The Origins of the Second World War
Paper Presented to the Seventh International Revisionist Conference
Published: 1986-04-01

This document is part of a periodical (Journal of Historical Review).
Use this menu to find more documents that are part of this periodical.

I. Historical Development from the Nineteenth Century to the First World War

In 1955, the Indian diplomat and historian K. M. Panikkar, a longtime friend and collaborator of Pandit Nehru, the Indian prime minister, published a book entitled Asia and Western Dominance 1498-1945. He shows Western dominance of Asia as beginning with the Portuguese Vasco da Gama's discovery of the maritime route to India, and ending with the Second World War. The two world wars off the first half of the 20th century he justly describes as a European civil war. By this self-mutilation, Europe lost its position in the world, its hegemony, and caused itself to be divided into two spheres of influence: one American, and one Russian.[1]

One can only understand the origins, progress, and results of the Second World War if, like Panikkar, one considers both world wars as constituting one homogeneous, inwardly coherent era.

The immediate roots of the Second World War lie in the termination of the First World War by the so-called "suburban treaties" of Paris in 1919.

The deeper causes of both world wars have to be sought in the industrialization of our mode of life, and in the capitalistic imperialism of the second half of the l9th century. The upheaval in economy and society caused by new technology, modern means of communication and transport, and the rapid growth of the European population led to the development of the modern capitalist economy.

Great Britain was the birthplace and starting point of the process of industrialization. It became the world's department store. The British imported raw materials from their colonies and delivered the finished products all over the world.

India, the main competitor to Britain's textile industry, was forcibly reduced to a colony producing only raw materials. France, the most dangerous enemy of British colonialism, had been weakened during the coalition wars against Napoleon, until finally England's naval hegemony was secured by Nelson's victory over the combined French and Spanish fleets at Trafalgar in 1805.

The British Empire was undoubtedly the leading power of the world throughout the l9th century. Up to the outbreak of the First World War, it was the leading industrial nation and the most important financial, as well as maritime and naval power.[2] The European balance of power, the foundation of British rule around the world, had been reestablished at the Congress of Vienna in 1815. This system of peace following the Napoleonic Wars broke down with the Crimean War (1853-1856).[3] At that time Great Britain and France declared war on tsarist Russia because of its attack on the decrepit Turkish Empire and defeated the Russians soundly. Then, with the national unification of Italy and the foundation of the Second German Reich after the victorious war against France in 1870-71, a new system of states suddenly developed in Europe. By uniting the south and central German states with Prussia, Bismarck shaped the Second German Reich.

Between 1850 and 1870, the European continent, as well as North America, completed the transition to an industrial mode of living. The United States carried out the process of industrialization at the same rate as the leading industrial nations of Europe, which were at that time Great Britain and France. The Civil War of 1861-1865, with the defeat of the Confederate States, saved the large American Union and secured its way to becoming an industrial world power – a portentous event for the development of Europe and the world.[4] It was at this same time that East Asia was forcibly opened up by the two Anglo-Saxon world powers and France. After the bloody suppression of the Sepoy revolt from 1857 to 1859, the English made India into a crown colony and made it the heart of the British Empire.[5] By Admiral Perry's 1853 expedition, the Americans forced Japan to abandon its policy of isolation,[6] and with the beginning of the Meiji period in 1868, Japan's adoption of the new industrial economy took hold with ever-increasing speed. In the same way, China, the country with the world's largest population, was forcibly joined to the Anglo-Saxon economic system by the peace treaty of Peking in 1860, which had been preceded by the British Opium Wars (1840-1860). France had been involved in these wars too. The Chinese Empire was thus degraded to a semi-colony.[7]

In the seventies, capitalist imperialism set in, starting from England, as a competition of powers now borne on the wings of technology. World economy, as it was developed radiating from Great Britain, involved, and still involves, the drive to world hegemony through the struggle to dominate resources and markets. In this competition for global rule, the British Empire was to a great extent in the lead. From this largest commonwealth in human history, stretching over five continents, capitalist imperialism ever widened its orbit of power.

Runners-up were the United States and (especially on the European mainland) the German Reich. Germany's industry took off at a breath-taking rate. Between 1870 and 1890, German inventive genius, German organization, diligence, and competence shaped the newly unified German Reich into the leading industrial power of the European continent, and in English eyes, made it a bothersome competitor. In 1887, the British government enacted the Trade Marks Act, requiring any German product coming onto the British world market to bear the mark "Made in Germany." This measure soon boomeranged, however. For the consumer, "Made in Germany" became the sign of the better, while at the same time the less costly, product.

German competition grew irresistibly. In the fields of iron and steel production and in the chemical industries, Germany outdistanced its British competitor by the turn of the century. To this were added the growth of merchant shipping, and later, the navy. In the eighties, the German Reich acquired protectorates or colonies in Africa. In the nineties, a number of islands in the Pacific were added. On the coast of China, Germany acquired Kiaochow with its capital Tsingtao by a lease treaty in 1897.

As Germany's industrial and financial power as well as its trade increased, a growing antagonism between Germany and the British Empire arose. Everywhere the ambitious German industry confronted a British competitor avidly observing the growing danger to his monopolistic trade relations, jealously guarded until then. A 1910 conversation between Lord Balfour, leader of the British Conservative Party, and Henry White, then United States Ambassador in London, shows the contrast between the two European industrial powers, and the attitude of the British leadership:[8]

Balfour: We are probably fools not to find a reason for declaring war on Germany before she builds too many ships and takes away our trade.

White: You are a very high-minded man in private life. How can you possibly contemplate anything so politically immoral as provoking a war against a harmless nation which has as good a right to a navy as you have? If you wish to compete with German trade, work harder.

Balfour: That would mean lowering our standard of living. Perhaps it would be simpler for us to have a war.

White: I am shocked that you of all men should enunciate such principles.

Balfour: Is it a question of right or wrong? Maybe it is just a question of keeping our supremacy.

