1914-1945

The National World War II Memorial is a national memorial dedicated to Americans who served in the armed forces and as civilians during World War II. Photo: U.S. Department of State.


World War I

Første verdenskrig var til at starte med en europæisk krig. USA havde ikke lyst til at blive part i krigen. Det ændrede sig efter, at Tyskland havde sænket en del amerikanske skibe med deres nye effektive våben: Ubådene.

I afsnittene herunder kan du læse lidt om krigen generelt og om USAs rolle i krigen.

To the American public of 1914, the outbreak of war in Europe – with Germany and Austria-Hungary fighting Britain, France, and Russia – came as a shock. At first the encounter seemed remote, but its economic and political effects were swift and deep. By 1915 U.S. industry, which had been mildly depressed, was prospering again with munitions orders from the Western Allies. Both sides used propaganda to arouse the public passions of Americans – a third of whom were either foreign-born or had one or two foreign-born parents. Moreover, Britain and Germany both acted against U.S. shipping on the high seas, bringing sharp protests from President Woodrow Wilson.

Submarine Warfare

America’s first involvement in the War came with the sinking of the Lusitania. America wanted to remain neutral and continue trade with all nations involved in the conflict. But Britain and Germany used its naval strengths to upset the trade relationship. Britain stopped and searched American vessels and confiscated any “contraband” en route to Germany. Germany used submarines to sink ships bound for Britain or France. On May 17, 1915, a German submarine sunk the British luxury liner Lusitania, killing 1,198 people, including 128 Americans. President Wilson demanded an immediate end to attacks on liners and merchant ships.

To appease the United States, Germany agreed to warn commercial vessels before firing on them. In violation of the agreement, Germany sank the British steamer Arabic in August 1915 and the French liner Sussex in March 1916. Wilson issued an ultimatum threatening to break diplomatic relations unless Germany abandoned submarine warfare. Germany again agreed and refrained from further attacks through the end of the year.

Wilson won reelection in 1916, partly on the slogan: “He kept us out of war.” Taking on the role of peacemaker, he delivered a speech to the Senate on January 22, 1917, urging the warring nations to accept a “peace without victory.”

On January 31, 1917 the German government resumed unrestricted submarine warfare. After five U.S. vessels were sunk, Wilson on April 2, 1917, asked Congress for a declaration of war. Congress quickly approved. The government rapidly mobilized military resources, industry, labor, and agriculture. In the summer of 1918, fresh American troops under the command of General John J. Pershing played a decisive role in stopping a last-ditch German offensive. That fall, Americans were key participants in the Meuse-Argonne offensive, which cracked Germany’s vaunted Hindenburg Line. By the end of the War, the U.S. army had over 1,750,000 troops in France.

President Wilson urged an early end to the war by defining the American interests against the German autocratic government, not the German people. His Fourteen Points, submitted to the Senate in January 1918, called for: abandonment of secret international agreements; freedom of the seas; free trade between nations; reductions in national armaments; an adjustment of colonial claims in the interests of the inhabitants affected; self-rule for subjugated European nationalities; and the establishment of an association of nations to afford “mutual guarantees of political independence and territorial integrity to great and small states alike.”

In October 1918, the German government, facing certain defeat, appealed to Wilson to negotiate on the basis of the Fourteen Points. After a month of secret negotiations that gave Germany no firm guarantees, an armistice was concluded on November 11.

The League of Nations

Wilson hoped that the final treaty, drafted by the victors, would be even-handed, but the passion and material sacrifice of more than four years of war caused the European Allies to make severe demands. Persuaded that his greatest hope for peace, a League of Nations, would never be realized unless he made concessions, Wilson compromised on the issues of self-determination, open diplomacy, and other specifics. He successfully resisted French demands for the entire Rhineland, and somewhat moderated that country’s insistence upon charging Germany the whole cost of the war. The final agreement (the Treaty of Versailles), however, provided for French occupation of the coal and iron rich Saar Basin, and a very heavy burden of reparations upon Germany.

