Was German expansionism which led to World War II simply an extension of the war aims of 1914-18?

Essay 1995 16 Pages

History Europe - Germany - National Socialism, World War II



The Problem

The Aims of War

Ideologies and Origins

Before the Wars Began


1. The Problem

Were it only the exceptional ideas and plans of Adolf Hitler and his NSDAP that led to World War II or did the Führer only succeed in the old aims of German foreign - and in the end - war policy of the former empire? If yes, it would not be only Hitler’s war, but a German war which could not be reduced any longer to the Nazi-ideology, but to a constant German policy, independent of the political system until the end of World War II.

It has to be explained, which aims Germany followed in World War I and World War II, why it followed them, who supported these aims in Germany and why, and of which kind their aims’s ideological background was.

2. The Aims of War

The main aims can be distinguished in territorial and technical aims. In World War I, German territorial war aims included in the West parts of France, especially the expansion of the German part of Alsace-Lorraine, which was supposed to be regained in World War II, the economical important area of Longwy-Brie with large iron ore deposits, the occupation of Belgium, Holland and Luxembourg. These aims were nearly identically with Hitler’s aims in World War II.[1] Already in his book ,,Mein Kampf”, written in 1924, Hitler complains, how dangerous - in his opinion - the French policy was for Germany[2]:

“Für Deutschland jedoch bedeutet die französische Gefahr die Verpflichtung, unter Zurückstellung aller Gefühlsmomente dem die Hand zu reichen, der, ebenso bedroht wie wir, Frankreichs Herrschgelüste nicht erdulden und ertragen will.“ (“But for Germany the French threat means the obligation, to put back all emotional moments and to shake everybody’s hand, who is as threatened as we are and not willed to endure and to bear France’s thirst for power)[3]

In September 1914 German chancellor Bethmann Hollweg had explained the war aims in the West in a very similar way: France had to be weakened, so that it will not be able to recover as a great power.[4]

In the East, Germany wanted to turn Poland into a satellite state and to completely occupy a large area at the border. Also the Baltic States should later on be integrated in the Reich, although they were promised to Russia in the Hitler-Stalin-Pact. In the South-East, Turkey was expected to end in strong economical and political dependence of the Reich both in World War I and II. Also similar were the aims in the Balkan area: Serbia was occupied in both wars.[5]

So only one important territorial aim of 1914 was not resumed in World War II: Hitler pursued nearly no colonial aims like the German Central-Africa-Plan of the Kaiser’s government in World War I, although tactical reflections about possibilities of colonial winnings can be found in Mein Kampf.[6]

Added to these main territorial aims was a technical aim in World War I for the West and the East: An economic leadership of Germany in central Europe, “ including France, Belgium, Holland, Denmark, Austria-Hungary, Poland (!), and possible Italy, Sweden and Norway”[7]. Bethmann Hollweg’s government developed the “Program of a Central European Customs Association”, in which a German leadership should be established to “stable Germany’s economical predominance in Central Europe”.[8] And so did Hitler.[9] Also comparable were the plans to clear eastern territories like the Ukraine of their inhabitants and to resettle Germans.[10]


[1] F. Fischer: Der erste Weltkrieg und das deutsche Geschichtsbild, p. 364

[2] For the usability of “Mein Kampf” as a source, see Trevor Roper, pp31-32; W. Maser, pp.117-120 & 139. A.J.P. Taylor sees in the Lebensraum-idea in Mein Kampf admittedly no war-plan and doesn’t regard Mein Kampf as a blueprint of Hitler’s later aims, but accepts the Lebensraum-idea as a constant topic in Hitler’s (and other right-wing politician’s) aims. (The Origins.., Second Thoughts-foreword)

[3] A. Hitler: Mein Kampf, p. 705, my translation.

[4] Bethmann- Hollweg’s War Aim Programm of Sept. 9th 1914, in: F. Fischer: Geschichtsbild, p. 156

[5] F. Fischer: Geschichtsbild, p. 366

[6] A. Hitler: Mein Kampf, p. 690

[7] Programm eines mitteleuropäischen Zollverbandes, in: F. Fischer: Geschichtsbild, p. 157, my translation

[8] Programm eines mitteleuropäischen Zollverbandes, in: F. Fischer: Geschichtsbild, p. 157, my translation

[9] A. Hitler: Monologe, p. 57

[10] Trevor-Roper p. 44/45; A.J.P. Taylor, Hitler: Monologe, pp. 55 & 70


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University of the West of England, Bristol – Department of Historical Studies
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Weltkriege Imperialismus Expansionismus Hitler Motive World war imperialism expansionism




Title: Was German expansionism which led to World War II simply an extension of the war aims of 1914-18?