Monday, January 9, 2017

The Great World War, 1914-1945: The Temporal Link Between World War I and World War II

"This great war is the War to End War." - President Woodrow Wilson

"The lamps are going out all over Europe, and we shall not see them lit again in our life." - Sir Edward Grey

"A good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan executed next week." - General George S. Patton

"We shall fight on the beaches. We shall fight on the landing grounds. We shall fight in the fields and in the streets. We shall fight forever." - Sir Winston Churchill


What is meant by the term 'The Great World War?' It means, very basically, that World War I and
World War II were not separate conflicts, even though most historians would seek to convince the world that they are. According to history, World War I began with the Assassination of the Arch Duke Franz Ferdinand on June 28, 1914 and was ended with the final signing of the Treat of Versailles on November 11, 1918. Further, according to history, World War II began with German Invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939 and ended with the formal surrender of the Empire of Japan on September 2, 1945, when their Foreign Minister signed the Japanese Instrument of Surrender aboard a United States battleship. This article will not dispute the start date of World War I, nor will dispute the end date of World War II. What it will dispute is the assumption that these two conflicts are separate periods in World History.

It will be the goal of this article make the point that, in fact, World War 1 and World War II should actually be combined and understood to be one single event. The Treaty of Versailles, which ended World War I, was an instrument of revenge used by primarily France, but with Great Britain's signature upon it, as well. The French were seeking to completely disarm Germany in an effort to keep Germany from defeating them, yet again, in a major war. France was still stinging from the Franco-Prussian War, fought from 1870 to 1871, in which Germany had taken some key provinces from France. After World War I, France took them back and did not want to give them back. The treaty was also meant to keep Germany from becoming a competitive economic force over France again.

The restrictions placed on Germany put Germany in a position of extreme poverty, this turned the people of Germany against the other Western powers, building the base for another war once the rope that was the Treat of Versailles snapped. By the early 1920s, that rope was beginning to tighten up, and on November 8, 1923, Europe was introduced to Adolf Hitler when he tried to take over the Bavarian government in a failed armed rebellion that history remembers as the Beer Hall Putsch. By the time Hitler was elected Supreme Chancellor in 1933, the rope was near to snapping. He used a propaganda machine that played on the German people's sense of national pride. He told them that he could reverse the conditions of the evil Treaty of Versailles and he promised to make Germany a powerful nation again. When he was appointed Supreme Chancellor of Germany, and later President, he began to make good on his promises. Once in power, he took full control of Germany and began working to rebuild what was a torn nation.

Europe actually believed, at least at first, that he was a good thing for Europe because he would put an end to the economic strife in Germany and reduce the risk of violence or even revolution. To this end, on multiple occasions they appeased some fairly aggressive actions on his part hoping that doing so would prevent another conflict on the scale of World War I. Britain and France also delayed acting against Hitler because they admitted that the treaty ending the 'the Great War' was too harsh. Unfortunately for Europe, they let him get away with too much and hostilities broke out again. This was not the beginning of a separate conflict, however, but rather, the resumption of hostilities from the 'the Great War,' as it was the Treaty of Versailles that gave rise to Hitler in the first place. It will be the goal of this article to show in as clear a manner as is possible how the interim period between these two periods of open conflict was actually nothing than a very precariously handled cease fire.

World War I - The Back Story

So, what brought about the 'War to end War.' First, over time, countries throughout Europe made mutual defense agreements that would pull them into battle. These treaties meant that if one country was attacked, their allied countries were bound to defend them. Before World War 1, the following alliances existed, Russia with Serbia, Germany with Austria-Hungary, France with Russia, Britain with France and Belgium, and Japan with Britain. Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia, Russia got involved to defend Serbia. Germany seeing Russia mobilizing, declared war on Russia. France was then drawn in against Germany and Austria-Hungary. Germany attacked France through Belgium pulling Britain into the war. Then Japan entered the war. Later, Italy and the United States would enter on the side of the allies. Second, imperialism, which is when a country increases their power and wealth by bringing additional territories under their control brought nations into close quarters with one another. Before World War I, Africa and parts of Asia were points of contention among the European countries. This was especially true because of the raw materials these areas could provide. The increasing competition and desire for greater empires led to an increase in confrontation that helped push the world into World War I.