What remained of Wilson’s proposals could not sustain a lasting peace. An integral part of the treaty, the creation of the League of Nations, faced troubles at home. Wilson failed to involve Republicans in its formation and did little to appease their concerns of protecting American sovereignty.

With the treaty stalled in a Senate committee, Wilson began a national tour to appeal for support. On September 25, 1919, Wilson suffered a crippling stroke. Critically ill for weeks, he never fully recovered. In two separate votes on November 1919 and March 1920, the Senate rejected the Versailles Treaty and with it the League of Nations.

The League of Nations would never be capable of maintaining world order. Wilson’s defeat showed that the American people were not yet ready to play a commanding role in world affairs. His utopian vision had briefly inspired the nation, but its collision with reality quickly led to widespread disillusion with world affairs. America reverted to its instinctive isolationism.

Post War Turbulence

The transition from war to peace was tumultuous. A postwar economic boom coexisted with rapid increases in consumer prices. Labor unions that had refrained from striking during the war engaged in several major job actions. During the summer of 1919, race riots occurred, reflecting apprehension over the emergence of a “New Negro” who had seen military service or gone north to work in war industry.

Reaction to these events merged with a widespread national fear of a new international revolutionary movement. In 1917, the Bolsheviks had seized power in Russia and after the war they attempted revolutions in Germany and Hungary. By 1919, it seemed they had come to America. Excited by the Bolshevik example, large numbers of militants split from the Socialist Party to found what would become the Communist Party of the United States. In April 1919, the postal service intercepted nearly 40 bombs addressed to prominent citizens. Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer’s residence in Washington was bombed. Palmer, in turn, authorized federal roundups of radicals and deported many who were not citizens. Major strikes were often blamed on radicals and depicted as the opening shots of a revolution.

Palmer’s dire warnings fueled a “Red Scare” that subsided by mid-1920. Even a murderous bombing in Wall Street in September failed to reawaken it. From 1919 on, however, a current of militant hostility toward revolutionary communism would simmer not far beneath the surface of American life.

  • How did the U.S. prosper from World War I?
  • What is meant by the slogan “He kept us out of war”?
  • How is the American procedure to initiate war?
  • What is meant by an armistice?
  • Who won World War I?
  • What did the Treaty of Versailles state?
  • Why did the League of Nations end?
  • What are the objectives of the Communist party and where are they on the political right-left scale?

Discuss:
Discuss how the end of World War I left the state of Europe, had the power relationship become skewed. Which states came out stronger and which states were weakened by the war?

The League of Nations is by many seen as the predecessor to the United Nations. The League of Nations especially because the Americans were not willing to take the progressive leadership role needed to make the institution function. Discuss whether institutions can function without a leader.

Discuss why the U.S. did not want to be a part of the League of Nations and why the U.S. wanted to remain neutral under World War I. Is it an issue of keeping sovereignty, protectionism?

Is this a phenomenon we see in today’s international organizations and institutions?

Discuss the reasons for hostility against the growing Communist party.


Great Depression

Børskrak og depression

I 1929 krakkede børsen i New York. 1920’ernes brølende økonomiske fremgang, store biler, overdådige fester og til tider dekadente levevis blev på kort tid afløst af afgrundsdyb fattigdom, enorm arbejdsløshed, familiære tragedier og stærkt nedsat produktion. Krakket ramte ikke kun i New York eller i USA. Allerede på det tidspunkt var verdens økonomi det, der med et stort ord hedder interdependent – forskellige landes økonomi afhænger af hinanden – så krakket i New York fik konsekvenser hele jorden rundt.

På siderne her kan du læse om krakket og depressionen og ikke mindst de meget omfattende politiske tiltag, der blev gennemført for at hjælpe USA igennem krisen.

The growing imbalance between rich and poor, the over-production of commodities, and the rising reliance on credit leading to vast personal debt could not be sustained. In October 1929 the booming stock market crashed, wiping out many investors. The collapse did not in itself cause the Great Depression, although it reflected the excessively easy credit policies that had allowed the market to get out of hand. It also aggravated fragile economies in Europe that had relied heavily on American loans. Over the next three years, an initial American recession became part of a worldwide depression. Business houses closed their doors, factories shut down, banks failed with the loss of depositors’ savings. Farm income fell nearly 50 percent. By November 1932, approximately one of every five American workers, numbering more than 15 million was unemployed.

