Events Leading to WW2
At the end of World War I the victorious nations formed the League of Nations for the purpose of airing international disputes, and of mobilizing its members for a collective effort to keep the peace in the event of aggression by any nation against another or of a breach of the peace treaties. The United States, imbued with isolationism, did not become a member. The League failed in its first test. In 1931 the Japanese, using as an excuse the explosion of a small bomb under a section of track of the South Manchuria Railroad ( over which they had virtual control), initiated military operations designed to conquer all of Manchuria. After receiving the report of its commission of inquiry, the League adopted a resolution in 1933 calling on the Japanese to withdraw. Thereupon, Japan resigned from the League. Meanwhile, Manchuria had been overrun and transformed into a Japanese puppet state under the name of Manchukuo. Beset by friction and dissension among its members, the League took no further action.
In 1933 also, Adolf Hitler came to power as dictator of Germany and began to rearm the country in contravention of the provisions of the Treaty of Versailles. He denounced the provisions of that treaty that limited German armament and in 1935 reinstituted compulsory military service. That year the Italian dictator Benito Mussolini began his long-contemplated invasion of Ethiopia, which he desired as an economic colony. The League voted minor sanctions against Italy, but these had slight practical effect. British and French efforts to effect a compromise settlement failed, and Ethiopia was completely occupied by the Italians in 1936.
Alarmed by German rearmament, France sought an alliance with the USSR. Under the pretext that this endangered Germany, Hitler remilitarized the Rhineland in 1936. It was a dangerous venture, for Britain and France could have overwhelmed Germany, but, resolved to keep the peace, they took no action. Emboldened by this success, Hitler intensified his campaign for Lebensraum ( space for living) for the German people. He forcibly annexed Austria in March 1938, and then, charging abuse of German minorities, threatened Czechoslovakia. In September, as Hitler increased his demands on the Czechs and war seemed imminent, the British and French arranged a conference with Hitler and Mussolini. At the Munich Conference they agreed to German occupation of the Sudetenland, Hitler’s asserted last claim, in the hope of maintaining peace. This hope was short lived, for in March 1939, Hitler took over the rest of Czechoslovakia and seized the former German port of Memel (Klaipeda) from Lithuania. There followed demands on Poland with regard to Danzig (Gdansk) and the Polish Corridor. The Poles remained adamant, and it became clear to Hitler that he could attain his objectives only by force. After surprising the world with the announcement of a non-aggression pact with his sworn foe, the Soviet Union, he sent his armies across the Polish border on Sept. 1, 1939. Britain and France, pledged to support Poland in the event of aggression, declared war on Germany two days later.
As the Germans ravaged Poland, the Russians moved into the eastern part of the country and began the process that was to lead to the absorption in 1940 of Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania. They also made demands on Finland. The recalcitrant Finns were subdued in the Winter War of 1939-4940, but only after dealing the Russians several humiliating military reverses.
Meanwhile, Japan had undertaken military operations for the subjugation of China proper, and was making preparations for the expansion of its empire into Southeast Asia and the rich island groups of the. Southwest Pacific. Mussolini watched the progress of his fellow dictator, Hitler, while preparing to join in the war at a propitious moment.