King's College London
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From Empire to Nationhood


British and French officersBritish and French officersThe origins of World War Two are complex and far reaching, but at its heart lay an aggressive revival of German militarism and nationalism wedded to virulent anti-communism and theories of racial superiority: National Socialism.

In the Far East, similar expressions of violent nationalism led Japan to launch an invasion of Manchuria, the beginning of its campaign to dominate the region.

The Nazis used propaganda to build on a climate of hostility towards neighbours such as France and focused the blame for Germany's problems on the terms of the Versailles Treaty in 1919.

Adolf HitlerAdolf HitlerOne of Adolf Hitler's aims, which he outlined in his seminal prospectus, Mein Kampf, was the reunification of the German peoples and that meant reversing the humiliation of defeat in World War One.

The French and British feared a repeat of World War One and many were sympathetic to the view that the Versailles treaty had been especially unfair to Germany.

Hitler exploited the consequent reluctance of France and Britain to countenance military intervention to prevent German rearmament, notably during the remilitarisation of the Rhineland region in 1936.

Belsen prisonerBelsen prisonerHitler also drew on history and myth to further his aims - the description Third Reich was itself a conscious reference to older German empires.

In Italy, Benito Mussolini's Fascists also looked back for inspiration, this time to the glories of Rome.

Theories of racial superiority loomed large in Germany and Japan to justify the persecution or extermination of subject peoples, in particular Jews and Slavs. Horrifically, these reached their conclusion in the unprecedented mass slaughter of the Holocaust and Japanese action in China and Korea.

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