In connection with this conversation, General Wedemeyer calls attention to a statement by the British military historian, General J. F. C. Fuller:[9]

Fuller remarks with reference to this recorded conversation that its interest does not lie simply in the evidence it affords of Balfour's unprincipled cynicism. Its significance lies in the fact that "the Industrial Revolution has led to the establishment of an economic struggle for existence in which self-preservation dictated a return to the ways of the jungle. The primeval struggle between nation and nation in which all competitors were beasts."

Naturally, the rapid growth of Germany's population, economy, and its military potential was a thorn in the sides of its neighbors on the continent. France had never overcome the defeat of 1870 and thirsted for revenge. Russia, the largest land power and main enemy of the British Empire throughout the l9th century (especially in Asia), had lost the Crimean War in 1856, and had to withdraw in the face of British power after a second, victorious war against the Turkish Empire, for fear of another military confrontation with England.

The Berlin Congress of 1878, which was dominated by Bismarck, rearranged affairs in the Balkans. By his supreme statesmanship, the chancellor managed to avoid another war between Russia, the largest land power, and England, the largest sea power. From then on, however, the relationship between Russia and Germany deteriorated. Inspired by the pan-slavic tendencies then prevailing in the tsar's empire, a sinister watch-word came to the fore: "On to Vienna through Berlin!" In the same way as it tried to divide up the Turkish Empire, Russian imperialist policy sought to dismember the Habsburg Monarchy, which included a number of different peoples. Russia wanted to place them all under the religious rule of the tsar as protector of the Orthodox Christians in the Balkans. Diplomatically speaking, that meant nothing less than the integration of Bulgaria and Serbia into the Russian monarchy, as well as that of all the West and South Slavic peoples. After Japan defeated Russia in Asia during the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05, which ended with a peace brought about by the American President Theodore Roosevelt, the Russian expansionist policy then changed its aim and turned again to the Balkans.

In 1914, Serbia unleashed the fury of war, as the Austrian heir apparent, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, and his wife were both murdered by Serbian terrorists. The murders had been organized by Colonel Dragutin Dimitrevic, chief of the intelligence department of the Serbian General Staff, while the Russian military attache in Belgrade, Colonel Artamanov, financed them.[10] In addition, the Serbian government had received an assurance of support from the Russian government in case of an Austrian attack on Serbia. Thus tsarist Russia bears the main responsibility for the outbreak of the First World War. Russia encouraged Serbia to war, and on July 25 the Russian Privy Council decided on a partial mobilization of the Western provinces adjacent to Austria-Hungary and Germany[11]

Russia had been allied with France since 1892; France had connected herself with England in 1904 by the "Entente Cordiale," and Russia had made an agreement with England in 1907. The encirclement of the two Central Powers – Germany and Austria – was complete. Italy was an unreliable ally of the Central Powers; but it was only the British declaration of war against Germany on August 4, 1914, that enlarged the European conflict into a world war. Following the 27th of July, the British navy was the first force to fully mobilize.[12]

Two years before the outbreak of that war, convinced of the inevitability of war between England and Germany, the American author Homer Lea (1876-1912) wrote in his book The Day of the Saxon.[13]

The German Empire is less in area than the single state of Texas, while the Saxon race claims political dominion over half of the landed surface of the earth and over all its ocean wastes. Yet the German Empire possesses a greater revenue than the American Republic, is the richest nation in productivity and possesses a population 50 percent greater than the United Kingdom. Its actual military power is manifoldly greater than that of the entire Saxon race. Germany is so tightly encircled by the Saxon race that it cannot make even a tentative extension of its territory or political sovereignty over non-Saxon states without endangering the integrity of the Saxon world. Germany cannot move against France without involving or including in its downfall that of the British Empire. It cannot move against Denmark on the North, Belgium and the Netherlands on the West or Austria-Hungary on the South without involving the British nation in a final struggle for Saxon political existence. Any extension of German sovereignty over these non-British states predetermines the political dissolution of the British Empire. In a like manner any extension of Teutonic sovereignty in the western hemisphere, though against a non-Saxon race and remote from the territorial integrity of the American Republic, can only succeed in the destruction of American power in the western hemisphere.

The founder of the Soviet Union, Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, said about the causes of the First World War: "We know that three robbers (the bourgeoisie and the governments of England, tsarist Russia and France) prepared to plunder Germany."[14]

Germany faced the Triple Entente of the British Empire, France, and Russia, while its own allies – Austria-Hungary, the Turkish Empire, and, since 1915, Bulgaria – were all weak and in need of support. Italy, which had originally been allied with the two Central Powers, remained at first neutral and then entered the war on the side of the Entente.

Despite the unequal distribution of forces, the military ability and economic competence of Germany, as well as the spirit of sacrifice and endurance shown by its people, proved so strong that Germany's eastern enemy, Russia, collapsed in the spring of 1917. In March 1918, after the Bolshevik Revolution, the Russian Empire had to sign the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk dictated by the victorious Central Powers. Fate seemed to have decided in favor of the Central Powers. The Western allies were facing the necessity of a compromise settlement of peace. In order to avoid that, England then entangled the United States in the war.

After the outbreak of war in 1914, the U.S.A. provided the Entente with ammunition, arms, and other war material, thus committing an open breach of its neutrality. Most of this traffic in arms was conducted by the Morgan banking company. To secure its arms manufacturers' profits, the U.S.A. had to enter the war as an active participant, thereby losing its position as a neutral mediator.

