Only thirty-one years separated the beginning of the First and the end of the Second World War. For Europe this was undoubtedly one of the worst periods of its history. The non-European periphery experienced this period in a different way: it did suffer from the depression, but for most countries of the periphery the wars meant chances for profit and economic growth. For the colonies the sequence war-depression-war ushered in the end of European colonial rule. Germany, which twice fought against the Western allies, made a decisive contribution to this process of the emancipation of the colonies. Of course, Germany did not go to war for this reason. On the contrary, it would have liked to retain or regain colonies itself. The loss of the German colonies after the First World War was for many Germans an additional reason to resent the Versailles Treaty. Hitler was an admirer of British colonial rule and was certainly not interested in freeing African and Asian peoples from the yoke of colonialism. War aims and the consequences of war have rarely been compatible in history, and the consequences of the two world wars are an object lesson in this respect. The decolonialisation of the periphery and the rise of the United States to world hegemony were two unintended consequences of the process, which will be described in more detail in subsequent sections of this chapter.
The United States decided the outcome of both the First and the Second World War and in between it upset the world economic system instead of providing constructive leadership. This was not due to specific intentions but rather to the lack of a consistent policy. Even the entry into the Second World War was forced upon the United States, although it must be said that President Roosevelt was not at all reluctant to enter the war. He wanted to help the