The Lead Up To World War II – Is History Repeating Itself?

The events leading up to the Second World War is a timely topic. We can see similar patterns today. So I thought it would be a good time to remind all of us of past events to help us understand the present.

In January 1933 Adolf Hitler was named Chancellor of Germany. He soon suspended the Constitution of Germany and, therefore, became their Dictator.

Rhineland, demonbug, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

March 7, 1936, Germany re-militarized the Rhineland. According to the terms of the Treaty of Versailles, which ended World War I, the Rhineland was to remain a demilitarized zone. The Rhineland, an area along the western border of Germany bordering on France, Belgium, and the Netherlands, remained a part of Germany after WWI but it was supposed to provide a buffer zone for their neighbors to the west. When Hitler marched his soldiers into the Rhineland, there were no significant objections from the former Allied countries. This was a small but important victory which embolden Hitler.

March 12, 1938, Germany annexed Austria. Hitler claimed that the German speaking people of Austria should be part of Germany. He had already made know his belief that all Germans should be within one nation or Reich. Also pro-Nazi groups had been trying to destabilize Austria by attempting to overthrow the Austrian Government in 1934. Hitler denied any involvement or desire to annex Austria in 1935. In February 1938 a new Austrian Chancellor was appointed after his predecessor was assassinated. Under pressure from Germany to do their bidding this new Chancellor resigned. Hitler demanded that the President appoint an Austrian Nazi as the new Chancellor. When he refused, Hitler ordered the invasion. Most Austrians welcomed the Germans thinking their life would be better as part of the Third Reich.

Sudetenland Occupation By Bundesarchiv, Bild 137-004055 / CC-BY-SA 3.0, CC BY-SA 3.0 de, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5418581

September 30, 1938, Germany, Britain, France and Italy signed the Munich Agreement. In it the Sudetenland, a large swath of Czechoslovakia, was ceded to Germany in return for a promise of peace from Hitler. Again Hitler’s explanation for taking the Sudetenland centered around Hitler’s belief that German Sudeten’s in the area should be part of Germany. He also wanted more “living space” for the growing German Reich. British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain and French Prime Minister Edouard Daladier believed Hitler’s promise of peace, but Hitler did not.

On September 1, 1939, Hitler’s forces invaded Poland, knowing that Britain and France had treaties with Poland stating that they would come to Poland’s defense if she were attacked. At that point, both countries were obligated to honor their treaties. On September 3, 1939, France, Britain, Canada and other British Commonwealth nations declared war on Germany. World War II had begun.

Invasion of Poland 1939 en:User:Listowy, CC BY-SA 3.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/, via Wikimedia Commons

It soon became apparent to the world that Hitler’s ambitions went further that wanting Poland. After originally agreeing to split Poland with Russia (Soviet Union), Hitler had a change of heart and attacked Russia (Soviet Union) on June 22, 1941.

The United States stayed out of the “European” war until Japan attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. A few days later, on December 11, 1941, Hitler declared war on the United States.

Does any of this step-by-step expansion make you think of what is going on today? Do you see the slow plotting, taking a little territory at a time, to unite people who speak the same language, share a culture and a history? Do these excuses justify one nation taking over another sovereign nation?

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