The decisive influence in winning the Wilson Administration over to war was that of the Zionists. England had won their help by promising to establish a national home for Jews in Palestine if Jews exercised their influence in Washington in favor of an active American military intervention in the European war. The decision was facilitated by the fact that their kinsmen were able to seize power in Russia in 1917 by the Bolshevik revolution after the downfall of the anti-semitic tsarist regime. The United States declared war upon the Central Powers on April 6, 1917; on November 2, 1917 the British Foreign Secretary handed over to Baron Rothschild a government statement concerning the e.ctshlichment of n notional home for sews in Palestine.[15]

II. The 'Suburban Treaties' of Paris

It was the intervention of the United States which decided the war in favor of the Entente,.because of America's immense military potential and its fresh troops. In October 1918 the last Imperial government of the German Reich asked Wilson, the American president, to mediate talks regarding an armistice and eventually a peace treaty, based on the "Fourteen Points" he had proclaimed earlier. The Western Allies, however, did not adhere to these "Fourteen Points." Thus, they broke the preliminary contract, whose validity was emphasized by American politicians and presidential advisors like Bernard Baruch and John Foster Dulles. According to Baruch, the President had refused "to accept measures which clearly do not respond to the motions we had persuaded the enemy to agree to and of which we may not change anything, just because we are powerful enough to do that."[16] At Versailles, Baruch was Wilson's advisor in financial affairs. Similarly, the South African prime minister, General Smuts, in his letter to the American president dated May 30, 1919, pointed out the obligations the Western Allies accepted in the preliminary treaty, which they did not honor. President Wilson, however, was not able to defend his point of view against the Western Powers, since he was severely ill.[17]

Wilson had induced the German people to capitulate and overthrow the monarchy by the promise, soon to be broken, of a peace without annexations and indemnities. Capitulation and revolution delivered the German Empire to the mercy of the vengeful victors. Germany was not allowed to take part in the peace negotiations; the victors alone decided the conditions of peace, in a procedure without precedent in European history. On May 7, 1919, the peace conditions were handed over to the German peace delegation. Count Brockdorff-Rantzau, foreign secretary and leader of the delegation, pointed out in his speech before the delegates of the Western Allies and their associates:[18]

... We know the impact of the hate we are encountering here, and we have heard the passionate demand of the victors, who require us, the defeated, to pay the bill and plan to punish us as the guilty party. We are asked to confess ourselves the sole culprits; in my view, such a confession would be a lie ...

By these words the foreign secretary refused to accept article 231 of the peace treaty, the so-called war-guilt article, the lie which claimed that Germany was solely responsible for the war and could therefore be made responsible for all the havoc wrought by the war. The victors threatened that if the German government didn't sign the treaty, they would invade Germany proper. Indignation in the Weimar National Assembly was general, and the climate of opinion favored rejection. The Social Democrat Philipp Scheidemann, who had proclaimed the German Republic on 9 November 1918, and was prime minister of the first republican government elected by the National Assembly, declared: "I ask you, who as an honest man – not even as a German, simply as an honest man feeling himself bound by contracts – is able to accept such conditions? Which hand would not wither, should it be bound in such chains? In the government's view, this treaty is unacceptable."[19] Scheidemann, as well as Count Brockdorff-Rantzau, resigned under protest. Important German-Jewish economic leaders, namely Walther Rathenau and the Hamburg banker Max Warburg, took a firm stand against accepting the dictate of the victors and called for a refusal, even against the odds of an enemy invasion of Germany.[20] The National Assembly, however, did not have the courage to maintain such a position, and under protest, voted acceptance of the Versailles dictate. It was on June 28, 1919, the date fixed by the victorious powers, that the National Assembly's plenipotentiaries had to sign that treaty. The date had been chosen as a reminder of the murder at Sarajevo on June 28, 1914.

Connected with the "war guilt article" were the punitive regulations of sections 227-231, referring to the surrender of "war criminals" to the victors, the most prominent "criminal" on the lists being the German emperor, who had fled to the Netherlands. Since the Dutch government declined to extradite the emperor, the planned trial did not take place. The German government refused to hand over other prominent German leaders to the victors, and passed an act concerning prosecution of war crimes.

One of the inhuman conditions of capitulation was the hunger blockade against Germany, which was continued by French demand until the Versailles Treaty came into force in January 1920.

Because of its long-term effects, the hunger blockade imposed by the British was more decisive in defeating the Central Powers than was wartime military pressure. The number of deaths due to hunger and malnutrition is estimated at 800,000 for 1919 alone. A committee of American women traveling through Germany by order of Herbert Hoover, chief of war relief and later president, reported in July 1919, "If the conditions continue which we have seen in Germany, a generation will grow up in Central Europe which will be physically and psychologically disabled, so that it will become a danger for the whole of the world."[21]

Adolf Hitler, then an unknown soldier, experienced the famine which lasted throughout the war and in those early postwar years. His political program was born of those experiences, particularly his idea of conquering Ukraine for the German people. Conquering the fertile regions of southern Russia could provide not only living space for the German people; it could ban forever the possibility of another hunger blockade.

Hitler experienced the Revolution of November 1918 lying wounded in a military hospital. He became a passionate enemy of the November Revolution and of the "Soviet Republic" in the Bavarian capital of Munich during April 1919, a political coup staged chiefly by Jews and directed by Lenin's radio commands from Moscow. Hitler became a member of the then totally unimportant "Deutsche Arbeiterpartei" (German Worker's Party) founded in January of that same year, and he soon proved to be a brilliant orator. His main topic was the Versailles dictate, which he saw as closely connected with the November revolution and the mischievous revolutionary activities of the Jews. As a German of the late Habsburg Monarchy, he was a fanatic supporter of a union of the Austrian Germans with the German Reich. The main focuses of his political activity were the fight against the peace dictate, the Marxist-Communist threat with the leading role of the Jews in the revolt, and the fight for self-determination and equality of rights for the German people.[22]

The overthrow of the monarchy, the change from an empire to a republic, as well as the capitulation, had been sparked by President Wilson's third note, dated October 23, 1918. The National Assembly, which began sitting in January 1919, was determined to shape the new state and government according to the Western example, as the victors had wished. By the peace dictate, however, the Allies had sentenced the Weimar Republic to death even before the new constitution had been ratified by the National Assembly. On June 28, 1919, the German government signed the Versailles dictate; the new constitution came into force on the 11th of August, burdened with the curse of the Versailles treaty and its unrealizable demands. The miserable end of the Weimar Republic, "the freest democracy of the world," and its result, Hitler's dictatorship, were consequences of the Versailles dictate. The victors had won the war but lost the peace by their treaty.

