Causes of World War II

World War II causes are fivefold. From these five causes we can differentiate four immediate ones from one deep root cause. The four immediate or direct causes which are commonly attributed to as the triggering historical agents of World War II are 1) the Treaty of Versailles, which was signed in 1919 just after World War I; 2) the bad economic situation (depression plus hyperinflation) the German lower classes suffered in the 1920’s and early 1930’s as a result of the Treaty of Versailles (the Germans had been forced to pay a huge war indemnity to the Allies); 3) the unsolved territorial disputes; 4) the rise to power of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party, whose high rank members were World War I veterans.

The fifth cause is the root cause of Word War II. It is Romanticism. Romanticism was an intellectual and artistic movement which started in Germany at the beginning of the 19th century and spread throughout Europe. One facet of Romanticism was nationalism. And nationalism in Germany took on a racial hue. And the nationalistic feelings in Germany had two underlying causes, for history is a chain of cause-and-effect events. The Thirty Years War, and the Napoleonic Invasion of Germany.

The Thirty Years War was a 17th Century war that began in 1618 as a religious conflict in Germany between Protestants and Catholics but the fighting eventually involved almost every European power, who, like vultures allied to one or other German prince, made forays into German territory to see what they could get. This long cruel fratricidal war finally ended in 1648 with the signing of treaties in the Westphalian towns of Osnabrück and Münster. France came away from the negotiations with major territorial gains, including the German territories of Alsace and Lorraine, and the authority to garrison the right bank of the Rhine. The German states came out weaker and more disunited. The long struggle had ravaged their lands and, by some estimates, wiped out as much as two-thirds of the population.

The German writer Hans von Grimmelshausen articulated the sentiments of many survivors through the voice of the main character in The Adventure Life of Simplicius Simplicissimus, a novel based on his own childhood experiences. After Simplicius’ farm was sacked, and his wife and daughters raped by French soldiers, he joined a band of German soldiers. He sustained himself with a dream, that one day a German hero would establish a glorious Reich. This great leader would generously let the kings of England, Sweden, and Denmark, who are of German descent, keep their lands as German fiefdoms, but he would wreak havoc upon every other European nation. The capital of this fanciful Reich was to be a glorious new city, Germania. During the next century, a measure of this dream came true, through the efforts of the House of Hohenzollern, the royal family that united and transformed the minor states of Brandenburg and Prussia into a major European Power; the kingdom of Prussia, who later became the Prussian Empire.

In 1805, Napoleon defeated the Austrian Army at the Battle of Austerlitz and, a year later, the Prussians at Jena. All Germany lay at the French emperor’s feet. The French Army swept across German territory, defeating both the Prussian Hohenzollerns and the Austrian Habsburgs. As they went more than five hundred thousand French soldiers lived off the land, plundering, raping, and murdering as they marched across Germany. Napoleon shattered the old order. He did away with the moribund Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation and, to consolidate his holdings, reduced the number of German states from more than 300 to about 30, yoking most of them to France.

Although many Germans grudgingly admired the modernizing reforms brought by Napoleonic rule, they resented their powerlessness. Soon German intellectuals began preaching and spreading the new movement known as Romanticism. In other countries Romanticism remained largely a literary and artistic movement, but in Germany it took a political twist.

One of the progenitors of these new ideas was the philosopher Johann Gottlieb Fichte, rector of the University of Berlin. His addresses to the German Nation fired the imagination of his youthful audiences. The German people, Fichte argued, was a chosen race with unique genius and a special right to fulfill their destiny. He infused his followers with a determination to drive out the French and forge a united nation out of the separate states. Like Grimmelshausen’s fictional character, he called for a great leader to create a Reich by uniting all the German states, including Prussia and Austria. Another avid francophobe and anti-Semite was the German poet Ernst Moritz Arndt; in an address delivered in 1810, he called for a man of action; he stated that what Germany needed was a great military leader capable of giving back to Germany what had been stolen from her.

Christian Friedrich Rühs, a history profesor at the University of Berlin, called the French a “villainous race” and demanded that French be banned from schools and courts of law. Rühs especially resented the imposition of the Code Napoleon, for it made Jews and ethnic Germans equal before the law. He wanted to force all German Jews to wear a yellow patch so that ethnic Germans could recognize the “Hebrew enemy.”

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Thor is Carlos Benito Camacho, the manager and writer of this blog.

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