The Beginning of World War II At daybreak on the first day of September, 1939, the residents of Poland awakened to grave news. A juggernaut force of tanks, guns, and countless grey-clad soldiers from nearby Germany had torn across the countryside and were making a total invasion of the Poles homelands. Germanys actions on that fateful morning ignited a conflict that would spread like a wildfire, engulfing the entire globe in a great world war. This scenario is many peoples conception of how World War II came about. In reality, the whole story is far more detailed and complex. The origins of war can be traced as far back as the end of the first World War in 1919, when the Treaty of Versailles placed responsibility for that terrible war squarely on Germany.
Years later, in the Far East, Japanese ambition for territory led the nation to invade Manchuria and other parts of nearby China, causing hostilities to flare in the Pacific Rim. Great Britain, the United States, and many other nations of the world would all be drawn into battle in the years to come, and each nation had its own reason for lending a hand in the struggle. Although Germany was the major player in World War II, the seeds of war had already been planted in the Far East years before conflict in Europe. On September 18, 1931, the powerful Japanese military forces began an invasion of the region known as Manchuria, an area belonging to mainland China. This action broke non-aggression treaties that had been signed earlier. It also was carried out by Japanese generals without the consent of the Japanese government.
In spite of this, no one was ever punished for the actions. Soon after the assault on China, the Japanese government decided it had no choice but to support the occupation of Manchuria. By the next year the region had been completely cut off from China (Ienaga 60-64). Because of the Japanese offensive in China, the League of Nations held a vote in October to force Japan out of the captured territory. The vote was passed, 13 to 1, but Japan remained in control of Manchuria. A second vote, taken in February, 1933, a formal disapproval of the Japanese occupation, was passed 42 to 1.
Instead of expelling Japan from the area of Manchuria, it caused the nation to formally withdraw its membership in the League of Nations the next month (Ienaga 66). Now unrestrained by the recommendations of the League of Nations, Japan continued its intrusion onto Chinese soil. By 1937 Japan had moved military forces into Beijing, Shanghai, and Nanjing, as well as other regions of China. By 1940, Japanese seizure of territory had spread to deep inside Southeast Asia and even parts of Australia (Sutel et al). Also in 1940, the Triparte Pact was signed, allying Japan, Germany, and Italy into a powerful force that stretched halfway around the planet.
The association with Hitler and Germany unified the war in the Pacific and the war in Europe. Japan was now fully involved in what came to be known as World War II. As warfare raged in the Pacific Rim, a chain of events was unfolding that would produce catastrophic results. The Treaty of Versailles of 1919 held Germany fully accountable for the tragedy of World War I. The nation was stripped of large areas of land, its armaments, as well as its dignity.
In addition, the reparations that were to be paid to the allied nations virtually destroyed the economy of Germany. The resentment of the treaty burned in the hearts and minds of Germans for years afterward. In 1933, a man by the name of Adolf Hitler was elected Chancellor of Germany after working his way up the ladder of government. By speaking against the Treaty of Versailles and making promises of a better life to the German people, Hitler gained the support of his fellow countrymen, and he easily won the election. Almost immediately after Hitler took office he began securing his position in power.
Hitler took steps to eliminate all opposition, including political parties and anyone else who spoke out against him. The death of President Hindenburg in 1934 clinched his high ezding, and he in effect became dictator of Germany. Hitler held the titles of Head of State, Commander in Chief of German military forces, Chancellor, and Chief of the Nazi Party (Elliott 57). There was no question of his supremacy. With his empire established, Hitler took steps to rearm Germany, leading the nation down the road to war. In violation of the Treaty of Versailles and a naval treaty signed with Great Britain, Hitler rebuilt the nations army and naval forces.
By 1935 the ranks of the army had swelled to over 500,000 and production of arms and ammunition had resumed (73). Also, the Rhineland, a region in western Germany next to France, was reoccupied by military units. This region had been demilitarized after World War I, and the Treaty of Versailles forbade occupation of the area. In spite of the violations of treaty after treaty, little was done by the world powers to control the renewed German militarism. With the stage now set, Hitler set his plan for conquest into motion. Beginning in 1938, Hitler used threats and political maneuvering to overthrow the government of nearby Austria.
His next target was Czechoslovakia. In March of 1939, the nation was overtaken after Hitler threatened a bombing of Prague if his army met resiezce on its invasion of the country (80). With the conquest of Europe well underway and his reich expanding rapidly, Hitlers power and influence was growing greater each day. He now planned to add Poland to his list of accomplishments and further extend the German empire. The threat of Russia backing the Poles to defend against an attack was neutralized when Germany and Russia signed a nonaggression pact saying that the two nations would not go to war. Great Britain sternly warned Germany that an attack on Poland would be considered an act of war. Hitler fearlessly ignored the warnings, and his operation swung into action.
In the early morning hours of September 1, 1939, German forces mobilized and swarmed into Poland. The old-fashioned Polished cavalry was devastated in the assault, as they stood no chance against the mighty Panzer tanks that rolled through the country with frightening speed. Two days after the attack, Britain and France joined in a declaration of war against Germany. Their belated reactions, however, could not save the army of Poland. In a battle that raged for nearly a month, the Polish army was eventually cornered in the capital city of Warsaw.
After a brutal siege of the city, the valiant countrymen of Poland had no choice but to surrender to the …