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World War II: How Did It Start?

VO: Rebecca Brayton
In the years that followed World War I, tensions remained between countries due to differing ideologies and belief systems. Adolf Hitler and his Nazi Party quickly rose to prominence and power, and began promoting intolerance towards certain marginalized groups, including the Jewish population. Nazi Germany had alliances with fascist Italy and Japan, and this grouping proved itself a deadly one. Meanwhile, the League of Nations and Allied countries initially acted passively in the face of this threat due to guilt from WWI. In Part 2 of our series on WWII, explores how and why the Second World War began.

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History of World War II: How It Started

After roughly twenty years of peace, the world went to war for a second time. Welcome to, and today we will be exploring how World War II began.


The Second World War is considered a direct result of the First World War due to unresolved tensions and anger from that conflict. However, the Great Depression of the 1930s was another factor that led to bitterness and a shift in public attitudes toward strict dictatorships.

Adolf Hitler and the Nazis

World War I also facilitated the rise of Adolf Hitler and his Nazi Party. Hitler’s allies in Italy and Japan also acted aggressively with the hope of expanding their territories. Hostilities by these countries towards the communism of the Soviet Union was just another factor that helped lead to war.

Germany, Italy and Japan

In fact, a number of ideologies helped spark the war. Aggressive expansionism by countries like Germany and Italy, Fascist dictatorships, and deep-seated racism were all considered contributing factors. This racism was mostly in Germany, where the Nazis believed the Aryan race was the master race and superior to the Slavic people.

The Axis Threat

The countries that eventually formed the Allied alliance acted passively in the face of the Axis threat. This was partly out of sympathy, partly out of guilt because of the Treaty of Versailles that blamed the Germans for World War I, and partly because countries like Britain underestimated Hitler. Meanwhile, the League of Nations proved itself ineffective in the fight to keep the peace.

Violating the Treaty of Versailles

A few months after Japan withdrew from the League of Nations in 1933, Germany did the same. In 1935, Germany violated the Treaty of Versailles by introducing mandatory military conscription and by beginning rearmament. That country continued to violate the Treaty in the years that followed; in fact, in 1936 Hitler remilitarized the Rhineland.

Important Alliances

It was around this time Nazi Germany formed their important alliance with Italy. Soon after, the two countries offered support to the separatist movement in the Spanish civil war, while the existing government was supported by the Soviet Union. These events foreshadowed the Second World War as both sides were testing different methods and weapons of battle. One specific event that foretold the horrors of World War II was the April 1937 Bombing of Guernica.

Annexation of Austria

By 1938, Hitler’s motives were clearer. In a move referred to as the Anschluss, the Nazis annexed Austria into Germany, despite the fact this also violated the Treaty of Versailles.

The Munich Agreement

Later that year, Hitler was appeased by both Britain and France when they signed the Munich Agreement. This allowed Hitler to overtake a German-speaking section of Czechoslovakia in order to keep the peace.

Germany Invades Poland

In August 1939, Nazi Germany signed a peace treaty with the Soviet Union. However, the first official event of World War II followed soon after. Due to longstanding tensions, Germany invaded Poland on September 1st, 1939. Britain and France warned Germany that should the troops not withdraw, war was imminent. When the Nazis did nothing, Britain and France declared war on Germany, and World War II officially began.

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