World War II: Before the War


The years leading up to the declaration of war between the Axis and Allied powers in 1939 were tumultuous times for people across the globe. The Great Depression had started a decade before, leaving much of the world unemployed and desperate. Nationalism was sweeping through Germany, and it chafed against the punitive measures of the Versailles Treaty that had ended World War I. China and the Empire of Japan had been at war since Japanese troops invaded Manchuria in 1931. Germany, Italy, and Japan were testing the newly founded League of Nations with multiple invasions and occupations of nearby countries, and felt emboldened when they encountered no meaningful consequences. The Spanish Civil War broke out in 1936, becoming a rehearsal of sorts for the upcoming World War -- Germany and Italy supported the nationalist rebels led by General Francisco Franco, and some 40,000 foreign nationals traveled to Spain to fight in what they saw as the larger war against fascism. In the last few pre-war years, Nazi Germany blazed the path to conflict -- rearming, signing a non-aggression treaty with the USSR, annexing Austria, and invading Czechoslovakia. Meanwhile, the United States passed several Neutrality Acts, trying to avoid foreign entanglements as it reeled from the Depression and the Dust Bowl years. Below is a glimpse of just some of these events leading up to World War II. (This entry is Part 1 of a weekly 20-part retrospective of World War II)
Read more
Hints: View this page full screen. Skip to the next and previous photo by typing j/k or ←/→.

Most Recent

  • Mario Tama / Getty

    Photos of the Week: Kyrgyz Horsemen, Shanghai Steeplechase, Giant Bobbleheads

    Participants at the Wave and Goth festival in Germany, attendees at a “Kiss-a-thon” in Mexico City, observations of Ramadan in Indonesia, and so much more.

  • Bill Taub / NASA

    Historic Photos of NASA's Cavernous Wind Tunnels

    Throughout the 20th century, NASA made extensive use of wind tunnels to test and refine designs for airplanes, spacecraft, and many other vehicles and structures.

  • Mario Tama / Getty

    Spectacular Images of the Recent Eruptions in Hawaii

    The ongoing eruption of Kilauea volcano has opened as many as 20 new fissures on Hawaii's Big Island over the past two weeks.

  • Mohammed Abed / AFP / Getty

    In Photos: Chaos and Bloodshed in Gaza

    Protests along the Gaza-Israel border were met with tear gas and live fire from Israeli forces, leaving dozens dead and hundreds wounded on Monday.