The presidential campaign of 1932 was chiefly a debate over the causes and possible remedies of the Great Depression. President Herbert Hoover entered the White House only eight months before the stock market crashed. Hoover, an individualist and a Republican, called the crisis a “passing incident in our national lives” and predicted that it would be over in 60 days. Although Hoover was blamed for poor insight and ineffective leadership in the aftermath of the collapse, he had made efforts to support business and a trickle-down economic program. He attempted to organize business, sped up public works schedules, established the Reconstruction Finance Corporation to support businesses and financial institutions, and secured from a reluctant Congress an agency to underwrite home mortgages. Nonetheless, his efforts had little impact. President Hoover was widely ridiculed. An empty pocket turned inside out was known as a “Hoover flag” and the depressed shack towns sprouting around the country were called “Hoovervilles.”

His Democratic opponent, Franklin D. Roosevelt, already popular as the wealthy governor of New York during the developing crisis, generated a new sense of optimism. Prepared to use the federal government’s authority for even bolder experimental remedies, he secured an easy victory – receiving 22,800,000 popular votes to Hoover’s 15,700,000. The United States was about to enter a new era of economic and political change.

In 1933 the new president, Franklin D. Roosevelt, with a sense of optimism and confidence, introduced the New Deal. “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” the president declared in his inaugural address to the nation.

In one sense, the New Deal merely introduced social and economic reforms familiar to many Europeans for more than a generation. Moreover, the New Deal represented a trend away from “laissez-faire” capitalism and back toward regulation and reform as in the regulation of the railroads in the 1880s and the state and national reforms of the Progressive era of Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson. The New Deal accomplished in a short period of time what had previously taken generations. But, many of its reforms were hastily drawn and weakly administered; some actually contradicted others. While it never succeeded in restoring prosperity, its actions provided tangible help for millions of Americans, laid the basis for a powerful new political coalition, and brought to the individual citizen a sharp revival of interest in government.

The hardship of the Depression affected the American psyche. The prevailing attitude of the 1920’s expressed that success was earned, implying that failure was deserved. Unemployment often led to feelings of inadequacy and guilt, especially among men. In the 1920’s, men were cast in the role of ‘provider’ and being unable to support the family by keeping a job was often humiliating. Because of such high unemployment rates among men, many argued that women should not be given jobs at all. African Americans were hit hardest. African American jobs were often taken away to be given to Caucasian men. In 1930, 50% of African Americans were unemployed despite the anti-discrimination efforts included in the New Deal. Especially in the South, a large number of African American voters switched from the Republican to the Democratic Party at this time. Children took on greater responsibilities in the Depression era and often found work when their parents could not. Many families who lived through the Great Depression developed frugal habits of saving and stretching a dollar.

Under Roosevelt’s leadership, a federal corporation was established to insure deposits in savings banks. Regulations were imposed on the sale of stocks. Laws were passed to guarantee the right of workers to be represented by unions. Farmers received subsidies for certain crops and assistance in preventing soil erosion. The Civilian Conservation Corps employed young men to plant trees, clean up waterways, and improve facilities in national parks. The Public Works Administration hired skilled laborers for large-scale projects, such as building dams and bridges. The Tennessee Valley Authority provided flood control and electric power for that impoverished area. And the Federal Emergency Relief Administration distributed aid, often in the form of direct payments.

A second round of programs employed workers to build roads, airports, and schools; hired artists, actors, musicians, and writers; and gave part-time employment to young people. It also established the Social Security system to help the poor, disabled, and elderly.

Americans were generally uneasy with the idea of big government, yet they wanted the government to take greater responsibility for the welfare of ordinary people. And while the New Deal provided tangible help for millions of Americans, it never succeeded in restoring prosperity. Better times would come, but not until after another world war had swept the United States into its path.