The third point was Militarism. As the world entered the Twentieth century, an arms race began. By 1914, Germany had the greatest increase in military buildup. Great Britain and Germany both greatly increased their navies in this time period. Further, in Germany and Russia particularly, the military establishment began to have a greater influence on public policy. This increase in militarism helped push the countries involved into war. Fourth, much of the origin of the war was based on the desire of the Slavic peoples in Bosnia and Herzegovina to no longer be part of Austria Hungary but instead be part of Serbia. In this way, nationalism led directly to the War. But in a more general way, the nationalism of the various countries throughout Europe contributed not only to the beginning but the extension of the war in Europe. Each country tried to prove their dominance and power. Finally, the immediate cause of World War I that made the aforementioned items come into play, i.e., alliances, imperialism, militarism, and nationalism was the assassination of the Arch Duke Franz Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary. In June of 1914, a Serbian nationalist terrorist group known as the Black Hand sent groups to assassinate the Arch Duke. Their first attempt failed when a driver avoided a grenade thrown at their car. However, later that day a Serbian nationalist named Gavrilo Princip assassinated the Arch Duke and his wife while they were in Sarajevo, Bosnia, which was part of Austria-Hungary. This was in protest to Austria-Hungary having control of this region. Serbia wanted to take over Bosnia and Herzegovina. This assassination led to Austria-Hungary declaring war on Serbia. When Russia began to mobilize due to its alliance with Serbia, Germany declared war on Russia. Thus began the expansion of the war to include all those involved in the mutual defense alliances.

World War I - The Fight

World War I, also known as the First World War, or the Great War, was a global war originating in Europe that lasted from July 28, 1914 to November 11, 1918. More than seventy million military personnel, including sixty million Europeans, were mobilized in one of the largest wars in history. Over nine million combatants and seven million civilians died as a result of the war, including the victims of a number of genocides, a casualty rate exacerbated by the belligerents' technological and industrial sophistication and the tactical stalemate caused by a grueling trench war. It was one of the deadliest conflicts in history and paved the way for major political changes, including revolutions in many of the nations involved. The war drew in all the world's greatest economic powers, assembled in two opposing alliances, the Allies, based on the Triple Entente of the Russian Empire, the French Third Republic, and the United Kingdom, versus the Central Powers, consisting of Germany and Austria-Hungary. Although Italy was a member of the Triple Alliance alongside Germany and Austria-Hungary, it did not join the Central Powers, as Austria-Hungary had taken the offensive, against their terms of the alliance. These alliances were reorganized and expanded as more nations entered the war. Italy, Japan and the United States joined the Allies, while the Ottoman Empire and Bulgaria joined the Central Powers.

The trigger for the war was the assassination of the Arch Duke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary, by Serbian nationalist Gavrilo Princip in Sarajevo on June 28, 1914. This set off a diplomatic crisis when Austria-Hungary delivered an ultimatum to the Kingdom of Serbia, and entangled international alliances formed over the previous decades were invoked. Within weeks, all of the major European powers were at war and the conflict soon spread around the world. On July 28, 1914, the Austro-Hungarians declared war on Serbia. As Russia mobilized in support of Serbia, Germany invaded neutral Belgium and Luxembourg before moving towards France, leading the United Kingdom to declare war on Germany. After the German march on Paris was halted, what became known as the Western Front settled into a battle of attrition, with a trench line that changed little until 1917. On the Eastern Front, the Russian army was successful against the Austro-Hungarians, but the Germans stopped its invasion of East Prussia. In November of 1914, the Ottoman Empire joined the Central Powers, opening fronts in the Caucasus, Mesopotamia, and the Sinai. In 1915, Italy joined the Allies and Bulgaria joined the Central Powers. Romania joined the Allies in 1916, and the United States joined the Allies in 1917.

The Russian government collapsed in March of 1917 and a revolution in November followed by a devastating military defeat, brought the Russians to terms with the Central Powers, via the Treaty of Brest Litovsk, which granted the Germans a significant victory. After a stunning German offensive along the Western Front in the spring of 1918, the Allies rallied and drove back the Germans in a series of successful offensives. On November 4, 1918, the Austro-Hungarian Empire agreed to an armistice, and Germany, which had its own trouble with revolutionaries, agreed to an armistice on November 11, 1918, ending the war in victory for the Allies. By the end of the war, or soon after, the German Empire, the Russian Empire, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and the Ottoman Empire all ceased to exist. National borders were redrawn with several independent nations being either restored or created. Germany's colonies were also parceled out among the winners of the war. During the Paris Peace Conference of 1919, the Big Four, Britain, France, the United States and Italy, imposed their terms in a series of treaties. The League of Nations was formed with the aim of preventing any repetition of such a conflict. This effort failed, and economic depression and renewed nationalism, weakened successor states, and increased feelings of humiliation, particularly in Germany, which eventually contributed to the outbreak World War II.