The most important stipulations of the dictate of Versailles were as follows: The German Reich had to cede 73,485 square kilometers, inhabited by 7,325,000 persons, to neighboring states. Before the war it had possessed 540,787 square kilometers and 67,892,000 inhabitants; after the war, 467,301 square kilometers and 59,036,000 inhabitants remained. Germany lost 75% of its yearly production of zinc ore, 74.8% of iron ore, 7.7% of lead ore, 28.7% of coal, and 4% of potash. Of its yearly agricultural production, Germany lost 19.7% in potatoes, 18.2% in rye, 17.2% in barley, 12.6% in wheat, and 9.6% in oats.

The Saar territory and other regions to the west of the Rhine were occupied by foreign troops and were to remain so for fifteen years, with Cologne, Mainz, and Coblenz as bridgeheads. The costs of the occupation, 3,640,000,000 gold marks, had to be paid by the German Reich. Germany was not allowed to station troops or build fortifications to the west of the Rhine and in a fifty-kilometer zone to the east.

Germany was forced to disarm almost completely, the conditions calling for: abolition of the general draft, prohibition of all heavy arms (artillery and tanks), a volunteer army of only 100,000 troops and officers restricted to long-term enlistments; reduction of the navy to six capital ships, six light cruisers, twelve destroyers, twelve torpedo-boats, 15,000 men and 500 officers. An air force was absolutely prohibited. The process of disarmament was overseen by an international military committee until 1927. Additionally, all German rivers had to be internationalized and overseas cables ceded to the victors.

The economic conditions of the Versailles treaty were as follows: After the delivery of the navy, the merchant ships had to be handed over as well, with only a few exceptions. Germany was deprived of all her foreign accounts – private ones too – and lost her colonies. For a period of ten years, Germany had to supply France, Belgium, Luxembourg, and Italy with 40 million tons of coal per year, and had to deliver machines, factory furnishings, tools and other materials for the restoration of devastated areas in Belgium and the North of France. In regard to the hunger blockade, which continued until January 1920, a special hardship on the German people was the forced delivery of German cattle to the victors for breeding and slaughtering purposes.

The Versailles Treaty did not contain any limitation on the victors' financial demands, in order to facilitate additional demands. In 1920, the Western allies fixed the amount of reparations first at a sum of 269 billions of gold marks; then, in 1921, at 132 billions – both unrealistic demands. France made use of this opportunity by occupying additional German cities. This policy of blackmail culminated in the invasion of the Ruhr territory by French and Belgian military units in January, 1923. In this way, France hoped to accomplish the disintegration of the German Reich, and to establish the Rhine as France's eastern frontier. Thereafter, the French occupation forces accelerated inflation in the occupied zones by confiscating the presses for printing bank notes, and produced money in unprecedented amounts. It was thus that France promoted high inflation until the breakdown of German currency.[23]

The French government, however, did not achieve its goal. Even its British and Italian allies condemned the French attack on the Ruhr as an open breach of the Versailles treaty. The paralysis of the German economy resulting from inflation, combined with passive resistances forced the United States to abandon its policy of isolation and to concentrate on regulation of the war debts.

The Habsburg Empire, the second strongest of the Central Powers, was destroyed and divided up by the victors. Serbia and Romania were amply rewarded with substantial enlargements of territory, since they had sided with the Western Allies. Serbia swallowed its Croatian, Slovenian, and Montenegrin neighbors to become the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, and Romania received the eastern part of the former Hungarian Monarchy. The victors established another new state, especially favored by President Wilson, and which up to then had been unknown in European history, namely, Czechoslovakia. This new Czechoslovakia became the heir of the monarchy of Bohemia-Moravia, formerly belonging to the western half of the Habsburg monarchy, and of old Slovakia, then part of Hungary. Because the Czech leaders Thomas Masaryk and Eduard Benes, had given false data to the victors, the Czechs, forming only 44% of the population of the new state, were allowed to rule over the other 56% of the population, consisting of 23% Germans, 18% Slovaks, 5% Magyars, 3.8% Ukrainians, 1.3% Jews and 0.6% Poles. The Sudeten Germans were the largest minority, numbering 3.5 million persons, followed by the Slovaks, numbering 2.5 million, who had only agreed to the establishment of the new Czechoslovak state after they had been promised full autonomy. This promise was broken. Also, Italy was ceded the German South Tyrol.[24]

At their national assembly in Vienna in November 1918, the Germans of the Austrian part of the Habsburg Empire had decided to join themselves to the German Reich. The Weimar National Assembly had agreed to annex the 10 million Germans of the western half of the Danube Empire. The victors, however, denied the German people their right of self-determination, forcing 3.5 million Sudeten Germans under Czech rule, and compelling the Austrian Germans to establish an "independent" republic with Vienna as its capital. The truncated Austrian state was burdened with the peace dictate of St. Germain,[25] a treaty as hard and humiliating as that of Versailles. Hungary, the Eastern part of the Habsburg Monarchy, reduced to one-third of its former territory due to its losses in favor of Romania, Serbia, and Czechoslovakia, was forced to sign an equally harsh treaty at Trianon.

Poland, newly founded as a monarchy in 1916 after its liberation from Russia rule by German troops, became a republic and was greatly enlarged at the expense of Germany and Austria-Hungary. From the Habsburg Empire, Poland received Galicia and Cracow; Germany had to renounce her rights to West Prussia, Posen, and the eastern part of Upper Silesia. The German city of Danzig was separated from the Reich and put under the administration of the League of Nations as a so-called "free city." The "Polish Corridor" separated East Prussia from the rest of the Reich so that this Prussian province was inaccessible to officials except by sea.

This sadistic fixing of frontiers was due mainly to French influence. The French commander-in-chief, Marshal Ferdinand Foch, declared that in twenty years a new war was inevitable. To hold Germany down permanently, France devised a system of treaties with Poland, Czechoslovakia, Romania, and Yugoslavia. Britain's Prime Minister David Lloyd George disapproved of the imposition of the new German-Polish frontiers,[26] but the British government did nothing to prevent it. General Henry Allen, the commander-in-chief of the American occupation forces of the Rhine, also spoke strongly against such "wrong policy."[27]

When seen from a global point of view, the most imminent result of the First World War was the victory of the United States of America. The first stage of the European civil war had resulted in a decrease of European power and brought about America's rise to the world's leading power, as well as the determining factor in the fate of Europe. Certainly the two Western colonial powers of Great Britain and France had reached their greatest territorial extension overseas as well as their climax of power in Europe with the defeat of Germany, the destruction of the Habsburg Monarchy, and the division of the Turkish Empire; but they had been able to win only by the help of an extra-European power, and they had thereby become America's debtors. The British Empire, which up to then had been the main representative of European power overseas, as well as the main financial and naval power, had by war's end become dependent on its North American "junior partner." By the agreement reached at the Washington Naval Conference of 1921-1922, London had to share its naval rule with the U.S.A. and grant America equality of rights on the seas.