In the 1936 election, Roosevelt won a decisive victory over his Republican opponent, Alf Landon of Kansas. He was personally popular, and the economy seemed near recovery. He took 60 percent of the vote and carried all but two states. A broad new coalition aligned within the Democratic Party, consisting of labor, most farmers, most urban ethnic groups, African Americans, and the traditionally Democratic South. The Republican Party received the support of business as well as middle-class members of small towns and suburbs. This political alliance, with some variation and shifting, remained intact for several decades.

During Roosevelt’s second term, he made an unsuccessful attempt to enlarge the Supreme Court and failed in an effort to deflect dissenting Southern conservatives from the Democratic Party. When he cut high government spending, the economy collapsed. These events led to the rise of a conservative coalition in Congress that was unreceptive to new initiatives.

From 1932 to 1938 there was widespread public debate on the meaning of New Deal policies to the nation’s political and economic life. Americans clearly wanted the government to take greater responsibility for the welfare of ordinary people, however uneasy they might be about big government in general. The New Deal established the foundations of the modern welfare state in the United States. Roosevelt, perhaps the most imposing of the 20th-century presidents, had established a new standard of mass leadership.

Perhaps no American leader has used the radio as effectively as Roosevelt. In a radio address in 1938, Roosevelt declared: “Democracy has disappeared in several other great nations, not because the people of those nations disliked democracy, but because they had grown tired of unemployment and insecurity, of seeing their children hungry while they sat helpless in the face of government confusion and government weakness through lack of leadership.” Americans, he concluded, wanted to defend their liberties at any cost and understood that “the first line of the defense lies in the protection of economic security.”

  • When did the Great depression start?
  • How widely did it spread and why?
  • Who was president during the Great Depression?
  • How was his attitude towards the Great Depression?
  • What is meant by the expressions “Hoover flag” and “Hoovervilles” and why?
  • What is the New Deal and how did it affect the American government?
  • Who was the new Democratic Alliance?

Discuss
What is meant by the phrase depression and how does it differ from a recession?

Describe the characteristics of the Great Depression, who were hit?

Describe the differences and similarities between the Great Depression and the current financial crisis.


World War II

At USA var med i Den Anden Verdenskrig ved de fleste, men at det var meget imod USAs vilje at blive en del af krigen er nok mere overraskende.

USA er i dag kendt for at involvere sig i verdens brændpunkter, men da Tyskland begyndte at føre krig i Europa i slutningen af 1930’erne, var USA ikke meget for at blande sig. USA var på vej ud af en økonomisk depression, og mange mente, at landet tjente sig bedst ved at føre en isolationistisk politik.

Der skulle et målrettet angreb på amerikansk territorium til, før USA gik ind i krigen. Men da USA endeligt gik ind i krigen, som følge af angrebet på Pearl Harbor, var det med en styrke og beslutsomhed, der nok har fået medlemmerne af Aksemagterne – især Japan og Tyskland – til at ønske at angrebet aldrig havde fundet sted.

Under siderne her kan du blive meget klogere på USAs rolle i Den Anden Verdenskrig.

In his second term, Roosevelt’s domestic agenda was overshadowed by the expansionist intentions of totalitarian regimes in Japan, Italy, and Germany. In 1931 Japan had invaded Manchuria, crushed Chinese resistance, and set up the puppet state of Manchukuo. Italy, under Benito Mussolini, enlarged its boundaries in Libya and in 1935 conquered Ethiopia. Germany, under Nazi leader Adolf Hitler, militarized its economy and reoccupied the Rhineland (demilitarized by the Treaty of Versailles) in 1936. In 1938, Hitler incorporated Austria into the German Reich and demanded cession of the German-speaking Sudetenland from Czechoslovakia.

The United States, disillusioned by the failure of the crusade for democracy in World War I, announced that in no circumstances could any country involved in the conflict look to it for aid. Neutrality legislation, enacted from 1935 to 1937, prohibited trade in arms with any warring nations, required cash for all other commodities, and forbade American flag merchant ships from carrying those goods. The objective was to prevent, at almost any cost, the involvement of the United States in a foreign war.

