World War 2 Summary
Brief answers to the key questions about World War 2
6 minutes read.
As time goes by, World War 2, which was the largest, deadliest, most dramatic event in human history, shifts from living memory to written history, and knowledge of it becomes less obvious.
The best way to provide a summary of World War 2 is therefore to briefly answer the key questions about it :
What was World War 2
World War 2 was a global war, the largest and deadliest of all wars in human history, with over 60 million people killed, including millions of civilians who were systematically mass-murdered.
Many more millions were injured, imprisoned, starved, deported, became refugees, subjected to forced labor, and so on.
Entire countries were physically devastated by the war.
On the "positive" side, many people, from individuals to entire nations, rose to the challenge and demonstrated unprecedented courage,
determination, endurance, diligence, cooperation, and a desire to prevail over evil and hardship.
Who started World War 2
World War 2 was started by Adolf Hilter, then the dictator of Germany.
Hitler, who was an extreme racist, a Nazi (the term "Nazi" was an abbreviation for Hitler's party's name),
declared his aggressive expansionist intentions years in advance, in a book and in speeches, but the German people elected
him to be the
Chancellor of Germany. As Chancellor, he immediately abolished democracy, as he promised in advance, becoming a totalitarian dictator, and turning Germany to a police state of unlimited brutality,
which phycially eliminated entire "undesired" population groups.
Under his leadership, Germany's resources were dedicated to rapid military buildup for the intended war.
Who participated in World War 2
Hitler's Germany's allies, called The Axis powers
, were Japan and Italy. Both nations then had militarist, aggressive, expansionist regimes, though not ideologically racist as Hitler's regime.
Several East European nations also allied with Hitler's Germany, either following its ideological example, or to protect themselves from their other aggressive expansionist neighbour,
the Soviet Union (now Russia), which Hitler marked from the beginning as his main target.
The countries which allied against the aggression of the Axis powers, were simply called The Allies.
These initially included Great Britain and France, and the British Commonwealth (Canada, Australia, South Africa, New Zealand, India, others).
Other European nations joined as they were attacked by the Axis, but all were invaded and occupied by Germany, except Great Britain, which for an entire year of the war stood bravely alone in Europe
against the Axis. Then, after also being attacked by the Axis powers, the United States of America and the Soviet Union joined The Allies.
Where was World War 2 fought
World War 2 started with a German invasion of Poland, continued with German invasions of most of Europe, expanded to North Africa and the middle East,
and to fierce naval warfare in the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean.
When Japan, which already invaded China, also attacked The Allies, the war expanded to East Asia and the Pacific Ocean, literally becoming a global war.
When was World War 2 fought
All three Axis powers (Germany, Japan, Italy) initially exploited British and French appeasement, American isolationism, and other factors,
to invade and conquer neighbouring countries without trigerring a large war. In Germany's case, Hitler cunningly used the threat of war to achieve these conquests without a fight.
In order to deter Hitler from invading Poland, which Hitler openly marked as his next victim, Britain and France officially pledged to join the war at once if Poland would be attacked.
But Hitler was not deterred, and on September 1, 1939, Germany started World War 2 by invading Poland.
In 1941, Germany invaded the Soviet Union (Russia) and Japan attacked the United States of America, forcing them to join the war.
In 1945, after six years of war, the largest and deadliest of all wars, the Axis powers were finally defeated by the Allies.
On May 8, 1945, Germany surrendered, ending the war in Europe, and on August 15, 1945, Japan surrendered, and World War 2 ended.
Why was World War 2 fought
World War 2 was fought because the militarist aggressive expansionist leaders of the Axis countries, especially Adolf Hitler, noticed the mental fatigue, the unwillingness to resist,
the internal divisions and weaknesses, and the neglect of the armies, in neighbouring countries, and fully exploited that.
These conditions, which Hitler tested several times in increasing scale, totally eliminated the deterrence that normally keeps such aggressors from starting wars.
The combination of : an extreme aggressor like Hitler + the world's most effective army at his command + the lack of deterrence, is what caused the war.
16 centuries ago, a Roman author of a book on military affairs summed up a millenium of Roman experience with the famous maxim : "If you want peace, prepare for war".
Europe's unwillingness to resist Hitler's early aggression, or even to prepare for war, is what caused World War 2, because it signalled to Hitler, and to the other Axis leaders, that they will not be opposed.
Switching for a moment to the present, we clearly witness now similar weaknesses, and today's aggressors react to them in the same way.
Why the Allies won
The initial military power of each of the Allies was much smaller than its full potential, while the aggression of Germany and Japan was backed by formidable military efficiency,
the result of centuries of militaristic traditions, combined with the latest weapons and tactics.
But the Allies had 3 factors which let them gradually gain the upper hand:
- Determination - once forced to fight, the peoples of the Allies were determined to fight until victory.
- Distance - they had significant sea or land barriers which protected them from being quickly overrun, and therefore provided the time they needed to fully mobilize.
- Resources - The Allies had enormous military potential, human, industrial, and technological, and they pushed hard and fast to mobilize it.
The Axis leaders correctly interpreted the Allies pre-war weaknesses, but greatly under-estimated their military potential and determination, once forced to fight. Examples:
- Manpower - US military personnel grew from 334,000 in 1939 to over 9 million in 1943 and kept growing.
In 1941, the Soviet Union lost millions of soldiers and civilians, and still stopped the German invasion, mobilized millions more, and by 1943 clearly gained the upper hand.
- Industry - already in 1940, British aircraft production alone exceeded that of Germany. Russia produced several times more tanks than Germany,
and when the US joined the war, within a year it produced more weapons than the Allies could use, or the Axis could destroy.
- Technology - Germany developed a wide array of new military technologies, and Japan built the world's most powerful warships and submarines.
But Russia developed the world's best tank, Great Britain decisively defeated Germany in all aspects of electronic and information warfare,
and the US focused on war-winning technologies like mass-production, long-range bombers, and the atomic bomb.
The Allies won by a combination of massive industrial and manpower advantage + tenacious determination to prevail + gross underestimation of the Allies by the arrogant Axis leaders,
which led them to make critical mistakes.
How was World War 2 fought
World War 2 was fought with the weapons of the industrial age : tanks, guns, aircraft, warships and submarines, and millions of soldiers.
But World War 2 also saw the debut of most of the military technologies that we have today. Examples:
- There was no GPS, but there was crude electronic navigation. The first computers were built, for code-breaking.
- Missiles, guided weapons, and other means for precision attack, appeared in World War 2.
- Jet engines, and long-endurance submarines, which revolutionized air and naval warfare, appeared in World War 2.
World War 2 end, aftermath
Hitler saw the destruction of his vision of German world domination, and committed suicide.
Mussolini was executed by his fellow Italians, who did not share his enthusiasm for sacrificing them in his attempt to become a new Roman conqueror.
Japan's militarists saw their proud nation being forced to surrender for the first time.
Both winners and losers suffered staggering losses, over 60 millions killed in total, and the physical and financial damages of the war.
Most countries needed time to recover, and that resulted in the post-war dissolution of the European colonial empires.
The Soviet Union, also a country with a global domination expansionist ideology, Communism, dominated all of Eastern Europe, for decades.
But the fact that the Soviet Union suffered the heaviest losses in World War 2, over 20 million Soviet soldiers and civilians,
played a key role in Soviet leaders decision to avoid starting a 3rd World War for their ideology.
And in a post-war world armed with enough nuclear weapons to annihilate mankind, the living memory of those who died in the war, saved mankind from destruction.
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