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How did World War I lead into World War II?

Did the Treaty of Versailles’ flaws cause 20th century problems we still face?

Leslee M. Gantner – Library Media Specialist

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Dear Ms. Gantner,

The treaties of Versailles against the Germans, St. Germain against Austria, Lausanne against the Ottoman Empire, Neuilly against Bulgaria and Trianon against Hungary, all left feelings of discontent among the Allies and resentment among the vanquished nations. Germans felt unfairly blamed for “starting the war,” the Italians and Japanese did not think they got enough of the spoils for their participation in the Allied cause (but then, having driven the Russians and Germans from the Far East, the Japanese would inevitably shift their sights toward the next European power to eliminate as opportunity presented itself). Southern Slavic ethnic groups distrusted living under a Serbian-dominated Yugoslavia and many Slovaks felt themselves the junior partners in Czechoslovakia. The Greeks—who had officially joined the Allies in 1917—wanted nothing short of conquering what remained of the Ottoman Empire, and the dynamic “Young Turk” who prevented their doing do would go on to lead a resurrected Turkey into the 20th century: Mustapha Kemal Atatürk. Allied intervention in the Russian Civil War left the Soviet Union brutalized and ripe for the ascension of a domineering figure—Josef Stalin—who would view the West with nothing but distrust—a distrust reciprocated by the Poles who had fought off a Soviet attempt to overrun them in 1920, and the Finns, who had likewise defended their newfound independence. The separate promises the British made to Arabs and Jews in post-Ottoman Palestine left both parties unhappy under the British mandate, leading to violence against the British and against each other. British and French mandates elsewhere in the Middle East also stirred Arab resentment, leading, among other things, to Iraqi revolts throughout the 1920s and 1930s, as well as 1941.

Thus the stage was set for further aggression, even though it would involve some shifts in alliance, in the form of the Berlin-Rome-Tokyo Axis. Overall, it may be argued that the treaties that concluded the “War to End All Wars” only served to create a “Peace to End All Peace.”



Jon Guttman
Research Director
World History Group
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