Map Exercise 18: Europe at War (This exercise includes 7 maps)
There have been several moments in the history of western civilization when one nation seemed powerful enough to determine the course of history itself. There have also been moments when one individual seemed to hold a similar fate—perhaps an Alexander the Great, Charlemagne, or Napoleon. These are world-historical figures, great men, who combined native intelligence, the will to power, and a nation strong enough to do his bidding. In the twentieth century we have the figure of Adolf Hitler—the symbol of evil. Perhaps it's not surprising that a man such as Hitler could so powerfully control the destiny of Germany. Shaped by the humiliation of the Great War, Hitler gradually rose to power in the 1920s by building up the Nazi party organization and by telling the German people what they needed to hear. Germany had been humiliated at Versailles; it was Hitler's destiny to bring Germany out of this humiliation and create the thousand year Third Reich. In 1933, Hitler became the Chancellor of Germany through a constitutional act. From that point forward, Europe changed in totality.
France and Great Britain merely appeased Hitler in the 1930s, despite the fact that all of his efforts seemed clearly to be acts of aggression. Joining forces first with Mussolini in Italy and then with Stalin and the Soviet Union, it was clear that another world war was a distinct possibility. And it would be Hitler's war. Of course, few observers could have anticipated that Hitler's war would also mean the attempt to annihilate the entire population of European Jews. And then in August 1945, the United States demonstrated the greatness of modern science to the world as two nuclear bombs fell on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan. The Second World War also meant the obsolescence of the great powers of Europe—the destiny of the world now seemed securely in the hands of two vast super-powers, the United States and the Soviet Union.
Consider the following general questions as you complete this exercise:
• Why were Britain and France so eager to appease Hitler throughout the 1930s?
• How was Hitler able to capture the imagination of most Germans in the years leading up to 1939?
• Could the problems left by the Versailles Treaty have been resolved through diplomatic channels?
• Why did Stalin call World War II Russia's "Great Patriotic War"?
• Was the Cold War a necessary result of the Second World War?