With the Nazi conquest of Poland in 1939 and the outbreak of World War II, isolationist sentiment increased, even though Americans clearly favored the victims of Hitler’s aggression and supported the Allied democracies, Britain and France.

After the fall of France and the beginning of the German air war against Britain in mid-1940, the debate intensified between those in the United States who favored aiding the democracies and the antiwar faction known as the isolationists. Roosevelt encouraged intervention. The United States joined Canada in a Mutual Board of Defense, and aligned with the Latin American republics in extending collective protection to the nations in the Western Hemisphere.

Congress, confronted with the mounting crisis, voted immense sums for rearmament, and in September 1940 passed the first peacetime conscription bill ever enacted in the United States. In that month also, Roosevelt concluded a daring executive agreement with British Prime Minister Winston Churchill. The United States gave the British Navy 50 destroyers in return for British air and naval bases in Newfoundland and the North Atlantic.

The 1940 presidential election campaign demonstrated that the isolationists, while vocal, were a minority. Even Roosevelt’s Republican opponent, Wendell Wilkie, leaned toward intervention. Thus the November election yielded another majority for the president, making Roosevelt the first, and last, U.S. chief executive to be elected to a third term.

In early 1941, Roosevelt got Congress to approve the Lend-Lease Program, which enabled him to transfer arms and equipment to any nation (notably Great Britain, later the Soviet Union and China) deemed vital to the defense of the United States. Total Lend-Lease aid by war’s end would amount to more than $50,000 million.

In August, Roosevelt met with Prime Minister Churchill off the coast of Newfoundland. The two leaders issued a “joint statement of war aims,” which they called the Atlantic Charter. Bearing a remarkable resemblance to Woodrow Wilson’s Fourteen Points, it called for these objectives: no territorial aggrandizement; no territorial changes without the consent of the people concerned; the right of all people to choose their own form of government; the restoration of self-government to those deprived of it; economic collaboration between all nations; freedom from war, from fear, and from want for all peoples; freedom of the seas; and the abandonment of the use of force as an instrument of international policy.

America was now neutral in name only.

Japan created a “new order” in which it sought to take control of the Pacific, improve its strategic position, and seize sources of raw materials used by Western industries. With Britain’s attentions turned to Nazi Germany, they were forced to abandon their concessions in Shanghai and temporarily close the Chinese supply route from Burma. In the summer of 1940, Japan gained access to airfields in northern Indochina (North Vietnam) from the weak Vichy government in France. In September, Japan formally joined the Rome-Berlin Axis. In retaliation, the United States embargoed the export of scrap iron to Japan.

By July 1941 the Japanese occupied southern Indochina (South Vietnam), signaling a probable move southward toward the oil, tin, and rubber of British Malaya and the Dutch East Indies. In response, the United States froze Japanese assets and initiated an embargo on the one commodity Japan needed above all others – oil.

In October 1941, General Hideki Tojo became prime minister of Japan. In mid-November, he sent a special envoy to the United States to meet with the U.S. Secretary of State, Cordell Hull. Japan wanted the United States to release Japanese assets and stop U.S. naval expansion in the Pacific. Hull demanded that Japan withdraw from all its conquests. The swift Japanese rejection on December 1 left the talks stalemated.

On the morning of December 7, Japanese carrier-based planes executed a devastating surprise attack against the U.S. Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

Twenty-one ships were destroyed or temporarily disabled; 323 aircraft were destroyed or damaged; 2,388 soldiers, sailors, and civilians were killed. However, the U.S. aircraft carriers that would play such a critical role in the ensuing naval war in the Pacific were at sea and not anchored at Pearl Harbor.

American opinion, still divided about the war in Europe, was unified overnight by what President Roosevelt called “a day that will live in infamy.” On December 8, Congress declared a state of war with Japan and three days later Germany and Italy declared war on the United States.

