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 Pole’s
homelands. Germany’s 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 people’s 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 it’s 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 it’s
membership in the League of Nations the next month (Ienaga 66).

Now unrestrained by the recommendations of the League of
Nations, Japan continued it’s 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, it’s armaments, as well as it’s
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.