In the course of history, it is sometimes difficult to define monumental moments. Usually, it is not until many years later that specific actions and events become essential and highly influential pieces of the larger picture. It is the same with World War II. In hindsight, it is possible to look back and proclaim that although nationalism, colonialism, and communism all played important roles in World War II, nationalism was the most critical in acting as a casual factor and left the greatest impact. Before being able to recognize these significant components in World War II, it is vital to define them.
Colonialism is defined as, “Control by one country over another area and its people” (Merriam-Webster). Communism can be described as a society where the government owns everything that is used to create and transport goods. The public owns no private property (Merriam-Webster). Lastly, nationalism can be defined as, “A feeling that people have of being loyal to and proud of their country often with the belief that it is better and more important than other countries” (Merriam-Webster). Through natural progression, it is evident to see how these three mechanisms played causal roles influencing the war.
In order to truly understand World War II in its entirety as a “world” war marked by nationalism, it is imperative to analyze the progressive nature of the war. In an isolated system, the individual actions and evidences of nationalism, colonialism, and communism may fail to yield war, but as global interaction and tension grows, so does the probability for war because of contrasting views in these three areas. A precursor to some of these important actions arose from the shifting scene of governments. Particularly in Italy, Germany, and the USSR, iberal democratic governments briefly pervaded prior to World War II before converting into Fascist and Communist governments (Class Notes, 10/26/15).
As Hitler rose to power in 1933 and Japan and Italy increased in strength by invading Manchuria and Ethiopia respectively, an alliance of sorts began to form and was solidified in 1937 between these three nations called the Anti-Comintern Pact. Subsequently, Japan invaded China (1937-1938) and Germany overtook both Austria and Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia (1938) with increased resolve to expand their territory due to nationalist and idealistic views (Strayer, Ways of the World, p. 36-650).
The desire for colonialism can be seen in these conquests. It was at this point that other nations began taking these invasions seriously. Once Germany invaded Poland in 1939, war was declared and Hitler responded by utilizing his blitzkrieg military method on France before bombing Britain (1940). It was at this point that Japan began conquering Asian colonies (1940-1942), climaxing in the attack of Pearl Harbor (1941). At the same time, Germany expanded the war to include the USSR (1941) in the European theatre, which would eventually lead to the turning point in favor of the Allies at the Battle of Stalingrad (1943).
In the Pacific theatre, fighting was intense, but the tide slowly began to turn with the Allied victory at the Battle of Midway (1942). 1944 marked the beginning of the end for Axis forces as Allied forces assaulted Normandy during the D-day invasion and began pushing the Germans back towards Germany. In 1945, the war in the European theatre ended as the Soviets captured Berlin and the Allied powers met in order to discuss the fate of postwar Europe at the Yalta Conference. Similarly, war in the Pacific theatre ended following the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in the same year (Strayer, Ways of the World, p. 636-650).
Based on this brief summary, the place for colonialism becomes apparent due to a desire for power through conquest. Due to the separation of power that resulted following World War I, dissatisfied states attempted to equalize themselves. Neglected countries countered Britain and the United States in order to achieve “national greatness” and “economic wellbeing” (Strayer, Ways of the World, p. 645-647). During the course of the war it is somewhat difficult to see the role communism played. As the war draws to a close and the USSR closes in on Berlin, the clash between Communism and capitalism becomes an unavoidable event.
With an Allied victory, communist USSR would be a major player in determining the fate of postwar Europe. With differing societal beliefs between the capitalist west and communist USSR, the redrawing of Europe, particularly the division between West and East Berlin, left serious repercussions that played a definite impact on the Cold War. While it is possible to draw out these two previously mentioned influential factors, nationalism is prevalent throughout the entirety of the war including prior to and following it.
As Axis powers expanded their respective empires, neighboring nations who were viewed as inferior were conquered so that German, Italian, and Japanese culture and society could pervade. Following World War I, the cultures and societies of losing nations were diminished. As new Fascist governments rekindled nationalistic ideals, equality was not achieved, but a reversal of the pendulum occurred. A singularly dominant jingoistic mindset was established and this is evidenced in the Holocaust and its atrocities.
Because of nationalism, Hitler was able to conquer nations and peoples with the support of his people. As German (Aryan), Japanese, and Italian patriotic pride increased, their leaders were able to perform both questionable and horrific actions because they did it in the name patriotism. These citizens supported their leaders, at least at first, because they brought hope. They brought hope through nationalism and patriotic fervor. The hope was that these disrespected nations would achieve economic stability and global greatness.