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Overview of World War II

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Overview of World War II

Post by dah_men on Sat Dec 25, 2010 1:39 pm

Overview of World War II

The Origins of World
War II

America and Isolationism

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

  • 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. 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

  • 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

  • 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 nonaggression 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

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
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

  • 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

  • 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
    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. 9066 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.

Level of Education : 3rd year LMD
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