Analyzing Cause-and-Effect Relationships for the GED Social Studies Test

By Achim K. Krull, Murray Shukyn

Many events are related. Much of what you will see on the GED Social Studies test will have to do with cause and effect relationships. Earlier events often cause, or at least influence the direction of, later ones. Analyzing these cause-and-effect relationships allows historians, economists, and geographers to study how modern events are shaped by what went before. Sometimes a direct causal relationship exists; other times, not so much.

The relationship among the rise of Hitler, the terms of the Treaty of Versailles (and how Germans perceived them), the Great Depression, and the outbreak of World War II is a good example of how events shape the future. Check out the following passage.

Hitler used the terms of the Treaty of Versailles to play on German anger at the wasted sacrifice in World War I. He railed against the limitations placed on the German military and the repeal of the peace settlement with Russia that ended WWI on the eastern front with a German victory. All the gains made there, as well as all German colonies and even part of the homeland, were lost in the treaty. Hitler directed that anger at the Allied powers and at the new German democracy, the Weimar republic.

Germany was forced to agree to huge reparation payments. At the time, economist John Maynard Keynes wrote that these reparations were far too harsh. He argued it would only make postwar recovery of the German economy impossible, damaging both the German economy and the other world economies as well.

The amount was set at about $450 billion in modern dollars, but when Germany’s economy collapsed and payments stopped, the debt grew to be in excess of $2.3 trillion. Consider that the entire national debt of the United States in 2014 was $18 trillion. This reparation amount was in addition to all the other national debts Germany owed.

The War Guilt clause infuriated Hitler. Germany had to accept complete guilt for the war, but Germans argued that the true war trigger was the assassination of Franz Ferdinand by a Bosnian-Serb terrorist and that Austro-Hungary’s attack on Serbia was what began the fighting. Germany only entered the war when Russia refused to stop mobilizing its military, a direct threat to Austro-Hungary and Germany.

The other industrial economies had recovered quickly after the war, and the Roaring Twenties were just that. Economies boomed. Unemployment was low, and living and working conditions were improving rapidly. Germany’s economy recovered much later and much more slowly. It was heavily dependent on trade and foreign loans.

When the Great Depression hit in the fall of 1929, both foreign trade and loans evaporated. Germany’s economy collapsed again, this time much faster than that of the United States or Great Britain. Unemployment rose higher, and the outlook was bleaker. Worse, Germany was financially ruined when foreign banks demanded it repay all debts in 90 days, and none would lend more funds.

The Weimar government applied traditional conservative measures to the crisis: It cut spending. With no help for the several million unemployed, people had no food and no money for clothing or to heat their homes. Many were starving in the streets. Hitler and the Nazi party had stirred up emotions against the Weimar government for accepting the Treaty of Versailles.

Now Hitler could blame them for not dealing with the Great Depression. In 1928, the last election before the Great Depression, the Nazis held only 12 seats of 491 in the German parliament. In the 1930 election, the first after the Depression started, they won 107. That number climbed to 230 in the July 1932. That government failed, and a second election in November cost the Nazis seats, but Hitler outmaneuvered the other parties and was selected as chancellor. He used that position to become dictator two months later.

Even after the Machtergreifung, the seizure of absolute power, Hitler continued to rail against the Treaty of Versailles. When possible, he undermined the terms, refusing to make reparation payments. He ordered the secret rebuilding of the military, including new battleships, sent troops to reoccupy the Rhineland, built a new air force, and started a new submarine fleet.

Here are a few practice questions related to the passage:

  1. Many historians suggest Hitler’s constant speeches against the Treaty of Versailles helped bring him to power. Based on this passage, what led to his election to power?

    • (A) the loss of German colonies and homeland territories

    • (B) the limits on German military power

    • (C) the War Guilt clause of the Treaty of Versailles

    • (D) the government’s inability to cope with the Great Depression

  2. Why might the Germans have been particularly upset by the repeal of the 1917 peace treaty with Russia?

    • (A) They lost all the gains made at great military sacrifice.

    • (B The treaty undid a major victory.

    • (C) The victory over Russia was the only positive outcome of the war for Germany.

    • (D all of the above.

  3. Why was the War Guilt clause a major issue for the Germans?

    • (A) They argued Austro-Hungary had started the war.

    • (B They blamed the war on a Serbian terrorist.

    • (C) They were unwilling to accept the blame.

    • (D) They felt there was blame on all sides in causing the war.

Now check your answers.

  1. It was the Weimar government’s failure to provide relief to Germans during the Great Depression, Choice (D), that made the electorate turn to his party.

  2. All the other points are part of the reasoning, but none is the complete answer, making Choice (D) the best option.

  3. The key statement is that Austro-Hungary launched the attack that started the war, Choice (A).

Cause and effect in a sequence is sometimes obvious and sometimes not. Work with the information presented.