Mobilization and Intolerance

The nation mobilized its people and its entire industrial capacity for the war effort. Over the next three-and-a-half years, war industry achieved staggering production goals – 300,000 aircraft, 5,000 cargo ships, 60,000 landing craft, 86,000 tanks. Women workers, exemplified by “Rosie the Riveter,” played a bigger part in industrial production than ever before. Total strength of the U.S. armed forces at the end of the war was more than 12 million. All the nation’s activities – farming, manufacturing, mining, trade, labor, investment, communications, even education and cultural undertakings – were in some fashion brought under new and enlarged controls.

As a result of Pearl Harbor and the fear of Asian espionage, Americans also committed what was later recognized as an act of intolerance: The internment of Japanese Americans. In February 1942, nearly 120,000 Japanese Americans, residing in California were removed from their homes and interned behind barbed wire in 10 wretched temporary camps, later to be moved to “relocation centers” outside isolated Southwestern towns.

Nearly 63 percent of these Japanese Americans were American-born U.S. citizens and about half were school-age children. A few were Japanese sympathizers, but no evidence of espionage ever surfaced. Others volunteered for the U.S. Army and fought with distinction and valor in two infantry units on the Italian front. Some served as interpreters and translators in the Pacific.

In 1983 the U.S. government recognized the injustice of internment and offered limited payments to those Japanese Americans of the era still living. The government acknowledged that the nation was “motivated largely by racial prejudice, wartime hysteria, and a failure of political leadership.” The Civil Liberties Act was passed in 1988 allotting $20,000 per living internee and signed apologies and reparations were issued in the 1990s.

To learn more about Japanese Internment camps during WWII, including the historical context, physical and psychological effects, and the government’s response (read an actual letter of apology from President Clinton in 1992) go to: http://www.pbs.org/childofcamp/history/

Soon after the United States entered the war, the United States, Britain, and the Soviet Union (at war with Germany since June 22, 1941) decided that their primary military effort was to be focused in Europe.

Throughout 1942, British and German forces fought inconclusive back-and-forth battles across Libya and Egypt for control of the Suez Canal. But on October 23, British forces commanded by General Sir Bernard Montgomery struck at the Germans from El Alamein. Equipped with a thousand tanks, many made in America, they defeated General Erwin Rommel’s army in a grinding two-week campaign. On November 7, American and British armed forces landed in French North Africa. Squeezed between forces advancing from east and west, the Germans were pushed back and, after fierce resistance, surrendered in May 1943.

The year 1942 was also the turning point on the Eastern Front. The Soviet Union, suffering immense losses, stopped the Nazi invasion at the gates of Leningrad and Moscow. In the winter of 1942-43, the Red Army defeated the Germans at Stalingrad (Volgograd) and began the long offensive that would take them to Berlin in 1945.

In July 1943, British and American forces invaded Sicily and won control of the island in a month. During that time, Benito Mussolini fell from power in Italy. His successors began negotiations with the Allies and surrendered immediately after the invasion of the Italian mainland in September. However, the German Army had by then taken control of the peninsula. The fight against Nazi forces in Italy was bitter and protracted. Rome was not liberated until June 4, 1944. As the Allies slowly moved north, they built airfields from which they made devastating air raids against railroads, factories, and weapon emplacements in southern Germany and central Europe, including the oil installations at Ploesti, Romania.

Late in 1943 the Allies, after much debate over strategy, decided to open a front in France to compel the Germans to divert far larger forces from the Soviet Union.

U.S. General Dwight D. Eisenhower was appointed Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in Europe. After immense preparations, on June 6, 1944, a U.S., British, and Canadian invasion army, protected by a greatly superior air force, landed on five beaches in Normandy. With the beachheads established after heavy fighting, more troops poured in, and pushed the Germans back in one bloody engagement after another. On August 25 Paris was liberated.

The Allied offensive stalled that fall, then suffered a setback in eastern Belgium during the winter, but in March, the Americans and British were across the Rhine and the Russians advancing irresistibly from the East. On May 7, Germany surrendered unconditionally.

U.S. troops were forced to surrender in the Philippines in early 1942, but the Americans rallied in the following months. General James “Jimmy” Doolittle led U.S. Army bombers on a raid over Tokyo in April. The raid had little actual military significance, but gave Americans an immense psychological boost.