Because he was afflicted with paralysis, President Wilson was not able in 1918 and 1919 to realize the ideals based on his "Fourteen Points." The peace treaties were thus distorted by French and English hatred and vengeance, endangering the peace after they had won the war with American help.[28] The American president was able to effect the creation of the League of Nations, envisioned as a world government peacefully regulating disputes among peoples, but an isolationist majority in Congress prevented American membership in the League, as well as rejecting ratification of the Versailles treaty. In 1921, the U.S.A. and Germany signed a separate peace agreement securing all the advantages of the Versailles treaty for the U.S.A However, the attempt to withdraw into isolation was a grave mistake as well as an evasion of responsibility, for Europe had neither been able to end the war on its own or to reach a compromise peace. Thus the main responsibility for the subsequent development of European history falls on the United States.

Cardinal Pietro Gasparri, Papal Secretary of State, declared that the forced peace of Versailles was unacceptable. The name of God had been excluded from it, and from it not only one, but ten wars would originate.[29] Lenin, the atheist founder of the Soviet Union, said about the dictate of Versailles:[30]

An atrocious peace, making slaves out of millions of highly civilized people. That is no peace; those are conditions dictated to a helpless victim by robbers with knives in their hands.

George Kennan, the well-known American diplomat and historian, judged:[31]

In this way, the pattern of the events that led the Western world to new disaster in 1939 was laid down in its entirety by the Allied governments in 1918-19. What we shall have to observe from here on, in the relations between Russia, Germany and the West, follows a logic as inexorable as that of any Greek tragedy.

III. The Period between the Wars

Since the Allied powers depended upon Germany's reparation payments to repay their debts to the U.S.A., the American government in 1924 regulated the reparations problem with a payment plan named for the American financier Charles Dawes. The Dawes Plan was based on the principle of changing political guilt into commercial debt. Accordingly, American loans, mainly short-term ones, poured into the German economy. Germany could only meet the victors' reparation claims by a surplus resulting from increased exports. Since many states pursued a policy of enacting protective tariffs to restrict German competition, a new payment plan had to be arranged in 1928, the so-called Young Plan, named after the American banker Owen Young.

According to the Young Plan, the German Reich would pay reparations until 1988, while at the same time having to pay interest on and amortize the mainly short-term private loans. However, the shattering 1929 Wall Street crash and the ensuing crisis of world economy rendered the Young Plan absurd before it came into force. By 1931 mass employment and a decrease in the gross national product stemming from the Wall Street crash led to German insolvency and moved Hindenburg, then president of the German Reich, to write to President Hoover asking for a moratorium. In July 1932 the Conference of Lausanne ended German reparation payments by fixing a final payment of three billion gold marks. The German Reich had altogether paid 53.15S billion gold marks in reparations, including contributions in kind.

The German economy had still to meet interest obligations deriving from Germany's enormous foreign debt. In the spring of 1933, after political leadership had changed simultaneously in the U.S.A. and in Germany, the influence of Jewish and Socialist emigrants from Germany caused relations between the two countries to deteriorate. At first, both President Roosevelt and the Hitler government countered identical domestic problems of economic depression and mass unemployment by state work programs: the New Deal in the USA; the Four Year Plan in Germany. Shortly after his inauguration in 1933, Roosevelt announced a large-scale naval rearmament program and established diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union in the hope of fostering trade relations which could boost American industry.[32] One year later, the Soviet Union was accepted as a member of the League of Nations, another augury of the anti-German coalition of the Second World War.

After the nationalist parties' seizure of power in Germany, resulting after one-and-a-half years in Hitler's autocratic rule, based on a mass-movement, all the victor states of the First World War talked of a future war. It was not Hitler who wanted the war, but rather his internal and external enemies. Shortly after Hitler's rise to power, the Polish government suggested a preventive war against Germany to its French ally.[33] In March 1933, the international Jewish leadership decreed a propaganda and economic war on Germany, linked to a boycott of German products. During his journey to America in May 1933, Hjalmar Schacht, the President of the Reichsbank, found the atmosphere hostile. When his talks with President Roosevelt concerning regulation of German debts took a friendly turn, Schacht explained to Roosevelt that Germany could meet its obligations to American private creditors only if Germany were given the opportunity to increase its exports. This, however, did not jibe with the international boycott movement organized by the Jews, which sought a speedy overthrow of the Hitler government. During his stay in America, Schacht was also told that Paris nursed exceedingly anti-German sentiments and that people were saying that Germany should be divided up in order to accomplish what had been neglected in Versailles.[34]

Schacht managed to render the boycott useless, however, and he made Germany economically independent by signing the clearing agreements. The Four-Year Plan proved to be a success, and the Hitler government managed to get nearly all the jobless into some kind of employment by the end of 1937. At the same time, the American New Deal failed. After that, Roosevelt changed his policy to one favoring intervention. He introduced it by his "Quarantine" speech dating from October 1937, directed against Japan but also against Germany and Italy.[35]

For the ambitious Roosevelt, a large-scale war could help in solving his domestic problems by absorbing the unemployed through an armament boom, as well as subsequently bringing to pass the "American Century" through his leadership of a world government. He favored turmoil in Europe, and through his Ambassador, Anthony Biddle, he influenced the Polish government not to enter into negotiations with Germany.[36] When, in 1938, the German people realized the right of self-determination by merging Austria and the Sudetenland into the Reich according to the decisions of the Munich conference of September 1938, Roosevelt protested against the Western powers' acceptance of Germany's rightful claims. The Munich agreement, involving Germany, Great Britain, France, and Italy, was the last independent decision in Europe, uninfluenced by either America or Russia. Therefore, President Roosevelt declared it a capitulation to Hitler, and brought pressure on the Western powers and Poland to offer stiff resistance to Germany.[37] Roosevelt and Stalin had equal interests in the outbreak of a war in Europe, each of them nursing his own dream of a world domination; Roosevelt as president of a world government in the form of the United Nations, Stalin as dictator of a Communist world empire.[38]

