World War II
- World War II, often known as the Second World War, began on 1 September 1939 when Nazi Germany invaded Poland. However, it had its roots in the situation in Europe after Germany’s defeat in 1918 and the Versailles peace settlement. The desire to overthrow the territorial losses and economic burdens of reparations, together with a wish to recover from the psychological humiliation, lay behind the rise of the Nazi Party under Adolf Hitler in the late 1920s. The economic impact of the Great Depression in Germany further exacerbated the situation and enabled Hitler to become chancellor in 1933 and führer in 1934. His policy of nationalism, militarism, territorial expansion, and racism led to a series of diplomatic crises culminating in the attack on Poland. As Great Britain and France had issued guarantees to maintain Polish territorial integrity, this unleashed the world war. Hitler was supported by Italy, led by the fascist dictator Benito Mussolini. Italy had already invaded Ethiopia in 1934 and with Germany had aided General Francisco Franco against the Republican government during the Spanish Civil War in 1936. Alarmed by these developments and fearful that the United States might be drawn into yet another European war, isolationists passed a succession of Neutrality Acts aimed at avoiding the mistakes made in 1914 though 1917. However, as the situation in Europe deteriorated after the fall of Poland and the invasion of France in May 1940, President Franklin D. Roosevelt increasingly urged support for the Western democracies and also increased military preparedness at home. The arms embargo was replaced in November 1939 with a “cash-and-carry” program that allowed trade without directly endangering U.S. ships. In June 1940, the president called for increases in national defense, and Selective Service was introduced in September 1940. That month the president concluded a Destroyer-for-Bases Agreement with Great Britain, exchanging 50 out-of-date U.S. warships for access to naval and air bases in the Caribbean and Atlantic. In one of his “fireside chats” broadcast on 29 December 1940, Roosevelt told the American people that they had to be “the arsenal of democracy.” This was followed in March 1941 by the Lend-Lease Act that enabled the president to lend or lease as much material as necessary for the protection of any country deemed vital to the safety of the United States. In August 1941, he and Prime Minister Winston Churchill agreed on the Atlantic Charter outlining the common international goal. Following the German invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941, lend-lease was extended to include the USSR. As U.S. supply vessels in the Atlantic came under attack and were sunk by German U-boats, war seemed increasingly likely.In Asia, Japan also adopted a policy of extreme nationalism and territorial expansion to stave off the tensions caused by internal economic and social issues. It invaded Manchuria in 1931 and widened the war in 1937 with the invasion of China. When Japan ignored diplomatic protests, the United States increasingly applied economic sanctions, with an embargo on scrap metal exports in 1940 and increased aid to China. The embargoes were increased to include other metals in early 1941 and, in the summer of that year, Roosevelt froze all Japanese assets in the United States. In September, all oil shipments to Japan stopped. In August, the president made clear that the United States take any necessary steps if the aggression continued. Faced with the possibility of war, but with negotiations in Washington, D.C., still ongoing, the Japanese struck first, attacking the U.S. fleet stationed in Pearl Harbor on the island of Oahu in Hawaii on 7 December 1941. The attack was described by President Roosevelt as “a date which will live in infamy” when he went before Congress to ask for a declaration of war the next day. Congress declared war on Japan with only one vote, that of Jeannette Rankin, against the move. On 11 December, in line with the agreements made in 1940 in the Rome-Berlin-Tokyo Axis, Germany and Italy declared war on the United States.The Japanese initially proved unstoppable in the Pacific, and by mid-1942 they had taken Malaya, Singapore, Burma, the Dutch East Indies, Guam, Wake Island, and the Philippines, where General Douglas MacArthur was forced to abandon his troops to take control of U.S. forces from Australia. After the Japanese defeat of a joint U.S., British, Dutch, and Australian fleet in the Java Sea in February, American naval victories in the Coral Sea in May 1942 and at the Battle of Midway in June 1942 halted the Japanese advance, but it was not until August 1942 that the United States was able to go on the offensive, taking Guadalcanal and then the Solomon Islands. The Allied policy, agreed upon in Washington, D.C., at the Arcadia Conference in January 1942, was to concentrate on “Germany first” and to prevent further Japanese expansion in Asia. As part of the policy of encircling Germany in November 1942, the Allies landed in Morocco and Algeria in North Africa and successfully pushed on to Tunisia. From there, they launched their invasion of Italy on 10 June 1943 in Sicily, and on 8 September Italy surrendered. However, Rome was not taken until June 1944, and northern Italy remained under German control until 1945. It was on the Eastern Front where the Soviet Union took the offensive against the Germans after the siege of Stalingrad in August 1942 to February 1943 that the Nazi armies initially suffered their biggest defeats. However on D-Day on 6 June 1944, Allied troops landed in Normandy, France, and by July they had established a beach head allowing for more troops and equipment to land. A breakthrough led by U.S. forces commanded by Omar Bradley enabled the Allies to push into northern France toward the German frontier. A southern invasion took place on 15 August near Toulon and Cannes and reached Germany’s southern borders by September. The Germans launched a powerful counteroffensive in the Battle of the Bulge in the Ardennes in December 1944. The attack was held by