and unconditionally surrendered 6n May 7 and 8, 1945.
Surrender of Japan:
On April 12, 1945 President Roosevelt of America died and Harry S. Truman, the Vice-President, became the President. He took the momentous decision of crushing Japan by atomic bombing. On August 6, 1945 the first atomic bomb in world history was dropped on the city of Hiroshima (Japan) and on August 9 the second was thrown on the city of Nagasaki. Soviet Russia declared war on Japan on August 8, when victory was almost sure. It was impossible for Japan to prosecute the war, and on September 2, 1945 she surrendered. The same day the Japanese signed the surrender terms with General. Douglas MacArthur on the battle-ship the Missouri.
After the war, the trial of war criminals took place. Trial of 22 men at Nuremberg ended in 1946. Goering, Ribbentrop, Rosenberg and 9 others were sentenced to death by hanging. The remaining were given imprisonment and other sentences. Goering committed suicide in his cell just before he was to be hanged. Martin Bormann, Hitler’s successor, escaped capture, and he was tried in absentia. In 1948 Prime Minister Tojo of Japan was condemned to death by hanging. We observed in the preceding chapter that Mussolini was killed by his own countrymen in 1945, and Hitler committed suicide when he was about to be captured in the summer of 1945. Thus ended the: dives of three most blood-thirsty dictators in history.
Effects of the War:-
The effects of the second world war can be briefly analyses as follows:
Great Holocaust and Destruction:
The holocaust during the unprecedented war in history was terrible. About 25 million people were killed, 50 million were permanently disabled. Many millions died indirectly by slow death by starvation and disease. Several countries in which battles were actually fought were torn to pieces. Property was destroyed in two ways. Firstly by enemy action, and secondly by scorched earth policy. For example, when France surrendered to Hitler, the French commanders destroyed. Ships and other property on a large scale. The war made-no distinction between combatants and non-combatants, and q large number of innocent civilians had to die.
No country was free from the effects of the war directly or indirectly. Almost every commodity was in short supply. Acute scarcity of food, cloth, kerosene, petrol, match-boxes, salt, cement and other commodities made the life of millions miserable during and after the war.
Inflation pushed up prices, and the vast masses of poor people had to deny themselves even the basic necessities of life.
The War brought about the moral degradation of man. Man stood self-condemned, as he killed his own species on a large scale with an easy conscience. During the war the Nazis of Germany, the Fascists of Italy and the Japanese who were speaking of co-prosperity sphere committed spine chilling atrocities on combatants, non-combatants and innocent women and children. The two atomic bombs dropped by the United States on Japan in August 1945 showed how efficient, man had become in wiping out a large number of human beings and in destroying property in a split second. The victors: and the vanquished had to hang down their head in shame for having behaved as barbarians.
England as second Rate Power:
Though England was victorious, her status in the international field was lowered. The strain of the war was too much on Britain, and she alone would not have been able to survive the shocks given by the Nazis and the Fascists, if the United States had not come to her rescue. During the war, the Anglo-American Alliance worked well, but the increasing dependence of Britain on the United States made it clear that England could not be the equal of the United States. Circumstances were such that England could not complain, when she was treated as a junior partner by the USA.
The British empire was shattered during the war, and within a few years after the war, most of the peoples in the British empire were able to get their freedom. The position of England was unenviable, and she became a second rate power.
France War-Ravaged and Lowered in Status:
France was occupied by Germany during the war, and great devastation took place. The strain of war on France was beyond her capacity. Though she ultimately came out successful, her status in the international field went down. It was only by way of courtesy that France like England was treated as a first rate power, though she too had clearly become a second rate power. The French empire was also shattered, and the subject peoples were able to have complete independence.
America a Super Power:
The United States of America played a decisive role in winning the war. The manufacturers of the USA made fabulous profits during the war, and America’s wealth went beyond the wildest imagination of any Midas. She financed the war on a large scale and became the creditor or aid giver to several nations. America’s prestige went high, and she became a Super Power. No major problem of the world could be solved without consulting the USA. When everywhere there were great shortages, the USA could supply commodities, which fetched her high profits. As the pound sterling of Britain became weak, the dollar emerged stronger and occupied a proud position.
The First World War had broken America’s isolation. The Second World War enabled her to take further interest in world affairs in a big way, as she had financial, political and diplomatic Stakes all over the world.
Gradually the USA began misusing her new status as a Super Power During and after the war, she began to take great interest – in the global affairs. Then she reached a stage, when her interference in the affairs of other countries became morbid. Being quite conscious of her tremendous power and prestige, she began to wield the big stick and bullied small and weak nations directly or indirectly. Many countries suspected America’s intentions and resented her unwanted interference. The dollar imperialism became as real as other imperialism.
Soviet Russia Another Super Power:
European powers were hostile to Russia for a few years after the Bolshevik Revolution. Stalin made Soviet Russia a great power. He made common cause with Hitler, and Russia was expelled from the League of Nations in 1939, when he committed aggression on Finland in 1939. Stalin was in no way different from Hitler as far as his aggressive policy was concerned. In 1941, when Hitler betrayed Stalin and attacked Russia, Stalin suddenly joined the side of President Roosevelt and Winston Churchill, and the world began to sneak of the Big Three. Stalin took undue advantage of his Position, and extracted as many concessions as possible from the Allies. This increased the power of Russia. Russia emerged from the war as a Super Power.
Great Opportunities for Communism:
The Second World War threw open great opportunities to communism. It spread rapidly, and Soviet Russia as a Super Power fully exploited her position to spread communism almost everywhere in the world. About one third of the world became red.
Opportunities for Subject Peoples:
In a way the Second World War came as a blessing to the subject peoples in the British, French, Dutch, Italian and other empires. When England and France became weak and were lowered in status as second-rate powers, subject peoples in their empires were able to win independence. Many subject countries including India secured complete independence after the war. In the case of India, independence came in two years.
Destruction of Axis Powers:
Germany, Italy and Japan, which were the Axis Powers, were destroyed. Germany, which was the main architect of the Second World War (as she was in the case of the First World War), was broken and hrtid. The great engineers of war working under Hitler were tried as war criminals and punished. Immediately after Germany’s surrender in May 1945, it was decided at the Potsdam Conference in Germany that Germany should be decentralized. Accordingly, the country was divided into four Zones. Each Zone was placed under a big victorious power, viz., the USA, Britain, Soviet Russia and France. During 1945-48, Germany was under foreign military rule.
Italy’s empire was broken. At the Paris Conference, 1946, Italy was asked to surrender Libya, Eritrea and Italian Somali land. The spoils of war in terms of territory and reparations were shared by the victorious powers and their Allies. Russia received a hundred million dollars as reparations from Italy.
Japan’s condition was no better than that of Germany. After the war, Japan was put under the control of the Far Eastern Commission with General Douglas MacArthur as the Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers, The country was demilitarized and efforts were made to democratize it. It was only in 1951 that Japan regained sovereignty under the San Francisco Peace Treaty.