The greatest conflict in human history. And by greatest, I mean World War II claimed more human lives then any other conflict in the history of the world. It is estimated that over 60,000,000 people died as a result of the conflicts of World War II. Of those 60,000,000, it is only estimated that 25,000,000 of those were soldiers. That leaves an estimated 35,000,000 civilians that lost their lives during World War II. As a society we have spent a lot of effort and time remembering the 6,000,000 Jews who died in the Holocaust during World War II, but even that leaves another 29,000,000 civilians who died. And after reading this BLOG post, you will see why not only is France complicit, but Great Britain is just as responsible for their deaths as any one else in the world.
So you're thinking, "that's it? That is why you think Great Britain is responsible for 60,000,000 deaths?" -- No, of course not. Read on.
We all know now that Adolph Hitler was a soldier in World War I, and when the Treaty of Versailles was shoved down the throats of everyone in Germany, Hitler was in a war hospital. He emerged from that hospital angry and
As mentioned above, the Treaty of Versailles explicitly prevented Germany from having a military. They were allowed a national police force for domestic use, but nothing that could be considered a threat to its neighbors. However, as Hitler's star was on the rise in Germany, so was its military. As Hitler gained more power, he knew that he would need a strong military to achieve his goals. But he also knew that if he built an army overnight, the world would notice -- and object. So Hitler pushed his agenda with tempered patience while testing how far he could go against the world community. It is worth noting at this point that not only was Germany forbidden from having a "military force", and from having any weapons of aggression or troops in the Rhineland, but France and Great Britain were tasked with defending the Treaty of Versailles. If Germany was seen to have violated the military or Rhineland clause, both France and Germany has the right and duty to invade Germany. But that isn't all -- in 1925, Great Britain, France, Belgium, Italy and Germany entered into the Treaty of Locarno. This treaty did several things to try and heal the wounds between France and Germany, but most importantly brought all these countries together in agreement regarding the status of the Rhineland. That it is and should remain a buffer between France and Germany.
The League of Nations was the brain child of Woodrow Wilson, and when it was formed he was seen as a great peace maker. Unfortunately, the League of Nations was largely inept because it lacked any real force in its threats. Of its original 24 members, the United States, Russia and half of Europe were not members. And while it was successful in mediating a few small disputes, it could not and did not have any impact in real conflicts - even with Great Britain and France as members.
In 1934, Hitler and his top officials gave the French press information that confirmed that Germany was building an Air Force and a strong military. Hitler allowed this leak of information to see what France, Great Britain and the rest of the world would do about it. The world did nothing. Great Britain complained, France sweated a little but in the end nothing came of it. Both countries cited Hitler's speeches regarding a united Europe and a lasting peace in their inaction. But it is worth noting that at this time, both France and Great Britain could have stepped in. Both chose no to do so. By this time, the strained kinship between Mussolini and Hitler was starting to show on the international stage. But as Hitler was moving up the world, the arrogant and self-interested Mussolini was on the way down. And in 1935, to show that Italy was still a world class power he invaded Ethiopia. Now, this invasion was obvious more complex then that - but that isn't what this BLOG post is about. What is important about the Italian invasion of Ethiopia in 1935 is that the Italians used chemical weapons and the League of Nations was powerless to do anything about it. And Hitler watched with great interest as the Italians annexed Ethiopia with little international resistance. And by this time, Italy and Belgium had backed out of the Treaty of Locarno which set the stage for Hitler's next move.
And Hitler's next move was to take back his own land. On March 7, 1936, Hitler ordered 19 German infantry battalions and a handful of planes to enter and occupy the Rhineland. By doing so, it was the most audacious violation of the Treaty of Versailles to date. What is interesting about this is that while the world was up in arms regarding this "invasion", Great Britain's position was that Germany was simply "tending their back yard" and it was fine. Great Britain also cited Hitler's promise of a non-aggression pact with France. What they did not know was that Hitler had told his generals that if they encountered any resistance, to pull out and fall back into Germany. This would have signaled the end of the rise of the Reich, but Hitler knew he was greatly outnumbered and could not win a fight. In essence, he was bluffing. In fact, there were hundreds of battalions of French troops on the border who could have stepped in and pushed the Germans back with little resistance. But France was nervous, and when they turned to Great Britain -- Great Britain did not have the resources to help. France did not want to stand alone in the fight, and there was no one there to help. If Albert Lubron had known that Hitler was testing the waters, and that he was not militarily ready for a conflict, the world would be a very different place today. If France and Great Britain had lived up to their obligations in 1935 or 1936, the entirety of World War II could have been avoided -- or if not avoided, very different. Instead, Hitler poked at the Treaty of Versailles again and found it to be an empty document.
What the eastern European powers took away from the move into the Rhineland was that they were on their own against Hitler. That it was clear that France lacked the will to fight, and Great Britain lacked the ability. This played into the Soviet-Nazi Non-Aggression Pact of August, 3 1939. Hitler essentially said, "Hey Russia, no worries. I'm not coming after you..." when in reality, Russia was the biggest prize that Hitler never won. Most likely, the reason he lost the war. But when Germany invaded Poland on September 1, 1939 it became undeniably clear that Hitler had more on his mind then simply tending his own backyard. His pact with Russia kept Stalin from taking action to protect Poland, because they had a pact -- right? Stalin can't defend Poland, and Hitler isn't coming any further east. But Stalin wasn't fooled, and he began to amass troops along his western border -- just in case. And, as we know now, Germany attacks Soviet positions in Eastern Poland on June 22, 1941 officially declaring war on Russia. In this series of events, one can see how important Hitler's move into the Rhineland going unchecked was as the world rolled towards war.
The questions are unending, and hindsight is always 20/20. But as the world continually blames the United States for invading this country or that one, or becoming involved in conflicts that they should not be in, it is worth considering these questions. What if someone -- France, Great Britain, Russia... what is someone had stood their ground in 1935 or in 1936? How many lives would have been saved in the long run? So yes, I place the blame for 60,000,000 people losing their lives in World War II at the feet of Great Britain and France.
Bruce holds a degree in Computer Science from Temple University, a Graduate Certificate in Biblical History from Liberty University and is working towards a Masters Degree in American History at American Public University. He has worked in educational and technology for over 18 years, specializes in building infrastructures for schools that work to support the mission of technology in education in the classroom. He also has served as a classroom teacher in Computer Science, History and English classes.