The Treaty of Versailles

The Treaty of Versailles was one of the peace treaties at the end of World War I. It ended the state of war between Germany and the Allied Powers. It was signed on June 28, 1919, exactly five years after the assassination of the Arch Duke Franz Ferdinand. The other Central Powers on the German side of World War I were dealt with in separate treaties. Although the armistice, signed on November 11, 1918, ended the actual fighting, it took six months of negotiations at the Paris Peace Conference to conclude the peace treaty. The treaty was registered by the Secretariat of the League of Nations on October 21, 1919.

Of the many provisions in the treaty, one of the most important and controversial provisions required Germany to accept sole responsibility for causing all the loss and damage during the war. The other members of the Central Powers signed treaties containing similar articles. This article, Article 231, later became known as the War Guilt clause. The treaty forced Germany to disarm, make substantial territorial concessions, and pay reparations to certain countries that had formed the Entente powers, or the Allies. In 1921, the total cost of these reparations was assessed at 132 billion Marks, then 31.4 US dollars or 6.6 billion British pounds. As of 2017, this was roughly equivalent to be 442 billion US dollars or 284 billion British pounds. At the time, economists, notably John Maynard Keynes, predicted that the treaty was too harsh, calling it a Carthaginian peace. Critics said the reparations figure was excessive and counter productive, views that, since then, have been the subject of ongoing debate by historians and economists from several countries. On the other hand, prominent figures on the Allied side, such as French Marshal Ferdinand Foch, criticized the treaty for treating Germany too leniently.

The result of these competing and sometimes conflicting goals among the victors was a compromise that left no one content. Germany was neither pacified nor conciliated, nor was it permanently weakened. The problems that arose from the treaty would lead to the Locarno Treaties, which improved relations between Germany and the other European Powers, and the re-negotiation of the reparation system resulting in the Dawes Plan, the Young Plan, and the indefinite postponement of reparations at the Lausanne Conference of 1932. Although it is often referred to as the Versailles Conference, only the actual signing of the treaty took place at the historic palace. Most of the negotiations were in Paris, with the Big Four meetings taking place generally at the Quai d'Orsay. This was done to make sure that the Allies could control the pace, conditions, and environment of the discussions. The goal was for them to appear the conquering heroes, even though they all knew that the war had ended in nothing more than a stalemate. The harsh conditions of this treaty are what truly helped to give rise to Adolf Hitler, despite the many subsequent compromises that sought to lessen the impact of the treaty. Those subsequent renegotiations were essentially a day late and a dollar short.

The Rise of Adolf Hitler

Adolf Hitler's rise to power began in Germany in September of 1919 when he joined the political party known as the Deutsche Arbeiterpartei, DAP, or the German Workers' Party. The name was changed in 1920 to the Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei, NSDAP, or the National Socialist German Workers' Party, most commonly known as the Nazi Party. This political party was formed and developed during the post World War I era. It was anti Marxist and opposed to the democratic post war government of the Weimar Republic and the Treaty of Versailles. It also advocated extreme nationalism and Pan Germanism. It was also known for being virulently anti-Semitic. Hitler's rise can be considered to have ended in March of 1933, after the Reichstag adopted the Enabling Act of 1933 that month. President Paul von Hindenburg had already appointed Hitler as Chancellor on January 30, 1933 after a series of parliamentary elections and associated backroom intrigues. The Enabling Act, when used ruthlessly and with authority, virtually assured that Hitler could thereafter constitutionally exercise dictatorial power without legal objection.

