Skip to main content

Causes of World War II

Image result for Admiral Mahan

Again I'm cribbing from something I wrote for Yahoo!Answers.

The question was,  "10 reasons why world war 2 started?"

My answer, composed rather off the cuff, ran as follows:

I'm glad you allow for causative pluralism. I'll get you half way there with five causes:

1. The inherent dynamism of fascistic nationalisms, which need to prove their superiority to other nations in order to secure their domestic support;
2. In Japan (which wasn't really fascistic in the same sense as its European allies) a collective inferiority complex, which left them wanting to prove themselves at least as powerful as the western imperialists operating in east Asia;
3. The widespread theories of Admiral Mahan on the centrality of naval power in history, and the superior position in which island-nations are placed for empire building. This, too, inspired Japan and helped guide other nations too in a disastrous direction;
4. The excesses of the Versailles Treaty that the victorious powers had forced upon Germany in 1919, and the bitterness caused by that excess;
5. The long reign of Hegelian philosophy in German intellectual life, and the central role that philosophy assigned to nation-states, and to warfare as the tribunal of disputes between them.


Going beyond what I wrote there....

I'm not sure whether this is consistent with the various things I've said here about causes-of-war. I put it here precisely so as to keep myself from brushing under the rug any inconsistency that may exist.

And that's Admiral Mahan in the photo at top. He taught that Britain had been dominant for so long largely because it is an island nation, so it doesn't need to divide its navy. France has always had to divide its navy, maintaining a separate Mediterranean and Atlantic fleet (and Britain has controlled Gibraltar). The idea probably helped inspired Theodore Roosevelt to push for a Canal that could unite the two coasts of the US and that would be within US control -- so we wouldn't be France. It certainly encouraged Japanese ideas that it was now their turn to create an Empire analogous to Britain's.

But the Japanese were also perceptive about how Mahan's ideas had become obsolete. For his focus on the need to concentrate the fleet to make decisive use of it (or to hold it as a very public deterrent)  became dangerous as air power became a factor, and the Japanese demonstrated this against an over-concentrated US Pacific fleet in December 1941.


  1. Christopher, Your #1 seems to me at best partially true. The German people did not lead Hitler to war; he led them to war. No doubt they responded favorably to his demagoguery about Germany's having been stabbed in the back and entitled to vindication. But this does not mean that he needed to go to war to secure or maintain their domestic support. I suspect that murdering Jews and communists would have been adequate for that purpose.


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

A Story About Coleridge

This is a quote from a memoir by Dorothy Wordsworth, reflecting on a trip she took with two famous poets, her brother, William Wordsworth, and their similarly gifted companion, Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

We sat upon a bench, placed for the sake of one of these views, whence we looked down upon the waterfall, and over the open country ... A lady and gentleman, more expeditious tourists than ourselves, came to the spot; they left us at the seat, and we found them again at another station above the Falls. Coleridge, who is always good-natured enough to enter into conversation with anybody whom he meets in his way, began to talk with the gentleman, who observed that it was a majestic waterfall. Coleridge was delighted with the accuracy of the epithet, particularly as he had been settling in his own mind the precise meaning of the words grand, majestic, sublime, etc., and had discussed the subject with William at some length the day before. “Yes, sir,” says Coleridge, “it is a majestic wate…

Cancer Breakthrough

Hopeful news in recent days about an old and dear desideratum: a cure for cancer. Or at least for a cancer, and a nasty one at that.

The news comes about because investors in GlaxoSmithKline are greedy for profits, and has already inspired a bit of deregulation to boot. 

The FDA has paved the road for a speedy review of a new BCMA drug for multiple myeloma, essentially cancer of the bone marrow. This means that the US govt has removed some of the hurdles that would otherwise (by decision of the same govt) face a company trying to proceed with these trials expeditiously. 

This has been done because the Phase I clinical trial results have been very promising. The report I've seen indicates that details of these results will be shared with the world on Dec. 11 at the annual meeting of the American Society of Hematology. 

The European Medicines Agency has also given priority treatment to the drug in question. 

GSK's website identifies the drug at issue as "GSK2857916," althou…

Hume's Cutlery

David Hume is renowned for two pieces of cutlery, the guillotine and the fork.

Hume's guillotine is the sharp cut he makes between "is" statements and "ought" statements, to make the point that the former never ground the latter.

His "fork" is the division between what later came to be called "analytic" and "synthetic" statements, with the ominous observation that any books containing statements that cannot be assigned to one or the other prong should be burnt.

Actually, I should acknowledge that there is some dispute as to how well or poorly the dichotomy Hume outlines really maps onto the analytic/synthetic dichotomy. Some writers maintain that Hume meant something quite different and has been hijacked. Personally, I've never seen the alleged difference however hard they've worked to point it out to me.

The guillotine makes for a more dramatic graphic than a mere fork, hence the bit of clip art above.

I'm curious whe…