the combined Allied forces attacking from north and south, and General George S. Patton was able to relieve the U.S. troops holding out at Bastogne. It was the German army’s last major effort, and in March 1945 the Allied armies crossed the Rhine into Germany. In the east, Soviet forces were also pushing into Germany and reached the capital, Berlin, on 22 April. The U.S. and Soviet forces met on the River Elbe, south of Berlin, on 25 April. Faced with imminent defeat, Hitler committed suicide in his bunker on 30 April, and by May 1945 Berlin had fallen. The war in Europe ended on 8 May 1945.In the Pacific, the island-hopping campaign continued with the successful capture of New Guinea in January 1943 by combined U.S. and Australian forces. The Marshall Islands followed in February 1944. In June 1944, U.S. forces landed in the Marianas Islands. Their capture provided airfields from which bombing raids could easily be launched on Japan. The Japanese launched a naval response on 19 June culminating in their defeat in the Battle of the Philippine Sea. This was followed by the massive naval battle of Leyte Gulf in October 1944 preceding the retaking of the Philippines by forces led by General Douglas MacArthur in early 1945. From the Philippines and Guam, the United States was able to launch further attacks, capturing Iwo Jima and Okinawa after battles that lasted from 1 February to 20 March 1945 and 1 April to 10 June 1945, respectively. From there, U.S. forces were able to launch air raids against Japan, and the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki on 6 and 9 August 1945 finally brought the war to an end on 2 September 1945. Formal peace treaties were not signed until 8 September 1951 with Japan and 26 May 1952 with Germany.More than 15 million people served in the U.S. armed forces during the war, and many more were required in defense industries. During the war, production in U.S. industry reached unprecedented heights as it churned out aircraft, weapons, machinery, and equipment not only for its own forces but also to supply Allied countries, particularly Great Britain and the USSR. Full employment effectively brought the Depression to an end by 1942, and mounting labor shortages brought increased economic opportunity for women, African Americans, and Hispanic Americans. The demand for war workers also led to enormous population movements as some 15 million people migrated to the defense plants on the west coast and in northern industrial centers. For 112, 000 Japanese Americans, migration was involuntary following the executive order issued in February 1942 authorizing their relocation to 10 camps in the West to prevent subversion. This decision was upheld by the Supreme Court during the war, but the Japanese Americans were subsequently paid compensation and in 1988 received an official apology.To mobilize this huge effort, a plethora of war agencies were established replacing many New Deal agencies. The number of people employed in the federal government rose from 1.1 million in 1940 to 3.8 million by 1945. Successive War Powers Acts in 1941 and 1942 gave the president increased authority, and the war effort was managed by the War Production Board. Prices were controlled by the Office of Price Administration, which introduced rationing of certain goods and materials from 1942 onward. The War Manpower Commission was tasked with the allocation of manpower between the armed forces, defense industry, and agriculture, while the National War Labor Board, formed in 1942, adjudicated in labor disputes and controlled wage levels. An Office of War Information was established to inform and motivate the population, and an Office of Civilian Defense was created to prepare for possible enemy attack. Scientists and inventors were mobilized through the Office of Scientific Research and Development, part of which included the Manhattan Project that produced the atomic bomb. So great was the growth in government that in 1943 the Office of War Mobilization, under James F. Byrnes, was established to manage the various committees.One consequence of these developments was the reintegration of business interests with government and the rise of a powerful “military-industrial-complex” that grew further during the Cold War that followed the peace settlement in 1945.The war resulted in more than 56 million deaths worldwide. The number of U.S. service personnel who died as a result of battle-inflicted injuries was 292,131, and 671,278 were wounded. For nonbattle deaths, the total number of U.S. service personnel who died was more than 400,000. The financial cost of the war for the United States was approximately $300 billion, a large proportion of which was met by money raised through taxation after the Revenue Act of 1942 and through war bonds. One consequence of the conflict was that the United States abandoned the policy of isolationism and committed itself to the establishment of the United Nations to prevent further world conflicts. However, the power vacuums created in Asia and Europe meant that the United States and USSR became the world’s major powers, and their opposing political beliefs, mutual suspicion, and international rivalries quickly developed into the Cold War that lasted until 1989.See also Anzio; Bataan; Board of War Communications; Bretton Woods Conference; Cairo Conference; Casablanca Conference; Davis, Benjamin Oliver, Jr.; Doolittle Raid; Eisenhower, Dwight David; Midway Islands; Miller, Dorie; Moscow Conference; Nimitz, Chester William; Nuremberg War Crimes Trials; Omaha Beach; Operation Husky; Operation Overlord; Operation Torch; Potsdam Conference; Tehran Conference; Utah Beach; V-E Day; V-J Day; V-Mail; War Bonds; War Food Administration (WFA); War Labor Disputes Act; War Refugee Board (WRB); War Relocation Authority (WRA); War Shipping Administration (WSA); Women Appointed For Volunteer Emergency Service (WAVES); Women’s Air Force Service Pilots (WASPS); Women’s Army Corps (WACS); Yalta Conference.
Historical Dictionary of the Roosevelt–Truman Era . Neil A. Wynn . 2015.
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