Overview of World War II
When events began happening in Europe that would eventually lead to World War II, many Americans took an increasingly hard line towards getting involved. The events of World War I had fed into America’s natural desire to isolationism, and this was reflected by the passage of Neutrality Acts along with the general hands off approach to the events that unfolded on the world stage. Increasing tensions While America was wallowing in neutrality and isolationism, events were occurring in Europe and Asia that were causing increasing tension across the regions.
These events included: * Totalitarianism as a form of government in the USSR (Joseph Stalin), Italy (Benito Mussolini), Germany (Adolf Hitler), and Spain (Francisco Franco). * A move towards fascism in Japan. * The creation of Manchukuo, Japan’s puppet government in Manchuria, beginning the war in China. * The conquest of Ethiopia by Mussolini. * Revolution in Spain led by Francisco Franco. * Germany’s continuing expansion including taking the Rhineland. * The worldwide Great Depression. * World War I allies with large debts, many of which were not paying them off. America passed the Neutrality Acts in 1935-37.
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These created an embargo on all war item shipments. Americans were not allowed to travel on belligerent ships, and no belligerents were allowed loans in the United States. The Road to War The actual war in Europe began with a series of events: * Germany took Austria (1938) and the Sudtenland (1938) * The Munich Pact was created (1938) with England and France agreeing to allow Hitler to keep the Sudtenland as long as no further expansion occurred. * Hitler and Mussolini created the Rome-Berlin Axis military alliance to last 10 years (1939) * Japan entered an alliance with Germany and Italy (1939)
* The Moscow-Berlin Pact occurred promising onaggression between the two powers (1939) * Hitler invaded Poland (1939) * England and France declared war on Germany (September 30, 1939). The Changing American Attitude At this time despite Franklin Roosevelt’s desire to help the “allies” (France and Great Britain), the only concession America made was to allow the sale of arms on a “cash and carry” basis. Hitler continued to expand taking Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands, and Belgium. In June, 1940, France fell to Germany. Obviously, this quick expansion got America nervous and the US began to build the military up.
The final break in isolationism began with the Lend Lease Act (1941) whereby America was allowed to “sell, transfer title to, exchange, lease, lend, or otherwise dispose of, to any such government…. any defense article. ” Great Britain promised not to export any of the lend lease materials. After this, America built a base on Greenland and then issued the Atlantic Charter (August 14, 1941) – a joint declaration between Great Britain and the US about the purposes of war against fascism. The Battle of the Atlantic began with German U-Boats wreaking havoc. This battle would last throughout the war.
The real event that changed America into a nation actively at war was the attack on Pearl Harbor. This was precipitated in July 1939 when Franklin Roosevelt announced that the US would no longer trade items such as gasoline and iron to Japan who needed it for their war with China. In July 1941, the Rome-Berlin-Tokyo Axis was created. The Japanese began occupying French Indo-China and the Philippines. All Japanese assets were frozen in the US. On December 7, 1941, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor killing over 2,000 people and damaging or destroying eight battleships greatly harming the Pacific fleet.
America officially entered the war and now had to fight on two fronts: Europe and the Pacific. War in Europe After America declared war on Japan, Germany, and Italy declared war on the US. America actually followed a Germany First strategy, mainly because it posed the greatest threat to the West, it had a larger military, and it seemed the most likely to develop newer and more lethal weapons. One of the worst tragedies of World War II was the Holocaust in which between 1933 and 1945 it is estimated that from 9-11 million Jews were killed.
Only with the defeat of the Nazis were the concentration camps closed down and the remaining survivors freed. The events in Europe unfolded as follows: * Early German Victories – The Germans successfully fought off the Russians in 1942. England was being bombed, and U-Boats harassed American shipping. * North Africa – The allies led by General Dwight D. Eisenhower fought against the French forces who were working in conjunction with Germany in Morocco and Algeria. The allies did take Tunisia in May, 1943. Battle of the Atlantic – The allies were able to control the Atlantic sea lanes by May, 1943 though the battle continued to rage throughout the rest of the war. * Italy – The allies captured Sicily in July, 1943 leading to Mussolini’s downfall. The Italians then joined the allies. Germany still occupied much of Italy including Rome. * Normandy Invasion – This began on D-Day, June 6, 1944. General Eisenhower led the allies onto the beaches of France. They were able to liberate Paris on August 25, 1944. * Battle of the Bulge – Germany launched a counteroffensive in December 1944.