Adolf Hitler rose to a place of prominence in the early years of the party. Being one of the best speakers of the party, he told the other party members to either make him leader of the party or he would never return. He was aided in part by his willingness to use violence in advancing his political objectives and to recruit party members who were willing to do the same. The Beer Hall Putsch in November of 1923 and the later release of his book Mein Kampf, usually translated as My Struggle, introduced Hitler to a wider audience. In the middle of the 1920s, the party engaged in electoral battles in which Hitler participated as a speaker and organizer, as well as, in street battles and violence between the Rotfrontkämpferbund and the Nazis' Sturmabteilung, SA. Through the late 1920s and early 1930s, the Nazis gathered enough electoral support to become the largest political party in the Reichstag, and Hitler's blend of political acuity, deceptiveness, and cunning converted the party's non-majority but plurality status into effective governing power in the ailing Wiemar Republic of 1933. Once in power, the Nazis created a mythology surrounding their rise to power, and they described the period that roughly corresponds to the scope of this article, as either the Kampfzeit, the time of struggle, or the Kampfjahre, years of struggle.


Appeasement as a foreign policy, at least in the context of the late 1930’s and Adolf Hitler, was a complete failure. The policy allowed two nations, Austria and Czechoslovakia, to be completely wiped off the map of Europe in the name of keeping the peace, and furthermore, this was done without those nation's consent. Britain and France, led by Neville Chamberlain, had their reasons for engaging in the policy of appeasement with Hitler and his Germany, as did Stalin when he approved the Nazi-Soviet Non-Aggression Treaty. Both England and France, especially after the rearmament of Germany, post 1934, feared the resumption of hostilities with Germany, looking back to the devastation of World War I. They also hoped that giving Hitler everything that he wanted would eliminate any pretext for war that he may have had. England, however, also felt that the Treaty of Versailles had perhaps been too harsh. Stalin wanted to avoid such a vast conflict with Germany as well because the memories of the massive loss of life in WWI were also still very much alive in Russia; however, he also justified appeasing Hitler because he felt that the English and French were intentionally directing Hitler eastward to save their own necks in the west. This was a fear that many believed to be more than justified.

None of the efforts to stop Hitler by giving into to him worked, but rather, backfired to the effect of fifty to eighty-five million dead, depending on who is doing the estimates. Giving into Hitler's corruption of the Saar election did not stop him from later marching an armed division of the German army into the Rhineland in complete violation of the Treaty of Versailles. It did not keep him from rearming Germany to stages beyond even their World War I numbers. It did not keep him from forcing Austria into the Anchluss, creating what he called a Super Germany, or Uber Deutschland. It did not stop him from taking the Sudetenland through political corruption and military force, nor did it stop him from taking the rest of Czechoslovakia under false accusations of genocide against ethnic Germans in other parts of that country. All it really did was work to convince Hitler that he was just that much more and more invincible and unstoppable.

If this cannot be considered part of a greater military conflict, nothing can. If it had not been for the policy of appeasement there would likely have not been a World War II, and had it not been for the Treaty of Versailles, the policy of appeasement would never have even been necessary. These two items connect World War I directly to World War II, making the second war a direct result of the first. Therefore, they must be considered linked. If the circumstances that created the first event had been different, the second event would never have occurred, and further, the circumstances that created the second event would have never occurred. Therefore, the temporal unity of these two events cannot be denied. So, if the Arch Duke Franz Ferdinand had not been assassinated on June 28, 1914, it is likely that Hitler's Germany would never have invaded Poland on September 1, 1939. More so, it is likely that Hitler would never have been more than a failed Austrian painter. There is the real temporal link between the two events.

World War II

However, the Arch Duke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated, and Hitler's Germany did invade Poland. World War II, also known as the Second World War, was a global war that lasted from 1939 to 1945, although related conflicts began earlier. It involved the vast majority of the world's nations, including all of the great powers, eventually forming two opposing military alliances, the Allies and the Axis. It was the most widespread war in history, and directly involved more than one-hundred million people from over thirty countries. In a state of total war, the major participants threw their entire economic, industrial, and scientific capabilities behind the war effort, erasing the distinction between civilian and military resources. Marked by mass deaths of civilians, including the Holocaust, in which approximately eleven million people were killed, and the strategic bombing of industrial and population centers, in which approximately one million people were killed, and which included the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the war resulted in an estimated fifty million to eighty-five million fatalities, depending on who is doing the reporting. These numbers made World War II the deadliest conflict in human history.