In May, at the Battle of the Coral Sea, a Japanese naval invasion fleet sent to strike at southern New Guinea and Australia was turned back by a U.S. task force in a close battle. A few weeks later, the naval Battle of Midway in the central Pacific resulted in the first major defeat of the Japanese Navy, which lost four aircraft carriers. The Battle of Midway was a turning point in the war, as it ended the Japanese advance across the central Pacific.

Other battles also contributed to Allied success. The six-month land and sea battle for the island of Guadalcanal (August 1942-February 1943) was the first major U.S. ground victory in the Pacific. For most of the next two years, American and Australian troops fought their way northward from the South Pacific and westward from the Central Pacific, capturing the Solomons, the Gilberts, the Marshalls, and the Marianas in a series of amphibious assaults.

Allied military efforts were accompanied by a series of important international meetings on the political objectives of the war. In January 1943 at Casablanca, Morocco, a British-American conference decided that no peace would be concluded with the Axis and its Balkan satellites except on the basis of “unconditional surrender.” This term, insisted upon by Roosevelt, sought to assure the people of all the fighting nations that no separate peace negotiations would be carried on with representatives of Fascism and Nazism and there would be no compromise of the war’s idealistic objectives. Axis propagandists used it to assert that the Allies were engaged in a war of extermination.

At Cairo, in November 1943, Roosevelt and Churchill met with Nationalist Chinese leader Chiang Kai-shek to agree on terms for Japan, including the relinquishment of gains from past aggression. At Tehran, shortly afterward, Roosevelt, Churchill, and Soviet leader Joseph Stalin made basic agreements on the postwar occupation of Germany and the establishment of a new international organization, the United Nations.

In February 1945, the three Allied leaders met again at Yalta (now in Ukraine), with victory seemingly secure. There, the Soviet Union secretly agreed to enter the war against Japan three months after the surrender of Germany. In return, the USSR would gain effective control of Manchuria and receive the Japanese Kurile Islands as well as the southern half of Sakhalin Island. The eastern boundary of Poland was set roughly at the Curzon line of 1919, thus giving the USSR half its prewar territory. Discussion of reparations to be collected from Germany – payment demanded by Stalin and opposed by Roosevelt and Churchill – was inconclusive. Specific arrangements were made concerning Allied occupation in Germany and the trial and punishment of war criminals. Also at Yalta it was agreed that the great powers in the Security Council of the proposed United Nations should have the right of veto in matters affecting their security.

Two months after his return from Yalta, Franklin Roosevelt died of a cerebral hemorrhage while vacationing in Georgia. Few figures in U.S. history have been so deeply mourned by the American people. Vice President Harry Truman, former senator from Missouri, succeeded him.

The final battles in the Pacific were among the war’s bloodiest. In June 1944, the Battle of the Philippine Sea effectively destroyed Japanese naval air power, forcing the resignation of Japanese Prime Minister Tojo. General Douglas MacArthur – who had reluctantly left the Philippines two years before to escape Japanese capture – returned to the islands in October. The accompanying Battle of Leyte Gulf was the final decisive defeat of the Japanese Navy. By February 1945, U.S. forces had taken Manila.

The United States then turned to the strategic island of Iwo Jima in the Bonin Islands, about halfway between the Marianas and Japan. The Japanese, trained to die fighting for the Emperor, made suicidal use of natural caves and rocky terrain. U.S. forces took the island by mid-March, but not before losing the lives of some 6,000 U.S. Marines. Nearly all the Japanese defenders perished. By now the United States was undertaking extensive air attacks on Japanese shipping and airfields and wave after wave of incendiary bombing attacks against Japanese cities.

At Okinawa (April 1-June 21, 1945), the Americans met even fiercer resistance. With few of the Japanese defenders surrendering, the U.S. Army and Marines waged a war of annihilation. Waves of Kamikaze suicide planes pounded the offshore Allied fleet, inflicting more damage than at Leyte Gulf. Japan lost 90-100,000 troops and probably as many Okinawian civilians. U.S. losses were more than 11,000 killed and nearly 34,000 wounded. Most Americans saw the fighting as a preview of what they would face in a planned invasion of Japan.

