From the Internet Book, Western Civilization

Kelly Haston, Foothill College

WWI and WWII as "a New Thirty Years War" 

The First and Second World Wars are considered two of the defining events of the 20th century. But on close reflection, and with historical distance, how will these two events be perceived? I think it possible that the two wars are so interconnected that really they are a "new Thirty Years War," and that World War Two really just grew out of the unsolved problems of World War One. The evidence seems to show that WWI was the catalyst for the Second - and the ineffectual solutions of the Treaty of Versailles and the shortsighted failure of the Great Allies.

The unsolved problems and the unwillingness of the Allies to address the issues of WWI made a second war unavoidable. The interwar years were just a break before the countries returned to complete what had not been finished. Churchill once told Roosevelt that he thought WWII should be called, "The Unnecessary War." He also said, "There never was a war more easy to stop than that which has just wrecked what was left for the world from the previous struggle." That this lesson has now been learned is not assured. The world powers are still prone to short term fixes, leaving volatile situations unsolved and unstable, possible flash points that could once again explode into violence, pulling the world into yet another conflict.

Suzanne Kirakossian, Foothill College


WWII grew out of the unresolved problems of WWI. It was, in fact, how one major historian described it, "a new Thirty Years War." The ever-prevalent problems of redivision of the world, nationalism, economic distress, and military build-up were the common reasons for WWII, but all of these were the conflicts that had gone unresolved from WWI. When Wilson tried to enforce the right of self-determination during the Paris Peace Conference, the other powers, France, Italy, and Great Britain, believed redrawing the map of Europe, with this idea in mind, was too difficult. Hence many of the old conflicts remained. However, these major powers did redraw the boundaries the way they wished, helping to revive hostilities between some countries.

This question of what exactly was the cause of WWII is a difficult one to answer. One is compelled to say that without a Hitler, there could not have been a WWII for the same reasons. It is true that there was economic distress among the people of Europe, which is usually an underlying cause of war. However, no powerful country would have gone to the Hitler extreme. Hitler-- one person-- was able to unite a whole country and came very close to accomplishing his goal.

Yet some "ifs" enter in. If the conflicts from WWI had been solved at the time, I do believe WWII could have been prevented. Also, if countries who made pacts and were in the League of Nations had done what their organization was set up to do, they could have stopped Germany long before, when it began annexing countries in the 1930's and breaking the rearming clause.

Yet another to be learned from history. When countries become allies or make treaties, they need to stick to them because if they do not, they are just pieces of paper that no one takes seriously. This "nonstickiness" and non-fortitude explain why Germany got as far as it did, and maybe why Bosnia is the way it is now.

December 1997

Western Civilization:  The Modern World