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It is believed that there is a cause-effect relationship between an economic collapse and social unrest. This was the case in the 20th century, with many experts believing that the Great Depression had a part to play in the emergence of the Second World War. The Second World War was a geopolitical event that mainly affected European countries. However, it is believed that some economic issues played a role in the emergence of the war. The First World War brought about a lot of death and destruction. The aftermath was a conference whose goal was to find ways to prevent such a war from ever happening again, culminating in the Treaty of Versailles. The combination of a poorly designed treaty and a severe economic crisis brought about declining international relations, which led to a worse war than the preceding one.
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The collapse of International Trade
The United States enjoyed a prosperous decade in the 1920s. During this decade, the financial situation of Americans was the best it had ever been, and there were cheap and easily accessible loans which led to more consumer spending. However, in October 1929, the stock market crashed. This crash caused the country to slide into an economic crisis. The collapse devalued stocks to their lowest levels, leading to companies declaring bankruptcy and closing and people losing their jobs (Library of Congress, 2022). The Great Depression caused American banks to stop loaning money to Europe and even started recalling all the money that had been loaned. The sudden recall of the loans led to bank collapses in Central Europe. The biggest bank in Austria, Kreditanstalt, collapsed in 1931, leading to an economic crisis in Central Europe and especially Germany. The economic collapse in Germany was worse as they were blamed for the First World War and were forced to pay other European countries for the damages (BBC, 2019). The Great Depression motivated countries globally to enact beggar-thy-neighbor policies. These policies were aimed at protecting locally produced products from foreign competition. These policies were great for the individual countries but were disadvantageous on a global level. The policies made countries turn to protectionism, which was detrimental to international trade and reduced its benefits. This was especially a disadvantage for Germany, which did not have sufficient resources to rebuild while paying off the debt incurred from the First World War.
Extremism and World War
With the effects of the Great Depression in Europe, the citizens were poor, hungry, and wanted change in their lives. The citizens were open to following and supporting leaders that promised to ease their suffering and bring back prosperity. Many politicians took this opportunity to rise to power while promising the people exactly what they wanted to hear. These leaders who rose to power during this time include Adolf Hitler in Germany, Joseph Stalin in the Soviet Union, Francisco Franco in Spain, and Benito Mussolini in Italy. Adolf Hitler blamed the woes of the German people on the Treaty of Versailles, which had forced Germany to make reparations payments, surrender its colonies, and disarm its military. The Germans hated this treaty as they had to pay for the war while giving up their colonies where they had been getting raw materials for their industries (History.com Editors, 2022). Adolf Hitler used this resentment and promised to ease the suffering of Germans and take the country back to its former glory. He promised military armament and a strong sense of national prestige. To achieve its goal, Germany needed more raw materials creating the need for more territory (The National WWII Museum, 2022). Germany started their expansion by annexing a large part of Austria and parts of Czechoslovakia in 1938. Seeing no consequence, Germany decided to invade Poland, which caused Britain and France to declare war on Germany on September 3rd, 1939. This was the start of the Second World War.
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The Great Depression was not the cause of the Second World War. However, the Great Depression played a great role in the start of the War. The United States was the major economy then, and the economic crisis meant its economy tanked, pulling the global economy with it. This led to American banks recalling their loans extended to European countries. The recall of the loans was especially detrimental to Germany, which depended on them to pay for the First World War while rebuilding its economy. What followed was the citizens suffering and supporting leaders who promised them a better future. Adolf Hitler took this opportunity to rise to power with promises to rebuild Germany and restore it to its former glory. To achieve his goal, Adolf Hitler invaded the neighboring countries to get the needed raw materials for his plan. This greed to invade other countries led to the invasion of Poland, causing Britain and France to declare war on Germany and leading to the start of the Second World War.
- BBC. (2019). Hitler into power 1929-1934. BBC Bitesize; BBC. https://www.bbc.co.uk/bitesize/guides/zpvhk7h/revision/1
- History.com Editors. (2022, July 28). Treaty of Versailles. History; A&E Television Networks. https://www.history.com/topics/world-war-i/treaty-of-versailles-1
- Library of Congress. (2022). Great Depression and World War II, 1929-1945. Library of Congress. https://www.loc.gov/classroom-materials/united-states-history-primary-source-timeline/great-depression-and-world-war-ii-1929-1945/overview/
- The National WWII Museum. (2022). How Did Adolf Hitler Happen? The National WWII Museum | New Orleans. https://www.nationalww2museum.org/war/articles/how-did-adolf-hitler-happen