The first world war, a cataclysmic event for humanity, the “war to end all wars”, on its surface came about to a great degree due to the desire of Germany, with its culture of militarism, to extend its influence and control. The second world war, also begun by Germany, was clearly a war of expansion and domination using the powerful military forces and efficiency of industry and organisation which Germany was able to develop. One of the more central causes that led to the rise of Adolf Hitler and the subsequent steps taken by him to rebuild the German war machine and expand Germany’s borders, was in fact the oppressive regime of reparations that was forced on Germany after the end of the first world war, and the subsequent untenable situation that arose with the Great Depression in 1929 and its effect on an already suffering Germany.
In the aftermath of the first world war, thinkers proposed that the elimination of Germany’s militarism and military might would ensure world peace. Clearly they were wrong and the very intense pressure that their plans exerted to this end was one of the root causes of the rise of Hitler.
Putting aside the specific situation in Germany for a moment, humanity has not seen an outbreak of peace anywhere as a result of suppression of Germany’s military might. This is due to the actual cause being general to humanity and the national egoism of the various nations, not limited to one specific people, culture or nation.
Sri Aurobindo observes: “The military power, the political and commercial ambitions of Germany and her acute sense of her confined geographical position and her encirclement by an unfriendly alliance were the immediate moral cause of this particular war; but the real cause lay in the very nature of the international situation and the psychology of national life. The chief feature of this psychology is the predominance and worship of national egoism under the sacred name of patriotism. Every national ego, like every organic life, desires a double self-fulfilment, intensive and extensive or expansive. The deepening and enriching of its culture, political strength and economic well-being within its borders is not felt to be sufficient if there is not, without, an extension or expansion of its culture, an increase of its political extent, dominion, power or influence and a masterful widening of its commercial exploitation of the world. This natural and instinctive desire is not an abnormal moral depravity but the very instinct of egoistic life; and what life at present is not egoistic? But it can be satisfied only to a very limited degree by peaceful and unaggressive means. And where it feels itself hemmed in by obstacles that it thinks it can overcome, opposed by barriers, encircled, dissatisfied with a share of possession and domination it considers disproportionate to its needs and its strength, or where new possibilities of expansion open out to it in which only its strength can obtain for it its desirable portion, it is at once moved to the use of some kind of force and can only be restrained by the amount of resistance it is likely to meet.”
“So long as any kind of militarism survives, so long as fields of political or commercial aggrandisement are there and so long as national egoisms live and are held sacred and there is no final check on their inherent instinct of expansion, war will be always a possibility and almost a necessity of the life of the human peoples.”
Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part Two, Chapter 24, The Need of Military Unification, pp 207-208