What Are The Causes Of World War II?

The Depression and the outcome of WWI were major contributing factors to the Second World War.

World War I and the Great Depression were significant factors that contributed to the conditions that spawned the Second World War. These two events caused a major repositioning of world power and influence. Prior to the First World War, Europe was the world center of industry and capital. The devastation that was visited on most of Europe as a result of the heavy fighting and massive death toll did damage from which most of Europe never recovered.

Prior to 1914, Britain, France and Germany were the industrial and financial capitals of the world. After World War I, these countries lost their pre-eminent positions and the United States filled the vacuum. America was the big winner of the war. Britain and France had been forced to borrow money from the U.S. in order to finance their own war efforts. Germany was saddled with huge reparation payments to most of the victim countries and the Allies. Before the war, America was $4 billion in debt to European countries; after the war it was owed $10 billion by countries in Europe. America became the major global supplier of money and industrial goods, a position that she never relinquished.

With the rise in American dominance of world markets, the medium of trade also changed drastically. Where Britain had previously traded in goods with the world, America was self sufficient in food, minerals and industry and so demanded cash for her exports. Europe financed its purchases from the U.S. with money she collected from Germany's war reparations. Germany borrowed heavily from America to make those payments. During the 1920's, Americans had invested over 1 billion dollars in Germany.

North American farmers and manufacturers had boom times following WWI. A crippled Europe bought most of its foodstuffs and manufactured goods from the United States and Canada. Many North American farmers and industrialists borrowed heavily in order to finance better and bigger machinery to meet the increased demand. Europe quickly rebuilt her factories and farms and in 1929 there was 15.9 million tons of unsold wheat in America, Canada and Argentina.

The miracle of technology was also spreading to many nations. Large plantations in East India were efficiently producing huge amounts of rubber. Modern farm techniques helped Java to produce record crops of sugar. Farmers in Australia, New Zealand and the Americas faced a new problem: overproduction and falling prices. Lower earnings meant that these food producers could no longer afford the cars, radios and appliances that the overheated economy was producing.

October 24, 1929 is known as "Black Thursday". That was the day that the New York stock market crashed. People who held stocks had bought them on margin. That meant that they owed their lender for the difference between the stocks' value and the price at which they had been purchased. Desperate to cut their losses, investors swarmed the exchange in an effort to sell their shares before the value tumbled even further.



The financial crisis in America had worldwide consequences. The world's banker stopped lending and called in all of her loans. 5,000 American banks and many more in other countries went bankrupt. Factories closed and farmers could not sell their produce or even feed the livestock. Gloom and despair quickly replaced the optimism of the twenties.

The reaction of nations to the terrible financial straits of the Depression had a big impact on international cooperation. Countries erected stiff import duties to protect their home economies. America became isolationist. Britain formed a "Commonwealth" with former colonies like Canada and Australia. Meanwhile, Russia, isolated since its Communist Revolution, struggled on her own and built a large industrial complex while the western world was mired in the Depression.

In Germany, conditions became miserable. One out of three German workers was unemployed. Adolf Hitler captured the hopes and imaginations of a citizenry that was totally demoralized. Hitler promised to end the humiliating conditions caused by the German defeat in WWI. He got Germany back into the factories and rebuilt the shattered German military machine. His aggressive, racist policies made the prospect of future hostilities almost inevitable.

Japan was selling 90% of her silk much of her goods to the United States in 1929. The Depression destroyed that market and which had provided Japan with two fifths of her export income. Military leaders took control of the government and in 1931 Japan invaded China, looking for more raw materials and bigger markets for her factories.

In 1931 Japan seized Manchuria and expanded into China until 1937. The Japanese plan was to oust all of the European colonists from Southeast Asia and create a new economic trading zone. Germany annexed Austria and western Czechoslovakia with only vocal protests from England and France. When the Nazis marched into Poland on September 1, 1939, England and France declared war.

World War II brought an end to the depression everywhere. When the expansionist policies of Germany, Italy and Japan were finally challenged by, first Europe, and then America, industry was ignited for the production of arms and resources to equip a fighting force. While Americans were slow to react to Europe's war, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii awakened Americans to the need of their intervention. The U.S. entry into the war on two fronts provided the necessary might for the west to emerge victorious.

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