AN INTRODUCTION TO WORLD WAR II
World War II was the second total global war of the twentieth century and marked the nadir of humanity's destructive abilities. It spanned two theatres of conflict (Europe and the Pacific) and 6 years. However, this does not adequately describe the scale of war. Chinese people could claim that the Second World War started in 1937 with the Sino-Japanese War, or even the 1931 Japanese invasion of Manchuria. Equally for many Russians, the Great Patriotic War did not begin until Operation Barbarossa in 1941. Many historians chart the beginnings of the Second World War in Europe to the German invasion of Poland in September 1939. Although Japan had began acquiring colonial possessions prior to 1939, this process in the Asia-Pacific region was accelerated following the beginning of the war in Europe which caused an inability of the British and French to defend their empires in Southeast Asia and the Far East.
The Second World War affected both civilian populations as well as soldiers. Many European and Asian civilians were killed either as a result of German or Japanese occupation or the deliberate targeting of populations by both sides. The economies of both the Axis and Allied powers were geared towards fighting a total war and it is also fair to say that the war was not solely confined to Europe and the Pacific. There was fighting in North Africa, the Atlantic, China and Burma. Brazil, Iran and India became important participants in the war.
Finally it is important to evaluate the true causes behind the war. Was it an ideological clash (democracy and freedom vs. fascism)? If so, the peoples represented by forces of the Soviet Union and Mao's Communist Party, who both fought for the Allied cause, could not be considered democratic or free. Certainly, all members of the Allied forces wanted to destroy fascism but beyond that, the ensuing Cold war is evidence in itself that their was not a shared post-war vision. Was it Hitler's war? Again, this is hard to whole-heartedly agree with. One man does not make a war and so many members of the German military bought into his National Socialist ideology. It is also difficult to give him that much credit, especially when one considers the often chaotic nature of his Nazi Government. Many believe that World War II was really a war for resources and a failure of capitalism. In this respect, it was an extension of World War I. Essentially it was a war between the 'haves' (Britain, France, the USSR and the USA) and the 'have-nots' (Germany, Italy and Japan). The 'haves' had access to land (through empire or other means), people, food and raw materials to fuel their advanced industrial economies, while the 'have-nots' did not. It was until the second half of the 20th century that international political models of peace and cooperation focused more on free trade that could allow more sharing of global resources. This global outlook was severely lacking in the first half of the twentieth century and was a primary cause behind both World Wars as both sides struggled to find ways to co-exist and other countries turned to more extreme political ideologies to respond to economic pressures.
The Crash Course video below paints an excellent overview and big picture of the Second World War: