At the beginning of 1918, the President of the United States, Woodrow Wilson,

presented a fourteen-point plan to overcome the effects of the First World War

and achieve a lasting peace. Among its proposals was the creation of a

supranational organisation, the League of Nations, which would possess broad

powers to promote and regulate frank, open and balanced international relations.

After the Great War, two political ideologies triumphed:

Democracy, which spread to all European countries and extended suffrage to women.

Nationalism, which was very intense, enabled the creation of new European countries

and served as a basis for the rise of colonial independence movements.

The first years in post-war Europe (1919-1924) were marked by a great economic

crisis. The financial destruction and chaos that were legacies of the war persisted,

causing low production rates, monetary devaluation, unemployment and serious social


On the other side of the ocean, the United States came out of the Great War stronger

and became the largest political and economic power in the world. Its prosperity was

due to the payback of loans made to Europe, an increase in exports and the

development of modern industry. During the ‘Roaring Twenties’, as the decade was

called there, US families could for the first time acquire consumer products such as

home appliances and automobiles according to the so-called ‘American way of life’.

This consumer behaviour would not spread to Europe until after the Second World



In 1929, the era of prosperity was interrupted by a severe crisis that began with

the crash of the New York Stock Exchange. Firms abruptly lost their value and a large

part of their capital. Unable to collect the loans that had been granted, most banks

went bankrupt and those that overcame the crisis drastically reduced the financing of

firms. As a consequence, many firms had to close down and dismiss their workers.

Before long, industrial production drastically declined. Unemployment affected

almost all social classes.

This generalization of the crisis is known as the Great Depression. Because of its

intensity, duration and reach, this was the worst crisis the capitalist system had ever


In Europe, the most affected countries were Great Britain, Austria and Germany,

which suffered consequences similar to those endured by the US economy, such as:

Reduction in the value of stock markets. // Decline of industrial production. //

Bankruptcy of small and medium firms. // Fall of prices and salaries. //

Alarming increase in unemployment.


The principles of democracy initially triumphed at the end of the First World War. The

new states that arose from the fragmentation of defeated empires incorporated these

principles as the foundation of their political stability.

In Germany, with the support of the left, the Weimar Republic (1919-1933) was

established. Its Constitution included universal suffrage, the effective equality between

men and women and a broad declaration of rights. In the economy, it tried to alleviate

the effects of the crisis by means of a deflationist policy, that is, a general lowering of

the price of goods and services and of salaries.

In the 1920s, the democratic parliamentary system underwent a crisis. There were

several causes of the crisis:

Economic crisis of the capitalist system, which in Europe was seen in the post-

war crisis (1919-1923) as well as in the depression that started in 1929. A direct

consequence was the rise of unemployment and poverty.

Strengthening of labour unions, which frightened the middle classes and led

them to support totalitarian alternatives.

Political instability of the new countries. Much of this instability was caused by

workers’ uprisings and the influence of workers’ movements in the different

Communist parties of each country.

Rupture of confidence in human reason, science and progress resulting from the

trauma of the war.



In 1921, Benito Mussolini founded the National Fascist Party (PNF) and established

himself as its leader or chief, called Il Duce. The fascist movement captured the

support of a broad range of social sectors, calling on the need to renew Italy. In 1922,

the Blackshirts – the name by which the paramilitary militias of the fascist movement

were known – undertook the March on Rome. In the face of Mussolini’s promises and

threats, King Victor Emmanuel III entrusted him with the formation of a new


The crisis of 1929 affected Italy, causing production to fall and increasing

unemployment. The response of the fascist state was a policy of public works and,

beyond its frontiers, the beginning of imperialist expansion in Ethiopia. Thanks to this,

the propaganda apparatus spread an image of Italy as a great power prepared for a

future world confrontation.


The year 1923 was critical for Germany. The enormous inflation led the country to

a dead-end situation. Members of the Nazi Party took advantage of the crisis to carry

out the Munich Putsch, a failed attempt at a coup d’état. Hitler, who led the uprising,

was tried and imprisoned.

To prevent Germany’s collapse, the victors of the war conceived an aid plan that

succeeded in reactivating the economy and restoring international confidence. As

such, the reconciliation between Germany and France was possible, so Germany was

admitted to the League of Nations in 1926.

The crisis of 1929 had an immediate impact in Germany, because its economy was far

more affected by it than the economy of the USA. The collapse of banks and industries

again drove Germany to poverty; unemployment skyrocketed and social tension

fueled the rise of Nazism.

The crisis weakened the Weimar Republic. In the parliamentary elections, no party

won a majority because, in 1933, the President of the Republic, Hindenburg, appointed

Hitler as Prime Minister of a coalition government. Once he was in power, Nazism

began to dismantle the democratic system and impose a dictatorship. Nazi ideology

was based on a series of principles:

• Backing of an indisputable leader, the Führer (guide).

• Superiority of the Aryan race over others.

• Necessity of Germany’s expansion (‘living space’) towards the east of Europe. In

this way, according to the propaganda of the time, the resources and space the

population needed would be guaranteed.

• Anti-semitism, which stripped Jews of the right to possess German nationality

and hold public office or work in the liberal professions.

• Revanchism against France and rejection of the ‘diktat’ of Versailles.

In June 1934, the SS, an elite Nazi corps, carried out an attack against the SA, a Nazi

organisation led by Ernst Röhm, who fought for power within the organisation. Most of

the SA leaders were assassinated in what is known as ‘The Night of the Long Knives’.

Founded in 1936, the Gestapo functioned as political police with full powers to

persecute dissidents and intern them in concentration camps, the first of which were

created that same year.

Hitler’s expansionist policy led him to systematically claim and invade European

territories that bordered Germany, such as Austria and the Sudetenland, actions

tolerated by France and Great Britain. In the end, these countries could not accept

Hitler’s invasion of Poland in 1939, which ignited the Second World War.


Anti-Semitism, which was already present in society, was one of the ideological

foundations of the Nazi regime. It was expressed in the Nuremburg Laws, approved

during the Nazi Party congress in 1935. After they were published, the Nazis began a

campaign of propaganda and slander against Jews so that the German people would

view them as enemies.

In addition to Jews, the Nazis persecuted other groups and ethnicities, who also

suffered repression and death. Gypsies, political dissidents, Jehovah’s Witnesses,

homosexuals and disabled people were also massacred in Nazi concentration camps.


Causes of the war

The Great Depression. A recession followed the Wall Street Crash of 1929.

European nations looked for their own solutions to the crisis. Most applied

protectionist measures and competed for markets.

Totalitarian regimes. As soon as they came to power, the Nazis implemented

an aggressive foreign policy to make up for the ‘humiliation’ that Germany had

been subjected to by the Treaty of Versailles.

Militarism and rearmament. Germany violated the Treaty of Versailles by

rearming. In this period of economic crisis and totalitarian regimes, aggressive


Territorial conflicts and expansionism. Old conflicts restarted in the territories

that had passed into the hands of other nations after the First World War.

German dominance in Europe (1939-1941)

In less than a month, Poland surrendered and its territory was divided between

Germany and the USSR. The war front was contained for several months, but in spring

1940, Germany launched an unstoppable assault on Western Europe.

In spring 1940, Germany invaded Denmark and Norway to secure supplies of Swedish

steel and to try to isolate the British Isles.At the same time, Germany launched a rapid

offensive called the blitzkrieg or ‘lightning war’ on France and invaded two neutral

countries: Belgium and the Netherlands. The French army was defeated. In June 1940,

German troops occupied Paris.

• The Allied counter-offensive (1942-1944)

In June 1942, the Battle of Stalingrad began. This is considered one of

the bloodiest battles in history, and marked the start of Germany’s defeat in Russia.

The German-Italian army was defeated in North Africa, at the Battle of El Alamein

(1942).In 1943, the British and US armies landed in Sicily and toppled the Mussolini


DEFEAT OF THE AXIS (1944-1945)

After the Normandy landings, the German army began to retreat and suffered a series

of defeats. On 24 August 1944, Allied troops liberated Paris and the offensive moved

towards Germany. In the autumn, the Allies reached the Rhine and intensified air raids

on German cities, many of which were destroyed. Hitler, meanwhile, was confident

that his army could contain the Allies and started to use new weapons.

After its defeats on the Western Front, the German army concentrated its efforts on

stopping the advance of Soviet troops in the east.

In April 1945, Hitler committed suicide in his bunker in Berlin. A few hours later, the

Soviets entered the city.


In 1944, US troops led by General Douglas MacArthur gradually gained ground, forcing

the Japanese out of the Marshall Islands, Burma, New Guinea and the Philippines.

In spring 1945, the US army captured some islands, such as Iwo Jima and Okinawa.

Meanwhile, air raids on Japanese cities such as Tokyo intensified.

After Germany surrendered, Japan continued to fight despite the unstoppable advance

of the US. In August, US President Harry S. Truman ordered atomic bombs to be

dropped on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, killing more than 240 000 people.


Human and material losses. About 60 million people died during the Second World

War. More than 30 million were civilians. More than 30 million people were injured

and three million disappeared.

Political, socioeconomic and territorial changes. One of the most significant effects of

the war was Europe’s political and economic decline.

The United States became the superpower of the capitalist world. The country also

benefited from the fact that no battles had taken place in its territory, so its industry

and infrastructure remained intact.