In what ways did revenge figure into the strategies of the countries fighting in World War II?
At the conclusion of WWI, on June 1919, the Paris Peace Conference was held between the Allied Powers (U.S., Britain, France, and Russia) and the Central Powers (Germany and Austria-Hungary). The resulting Treaty of Versailles dictated retaliatory settlement against the latter two countries. Germany was forced to give up all of its arms and large amounts of land arbitrarily, pay reparation fees to other countries, and to accept responsibility for all the damage throughout the war. In addition, a previously erected hunger blockade was finally lifted from Germany months after the war ended, but the humiliated, defenseless, destitute people continued to starve. These conditions were perfect for the culture of socialism, which like a bacterial plague, infected all of Europe, allowing the proud, vicious, tiny-mustached Hitler to establish his Nazi party in Germany. His fervent desire to regain Germany’s pride and lost lands directly led to the revenge that would become WWII.
Most, if not all of the terror bombings and senseless destruction throughout war was brought about by the mindset of “If you bomb me, i’ll bomb you.” After Hitler re-armed Germany, he invaded Poland (Sept. 1939) and promptly declared war (1940) on several countries at once, including Russia, France, and Belgium. The British, anxious to beat down the Germans again, defended Belgium and France at the Battle of Dunkirk (spring 1940). Hitler, who had grudgingly admired the British, decided it was now their turn to suffer, and attacked Britain in the Battle of Britain, or the Blitz (July-Oct. 1940), almost wiping several cities, including London, Southampton, Sheffield, Liverpool, and Manchester off the map, targeting civilians as payback. The English, who at first had only targeted industrial areas in Germany, began bombing train stations and city centers of Germany, intent on bombing the German civilians the same way the Germans had mercilessly destroyed the British. In that way, many cultural centers of Europe were levelled, including Cologne, Hamburg, and Dresden. Tens of thousands of civilians were senselessly killed on all sides to appease the human desire for revenge and break human morale.
Unfortunately, the bombing were not the end of the revenge in WWII. As the Germans began to conquer European towns and cities, they began a policy of killing civilians 20-40 per German officer injured of harmed in any way. An extreme example was the elimination of the village of Oradour-Sur-Glane in Nazi-occupied France. The Nazi Waffen SS was tipped off by the Vichy Regime that a German officer had been kidnapped by the Resistance in that town. In June 1944, the Nazis stormed the village, massacring the 642 inhabitants and wiping the village off the map in vengeance. Another prime example of revenge in WWII was an event that occurred during the Battle of the Bulge (Dec 44-Jan 45) in which the Waffen SS slaughtered 100 American soldiers in Eastern Belgium rather than take them as POWs. Immediately post war, French civilians developed the habit of shaving the heads of women who were thought to have consorted with Nazis and parading them around the streets to be spit on. Citizens could have their neighbors shot simply by telling officials that they may have been or still were working with the enemy. Revenge motivated the people to cheer on the war and get back at the enemy for hurting them so badly, despite the fact that their blood-lust was what kept the war going and the atrocities pouring in. Not to be outdone, the Russians practiced their legendary torture and mass-killing across Europe. In the later part of the war, as the Red Army advanced from Eastern Europe, towards Berlin, they committed horrible atrocities to the Germans on the border town of Nemmersdorf. They raped, murdered, tortured, and crucified the whole town until there were essentially no survivors left. When the Germans fled East Prussia in 1944-45, tens of thousands of citizens were bombed as they attempted to board rescue ships or flee across icy lakes and rivers. Those who were captured were kept to rot in Soviet prisons. The Russian war crimes against the ethnic German minorities were among the worst reprisal killings of WWII.
From terror-bombings to mass-slaughter of innocents WWII was full of hate and raging desire to get even. It is a shame the Allies, who dictated the Paris Peace Conference, could not see these results as a possible outcome of their selfish desire to wreak vindication on Germany. This led to the rise of Hitler and other dictators like him, and most importantly erased the humanity of everyone involved in the war. Nothing can excuse the acts that were committed during WWII—especially not revenge.