Most historians agree that Hitler’s ambition of the Third Reich, or his totalitarian rule, was the main driving force behind why he started the war. Through a series of diplomatic manoeuvres, Hitler hoped to create a unified Europe under his rule and enable the further population of Germanic citizens.
It is believed that Hitler also sought to expand Germany’s land, resources and power through military aggression. This would directly help him to challenge the current policy of ‘collective security’ established by the League of Nations, while also claiming territory and gaining public approval in Germany.
In addition to this, it is argued that Hitler was influenced by the history of the German nation during World War I and wanted to seek retribution for their losses at that time. As the German defeat in WW1 was a major source of embarrassment and humiliation, some claim that Hitler was attempting to restore German national pride by waging war.
Furthermore, Hitler’s strong convictions regarding white supremacy as expressed in his writings and speeches definitely influenced his decision to start the war. He believed that Germanic people were racially superior and sought to create a world where they could thrive by eliminating those he considered to be inferior. He desired to cleanse the world of Jewish people and other “misfits” by establishing a “master race”.
To this end, Hitler was convinced that only by waging war could he achieve his aims. He believed that the major powers in Europe of the time were not powerful enough to effectively resist German aggression, and therefore the chance of success was much higher.
The Effect of Economic Crisis
A major factor to consider when looking at why Hitler started World War II is the economic crisis which had taken place in Germany in the early 1930’s. This had led to increased unemployment, poverty, civil unrest and political unrest in the country.
The National Socialist Party, of which Hitler was a member, had utilised this situation to gain public support and by 1933 their power had been consolidated. With an electorate and the military on his side, Hitler saw himself in a good position to start a war.
He also saw war as a way to distract the public from their economic hardships and rally them behind a cause of national glory, knowing full well the power of national pride. By projecting the future success of a war to his constituents, Hitler could answer their rallying call for a better future for the nation. Utilising the German’s pride in their nation and military strength, Hitler felt that the time was right to begin a war.
Hitler was able to also gain the support of some major international powers. The Soviet Union, led by Joseph Stalin, was a major ally throughout the early stages of WW2, signing a non-aggression pact in 1939 and supplying military resources and raw materials.
This international support gave Hitler the backing to enter a war, as now the odds were in his favour. Whilst it is true that he was not necessarily welcomed with open arms by all of Europe, his invasion of Poland in 1939 still managed to draw strong support from many quarters.
The conspiracy of silence, with just a few nations publicly condemning the invasion of Poland, allowed Germany to proceed with their plans unchecked. This added to Hitler’s self confidence, as he believed he now had a much greater chance of success.
The Role of Propaganda
The Nazi propaganda machine was a major tool in disseminating Hitler’s ideas and gaining public support. It adeptly portrayed Germany as the victim of a global conspiracy and the only power strong enough to save the nation.
By providing the people of Germany with a vision of national glory and grandeur that could only be achieved through victory, Hitler was able to convince the people of his right to wage war. Through the use of posters, newspapers and speeches, Hitler was able to reach the masses and create a popular appetite for war.
Self Interests and Performance
Acting in his own personal interests and that of the Nazi Party’s, Hitler was constantly trying to prove his worth as leader and further Germany’s interests both nationally and internationally.
Hitler sought to outshine and compensate his own personal humiliation dating from his early years and believed that war could help to solve many of the nation’s problems. By leading Germany to victory in World War II, Hitler hoped to vindicate himself and raise the national prestige of Germany by subjugating Europe under his rule.
Militarism and Expansionism
Hitler was also motivated by his own militaristic convictions, which included desiring the expansion of Germany’s military power and a desire to pursue plans of expansion. The German Army had already started to modernise under his rule, and by attacking Austria and Czechoslovakia, Hitler was able to expand German borders and increase the size of his armed forces.
He was also an ardent believer of the theory of Lebensraum (the notion of living space). By expanding into territories with large resources, Hitler believed that Germany could become self-sufficient and economically strong.
Conclusion of World War I Peace Treaties
Finally, Hitler used the failure of the peace treaties of the end of World War I as a justifiable reason to begin a war to unify the country under the Third Reich. He viewed the other European powers as having wronged his country during WWI and sought to overturn the negotiated settlement.
By doing this, Hitler sought to gain public approval and show Europe that Germany was not to be taken lightly. In addition, it provided Hitler with a platform to appear as a strong statesman who was not afraid to act against the norms of society.
It is undeniable that many factors led Adolf Hitler to begin World War II, some of which can only be speculated on. It is clear, however, that Hitler used his ambitions of the Third Reich and his desire for the expansion of German power as the key motivators behind his decision. It is through a careful analysis of his decisions that we can understand why Hitler started World War II.