World War II is certainly one of the greatest tragedies that has ever befallen humankind. However historians, politicians and laymen are still arguing about it: what exactly caused it, whether it was possible to avoid it, who is to blame, etc., etc. And consensus is unlikely to be reached for as long as there are people of different political and ideological views out there – that is, ever.
Nevertheless, if one doesn’t get into too much detail, everybody more or less agrees on some points, namely, that the roots of the World War II go back to the World War I. Effectively initiated by Germany, it was justifiably blamed upon it – but the mess started by Kaiser Wilhelm had to be cleared up by average Germans who had nothing to do with it and felt that themselves and their country were unfairly and disproportionately punished.
Most of Europe lay in ruins in the wake of the World War I; but Germany’s position was by far the hardest. Not only was it devastated by the war itself, its economy was in shambles and its population was decimated, but it also was subjected to heavy reparations and humiliating peace treaty severely limiting the country’s development.
It was only natural that people living in these conditions felt resentment towards nations that forced the Versailles Treaty upon Germany and were all too eager to follow somebody who would let them feel proud again. The National Socialist German Workers’ Party found the perfect recipe for utilizing these sentiments: they combined nationalistic and socialistic ideas to attract people from all walks of life, identified an easily recognizable internal enemy to blame for their country’s defeat in the World War I (Jews, who purportedly stabbed Germany in the back) and showed what looked like a way out.
Germany, however, wasn’t alone in being dissatisfied with the current state of the world. Italy was also disappointed by the results of the World War I, which led to a similar rise of nationalist and expansionist sentiment. Ambitious Japan was also ready to question the world order and carve up a piece of it for itself.
It should also be noted that almost until the start of the World War II nobody saw or felt anything inherently wrong about German and Italian Nazi parties. On the contrary – they were generally lauded by socialists and progressives as a beneficial influence that others have a lot to learn from, with disturbing rumors about human rights violations dismissed as, well, rumors. This is one of the reasons for what is today considered to be a grave mistake of Western democracies – an attempt to appease Hitler, allowing him to annex Austria and Czechoslovakia in hope that it will be enough to sate the new Germany’s appetites.
As we all know, it wasn’t enough – yet it is hard to say what could have happened if Great Britain and France took another route. Perhaps German aggression could have been strangled at its birth. Perhaps the world war would have started a bit earlier. We will never know.