• Robert Boyce


The origins of the Second World War, like other major conflicts in history, are amenable to both a simple and an infinitely complex explanation. As the decision actually to commit troops in an aggressive act requires human agency, primary responsibility for the war rests with the leaders of the aggressor states, Hitler, Mussolini, and Tojo, along with their immediate entourages, who took the crucial decisions. This was the verdict of the war crimes tribunals at Nuremburg and Tokyo, and over 40 years of reinvestigation and reconsideration have done little to shake the validity of that judgment.1 But this is a jurist’s approach; the explanation sought by the historian is of a completely different order. It embraces the actions not only of those who directly participated in decisions for aggressive war, but of all the individuals, groups, interests, and classes who were capable of materially affecting the course of events that led to war. Moreover, it seeks to comprehend not only what they did or failed to do, but the reasons for their behaviour. Since, as A.J.P. Taylor has suggested, the Second World War may be said to have begun in September 1931 and gradually expanded until December 1941 when it involved every major power, the historian’s range of subject matter is obviously extremely wide.2


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Notes and References

  1. 2.
    A.J.P. Taylor, ‘The Second World War’, The Creighton Lecture in History, 1973 (London, 1974), pp. 1–2. Never one to stand still, intellectually speaking, Taylor subsequently argued that the World War did not actually begin until June 1944 and lasted only 11 months. Before that there was merely a series of related but separate small wars.Google Scholar
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© Robert Boyce 1989

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