By JIAXUAN LU, China
Advisor: Minxia Zhang
First prize, Boxue History Paper Competition
During the second industrial revolution, scientists invented numerous means of transportation, such as aircraft, automobiles and tanks. The prevalence of these novel vehicles in the beginning of twentieth century accelerated the development of the oil industry because operating them required petroleum, one of the rarest but most powerful fuels at that time. The subsequent fierce competition for petroleum, as a result of its scarcity, caused the great warfare in the 1930s. Petroleum was one of the most essential factors that determined whether Germany and Japan could triumph over the Allies and propagate their ideologies throughout the world. Some historians, such as Yehuda Bauer, consider that World War Two was a war caused by the clash of ideologies. Other political scientists, such as Robert Paxton, believe that World War Two was caused by unfair treaties after World War One, such as the Treaty of Versailles and the League of Nations. Their hypotheses come from superficial facts: in the European theater of World War Two, Germany and Italy carved spheres of influence; in the Pacific theater, Japan desired to become a hegemonic power in Asia. Their focus on ideology and nationalisms are correct but neglect one of the most important causes, economics. Specifically speaking, it was petroleum. For the sake of petroleum, the separated theaters of Asia and Europe connected with one another as Germany attacked both France and USSR, and Japan attacked both China and the US. Unfortunately, the core conflicts of this war were still overshadowed by the conflicts of ideology after the failure of the Axis. It is only through exploring petroleum in World War II that we can truly understand German and Japanese strategy during a war heightened by ideologies and nationalism.
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