The heads of the U.S., British, and Soviet governments met at Potsdam, a suburb outside Berlin, from July 17 to August 2, 1945, to discuss operations against Japan, the peace settlement in Europe, and a policy for the future of Germany.They agreed on vague matters of principle and the practical issues of military occupation, but could not agree on many tangible issues, including reparations.

The day before the Potsdam Conference began, U.S. nuclear scientists involved in the secret Manhattan Project exploded an atomic bomb near Alamogordo, New Mexico. The test was the culmination of three years of intensive research in laboratories across the United States. The United States and Britain then issued the Potsdam Declaration on July 26, 1945, promising that Japan would neither be destroyed nor enslaved if it surrendered. If Japan continued the war, however, it would meet “prompt and utter destruction.” President Truman, calculating that an atomic bomb might be used to gain Japan’s surrender more quickly and with fewer casualties than an invasion of the mainland, ordered that the bomb be used if the Japanese did not surrender by August 3.

A committee of U.S. military and political officials and scientists had considered the question of targets for the new weapon. Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson argued successfully that Kyoto, Japan’s ancient capital and a repository of many national and religious treasures, be taken out of consideration. Hiroshima, a center of war industries and military operations, became the first objective.

On August 6, a U.S. plane, the Enola Gay, dropped an atomic bomb on the city of Hiroshima. On August 9, a second atomic bomb was dropped, this time on Nagasaki. The bombs destroyed large sections of both cities, with massive loss of life. On August 8, the USSR declared war on Japan and attacked Japanese forces in Manchuria. On August 14, Japan agreed to the terms set at Potsdam. On September 2, 1945, Japan formally surrendered. Americans were relieved that the bomb hastened the end of the war. The realization of the full implications of nuclear weapons’ awesome destructiveness would come later.

Within a month, on October 24, 1945, the United Nations came into existence following the meeting of representatives of 50 nations in San Francisco, California. The constitution they drafted outlined a world organization in which international differences could be discussed peacefully and common cause made against hunger and disease. In contrast to its rejection of U.S. membership in the League of Nations after World War I, the U.S. Senate promptly ratified the U.N. Charter by an 89 to 2 vote. This action confirmed the end of the spirit of isolationism as a dominating element in American foreign policy.

In November 1945 at Nuremberg, Germany, the criminal trials of 22 Nazi leaders, provided for at Potsdam, took place. Before a group of distinguished jurists from Britain, France, the Soviet Union, and the United States, the Nazis were accused not only of plotting and waging aggressive war but also of violating the laws of war and of humanity in the systematic genocide, known as the Holocaust, of European Jews and other peoples. The trials lasted more than 10 months. Twenty-two defendants were convicted, 12 of them sentenced to death. Similar proceedings would be held against Japanese war leaders.

  • When did the UN come into existence?
  • What took place in Nuremberg in November 1945
  • What is Iwo Jima?
  • How many Marines lost their lives capturing Iwo Jima?
  • Who succeeded Franklin Roosevelt as President?
  • What are the Solomons, the Gilberts, the Marshalls, and the Marianas
  • When did American and British forces invade Sicily?
  • When was Rome liberated?
  • What was the U.S. reaction to Japan joining the Rome-Berlin Axis?
  • Which events led to the intensification of the debate on whether to intervene in World War II?

Discuss:
Discuss what values you think should be promoted by the UN

The two nuclear bombs used against Japan in 1945 are the only nuclear bombs ever used in battle. Considering what you’ve just read, discuss the use of nuclear bombs.

Discuss the concept “veto”. Is it fair when a select group of countries can veto certain decisions?

Considering General James “Jimmy” Doolittle’s air raid over Tokyo, discuss the role of psychology in war.

Discuss how you think the world would look today if the U.S. had not entered the war.

Discuss the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II

After WWI the U.S. isolated itself from the rest of the world. During that period many countries abandoned democracy and slipped into authoritarian rule. Discuss the role of great- or super-powers in the world. Should they be active and speak their mind or should they be passive?