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History, America and World War II

German prime minister, Global depression, Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, Treaty of Versailles, Axis Powers

The roots of World War II can be found in the debris of World War I, which left legacies of anger and hardship. After World War I, the Treaty of Versailles imposed large reparations on Germany. The reparations and wartime destruction caused severe economic problems in postwar Germany. Other European nations grappled with war debts, hunger, homelessness, and fear of economic collapse. Under these circumstances, totalitarianism spread.

From 1922 to 1953 dictator Joseph Stalin controlled the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), which was formed after the Russians Revolution of 1917. The USSR became a police state that suppressed opponents and deprived citizens of rights. Elsewhere, militarism and expansionism gained ground. In the 1930s the Japanese military won influence, and Japan began to expand its territory. In 1931 Japan attacked the Chinese province of Manchuria. Condemned by the League of Nations for its attack, Japan quit the league. Italy turned to fascism, a strong centralized government headed by a powerful dictator and rooted in nationalism. Fascist leader Benito Mussolini seized power in Italy in 1922.

In Germany, the Nazi Party, led by Adolf Hitler, came to power. Hitler believed that Aryans were a master race destined for world rule. He sought to form a great German empire—one that gave the German people, in his words, “the land and the soil to which they are entitled on this earth.” Global depression in the 1930s helped bring the Nazis to power. In 1932, with 6 million Germans out of work, the Nazis won more votes than any other party, and in 1933, just as Roosevelt took office, Hitler became the German prime minister. Like Japan, Germany quit the League of Nations.

Germany soon revealed its expansionist goals. In 1933 Hitler began to build up the German military, in violation of the Treaty of Versailles. In 1936 he sent troops into the Rhineland, a demilitarized region in western Germany. The same year, Hitler and Mussolini signed an alliance, the Rome-Berlin Axis Pact. In 1940 the alliance was extended to include Japan. The three nations—Germany, Italy, and Japan—became the Axis Powers. The start of World War II was near.

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