17. 2. 2015

WWII? What was that? And when did it start? Part I

When talking about WWII, people usually know what it was about, or at least they think they know it. The fact is, that the definition of WWII is not as easy as it seems. If we seek for help at Wikipedia, we will learn that WWII was „the global war that lasted from 1939 to 1945, though related conflicts began earlier. It involved the vast majority of the world´s nations….“. Well, I think that this definition doesn´t tell us much:

  • Why is 1939 marked as its beginning?
  • What were those „related“ conflicts?
  • Why are some conflicts marked as „related“ and are not included in WWII itself?
  • And what exactly was happening on this planet between 1939 and 1945?

As I believe that looking for a single definition which embraces every aspect of WWII is lost in advance, I will rather try to write a short summary of it. At first, I think that it´s not accurate to take WWII as a single conflict, rather than that, it was a series of conflicts which later merged into one global war as two military alliances - Axis and Allies - evolved in time. However, especially the Axis was an alliance in which its two main partners - Germany and Japan - were not really cooperating neither on strategic nor tactical level. When looking for the roots of WWII, we must go back in time to the year of 1918 when so-called "Great War" changed the world forever...

Front page of The New York Times of November 11, 1918 - WWI ends!

WWI cost more than 16 million lives and caused a deep shock all around the world and especially in Europe where most of the fighting took place. Up to that moment, such a brutality and scale of war was not imaginable. It has redrawn the map of the world: Austrian-Hungarian empire was wiped out and it was replaced by several new countries including my own (Czechoslovakia, Austria, Hungary, part to Poland, Yogoslavia and Romania). German empire lost its colonies in Africa and was replaced by short-lived Weimar Republic. Russian Tzar was overthrown by a revolution and communists took power in this huge country. Ottoman empire was replaced by Turkish Republic. In the Middle East, several countries were formed with ruler in hands of planners without knowledge of local reality - we must deal with the consequences of this up to present days. On the other hand, the United States increased its superpower status, Great Britain ended the war with a huge debt and high inflation. Its empire began to corode as Commonwealth nations started to think more independently. France was destroyed, every family was affected by war which was fought mainly on its soil. Pro-independence movements in French colonies began to rise. Japan gained territories in Asia and significantly raised its influence. No other war changed the world in such a scale as the Great War. As people were cheering and celebrating the end of an apocalypse, only a few were able to see that stage was set for another conflict... One of them was a French Marshal Ferdinand Foch who said that "the Treaty of Versailles is not peace. It is an Armistice for twenty years". I will take a look on the Treaty of Versailles in the next part of this.

Marshal Ferdinand Foch, supreme allied commander in the Great War