World War II: path dependence or autonomous choice?

By Anique Zwaan

One of the most iconic events in modern history is the Second World War (WW II). This event is still carved into many minds, and has left its marks on today’s society. Many scholars have debated and explained the origins and causes of this war, but in this blogpost we will look at it from a different perspective: was the occurance of WW II path depent or caused by choice?

The theory that WW II was path dependent would mean that the start of this war cannot be explained in terms of short-term processes and that multiple relatively small events have led to the war commence. In this case, one of the “relatively small events” would be the Treaty of Versailles, which stated Germany had to pay a great deal of money to various countries (e.g. the UK and France) in order to make up for the damage they had caused with World War I. This led to little to no economic growth in Germany in the interwar years; the country became poor, and an easy target for radicalization (i.e. Hitler and his beliefs). This would mean that once Hitler became powerful in Germany, WW II was bound to happen.

On the other hand, it could be argued that WW II was caused by decisions that had been made consciously, such as Churchill deciding to not interfere with Hitler’s propaganda before it was too late. Or Hitler’s decision to ignore the Treaty of Versailles and invade Poland, in order to realize his dreams of the Third Reich.

From this information, one could still not draw a conclusion whether WW II was indeed a path dependent event, or if it was caused by human made choices: it is up to the reader to decide.