General Patton led the 3rd Army to victory by January, 1945. * The Battle of Germany – Early in 1945, Russians invaded Germany from the East while the allies moved in from the West defeating Germany. Hitler along with many top officials committed suicide. Germany surrendered on May 8, 1945 – V-E Day (Victory in Europe Day). War in the Pacific America followed a defensive policy in Japan until the summer of 1942. Following is a list of the events that occurred during World War II’s War in the Pacific: * Early Japanese Victories – Japan was able to have many victories in the Pacific and began attacking the Philippines.
The Americans eventually had to surrender after General Douglas MacArthur and his troops failed to hold the Bataan Peninsula and the island of Corregidor. This was when MacArthur said his famous line, “I will return. ” * Pacific Offensive – America began an offensive campaign during the summer of 1942. They defeated the Japanese at the Battle of the Coral Sea and the Battle of Midway. In August, 1942, America invaded Guadalcanal and by May, 1943 had freed the Aleutians. * Island Hopping – The Americans led by Admiral Chester W. Nimitz took back many Japanese held islands on their way to the
Japanese mainland. In June, 1944, Saipan fell and then in July America captured Guam. In March, 1945, America took Iwo Jima and held Okinawa by June. * Philippines – MacArthur kept his promise and returned to the Philippines after important victories in the Battle of Leyte Gulf (led by Admiral William Halsey). By January, 1945, they had landed at Luzon to battle for the Philippines. * China – Chiang Kai-Shek led the Chinese against the Japanese. In January, 1945, the Ledo Road was opened, and the allies were able to get supplies to the Chinese who then expelled the Japanese. Atomic Bombs – Throughout the war, America had been working on the creation of atomic bombs through the Manhattan Project. In August, 1945, America led by Harry Truman, who took over the presidency after FDR’s death, decided to drop atomic bombs on two cities in Japan. Part of the rationale for this decision was that they wanted to avoid the loss of life that would accompany an invasion of the Japanese mainland. Hiroshima was the first target on August 6th and then Nagasaki was hit on August 9th. The two bombs killed approximately 100,000 Japanese instantly.
By September 1, 1945, the Japanese had unconditionally surrendered. This was V-J Day (Victory over Japan day). The Homefront Americans at home sacrificed while soldiers fought overseas. By the end of the war, more than 12 million American soldiers had joined or were drafted into the military. Widespread rationing occurred. For example, families were given coupons to purchase sugar based on the size of their families. They could not buy more then their coupons would allow. However, rationing covered more than just food – it also included goods such as shoes and gasoline.
Some items were just not available in America. Silk stockings made in Japan were not available – they were replaced by the new synthetic nylon stockings. No automobiles were produced from February 1943 until the end of the war to move the manufacturing to war specific items. Many women entered the workforce to help make munitions and implements of war. These women were nicknamed “Rosie the Riveter” and were a central part of America’s success in war. Wartime restrictions were imposed on civil liberties. A real black mark on the American home front was the Executive Order No. 066 signed by Roosevelt in 1942. This ordered those of Japanese-American descent to be removed to “Relocation Camps. ” This law eventually forced close to 120,000 Japanese-Americans in the western part of the United States to leave their homes and move to one of ten ‘relocation’ centers or to other facilities across the nation. Most of those relocated were American citizens by birth. They were forced to sell their homes, most for next to nothing, and take only what they could carry. In 1988, President Ronald Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act that provided redress for Japanese-Americans.
Each living survivor was paid $20,000 for the forced incarceration. In 1989, President George H. W. Bush issued a formal apology. However, nothing can make up for the pain and humiliation that this group of individuals had to face for nothing more than their ethnicity. In the end, America came together to successfully defeat fascism abroad. The end of the war would send the US into a Cold War due to concessions made to the Russians in exchange for their aid in defeating the Japanese. Communist Russia and the United States would be at odds with each other until the downfall of the USSR in 1989.