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10-08-2015, 17:01

The Path to War in Europe

When Hitler became chancellor on January 30, 1933, Germany’s situation in Europe seemed weak. The Versailles Treaty had created a demilitarized zone on Germany’s western border that would allow the French to move into the heavily industrialized parts of Germany in the event of war. To Germany’s east, the smaller states, such as Poland and Czechoslovakia, had defensive treaties with France. The Versailles Treaty had also limited Germany’s army to 100,000 troops with no air force and only a small navy. Posing as a man of peace in his public speeches, Hitler emphasized that Germany wished only to revise the unfair provisions of Versailles by peaceful means and occupy Germany’s rightful place among the European states. On March 9, 1935, he announced the creation of a new air force and, one week later, the introduction of a military draft that would expand Germany’s army from 100,000 to 550,000 troops. France, Great Britain, and Italy condemned Germany’s unilateral repudiation of the Versailles Treaty but took no concrete action. On March 7, 1936, buoyed by his conviction that the Western democracies had no intention of using force to maintain the Treaty of Versailles, Hitler sent German troops into the demilitarized Rhineland. According to the Versailles Treaty, the French had the right to use force against any violation of the demilitarized Rhineland. But France would not act without British support, and the British viewed the occupation of German territory by German troops as reasonable action by a dissatisfied power. The London Times noted that the Germans were only “going into their own back garden.” Meanwhile, Hitler gained new allies. In October 1935, Benito Mussolini committed Fascist Italy to imperial expansion by invading Ethiopia. Angered by French and British opposition to his invasion, Mussolini welcomed Hitler’s support and began to draw closer to the German dictator he had once called a buffoon. The joint intervention of Germany and Italy on behalf of General Francisco Franco in the Spanish Civil War in 1936 also drew the two nations closer together. In October 1936, Mussolini and Hitler concluded an agreement that recognized their common political and economic interests. One month later, Germany and Japan concluded the Anti-Comintern Pact and agreed to maintain a common front against communism.

 

 

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