Compare the different reasons that led to the start of WW1 and WW2

The causes of World War One:

WW1 map

ANIMAL reasons

  • A- Alliance: European nations signed secret treaties that created a system of alliances pitting nation versus nation.
  • N – Nationalism: There were intense feelings of nationalism on the part of subjugated nationalities. These feelings would eventually lead to rash acts.
  • I – Imperialism: Competition to develop vast empires caused tension and conflict.
  • M – Militarism: Nations built huge armies to defend themselves and help to gain these empires. It was a natural feeling for them to want to use these militaries.
  • A – Anarchy: There was no international organization to help them deal with their problems.
  • L – Leadership: Poor leadership in countries

Other causes:

  1. Attempt to re-divide the world: With most of the Asia and Africa already being occupied further conquest can take place only by dispossessing an imperialist power. This created rivalries among colonial powers.
  2. Conflicts over European domination.
  • competition to control declining Ottoman Empire.
  • Division of Balkan peninsula.
  • Pan slav movement.
  • Pan German movement.
  1. Division of Europe in two armed camps : Triple alliance and Triple Entente.

IMMEDIATE CAUSE: Assassination of Archduke Francis Ferdinand of Austria- Hungary and blame put on Serbia.


  1. Huge destruction of property and millions died
  2. End of three ruling dynasties: Romanov in Russia, Hohenzollern in Germany, Habsburg in Austria.
  3. Alteration of world map: separation of Austria and Hungary, independence of Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia and unification of Poland.
  4. Rise of USA as the global super power.
  5. Emergence of the first socialist state: USSR
  6. Formation of League of Nations.

The causes of World War Two:

WW2 map

1.  The Treaty of Versailles solved nothing. More on the treaty here

  • Reparations left many people in the victorious nations feeling guilty.
  • The loss of all that land to other countries simply made Hitler’s early aggression look justified.
  • Self-determination clause in the treaty led to dismemberment of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in to new small nation-states, they fell easy prey to Germany.
  • Most of all, the Treaty made the Germans angry, just waiting their chance for revenge.

2. The League of Nations failed to keep the peace  

  • It was weak from the beginning, and had spectacular failures in Manchuria and Abyssinia, and it failed to prevent Hitler breaking the Treaty of Versailles.
  • It failed to achieve disarmament, which resulted in an arms race.
  • Countries left the failing League, and realised that they would have to fight a war.
  • Britain and France abandoned collective security(a clause of the league’s charter), and turned instead to appeasement.

3.  Appeasement encouraged aggression

  • Appeasement encouraged war.   It made Hitler think no one dare stop him, which encouraged him to go further and further until in the end he went too far.
  • The Sudetenland led Stalin to make the Nazi-Soviet Pact, because he believed he could not trust Britain.
  • Why appeasement:
    • USA – Isolationist policy
    • France – France was unlikely, and reluctant, to intervene against Germany, because she could not rely on Britain’s and America’s support.
    • Britain – Between 1934 and 1937, Britain was sympathetic to German recovery. Between May 1937 and March 1939, Britain appeased Germany.

4.  Hitler was expansionist and other personal reasons

  •   Many historians still think that the Second World War was Hitler’s personal war, and that he always intended to fight a war – as a re-run of a First World War he did not believe that German had lost fairly.
  • Hitler’s Aims: To unite German speaking people. He wanted lebensraum (living space) in order to gain self-sufficiency (autarky). He wanted to dominate Europe and the World.

5. The aggression of Hitler’s Allies

  • Italy – Mussolini wanted a Fascist-Roman empire in the Mediterranean and Africa (e.g. Abyssinian invasion in 1935.)
    Japan – Japan wanted a Nipponese empire in the Pacific, extending into China and Australia (e.g. Manchurian invasion in 1931)

Nine Steps to War: These events caused anger in allies and were responsible for war, but did not cause war till 1939


  • The Treaty of Versailles had put the Saar(rich in coal) under the control of the League of Nations(though jointly administered by British and France) for 15 years. In 1935(after 15 years) the inhabitants(90%) of the Saar voted to return to Germany. The Saar plebiscite is cited by many historians as the first step to war.
  • It divided the nations opposing Germany.


  • Hitler began to build up his armed forces. In 1935 he introduced conscription (calling up men to the army). This broke the Treaty of Versailles, but Britain and France let him get away with it.


  • Hitler invaded the Rhineland on 7 March 1936 and re-militarized it. This broke the Treaty of Versailles the Locarno Treaties, It was a bluff – the German army had only 22,000 soldiers and had orders to retreat if they met any resistance. But once again, Britain and France did nothing. It was the first military action by Hitler and it was successful. France lost the opportunity to stop Hitler once and for all. The remilitarization was hugely important as it changed the balance of power in Europe from France towards Germany

4. The Rome-Berlin Axis (October 1936)

  • It was a cause of war because it united the aggressive fascist powers and divided Europe into hostile camps.


  • In 1938, Hitler took over Austria. First, Hitler encouraged the Austrian Nazis to demand union with Germany. Then Hitler invaded Austria (11 March 1938). This broke the Treaty of Versailles, but Britain and France did nothing
  • It was the first time Hitler had annexed land outside Germany. It marked the beginning of Mussolini’s support for Hitler. It marked the first time Chamberlain appeased Hitler because Austria was ‘too far away to help’.


  • In 1938, Hitler tried to take over the Sudetenland(used to be inhabited by German speaking people in Czech). First, Hitler encouraged the Sudeten Nazis to demand union with Germany. Then, Hitler made plans to invade Czechoslovakia.
  • Neville Chamberlain appeased Hitler. At Munich(Munich Agreement), on 29 September 1938, Britain and France gave Hitler the Sudetenland.
  • It was the first time Hitler took land that was not simply redressing the Treaty of Versailles
  • It convinced Hitler that Chamberlain and Daladier were ‘worms’ who could be bullied
  • It convinced Stalin that Chamberlain and Daladier would not stand up to Hitler and led him to make the Nazi-Soviet Pact
  • The German army, hoping Hitler would be humiliated by the allies, had planned to topple him when he was; his success meant the end of any hope of getting rid of Hitler.


  • On 15 March 1939, Hitler’s troops marched into the rest of Czechoslovakia. This, for most British people, was the time when they realised that the only thing that would stop Hitler was a war.
  • It discredited appeasement and demonstrated that Hitler’s promises could not be trusted
  • It was the first time Hitler had annexed a non-German people; thus it appear to prove that he wanted to dominate the whole world
  • Czecholsovakia was a democracy, which worried the other western democracies
  • It convinced Chamberlain that Hitler would ot be stopped by negotiation, and led him to make the Polish Guarantee (which was the eventual trigger of the war)
  • It outraged the British people, and got them ready for war (where in September 1938 they had been overwhelmingly in favour of peace).


  • In summer 1939, Hitler began to unfold his plan to take over Poland. First, the Germans in Danzig(created through Versailles treaty) demanded union with Germany. Then, Hitler threatened war.
  • Chamberlain promised the Poles that Britain would support them if Germany attacked Poland.
  • In August 1939, Hitler made a secret treaty with Russia. He thought this would stop Britain & France helping Poland.
  • It was seen as a disgusting act of political cynicism which convinced British people of the need for a war to stop this evil man.


  • In April 1939, Chamberlain announced the ‘Polish Guarantee’ – a promise to defend Poland if Hitler invaded (this was the event which ended appeasement).
  • The Polish Guarantee was the decision which threw Stalin into the Nazi-Soviet Pact
  • On 1 September 1939, Hitler invaded Poland.

On 3 September 1939, Chamberlain declared war on Germany.


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