A question that comes up when talking about the devastation caused by wars is Could this war have been avoided? Particularly could World War Two have been avoided? There are many ways that world war 2 could have been avoided. This is mainly due to there being a lot of reasons why the war started in the first place. While there are lots the following are some ways in which it could have been avoided.
I shall start from the declarations of war in 1939 and go backwards.
1. If Hitler had have believed there was a credible threat of war (including an invasion by France on his western flank) then he may have held off from an invasion of Poland. This would mean that there would have to have been stronger actions against Hitler gobbling up territory in central Europe leading up to that point. If the threat was dealt with accordingly then there may well have been a serious build-up of men and material. A cold war may have then ensued but there would still be a high likelihood of the war turning hot. Max Werner in his book the strength of the Powers (published in 1939) suggested that Hitler should have waited until 1942 to start the war so that he could have consolidated his position and built up a more advanced military. This is a plausible scenario but still leaves everything on the brink of war and potentially leaves Hitler in a better position. Perhaps then the possibility of averting the war is smaller than delaying it. While it could be argued that the threat of war was credible as it did happen the years of appeasement may have emboldened Hitler and removed his cautiousness. This scenario is based on whether appeasement was the right path for nations to take with regard to Hitler.
2. Let’s go back in time a little further to see if we can make a more concrete stop. How about Anschluss in 1938? In simple terms, this was the joining of Austria to Germany to create a larger Germanic state. This gave Hitler a lot more power in both terms of Industry and manpower. It is also the point at which he starts to feel truly safe about annexing territory. If World leaders had have declared war over this rather than over Poland the story could well have been very different. After the invasion of Poland, there was the period of the phoney war. This was the part of World war two between the declarations of War caused by the invasion of Poland and the offensives in the West against France and Belgium etc. This period had some conflict but not on a major scale. Without the confidence that Hitler had gained he may well have backed down and sought peace treaties. The Phoney war lends a bit of weight to this as the war would have been a minor skirmish. if you consider that Poland may have been roped in to attack Germany on its eastern flank in concert with a western attack by the French then you could suggest that Hitler may have backed down at the threat of War at this time. Again this would have several outcomes. A shorter and less expansive war, A war held off much like the First option or no war at all as the strength shown by the other powers may well have translated into more action and strict pressure with regards to the terms of the treaties after WW1.
This one again hits on the point of appeasement. It also brings up the subject of the Phoney war which showed that there was still a reluctance to fight even after declarations had been made. This can be partially mitigated by the time it takes to mobilise an armed force. This would not explain the whole period though and it could be suggested that there was some thinking that a full-scale war akin to that of the First world war was to be avoided at all costs.
I could go blow by blow for many years but I will stick to three more.
3. The Wall Street crash and Depression. If US internal policy had managed to stop this happening then Germany would not have been in a state where Hitler could have taken power. His original Putsch failed and that may well have been the end of his political career if the Weimar republic wasn’t bankrupt. While they weren’t a very good government they didn’t exactly have a lot to work with either. Changing a whole country’s system of government that rapidly will always have teething problems. If you add to that the effects of the treaty and the Depression they didn’t stand a chance. The treaty was seen as harsh so people were pulling back on some restrictions (I’ll go into more in a second) if the money had have still been coming in Germany may well have rebuilt itself and seen that another world war was not the answer. So this bit leaves you without a war and removes Hitler’s route to power.
It is important to consider that while there were general feelings of anger at the way that Germany had been treated after the First world war it was Hitler and the Nazi’s that were pushing the hardest when it came to rebuilding the military and retaking the territory it had owned in 1914.
4. The next one would be to look at the treaty of Versailles. There are two schools of thought on what would have prevented it creating a scenario in which Germany would be likely to start another war. The First of these was the US argument. A modicum of oversight but a general rebuilding effort across Europe and bringing the powers close together (horrendously simplified but that is the general viewpoint). The other was the French idea to tear apart Germany into its constituent states and not let them have a military. This is the revenge scenario. As everyone who has briefly looked at the period knows a middle ground was found. Well sort of. It is often put down as the British position to reconcile both ideas. The logic of the US ideas, tempered with the anger about the destruction of a generation of British youth and a near bankrupting of its empire. The upshot of this was that it made a crippled and angry Germany who still had the potential for another war. This could have prevented war one way or the other. The first way would be an effort by the British to shore up its financial situation and empire. To do this a strong Germany with a decent economy would be a great trading partner. You could also go the complete other direction. Neuter Germany to the point where it couldn’t start a war. To do that the idea was to de-unify Germany. Split it into its constituent states each with restrictions on its military and also having to pay war reparations. If Hitler had have taken over say Bavaria then he would have to try to take over every single other state. Each of these states could have had their own Hitler figure. Some would not have. You then have a bunch of willful and stubborn leaders trying to come together which completely neutralises the threat. Any that do become a threat could easily be picked off by France without much effort.
This one is the one that you will see most frequently as a factor in the build-up to the Second World War. Personally, this treaty sealed the deal and very little could have been done to change the effect it had. Above I mentioned appeasement which was an effort to rectify the situation yet may well have had the opposite effect.
5. That leads to the final scenario.
Stop German unification. Here is a quote from Wikipedia
The unification of Germany into a politically and administratively integrated nation state officially occurred on 18 January 1871 in the Hall of Mirrors at the Palace of Versailles in France. Princes of the German states gathered there to proclaim Wilhelm I of Prussia as German Emperor after the French capitulation in the Franco-Prussian War.
(Unification of Germany – Wikipedia.)
Apart from the slap in the face of where the treaty was signed look at why it was signed. Germany, as it was unified, was only really galvanised by winning the Franco-Prussian War. There are numerous ways to put a spanner in the works here. France could have won the War. Unification wouldn’t have been such a massive issue.
The effects of the unification and this war are massive catalysts (From a French perspective) for both the First World War, the treaties after the war and its fear of a unified Germany. The French winning that war may have been a little far-fetched and not particularly plausible but look deeper. The driving force behind this was Otto von Bismark. Bismark was from a military family and was himself in the military. The rebellions that happened in 1848 across Europe also hit Prussia. he wanted to attack the revolutionaries. If they had let him there is a likelihood he could have been shot. Right there a stray bullet could have ended this before it started. The unification would eventually have happened but would have likely taken a very different form.
A side note here. Hitler fought in the First World War. He was wounded and gassed. Both things could have killed him or disabled him for life, this is a similar situation. The difference is that Hitler could have been replaced by someone else with his views. Potentially Ernst Rohm could have pushed for the same ideas. I digress, however, so shall leave that aside there.
As you can see there are a lot of different things that led to the war. The most plausible way is to remove the conditions that were needed for the war. That meant no Treaty of Versailles as is. To get that into a plausible state you need to change the motives of the First World War. To do that you need to stop German unification by a militaristic Prussian. The most plausible way may well be to have Bismark die before his career gets off the ground which would change the course of the entire 20th century and the latter half of the 19th century. but that would be a topic for another post.
(This post has been adapted from an answer I gave on Quora, check me out here https://www.quora.com/profile/Aidan-Colyer)