IV. The Outbreak of the Second World War

.The problem of inducing the enemy to fire the first shot in order to be able to brand him the aggressor was easier in the German-Polish confrontation than it was to be two years later in the conflict between Japan and the U.S.A. The Polish, influenced by the American administration and relying on their alliance with Great Britain and France, reacted to the last German peace proposal with a general mobilization. Thus they forced the German government's hand. According to Frederick the Great of Prussia, "The attacker is the one who forces his adversary to attack." Thanks to the treason of Herwarth von Bittenfeld, then secretary to the German embassy in Moscow, President Roosevelt knew of the German-Russian secret treaty of August 23, 1939 even before Hitler could inform his ally. Roosevelt, however, did not inform the Polish government of this intelligence, since he, like Stalin, wanted war.[39]

The Soviet dictator signed the treaty with Hitler in order to cause war between the capitalist states. It was his aim to intervene after the capitalist powers were exhausted. In this way he intended to emerge as victor of the war. In order to effect the Bolshevist world revolution, with the ultimate aim of establishing Moscow's rule over the world, the conquest of Germany was essential.[40] Bolshevist attempts at seizing power in Germany between 1918 and 1923 had failed because of the Freikorps (Volunteer Corps) and the Reichswehr.[41] By means of the Second World War and with the help of President Roosevelt, Stalin would conquer half of Europe, including half of Germany, and integrate it into the Communist block. Roosevelt's dream of becoming president of the world was not to come to pass, however; he died on April 12, 1945, eighteen days before Hitler's suicide.

On September 3, 1939, the British government declared war on Germany and thus forced France to take the same disastrous step, hypocritically claiming they were doing so to protect Polish independence. Exactly twenty-five years earlier, on August 4, 1914, the British government had declared war on the German Reich, proclaiming its support for Belgian neutrality. Within a quarter of a century, the British Empire thus started two unprovoked wars in order to destroy Germany.[42] To be sure, in 1939 the British government did not act independently, but was pressured intensely by the American President. Joseph Kennedy, from 1938 to 1940 the United States Ambassador in London, later replied to a question of James Forrestal, the U.S. secretary of defense, on just how it was that war had broken out:

Hitler would have fought Russia without any later conflict with England if it had not been for Bullitt's [William Bullitt, then Ambassador to France urging on Roosevelt in the summer of 1939 that the Germans must be faced down about Poland; neither the French nor the British would have made Poland a cause of war if it hadn't been for the constant needling from Washington. Bullitt, he said, kept telling Roosevelt that the Germans would not fight, Kennedy said that they would and that they would overrun Europe. Chamberlain, he says, stated that America and the world Jews had forced England into the war. In his telephone conversations with Roosevelt in the summer of 1939, the President kept telling him to put some iron up Chamberlain's backside ...[43]

The 1941 German attack on the Soviet Union was a preventive war to avoid the Soviet Russian attack then being prepared. At that time the Soviet Union proved the most heavily armed state, underestimated not only by the German, but also by the Allied general staffs.[44]

Roosevelt's diplomacy contributed to the failure of German attack plans for the spring of 1941. Since he had engineered the Yugoslavian coup d'état of March 27, 1941,[45] the German command saw the necessity of a Balkan campaign, thus delaying the attack on the Soviet Union by five weeks. For President Roosevelt, America's entry into the European war was complicated by the Neutrality Act, and by the German government's silence over the growing breaches of neutrality committed by the U.S.A. on behalf of the Western Allies throughout the years 1939-1941.[46] Eventually, Roosevelt found the "backdoor to war" by provoking war with Japan.[47] His economic sanctions and political demands had been devised with the purpose of driving Japan into war, forcing it to fire the first shot and thus appear to the world as the aggressor. He attained this objective through his ultimatum of November 26, 1941, which he had issued without informing the American Congress. The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor of December 7, 1941 was thereby artificially provoked.[48]

By his demand for unconditional surrender Roosevelt made impossible any attempt at a political solution of the war problems. For him and his British friend Winston Churchill the complete destruction of the German Reich and the extermination of the German people were the main objective of the war. Military force, only a means for attaining an end in the view of Clausewitz, became an end in itself. Anti-German propaganda, directed by the American administration itself, grew to an infernal extent.

In the spring of 1941, when the U.S.A. was still officially neutral, the Jewish author, Theodore Kaufman, published the book Germany Must Perish. In it he outlined a plan for the biological eradication of the German people through the forced sterilization of the whole adult population.[49]

Charles Lindbergh, the famous American pilot, recorded these extermination plans in his diary.[50] The sterilization plans could not be put into effect due to the developing discord within the anti-Hitler coalition. In 1943, Roosevelt disclosed to Cardinal Spellman that he intended to leave Europe to the Russians as a sphere of influence.[51] One year later, when the Red Army conquered Poland, disagreements arose between Great Britain and the USA on one side, and Stalin on the other, terminating with Poland's complete integration into the Communist sphere of influence.51 That was just one of the results of a world war unleashed by Great Britain in order to defend Poland.

After being elected four times, contrary to the American tradition, President Roosevelt was in such bad physical shape after his fourth inauguration that he was unable to fulfill his duties. Similar to President Wilson at Versailles in 1919, Roosevelt at Yalta in 1945 showed alarming signs of exhaustion and dementia. At times he was not able to follow Stalin's line of thought during his talks with the Soviet dictator. Thus the Russian autocrat had an easy game at ramming through his plans regarding Europe and Asia. In Europe the Soviet Union reached the Elbe-Saale Line, dividing Germany, as well as the Occident, into two parts. As to East Asia, Stalin had the Portsmouth Treaty between Russia and Japan revised as a reward for Russian help in the defeat of Japan. Four years later, in 1949, China turned Communist, Communism's greatest triumph after its success in Europe.

