The influence of the First World War on the Second World War

The influence of the First World War on the Second World War

This hook suggests how the First World War led to the creation of the League of Nations and then the United Nations: two organisations formed to promote world peace.

A 5-billion-mark postage stamp issued during the hyperinflation in Germany

A 5-billion-mark postage stamp issued during the hyperinflation in Germany in the early 1920s. Public domain. Accessed 13/5/15 from bit.ly/1eqidm1

 Image from a YouTube clip of footage from Neville Chamberlain

Image from a YouTube clip of footage from Neville Chamberlain’s “Peace in our time” speech. bit.ly/1HGFv0s

Context 

Losing the First World War left Weimar Germany in a vulnerable position economically. The Treaty of Versailles was a peace treaty that was signed at the end of the war. The treaty required Germany to pay reparations (money) to France and Britain. Germany was also forced to take responsibility for “causing all the loss and damage to which the Allied and Associated Governments and their nationals have been subjected as a consequence of the war imposed upon them by the aggression of Germany and her allies.”

These reparations contributed to inflation in Germany reaching 200 billion percent in 1923. Other contributing factors included the removal of foreign investments from Germany, the extreme over printing of paper money by the German government, and the workers’ strike in the French-occupied Ruhr region. Hyperinflation affected people unequally. Some benefited because the values of their gold and land increased significantly. However, those who owned neither land nor gold found that their savings had suddenly become worthless. For these people, the emergence of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi party provided a sense of hope in difficult times. 

The “stab in the back” myth, or Dolchstoss, was another significant contributor to support for the Nazi party. This myth purported that the German Army did not lose the First World War but was betrayed by civilians, particularly German Jews, communists, socialists, and those who later formed the Weimar Republic. This idea of betrayal from within helped foment anti-Jewish sentiment. 

The First World War was still fresh in people’s minds in the 1930s. Few German or British people wanted another war. In 1938, Prime Minister Chamberlain met with Hitler, and both signed an agreement that the two countries would never go to war with each other again. Some people criticised this as British appeasement of German aggression, but the majority of British people rejoiced at what was seen as a way to prevent another war. 

Possible discussion questions 

The United States Congress did not support the conditions of the Treaty of Versailles, claiming that they were too punitive and instead suggested a more moderate approach. How might the likelihood of a second world war have been influenced if the Treaty of Versailles had not placed so much pressure on Germany? 

How might have the events leading to the Second World War have been different if people weren’t so terrified at the thought of another “great war”? 

What are some pivotal events of the Second World War? How might they have been influenced by the first? 

Were there any positive influences of the First World War on the Second World War? 

Could the First World War have been resolved in a way that might have prevented the Second World War? If so, how? 

How has learning about the First World War influenced your own thoughts about war? 

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