The scope of World War II is still not apparent. It involved more than two hundred countries; millions of people suffered and were killed; it caused the damage of 3 billion dollars; it impacted the life of the global community. World War II was fought on the Atlantic, the Mediterranean, and the Pacific. No less than fifty-six countries were involved in armed conflicts. It was a cruel war founded on Nazi ideology. At the beginning of the War, both the United States and Russia joined Great Britain and France. The combined effort resulted in the creation of the largest army in global history: 220,000 tanks, 250,000 planes, and 260,000 artillery pieces. Hitler understood the vital importance of having a strong economic foundation and military advancement to fulfillment of the long-ranging goals. The 1930s were marked by the progressive economic reforms and rapid militarization of the German population. The war-time Germany was one of the strongest countries in the world and the global powers had to combine their efforts in the fight against the Nazi regime.
The German army was exceptionally strong. Germany produced more than 80,000 armored vehicles (Keegan 32). The army received adequate support from its artillery backed up with significant state funding. The German army was strongly motivated by Hitler, the leader of the Nazi Party. Hitler firmly believed in the leadership principle and was the only person to make major decisions. Democratic principles were suspended; there was no freedom of the press and speech. Hitler’s popularity was very high for the entire duration of the war and it was the key reason why Germans fought for bitter.
Hitler as a military leader was powerful and persistent, stubborn and distrustful. He did not trust his generals and relied only on his instinct. Hitler was determined to command personally and he had no advisers. He believed in ultimate authority resting on one leader. At each level of command, the superior person was empowered to give orders while subordinates were obliged to follow them without asking any questions. Hitler aimed at exercising direct control of the armies and he was involved in all affairs that were of interest to him. He took an active part in economic, social, political, and military reforms. Hitler was the only person to make decisions on a national level. Notably, his decisions have never been debated or declined by others.
It is worth adding that Hitler was not only the prominent military leader; he also managed to introduce economic reforms fostering the economic development of the country. When Hitler came to power (1933), one-third of the population was unemployed, while by 1938 Germany had a labor shortage (Keegan 78). Notably, Hitler rejected the idea of the international banking community and focused the economic reforms on the barter system. In addition, he took the right to print money from baking institutions and restored it to the German state. The measure of economic development was not based on gold but rather on the capacity of Germans to produce goods. The success of Germany in 1939-1945 was guaranteed with enormous investments into atomic science. Hitler funded the research into the atomic bomb and only “lack of plutonium” kept Hitler from creating an atomic bomb (Keegan 90).
In the late 1930s, Hitler introduced several racial laws prohibiting mixed marriages and requiring sterilization. Marriage between nonwhites, Jews, and Germans was prohibited. Hitler strived to create a pure nation: strong, healthy, and powerful. It was part of his plan to turn as many men as possible into a military force of millions. In addition to rapid economic development and militarization of all men, there was national support of the totalitarian nature of the Nazi Party. Hitler was portrayed as a genius in all fields. At the same time, racism and racialism were part of everyday life: Jews and Nonwhites were referred to as sub-humans (Allen 18). Jews, communists, homosexuals, religious dissidents, and social outcasts were persecuted and executed.
In 1934, Hitler passed the law known as Sterilization Law under which an individual was forced to sterilize if he suffered from any genetic disease (Allen 14). Under the Third Reich led by Hitler, more than 200 eugenic courts were created to control the sterilization process. Hitler required all doctors to report patients with mental problems, epileptic, deaf, blind, or physically disabled. Doctors who failed to report patients with mental or physical disabilities were cruelly punished. In the course of World War II, almost 500,000 individuals were sterilized (Bracher 72). Nazis defended their actions claiming that the United States was the first to introduce sterilization practices. However, Hitler went further and included euthanasia programs under which thousands of people suffering from birth defects were put to death.
The persecution of the disabled and minorities was widespread in occupied territories. From 1941, Jews were required to have a yellow star on the cloth. Most of the Jews were transferred to concentration camps and were kept isolated from the population. In 1942, the “problem” with Jews was solved: Hitler systematically killed more than 6 million Jews and many others. More than 10 million people of different ethnic origins were put in slavery (Bracher 55). This period is known in history as Holocaust. Along with the Holocaust, Germans conducted a program of exploitation over Polish and Soviet territories. It was estimated that more than 20 million Soviet civilians and 7 million soldiers died as the result of Nazi maltreatment.
The Holocaust was systematic and state-sponsored murder of Jews by the Nazi regime. German authorities targeted all groups perceived racially inferior to Germans. Some of the groups were persecuted on behavioral, ideological, and political grounds. Hitler aimed at eliminating all nations that were different from Germans. By the end of World War II, Germans killed nearly two out of every three Jews living in Europe. Millions of Polish and Soviet civilians were deported for the forced labor. Hitler established the concentration camps to detail ideological and political opponents. Very few detained individuals managed to survive under deplorable conditions. Jews, seen as the primary enemies, were placed in the exterminations camps where they were killed in gas facilities developed under the control of Hitler.
Within several years, Hitler led his army to invade the whole of Europe. From 1939 to 1941, Germany invaded Norway and Denmark (‘Low Countries’), occupied northern France, and conquered Yugoslavia (Allen 24). From 1941 to 1945, Germany was at war with the Soviet Union. Hitler aimed at creating a colonial living space for German citizens. The Slavic populations had to be destroyed to make way for the Germans. Nevertheless, the Slavic people appeared to be of equal ideological strength to Germans. While Hitler promoted the creation of an authoritarian regime, the Slavic nations were fed up with the desire to remain free of German oppression.
After losing the Battle of Stalingrad (1943), the Nazi regime started to disintegrate quickly in the west and the east. By spring 1945 the Allied Army had invaded the German lands (Bracher 59). In April 1945 Berlin was taken by the Soviets; Hitler committed suicide. World War II has become one of the most terrifying events of the 20th century. It resulted in the useless deaths of millions of civilians, the execution of Jews, and enormous destruction. Hitler was a strong leader who believed in the power of a word and strived to create an empire for his people. He succeeded in restoring the German economy and fostering development in all fields. However, Hitler failed to fulfill his plan, and Germany was defeated.
In conclusion, World War II was neither political nor economic war. It was the war against people who did not meet the standards imposed by Hitler. The Nazis believed that they were chosen to relieve the world of mentally and physically disabled, of Jews and homosexuals. Hitler was not alone in his aspiration to build the new empire; other leaders were supporting his plans. From one side, Hitler was an excellent politician who managed to restore the economy of Germany after WWI and to build a strong army. On the other hand, he was not prepared to face the oppression of the Soviets. In summary, Germany in 1939-1945 was a powerful country with centralized leadership and a stable economy, however, Hitler led his people in the wrong direction. Germany could become the most influential country in the world if Hitler focused on the development of his country rather than an invasion of Europe.
Allen, William. The Nazi Seizure of Power: the Experience Of A Single German Town, 1922–1945. New York: F. Watts, 1984.
Bracher, Karl. The German Dictatorship; the Origins, Structure, and Effects of National Socialism. New York, Praeger, 1970.
Keegan, John. The Second World War. New York: Penguin Press, 1990.