Many historians will argue that World War One was the greatest catastrophe in modern history. This ruinous event at the time was called "The Great War". World War I was not just a struggle of national identities attempting to gain territory but it allowed these nations to show one another who gained the upper hand in military tactics and technology. The lethality of this war increased chiefly due to the introduction of new weaponry. These weapons included low flying aircraft with bombing capabilities, tanks, mustard gas, mines and machine guns. Moreover, the fighting took place in trenches where soldiers were bombarded with shrapnel, artillery shells, and gunfire. The First World War had an estimated 17 million casualties.
Immediately following the First World War, European nations wanted Germany to pay for the colossal damages it caused. International organization such as the League of Nations attempted to officially punish Germany. Germany was forced to pay money directly to the victors of the war. The Germans were held responsible for countless crimes and not just had to pay financially, but also had to give up immense amounts of territory. The German people and their government were burdened with gargantuan payments to the allied powers. Eventually, several financial schemes were implemented, one being The London Schedule of Payments. Later on, another plan called The Dawes Plan was initiated. Lastly, The Young Plan was planned out and activated. After being calculated carefully many economists concluded that Germany's last payment would have been in 1988.
The Treaty of Versailles, which concluded the First World War, highlighted several protocols that Germany was forced to follow explicitly. If Germany failed to abide by these laws they would face even harsher penalties. The Treaty of Versailles predominantly targeted Germany’s military and its short and long-term capabilities.
Some of the laws that the treaty enforced was Germany not having the ability to form an army of more than 100,000 soldiers. Moreover, Germany was forbidden to have an air force and its naval capabilities were to be downsized on an extraordinary level. Lastly, all paramilitary forces were banned in Germany and the stockpiling of weapons and/or the construction of any new military facilities was also completely forbidden under the treaty.
The treaty assured the European community that Germany would be isolated both economically and militarily. Theoretically, the treaty would implement long-term security and peace inside of Europe as a whole.
Critics of the Treaty of Versailles argued that the economic and military ramifications on the German people were clearly enough. The treaty had other rules which demanded that Germany give back territories to other European nations. Germany was ordered to give back Alsace-Lorraine and the Saar region to France and Eupen-Malmedy to Belgium. Other nations such as Poland, Denmark, Lithuania and Czechoslovakia were also to receive many territories from Germany. Furthermore, the treaty demanded that Germany fully recognize the full independence of Austria.
By the mid-1930s, the policies of the Treaty of Versailles slowly began to backfire on the allied powers. German manufacturing ramped up in secrecy and many German corporations moved from civilian to military grade products. By 1934, Hitler directly violated the Treaty of Versailles by intervening into Austrian internal affairs. Hitler ordered the assassination of Engelbert Dollfuss and caused international outrage. The Germans continued to violate the treaty by secretly rebuilding the Luftwaffe, re-initiated compulsory military service, and expanding the size of the SS to unprecedented levels.
Once Germany reacquired the Saar region from France the allied powers grew anxious. From 1935 to 1939, Hitler acquired several more pieces of territory without any rapid response from the allied powers. Hitler was apparently clever enough to convince the allied powers not to respond to his illegal acquisitions. Chiefly because the allied powers felt that a war with Germany would simply be too risky. Why didn't the allies threaten Germany with more economic penalties? Why didn't the allied forces deploy military units immediately into these regions? Why weren’t there mandatory inspections ordered on Germany’s military bases and weapons factories?
By 1939, Germany had already taken several risks and was rewarded handsomely. Germany believed that Lebensraum (German living space) was a right that all Germans were entitled to. By early 1939, Germany’s relations began to deteriorate with Poland. Poland's aggressiveness towards ethnic Germans living in Poland, Polish claims of German territories belonging to Poland (Poland did not exist in World War I as an independent nation), and Poland denying access for ethnic Germans to leave Poland and return to Germany; all created a recipe for a monolithic German invasion.
Poland’s only strategy was to look to Britain for security. A rapid Anglo-Polish alliance was established which would guarantee Poland security only if Germany had invaded the country. Britain saw this alliance as their only option to contain an enormous German population, which was quickly transformed into a military state.
In September of 1939, Germany invaded Poland starting the Second World War. At the time, the Germans implemented new military tactics, state-of-the-art armaments and armored vehicles, and artillery with lethal precision. The German military was light-years ahead of Polish military tactics and weaponry. Although the Polish army was large in size, it was trained and equipped mainly with French military strategies and technology. On paper, French military tactics and overall strategies were seen as adequate, but unfortunately they were antediluvian compared to Germany's military capabilities at the time. Germany later occupied the western part of Poland and destroyed most Polish cities. Stalin viewed the German invasion as a positive matter and later ordered Soviet forces to mobilize and enter into eastern Poland. In the following days the Soviet army conquered the other half of Poland.
Nazi Germany didn’t just view Poland as an enemy, but the Soviet Union as well. Communism was viewed by the Nazis as the predominate reason that Germany lost World War I. The Germans firmly believed that the Soviet Union's economic and social policies would potentially be implemented into Germany's economic and social structure, especially if a communist party came to power in the early 1930s. The Nazis made sure this would never occur. After the Soviet invasion of Poland, Stalin implemented new strategies for Soviet expansion. The Soviets would wage barbaric military campaigns, not just against the Poles but also against the Estonians, Finnish, Latvians, Lithuanians, and Romanians. Soviet expansionism was seen as a major threat to the survival of Nazi Germany. The Germans ultimately broke the Nazi-Soviet pact which attempted to eliminate the threat of Soviet communist ideas, culture, and military aggression.
Many historians will agree if a war did not occur against Poland in 1939, a war would have occurred against Britain, France, or the Soviet Union shortly after. Many military analysts and planners were concerned if Britain and France decided to take on German forces head-on in battles. Supposed that French and British forces invading Germany lost major battles? Would it be a replication of the brutality in the Battle of the Somme? What if British and French forces were attacked before they can mobilize? Supposed Belgium and Dutch forces withdrew or would not fully cooperate? Lastly, what if the Soviet Union decided not to cooperate logistically and/or militarily?
Some may argue that the Second World War was an event that began in 1931 with the Japanese invasion of Manchuria. There is no doubt that it was a brutal campaign, but many historians would argue that this event did not trigger a worldwide military conflict. The majority of historians would agree that World War II began as a European conflict and officially started when these enraged nations began aggressively attacking one another.
Clearly, one can see that the allied powers were hoping that appeasement would ultimately work and prevent a major war from breaking out in the 1930s. World War II was a catastrophic event, ultimately aided by abysmal European policies. Furthermore, the Treaty of Versailles which was orchestrated in order to maintain peace and force reparations on Germany, served as a means of deadly guidelines and demoralizing policies against an already distraught nation.