My lecture is now drawing to a close and I shall summarize. In the course of the l9th Century, a capitalist world economy had led to the growing importance and intensification of economic ties and interests on the international stage; on the one hand bringing the nations together and establishing an interconnection of all peoples by modern means of transport and communication; on the other hand, aggravating old conflicts and creating new ones. The possibility of mutual and international involvement in other people's affairs, and of unending conflicts, was particularly increased. It was characteristic of the pre-industrial age that man could only reach limited aims, by limited means; the sign of the Machine Age and its mode of living was the enabling of man to strive for unlimited aims by seemingly unlimited means.

The conflicts resulting from a capitalistic world economy culminated at the turn of the century in the international rivalry between Germany and the British Empire. This tension, which had never existed before between these two nations, was rooted in trade competition, and overshadowed all the old conflicts between the Continental powers. A local conflict ignited by the small Balkan state of Serbia in 1914, and expanded to a war of European scale by Russia's meddling on Serbia's side, developed into a world war with the British declaration of war on Germany. Werner Sombart, the well-known German historian of capitalism, describes the nature of this development:[52]

... [the] common characteristic of all developments of the capitalist era is a pressure toward infinity, a boundlessness of aims, a force striving beyond all organic measure. Here we have one of those inner contradictions pervading modern culture: that life, in its highest and strongest action, overreaches and ... destroys itself.

The American intervention in the European civil war in 1917, brought about by British policy and ensuring the Allied victory, ushered in the climax of Anglo-Saxon world rule. At that time, after overthrowing two of the most powerful continental powers, Russia and Germany, the two Anglo-Saxon powers were rulers of the globe. They won the war, but they lost the peace because of their own incapability to shape a just order of peace. Britain and America bear the main responsibility for the further course of international history in the American Century.

The Second World War was a necessary consequence of the First World War's termination in the peace dictates of Versailles and St. Germain. The immediate origins of the Second World War were the Allied Powers' breaking of the preliminary agreement based on Wilson's Fourteen Points; the refusal of the right of self-determination and of equality of rights for the German people; the creation of the eastern frontier and the "Polish Corridor"; the treaties' paragraphs on war guilt and war criminals, and impossible financial and economic claims.

The outbreak of the war of 1939 was caused directly by the conflict between Poland and Germany over the "Corridor" and Danzig problems. Great Britain and the USA did not grant Germany fulfillment of her rights to self-determination: unification of Austria and the Sudeten region with the German Reich in 1938 had shifted the relations between the powers on the continent in favor of Germany – an event unacceptable for England's traditional policy of a "Balance of Powers." Equally unacceptable for America was the Europeans' independent decision at the Munich conference, excluding the United States and the Soviet Union.

By means of a European war, both Roosevelt and Stalin intended to realize their dream of world rule according to totally different views and totally different aims. Thus Washington and Moscow staged a new European war, enabling both colossi to destroy and displace a Europe engaged in self-mutilation. The European order of the world was replaced by two "super powers," leading to a balance of terror. Thus, America lost her position as arbiter mundi[*] which she had at tempted to exercise in 1919, and was forced on the defensive against an aggressive and expansionist Communism striving for exclusive world domination.


