Historians like Eric Hobsbawm and Richard Evans determined that the World War II was one of the major events that shaped the 20th Century. Political, economic, cultural and ideological ramifications of the war subsist to date. During the war and its precursory period, many alliances were made. As more studies are being done on the circumstances that have led to the war, it becomes obvious that protection has been merely one of the reasons for the formation of coalitions between the countries involved in the war. While some coalitions were built based on the commonality of beliefs and ideologies, others were formed for the purposes of convenience (Grant 25). This paper seeks to determine whether the Axis alliance was established for the convenience purposes or whether its members actually had deeper similarities and connections. In attempt to answer the question, this paper will investigate the reasons why the leaders of the Axis alliance formed a coalition and joined the war. It will also explore how they envisioned their future and the values they propagated. Analysis indicates that the Axis alliance was formed out of convenience since each member had different interests, ideas about the reasons and meaning of the war, and occupation policies.
The Axis alliance was established during the precursory period of the World War II. The Axis alliance comprised of the Nazi Germany, fascist Italy and Imperial Japan (Evans 10). Other countries, which at one point fought alongside the three leaders or supported them, were considered as junior partners rather than members. While the Axis arrangement existed even before the advent of the war, the Tripartite Pact that integrated the military aims of the member countries was signed in 1940. The major provision of the Axis alliance was the support of the member countries to one another in averting foreign domination if or when attacked by another country (Taylor 45). This implied that each country was free to pursue its own interest but was sure to rely on the help of the coalition partners in case it was attacked. However, the member countries were not obligated to support the allies in their military expeditions and invasions when they were the assaulters (Taylor 49).
Axis Alliance Provisions and Convenience
The provisions of the Axis alliance that are mentioned above, clearly demonstrate that the alliance was formed out of convenience. The fascist Italy, Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan had little interest in common. The Axis alliance was formed solely and strategically to offer protection and insurance against the attacks from another country (DiNardo 67). The partners shared only two interests that grounded the alliance. The first common interest was territorial expansion (Taylor 45). Each of the countries was interested in spreading its influence to the rest of the globe. Germans, already exerting considerable power and influence in Europe, sought further exploration and domination over the smaller Balkan states (Evans 14). Italians had considerable success in their conquest along the Mediterranean Sea and northern parts of Africa. It was in their best interest to continue their military conquest and imperialism without being impeded by other powerful nations. Japan had their military conquest along the Pacific. In particular, they were waging war against the Chinese who had the support of the United States of America. The need to advance their imperialistic tendencies while having friends to guarantee help and watch their backs was a major convenience reason that pushed Italy, Japan and Nazi Germany to form the Axis alliance (Grant 121).
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The second common interest that underlined the unification was the neutralization of the Soviet communism (Hobsbawm 43). All three countries felt that Soviet communism was detrimental to their efforts for imperialism. It was in their best interest to cease this. However, this interest was never as solid to become one of the foundations upon which the Axis alliance was grounded. At some point before and during the war, some of the Axis alliance members signed a treaty or regarded the Soviet Union favorably. Therefore, apart from the need to destabilize the international order and neutralize the Soviet communism, there were no deeper similarities in language, cultures and worldviews among the states to suggest that the alliance had deeper connections.
The Differing War Motives and Viewpoints
The Nazi Germany, fascist Italy and Imperial Japan had distinct reasons for participating in the World War II. The fact that three countries came together despite the lack of a unity of purpose, postulates that they stayed in the Axis alliance because it was merely convenient for them (Grant 123). The Nazi Germany, influenced by skewed ideas of racist nationalism, waged the war in order to perpetrate genocide against the Jews and annihilate the Slavic people (Hobsbawm 43). Germany, led by Adolf Hitler, believed that the Aryans were the superior race and had to dominate all inferior races starting with the Jews and the Slavs (Hobsbawm 44). The war was to help Germany achieve this objective. Those who survived the Holocaust had to become German slaves (Hobsbawm 43). On the other hand, fascist Italy was not corrupted by the racist-informed nationalism. Italians, led by Mussolini, wanted to exercise dominance over others and appropriate the raw materials during the process to develop their homeland. Imperial Japan was influenced by racist nationalism just like the Nazi Germany. However, unlike Germany, Japan intended to exploit and dominate to demonstrate their racial superiority rather than perpetrate genocide against any race (DiNardo 67).
The differences in the motives further confirm that the alliance was formed only out of convenience. There are countries that did not join the Axis coalition even though they shared similar ideologies. For instance, fascist Italy helped fascist Spain ascend to power in the country. However, despite holding the same fascist ideologies and beliefs, fascist Spain did not join or support the members of the Axis alliance (DiNardo 69). It underlines the weak connections upon which the Axis alliance was built. Taylor (87) notes that even the racist nationalism that supposedly established some connections between Germany and Japan was inflexible. The two countries could not even regard one another in the same manner (DiNardo 72). The Nazi Germany had to confer a status of honorary Aryans to the Japanese in order to differentiate them from other races that they planned to dominate and humiliate.
