Hitler’s Foreign Policy: Trigger to World War II?

The early 1940s were marred by the single greatest conflict in the history of the world, unprecedented in size and scale; World War II. Orchestrated by the failure of the vision collective security, the conflict caused the deaths of nearly 85 million people. The world, at the time, witnessed the rise and fall of several powerful and radical political parties, leaders, dictators. Today, one such leader whose name is synonymised with the Second World War is Adolf Hitler, the former chancellor of Fascist Germany. Historians around the world have long argued, since the onset of the Second World War, that his radical foreign policy and ambitions leading up to the 6-year conflict were pivotal to shaping the course of the war. Hitler formulated several policies in the lead up to the Second World War such as propagating lebensraum and racial purity for the German race, the call to nullify the Treaty of Versailles and the desire to gain vast territory for Germany via aggression, all of which arguably acted as the long term causes of the war. 

The first of Hitler’s key ambitions that can be today considered the key cause of the Second World War was Hitler’s strong belief in the need for lebensraum and racial purity of the German race. Certain historians such as Andreas Hilsgruber believe that this policy was the foundational basis of Hitler’s actions cemented during his time in jail after being arrested for the Munich Beer Hall Putsch. Furthermore, it can be argued that this vision for the German people continued much later until the end of World War II and was the fundamental reason for atrocities such as the Holocaust. It can be furthermore assumed that if it had not been for Hitler’s strong belief in the need for Lebensraum and racial purity, he would have been unwilling to spend such a vast number of economic and military resources to achieve this final outcome especially due to the financial challenges imposed on Germany during the Great Depression leading up to the war; Germany at the time was in immense debt and was struggling to repay payments mandated by the victors of World War I; this global economic crisis was particularly harsh in Weimar Germany. Historians such as Anthony P.Adamthwaite also point out that Hitler’s desire for racial purity also caused him to create documents such as the “Hossbach Memorandum” which can be considered documented evidence of Hitler’s willingness to go to any extent (including war) to achieve racial purity. 

The second factor that many historians believed drove Hitler’s desire to begin rearmament and remilitarisation was the anger towards harsh conditions imposed by the Treaty of Versailles in Germany. The War Guilt Clause (Article 231) in particular taken from the Treaty of Versailles placed the entire blame for the World War on the countries defeated in the war and was used as the basis on which to justify all other punishments handed out to Germany. This exacerbated negative public sentiments in Germany towards countries such as Great Britain and France; as a result, parties such as the German Drexler party began to promote anti-Allied propaganda and foreign policies. Disagreements with the Treaty of Versailles furthermore caused Hitler to try to alter and violate the terms on several occasions between 1933-35. A notable example of this was Hitler’s decision to increase military spending by five fold between 1934-35 compared to the previous year. It has therefore been suggested on numerous occasions that had the terms of the Treaty been less harsh, German public sentiment towards war would have been more negative and Hitler would have been deterred from pursuing such an aggressive foreign policy.

The third aspect of foreign policy propagated by Hitler that can be said to have caused the Second World War was his desire to aggressively acquire large areas of land. Several notable territorial conflicts were caused as a direct result of this including the remilitarisation of Rhineland, the takeover of Czechoslovakia and the invasion of Poland. The invasion of Poland for instance acted as a direct short term cause of World War II and occurred due to Hitler’s desire to prevent Poland from becoming an independent Polish state as had been decided by the Allied powers. Therefore, it can be argued that if it was not for Hitler’s territorial ambitions, it is possible that World War II might not have been occurred at all (due to the fact that the invasion of Poland was the formal trigger for the war). 

In summary, Adolf Hitler took control of the reigns in 1933 with the hope of restoring the World Order, re-establishing Germany’s place as a dominant and assertive nation-state and achieving Lebensraum and racial purity for the German people. Historians around the world today continue to echo the belief that his unshakeable desire to follow these aims through with an aggressive foreign policy had a significant role to play causing tensions between countries, in the lead up to the war.