Hitler began his quest for Lebensraum, or living space. These steps are what ultimately led to World War 2. He announced Germany’s rearmament in 1935, contradicting a main clause in the Treaty of Versailles. Unopposed by other European powers, Germany re-occupied the buffer next to France called the Rhineland, which had been established in the Treaty of Versailles. Still unchallenged, Germany annexed Austria in 1938, and then attacked Czechoslovakia. Pursuing the policy of Appeasement, the other European powers conceded most of Czechoslovakia to Germany at the Munich conference in 1939.
These acts faced little opposition from the other European powers, who were doing everything possible to avoid another Great War. Unrepressed, Hitler finally orchestrated a phony attack by Poland, and used this excuse to declare war. This act finally forced Britain and France to fulfill their treaty obligations to Poland, and the resulting declaration of war, marked the beginning of the Second World War.
It is true that Hitler led Germany through the years preceding and into the Second World War. He carefully manipulated German opinion with extensive propaganda; the cult of personality created to enshrine him as the ultimate leader, cemented his position as German head of state, and guaranteed him control over Germany’s actions. His extreme fascist policies enabled Germany’s rapid rearmament and ensuing military victories.
It would be too simple to assign all responsibility for WWII to one man, regardless of popular beliefs about his intentions. Hitler was an enabler; his use of propaganda and the available opportunities nearly gave Germany the domination of Europe it desired. Without those circumstances, however, it is unlikely that Hitler would have experienced the same early success towards his goals.
Britain and France had a few chances to stop Hitler, but they didn’t. Instead of stopping him, they used appeasement. Appeasement is the act “of avoiding war with aggressive powers. One example was The Anglo-German Naval Agreement of 1935. During this time Britain “overlooked” German naval rearmament without consulting with France or Italy. This agreement did nothing in the long run, as it only served to delay the inevitable.
Another example was the fact that France did not mobilize their troops when Germany occupied the Rhineland. When Hitler sent troops into Rhineland in 1936, Britain and France didn’t take any actions. France wanted to but not without British support. Britain didn’t want to invade because they considered Germany “going into their own back garden”. By Britain and France doing nothing this only reinforced Hitler’s views of them as being weak.
A further act of appeasement that really encouraged Hitler was the Anschluss or annexation of Austria into Germany. The protests of Britain and France didn’t impress Hitler, and he conquered the land, which was against the terms of the Treaty of Versailles. The lack of resistance encouraged Hitler to make demands on Czechoslovakia. During the Munich Conference, Britain and France appeased Hitler, yet again. This time they gave him the mountainous northwestern border area of Czechoslovakia, Sudetenland. Sudetenland contained Czechoslovakia’s most important frontier defenses and considerable industrial resources.
These ongoing acts of appeasement made Hitler’s job very easy, as there was no resistance. It increased his confidence, and his demands became more and more irrational as the appeasements went on. If Britain and France had stopped Hitler by the first rule he was breaking it would have not come to the invasion of Poland.
It has been argued, that not only was Hitler an inevitable result of German culture and the circumstances of the time, but that he was largely an opportunist who was simply able to capitalize on the opportunities before him and mistakes made by other people and nations. Germans had harbored imperial ambitions long before Hitler achieved power, and the allied policy of Appeasement allowed Hitler free reign to pursue Germany’s pre-existing ambitions.
Western Civilization: Since 1500, Chapters 13-29, Vol. 2 : Jackson J.