Envisioning the Future and Occupation Policies
The different ways in which Germans, Italians and Japanese envisioned their future and conceptualized their occupation policies further demonstrate that they merely stayed in the Axis alliance for the purpose of convenience. They did not have a common vision for their conquests (Evans 124). However, they had common ideas about what they conceptualized as “good”. For instance, all members despised liberal democracy and favored authoritarian type of leadership (Taylor 92). Germans, Italians and Japanese strongly held that if they were to advance their imperialistic tendencies they had to put authoritarian governments in place. Liberal democracies would have stifled these exploits promoting the preservation of human rights in the countries they planned to invade. In addition, all three considered it appropriate to disrupt the world’s order that was institutionalized after the World War I. Germans, Italians and Japanese did not have the liberty to attack any territory they wanted if there was an order as the remaining countries would remonstrate with them even through military interventions (Grant 134). The promotion of anarchy provided the pedestal upon which coercion was used as a conflict resolution mechanism. Moreover, the three countries held the view that free market economies were detrimental to economic growth (Hobsbawm 103). Instead, they promoted the implementation of protectionist interventions to regulate the markets (Hobsbawn 103). However, these viewpoints were not enough to constitute the Axis alliance’s vision for the future and occupation policies of the member countries.
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The Nazi Germany had extremely radical occupation policies. Since they envisioned themselves being the leaders of Europe, their policies were geared toward annexing the countries they have conquered and suppression of any foreign elements in the conquered territories (Evans 145). The Nazi Germany, as indicated earlier, focused only on domination. Their strategy was to reduce the Slavic population as much as possible and annihilate the Jews. Those who remained were enslaved and concentrated in labor camps (Hobsbawm 43). Economic growth and development was planned to be achieved through aggregation of labor and consequent enjoyment of comparative advantage regarding labor as a factor of protection. While Japanese envisioned their future as the rulers of East Asia, their occupation policies were geared toward acquiring resources to develop the home country and military capacity. The fascist Italy shared the same vision. However, it was fundamentally flawed since instead of using resources to wage the war, both countries participated in the war to accumulate resources, which they could then appropriate to wage other wars, which was not a progressive policy.
Strategic differences between the countries further highlight different occupational policies and underline the convenience aspect of the coalition formation. Three allies, shallow in their shared similarities and connections, did not find it necessary to harmonize their strategic plans as did the Allied coalition led by Britain, the US and the Soviet Union. Consequently, the Axis alliance did not attain the level of military cooperation that the Allied coalition achieved (Taylor 95). The Axis alliance never held a 3-way summit bringing together the Germans, Italians and Japanese policy makers to chart the way forward. This meant that the bond connecting the members of the Axis alliance was weak and susceptible to breakage. Consequently, the Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan had not carried out coordinated attacks, which would have been more effective in hurting the Allied forces. For instance, the Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union without even notifying the other coalition partners (Evans 165). This arbitrary decision-making evidenced the lack of common and clear agenda among the Axis partners. Despite their plea for Japanese intervention when the Nazi Germans were on the verge of being defeated at the onset of the Russian winter in November 1941, Japan opted to maintain neutrality. After all, Japanese were not obliged to intervene in a foreign conquest (Grant 125). The only instance, as provided in the Tripartite Treaty, when Japan was obliged to offer its military support was when Germany was attacked.
Since it did not make any strategic sense and was not convenient to Japanese to join the war against the Soviet Union, they did not. In fact, at some point Imperial Japan sided with Stalin and tried to persuade Hitler to concede defeat and make peace with Stalin (Taylor 94). It was treacherous move on behalf of Japan, but it could be justified since each country looked after its own interests and not that of the coalition. Even when Japan, eventually, decided to engage in the World War II, they did not attack the northern part of the Soviet Union as advised by the Nazi Germany, but attacked the Pearl Harbor instead (DiNardo 67). Curiously, despite its failure to back the Germans in their war against the Soviet Union, when Japan attacked the US, Germany declared the war against the US as well. If Japanese and German military leaders had shared a common interest, they would have optimized the effectiveness of their attacks through cooperation and coordination. The lack of deeper similarities and connections among the Axis allies has led some scholars like Grant (145) to conclude that even if they had won the Second World War, the Axis alliance would have deteriorated in no time as their distinct expansionist interests were bound to conflict.
In summary, it is evident that the Axis alliance has been formed out of convenience. The Nazi Germany, fascist Italy and Imperial Japan did not have deeper similarities and connections. The Axis alliance was formed for the sole purpose of protecting Germany, Italy and Japan from external invasions. Their shared common interests were territorial expansion and neutralization of the Soviet communism. Their distinct conceptualization of the motives and meaning of the war coupled with their differing occupational policies underline that Germany, Italy and Japan formed the coalition to advance their own selfish interests. The Nazi Germany wanted to dominate Europe and perpetrate genocide against the Jews and Slavic people, while Italians wanted to dominate the Mediterranean and North Africa and Japan sought domination over the East Asian and Pacific regions. Forming the Axis alliance out of convenience eventually proved to be the downfall of the Axis powers.