Causes of World War II

Desire for territorial gain

  1. Japan wanted to expand in East Asia at the expense of Russia in Manchuria, Korea and China.  They wanted the oil in the East Indies and raw materials in Indochina from Holland and France. Japan also wanted the British out of Malaysia and the Americans out of the Philippines
  2. Germany wanted to redraw the map of Europe, especially in Eastern Europe.
  3. Italy wanted to gain colonies in Africa and to beat Ethiopia to avenge the defeat at Adowa in 1896.
  4. Russia wanted to redraw the map of Eastern Europe.  In particular, Russia wanted to regain territories lost at Versailles (Poland, Baltic states, Bessarabia)

Economic Gain

  1. Japan in particular wanted the iron, coal and industry found in Manchuria, food in China proper, tin in Indochina and oil in the East Indies.
  2. Italy wanted colonies to gain raw materials as Italy had few of the industrial materials needed for a modern economy.
  3. Germany was mostly self-sufficient and already had either its own materials or was able to obtain the materials from neutral nations (Sweden, Rumania).
  4. Russia wanted to gain oil in Bessarabia and ports in the Baltic.  Russia also wanted to benefit from any new war by supplying Germany with raw materials as long as Germany was attacking the West.

Weakness on the part of Western Powers and League of Nations

  1. Britain and France were badly weakened by the Depression. War would use up too much money and such money was unavailable.
  2. Britain and France were wary of any new war.  France was still willing to fight in 1936 over the Rhineland and even as late as 1938 over Czechoslovakia.  However, the British made very clear they would not fight over Hitler's attempts to simply unite ethnic Germans in the Third Reich.  As a result, France was paralyzed in trying to stop German expansion.
  3. If Britain and France were unable to confront Hitler in Europe they were even less willing to confront Japan over its occupation of Manchuria.  The United States took the lead in opposing Japan, but the Americans were unwilling to do little more than make diplomatic protests or to send some money to help China.
  4. The United States was firmly Isolationist and would not commit to any alliances that would possibly deter a new war in Europe. 

Breakdown of the international system

  1. The League of Nations proved itself impotent and unable to make a decision when Italy attacked Ethiopia in 1936.  Britain and France were unwilling to act too strongly for fear of driving Italy toward Hitler.
  2. Disarmament conferences in the 1930s failed to repeat the success of the 1920s.
  3. Japan walked out the League over the invasion of Manchuria and Italy ignored the League over Ethiopia.
  4. The League badly needed the US, but the Americans simply refused to join the League.