[*]"world arbiter" – Ed.
[1]See also: Erwin Hölzle, Die Selbstentmachtung Europas (Göttingen, 1975).
[2]Karl Alexander von Müller, "Das Zeitalter des Imperialismus" in Knaur's Weltgeschichte (Berlin, 1935). Alexander Randa, Handbuch der Weltgeschichte, Vol. III (Olten, 1954).
[3]Georg Franz-Willing, "Der Krimkrieg, ein Wendepunkt des europäischen Schicksals," in Geschichte in Wissenschaft and Unterricht 7, Heft 8, August 1956, p. 448ff.
[4]Georg Franz-Willing, Der weltgeschichtliche Aufstieg der Vereinigten Staaten durch die Entscheidung des Bürgerkrieges 1861-1865 (Osnabruck, 1979).
[5]Georg Franz-Willing, "Der Indische Aufstand 1857-18S9," in Die Welt als Geschichte, XXI, 1961, p. 29ff., 109ff.
[6]Georg Franz-Willing, "Europa oder Asien. Admiral Perry's Expedition nach Japan," in Die Österreichische Furche, 1953, Nr. 31 v.1.8.1953.
[7]Georg Franz-Willing, Neueste Geschichte Chinas 1840-1973 (Paderborn, 1975) passim.
[8]Allan Nevins, Henry White. Thirty Years of American Diplomacy (New York, 1930) p., 257 f. Albert Wedemeyer, Reports (New York, 1958), p. 13f.
[9]Wedemeyer, ibid.
[10]Georg Franz-Willing, Erzherzog Franz Ferdinand und die Pläne zur Reform der Habsburger Monarchie (Munich, 1943), passim.
[11]Hans Übersberger, Russland and Serbien, (Munich, 1958), passim. Erwin Hölzle, Amerika and Russland (Göttingen, 1980), p. 103ff.
[12]Hölzle, Die Selbstentmachtung Europas, p. 234. Dietrich Aigner, Das Ringen um England (Munich, 1969), p. 13ff.
[13]Homer Lea, The Day of the Saxon (New York, 1912), p. 137.
[14]V. I. Lenin, Über Krieg, Armee and Militärwissenschaft. Eine Auswahlaus Lenins Schriften in zwei Bänden (East Berlin, 1958), Vol. I, p. 455.
[15]Hölzle, Amerika and Russland, p. 192 ff. Felix Frankfurter, Reminiscences (New York, 1960), p. 154ff., 178ff. Bernard Baruch, The Public Years (New York, 1960), p. Off., p. 49ff.
[16]Baruch, The Public Years, p. 97ff. Baruch, The Making of Reparations and Economic Sections of the Treaty (New York, 1920), passim.
[17]Fritz Berber, Das Versailler Diktat, 2 vols. (Essen, 1939), Vol. I, p. 8ff., p. 35f., p. 94f. Ulrich Graf Brockdorff-Rantzau, Dokumente und Gedanken um Versailles (Berlin, 1925), p. 175ff. Ray S. T. Baker, Woodrow Wilson and World Settlement (London, 1923), Vol. 3, p. 458ff.
[18]Berber, loc. cit., Vol. I, p. 52ff.
[19]Philipp Scheidemann, Memoiren eines Sozialdemokraten, 2 vols. (Dresden, 1928), Vol. I, p. 346.
[20]Walther Rathenau, Kritik der dreifachen Revolution (Berlin, 1919), p. 123ff. Walther Rathenau, Tagebuch 1907-1922 (Düsseldorf, 1967), p. 226ff. Friedrich Boetticher, Soldat am Rande der Politik (Unpublished Memoirs). Max Warburg, Aus meinen Aufzeichnungen, ed. by Eric Warburg (New York, 1952), p. 57ff., p. 80ff.
[21]Münchner Post (Social Democratic Daily), Nr. 263 dated 11/19/19, Article: "Die Hungerblockade und ihre Folgen."
[22]Georg Franz-Willing, Ursprung der Hitlerbewegung (Preussisch-Oldendorf, 1947) p. 97ff.
[23]Georg Franz-Willing, Krisenjahr Hitlerbewegung (Preussisch-Oldendorf, 1975), p. 274.
[24]Taras Borodajkewycz, Wegmarken der Geschichte Österreichs (Wien, 1972), (Eckartschriften, Heft 42), p. 43ff. Heinrich Ritter von Srbik, "Österreich in der deutschen Geschichte," in Zwei Reden für Österreich (Eckartschriften, Heft 67), (Wien, 1978), p. 13ff.
[25]Taras Borodajkewycz, Saint Germain. Diktat gegen Selbstbestimmung (Eckartschriften, Heft 31), (Wien, 1969), passim.
[26]Memorandum of the Premier Lloyd George dated 3/25/19, Berber, loc. cit., Vol. I, p. 35ff.
[27]General Henry Allen, My Rhineland Journal (Boston, 1923), entry dated 1/15/20.
[28]See Baruch (Nr. 16).
[29]Ludwig Freiherr von Pastor, Tagebücher (Heidelberg, 1950), entry dated 3/12/20.
[30]Lenin, loc. cit., Vol. I, p. 569, p. 6ñ0.
[31]George Kennan, Russia and the West under Lenin and Stalin (London, 1961), p. 164.
[32]Dirk Kunert, Ein Weltkrieg wird programmiert (Kiel, 1984), p. 97ff.
[33]Georg Franz-Willing, 1933. Die nationale Erhebung (Leoni, 1982), p.242f. Waclawa Jedrzejewicz, "The Polish Plan for a 'Preventive War' against Germany in 1933," in The Polish Review (New York, 1966), p. 62ff.
[34]Akten der deutschen auswärtigen Politik (ADAP), Series C,I,I, Nr. 214, "Präsident Schacht an das Auswärtige Amt." Franz-Willing, loc. cit., p. 281ff.
[35]Kunert, loc. cit., p. 192ff.
[36]Carl J. Burckhardt, Meine Danziger Mission 1937-1939 (Munich, 1960), p. 225ff. Dirk Bavendamm, Roosevelts Weg zum Krieg (Munich, 1983), p. 72, p. 407ff. Kunert, loc. cit., p. 226, p. 261.
[37]Bavendamm, loc. cit., p. 415ff., p. 511ff., p. 600ff.
[38]Kunert, loc. cit., p. 13ff., p. 271ff., p. 280ff.
[39]Hans Herwarth, Against Two Evils (New York, 1981), p. 159ff., Charles Bohlen, Witness To History (New York, 1973), Chapter: "A Source in the Nazi Embassy."
[40]Ernst Topitsch, Stalins Krieg. Die sowjetische Langzeitstrategie gegen den Westen als rationale Machtpolitik (Murrich, 1985), passim.
[41]Franz-Willing, Krisenjahr der Hitlerbewegung, p. 282ff.
[42]Aigner, Das Ringen um England, p. 29ff., p. 105ff., p. 269ff.
[43]The Forrestal Diaries, edited by Walter Millis (New York, 1951), p. 285, entry dated 12/27/45.
[44]Joachim Hoffmann, "Die Sowjetunion bis zum Vorabend des deutschen Angriffs" in Das Deutsche Reich und der Zweite Weltkrieg, Vol. 4 (Stuttgart, 1983), pp. 83-97, pp. 713-809.
[45]Konstantin Fotitsch, The War We Lost. Yugoslavia's Tragedy and the Failure of the West (New York, 1948). K. O. Braun, "Das kriegsauslösende Serbien 1914 und 1941," in Deutsche Annalen (Leoni, 1984), p. 228ff.
[46]Fritz Berber, Die amerikanische Neutralität im Kriege 1939-1941 (Essen, 1943), passim.
[47]Charles Tansill, Backdoor To War (Chicago, 1952). Bavendamm, loc. cit., p. 563ff.
[48]Hamilton Fish, FDR. The Other Side of The Coin. How We Were Tricked Into World War II (New York, 1976). Peter Herde, Pearl Harbor 7/12/41 (Dannstadt, 1980).
[49]Newark, New Jersey, Argyle Press, 1941.
[50]The Wartime Journals, entry dated February 5, 1942. See also David Irving, The Last Campaign. Gerrnan edition: Der Nürnberger Prozess (Munich, 1979), p. 19.
[51]The Cardinal Spellman Story (New York, 1962). (German Edition, Neuenbürg, 1963, p. 189ff.).
[52]Der moderne Kapitalismus, Vol. 3, 1928, pp. 12, 25.

Additional information about this document
Property Value
Author(s): Georg Franz-Willing
Title: The Origins of the Second World War, Paper Presented to the Seventh International Revisionist Conference
Sources: The Journal of Historical Review, vol. 7, no. 1 (spring 1986), pp. 95-114
Published: 1986-04-01
First posted on CODOH: Nov. 9, 2012, 6 p.m.
Last revision:
Appears In: