World Wars

Mus­ings are thoughts, the thought­ful kind. For the pur­pose of these ar­ti­cles, a-mus­ings are thoughts that might amuse, en­ter­tain and even en­lighten.

The Star (St. Lucia) - - LO­CAL - By Michael Walker

Now that the world is about to be ruled by a mad­man, it is per­haps ap­pro­pri­ate to con­sider events of the 20th cen­tury. Be­fore 1914, many coun­tries made mu­tual de­fence agree­ments that meant that if one coun­try was at­tacked, al­lied coun­tries were bound to de­fend it. The fol­low­ing al­liances ex­isted: Rus­sia and Ser­bia, Ger­many and Aus­tria-Hun­gary, France and Rus­sia, Britain and France and Bel­gium, and fi­nally Ja­pan and Britain. The treaties were a dis­as­ter: Aus­tria-Hun­gary de­clared war on Ser­bia; Rus­sia de­fended Ser­bia; Ger­many de­clared war on Rus­sia; France was drawn in against Ger­many and Aus­tria-Hun­gary, and Ger­many at­tacked France through Bel­gium, pulling Britain in. Later, Ja­pan, Italy and the United States joined in on the fun.

Im­pe­ri­al­ism, when a coun­try in­creases its power and wealth by bring­ing ad­di­tional ter­ri­to­ries un­der its con­trol, was an­other fac­tor. Be­fore World War I, Africa and parts of Asia were ar­eas of con­tention amongst Euro­pean coun­tries be­cause of the raw ma­te­ri­als these ar­eas could pro­vide. This, and the in­crease in mil­i­tarism, helped push the world into chaos.

The im­me­di­ate cause of World War I was the as­sas­si­na­tion of Arch­duke Franz Fer­di­nand of Aus­tria-Hun­gary. In June 1914 a Ser­bian-na­tion­al­ist ter­ror­ist suc­ceeded in killing him and his wife while they were in Sara­jevo, which was part of Aus­tria-Hun­gary. This as­sas­si­na­tion led to Aus­tria-Hun­gary declar­ing war on Ser­bia. When Rus­sia be­gan to mo­bilise to de­fend Ser­bia, Ger­many de­clared war on Rus­sia. Thus be­gan the ex­pan­sion of the war to in­clude all those with mu­tual de­fence al­liances. WWI had ex­tremely high ca­su­al­ties: over 15 mil­lion dead and 20 mil­lion in­jured.

WWII was largely caused by the anger felt in Ger­many at the terms of the Treaty of Ver­sailles af­ter WW1, and the in­abil­ity of the League of Na­tions to deal with ma­jor in­ter­na­tional is­sues. Hitler rearmed Nazi Ger­many - some­thing for­bid­den by the Treaty - and the world’s pow­ers did noth­ing. In 1936 Ger­many re-oc­cu­pied the Rhineland, and again Europe failed to act. Aus­tria and the Sude­ten­land too were oc­cu­pied. Only when it was clear that Cze­choslo­vakia and Poland were next did the ma­jor pow­ers of Europe re­act.

In 1939 Ger­many in­vaded Poland, and Britain and France re­sponded by declar­ing war, but took lit­tle ac­tion over the fol­low­ing months. In 1940 Ger­many con­quered Den­mark, Nor­way, Bel­gium, the Nether­lands and France in rapid suc­ces­sion. Ger­many launched a fur­ther at­tack on Britain, this time ex­clu­sively from the air in 1940. The Bat­tle of Britain was Ger­many’s first mil­i­tary fail­ure, as the Ger­man air force, the Luft­waffe, was never able to over­come Britain’s Royal Air Force.

In 1940 Italy, an ally of Ger­many, ex­panded the war even fur­ther by in­vad­ing Greece and North Africa. The Greek cam­paign was a fail­ure and Ger­many was forced to come to Italy’s as­sis­tance. A year later Ger­many in­vaded the Soviet Union. Af­ter ini­tial swift progress deep into Rus­sia, the in­va­sion proved to be Ger­many’s down­fall; the coun­try was just too big. Rus­sia’s ini­tial re­sis­tance was weak but the na­tion’s strength and de­ter­mi­na­tion, com­bined with its bru­tal win­ters, would even­tu­ally be more than the Ger­man army could over­come. Af­ter the bat­tles of Stal­in­grad and Kursk, Ger­many be­gan a full-scale re­treat and the Ger­mans were steadily forced out of Soviet ter­ri­tory. The Rus­sians pur­sued them across East­ern Europe and into Ger­many it­self. In June 1944 Bri­tish and Amer­i­can forces launched the D-Day in­va­sion via the coast of Nor­mandy. The Ger­man army was forced into re­treat. Al­lied forces closed in from both east and west. The Sovi­ets were the first to reach the Ger­man cap­i­tal Ber­lin. Ger­many sur­ren­dered in May, shortly af­ter the sui­cide of Adolf Hitler.

In 1941 the war in the Pa­cific had be­gun when Ja­pan launched a sur­prise air at­tack on the U.S. Navy base at Pearl Har­bor, Hawaii. Ja­pan had al­ready been at war with China for sev­eral years and had seized the Chi­nese ter­ri­tory of Manchuria. Af­ter Pearl Har­bor, Ja­pan be­gan a cam­paign of ex­pan­sion through the South­east Asia–Pa­cific re­gion. The Pearl Har­bor at­tack pro­voked a dec­la­ra­tion of war by the U.S. on Ja­pan but it was months be­fore any U.S. mil­i­tary in­volve­ment took place. In 1942 the U.S. and Ja­pan en­gaged in naval bat­tles, cli­max­ing in the Bat­tle of Mid­way where Ja­pan suf­fered a cat­a­strophic de­feat. The Al­lies be­gan heavy bomb­ing cam­paigns against Ja­panese cities, in­clud­ing Tokyo, through the sum­mer of 1945 un­til, in early Au­gust, the U.S. dropped two atomic bombs on the cities of Hiroshima and Na­gasaki, and Ja­pan sur­ren­dered.

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