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Echoes of Conflict: Examining the Link Between World War I and World War II

Article by Donya' Green II

The end of World War I catalyzed many events and circumstances that would indirectly contribute to the beginning of World War II. One notable historical event was the implementation of the Treaty of Versailles in response to Germany's actions in the first world war. According to Robert Citino and the National WWII Museum, "(The Treaty of Versailles) Drawn up by the Allies and forced on Germany without negotiation or possibility of amendment, the pact outraged most Germans. They rejected what they saw as the hypocrisy of the Allied powers, who claimed to be fighting for the high ideal of 'making the world safe for democracy,' but seemed more interested in a good old-fashioned punitive peace." The anger accumulated to the rise of political figures such as Adolf Hitler, who acted in disregard to the treaty and built up Germany's arms and military in secrecy leading up to World War II. Many historians would argue this was the most significant factor in the start of the second war. Germans believed in Hitler's promise to restore honor to their country because, retrospectively, the Treaty of Versailles was unfair. In Gerhard Weinberg's A World at Arms, he writes, "The peace agreement forced Germany to accept full responsibility for the Great War, and levied a massive system of reparation payments to help restore areas in Belgium and France devastated during the fighting. The Treaty of Versailles also required Germany to disarm its military, restricting it to a skeleton force intended only to operate on the defensive. Many Germans viewed the lopsided terms of the treaty as unnecessarily punitive and profoundly shameful." Another contributing factor to the rise of Hitler was the economic stress experienced by the citizens of Germany. Citino states, "The country suffered a runaway inflation in 1923, recovered slowly in the mid-1920s, then plunged into absolute economic collapse with the onset of the Great Depression. Unemployment soared into the 35% range, and once again, unscrupulous politicos like Hitler were willing to stoke the rage. By 1932, his Nazi Party was the largest in Germany, and in January 1933, he became Chancellor of the German Republic."

            After the first war, the whole world was in an economic depression along with Germany. This depression fueled tensions between world powers. According to the Library of congress, "The economic troubles of the 1930s were worldwide in scope and effect. Economic instability led to political instability in many parts of the world. Political chaos, in turn, gave rise to dictatorial regimes such as Adolf Hitler's in Germany and the military's in Japan. (Totalitarian regimes in the Soviet Union and Italy predated the depression.) These regimes pushed the world ever-closer to war in the 1930s." Japan forced America's hand into joining the war they tried to avoid for two years with the attacks on Pearl Harbor. The war had a positive effect on America's economy and depression. Millions of men and women joined the military, churning the countries economic wheels.

            The economic conditions the world was faced with after World War I was the seed that grew into the global political landscape when the second World War began. Along with the Treaty of Versailles, the conditions emboldened Germans to support politicians such as Hitler. They also enabled Japan to grow their military, which heightened tensions between them and other countries such as America, who didn't want any part in World War II until Pearl Harbor. No one can ever know if other measures may have prevented a second World War, such as loosening the Treaty of Versailles' strain on Germans before putting their faith in Adolf Hitler. There might not have been global tensions if there were no global depression to push countries into an arms race. In the end, the conditions immediately after World War I inevitably led to World War II.




Overview :  great depression and World War II, 1929-1945:U.S. history primary source timeline : classroom materials at the Library of Congress:  Library of Congress. The Library of Congress. (n.d.). Retrieved October 3, 2021, from


Marshall V. (2018, May 23). From war to war in Europe: 1919-1939: The National WWII Museum: New Orleans. The National WWII Museum | New Orleans. Retrieved October 3, 2021, from

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