September 1, 1939 — 70 years ago today — is generally regarded as the date World War II began, with the German invasion of Poland. (Some might argue, taking a broader view, that the world was at war for most of the 1930s, whether it was the Japanese in Manchuria and China, the Italians in Ethiopia, or the Spanish Civil War, among other armed conflicts.)
Spiegel online is running a two-part series on how World War II began. Part I is here. The overwhelming, and tragic, message is that the war could easily have been avoided had France, England, and other European nations called one of Hitler’s various bluffs — but they didn’t, and the war began. It did not end until six years had passed, entire cities and cultures had been destroyed, 60 million people had died, and the Holocaust had wiped out millions of Jews. No one could have foreseen that result when, for example, France and England made the decision to accept Hitler’s reoccupation of the Rhineland.
Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.