The Empire of Japan aimed to dominate Asia and the Pacific and was already at war with the Republic of China in 1937, but the world war is generally said to have begun on September 1, 1939 with the invasion of Poland by Nazi Germany and subsequent declarations of war on Germany by France and the United Kingdom. From late 1939 to early 1941, in a series of campaigns and treaties, Germany conquered or controlled much of continental Europe, and formed the Axis alliance with Italy and Japan. Under the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, or the German-Soviet Non-Aggression Treaty, of August 1939, Germany and the Soviet Union partitioned and annexed territories of their European neighbours, Poland, Finland, Romania and the Baltic states. The war continued primarily between the European Axis powers and the coalition of the United Kingdom and the British Commonwealth, with campaigns including the North African and East African campaigns, the aerial Battle of Britain, the Blitzkrieg bombing campaign, the Balkan Campaign, as well as, the long running Battle of the Atlantic. In June of 1941, the European Axis powers launched an invasion of the Soviet Union, opening the largest land theater war in history, which trapped the major part of the Axis' military forces into a war of attrition. In December of 1941, Japan attacked the United States and European territories in the Pacific Ocean, and quickly conquered much of the Western Pacific.

The Axis advance halted in 1942 when Japan lost the critical Battle of Midway, near Hawaii, and Germany was defeated in North Africa and then, decisively, at Stalingrad in the Soviet Union. In 1943, with a series of German defeats on the Eastern Front, the Allied invasion of Sicily and the Allied invasion of Italy, which brought about Italian surrender, and Allied victories in the Pacific, the Axis lost the initiative and undertook a strategic retreat on all fronts. In 1944, the Western Allies invaded German occupied France, while the Soviet Union regained all of its territorial losses and invaded Germany and its allies. During 1944 and 1945, the Japanese suffered major reverses in mainland Asia in South Central China and Burma, while the Allies crippled the Japanese Navy and captured key Western Pacific islands.

The war in Europe concluded with an invasion of Germany by the Western Allies and the Soviet Union, culminating in the capture of Berlin by Soviet and Polish troops and the subsequent German unconditional surrender on May 8, 1945. Following the Potsdam Declaration by the Allies on July 26, 1945 and the refusal of Japan to surrender under its terms, the United States dropped atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6 and 9, 1945, respectively. With an invasion of the Japanese archipelago imminent, the possibility of additional atomic bombings, and the Soviet Union's declaration of war on Japan and invasion of Manchuria, Japan surrendered on August 15, 1945. This ended the war in Asia, and cemented the total global victory for the Allies.

World War II altered the political alignment and social structure of the world. The United Nations was established to foster international cooperation and prevent future conflicts. The victorious great powers, the United States, the Soviet Union, China, the United Kingdom, and France, became the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council. The Soviet Union and the United States emerged as rival superpowers, setting the stage for the Cold War, which lasted for the next 46 years. Meanwhile, the influence of European great powers waned, while the decolonization of Asia and Africa began. Most countries whose industries had been damaged moved towards economic recovery. Political integration, especially in Europe, emerged as an effort to end pre war enmities and to create a common identity. Further, the Marshall Plan corrected the primary post World War I mistake. Instead of putting Germany on the hook for the World War II bill, the United States fostered Germany's economic recovery after the war.


This article has argued that World War I and World War II were actually two parts of the same global war, divided by just fifteen years of a difficult cease fire and six years of fearful and regretful appeasement of an ego-maniacal dictator. It has shown that without the first war the second war would have not happened, and it has shown that if the end of the first war had gone differently, the second war could have been easily avoided. It has also pointed out that if Germany, under Hitler's rule, had actually been held to term, the second period of the 'Great World War' could have also have been avoided. Now, admittedly, this only really accounts for the war in Europe. This says nothing really about the war in the Pacific; however, without its European allies, it is likely that Japan's conflict in Asia may been more easily brought to bare because in the early stages, Germany was a strong economic partner of Japan, providing it with a great deal of the oil reserves that it needed to power its massive Pacific campaign. World War I and World War II were inexorably connected with one another in a temporal vortex where, if just one or two things had happened differently early on, the rest of what happened later would never have happened. Perhaps, the deaths of over one-hundred million people could have been avoided. More work definitely needs to be put into the research on this topic; however, this articles at least serves as an initial look into the reality that there really was not a separate World War I or World War II, but rather, only a sing 'Great World War.'


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Good recap of the period, but on the Asian side the Japanese invaded Manchuria in 1931, and the hostilities in what the Japanese called Manchukuo continued until the invasion of 1937.