Looking at the 20th century's World Wars in Europe: was WW2 a continuation of the First World War in Europe, or should it be viewed independently?

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Answered by: David, An Expert in the Wars, Battles and Conflicts Category
Looking at the 20th century's World Wars in Europe: was WW2 a continuation of the First World War in Europe, or should it be viewed independently? When examining the history of the 20th century's world wars in Europe, the following question is often raised: does it make sense to regard the Second World War as a continuation of the First, or does that perspective ignore certain basic characteristics of the former in a way that makes it difficult to really grasp its actual historical role? Both points of view have a good deal of weight, evidently.

Certainly, as far as Germany is concerned, the Nazi Party's debt, in a manner of speaking, to Germany's defeat in 1918 is nearly indisputable in the eyes of most historians. Given Hitler's well documented traumatic reaction to news of the Armistice, experienced while lying on a military hospital bed, to the deadly fusillades exchanged on the streets of Berlin and elsewhere between bands of demobilized soldiers representing extreme "right" and "left," to the grim economic facts of life in reparations- and inflation-burdened early Weimar, it makes perfect sense to view the first war as a major determinant - the matrix of - the second. Moreover, the abrupt end of the Kaiser's reign also ended a period that brought pride and prosperity to the country as a whole. It was a definite shock to the national psyche and may be reasonably regarded as a direct consequence of Germany's involvement in the Great War.

Are there essential ways, however, in which the Second World War which were not - at least directly or significantly - influenced by the First?

First of all; the Great Depression, which saw the resurgence of the Nazi movement after a period of stagnation or even debilitation during Germany's late-nineteen-twenties prosperity, can not be attributed solely to the 1914-1918 war. The United States suffered greatly as well, and was also threatened by forces on both the Right and on the Left during the worst period of the Depression. The election of a humanitarian candidate in that country, namely Roosevelt, rather than a racialist-terrorist may be said to be due, at least in part, to the existence of a solid democratic tradition in the U.S.. The absence of this tradition, which if it had indeed been operative in the Weimar Republic might have caused events in that country to follow a political course of action that did not lead to death camps and millions upon millions of fatalities, preceded the Second War by centuries and centuries, not a dozen or so years. Also, there was a strong patchwork of anti-Nazi forces in Germany up to Hitler's assumption of absolute power in 1933. These political parties represented a significant swatch of viewpoints ranging from rightist-centrist to socialist. They might have put aside their differences temporarily and acted in concert against a common and numerically weaker foe, as was done by the Popular Front in France just a few years later. Instead, they remained a mutually distrustful hodgepodge of small and virtually isolated factions,;too weak to stop the movement which promised to engulf their own country and the rest of the world in a Gotterdammerung of death, despair and destruction. Certainly, the forces of fear and reaction set in motion by the Versailles Treaty were formidable. They did not, however, did not make for an ineluctable path to a second conflict.

In short, the debate over the Second World War's uniqueness versus its filial relation to the First World War is an interesting one. A comparison of the two conflicts and the relation between them can serve as a rich vein of historical ore, so to speak, for anyone who is interested in the complete history of the twentieth century's world wars in Europe.

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