The American Journey Modern Times © 2009

Chapter 12: America and World War II

Chapter Overviews

Section 1: The Road to War

The Treaty of Versailles may have ended World War I, but the defeated Germans resented the settlement. The worldwide economic depression in the 1930s brought fear and uncertainty. Adolf Hitler and other ruthless leaders rose to power in the 1920s and 1930s by taking advantage of these emotions and promising a better life. Hitler believed that Germans were superior to other groups of people and that the Jews were responsible for Germany’s problems. He also believed that Germany had a right to expand. As Germany invaded neighboring European countries, all hopes for peace ended.

Section 2: War Begins

World War II began when Germany invaded Poland in 1939. The Allied Powers—Great Britain and France—declared war on Germany. Germany was joined first by Italy and then Japan to form the Axis Powers. Italy aided Germany to defeat France. England was bombed, but was able to hold off an invasion. Japan, meanwhile, fought to expand its territories in the Far East. To defend democracy, the United States gradually increased its support of the Allies. When Japan bombed the U.S. military base at Pearl Harbor, in Hawaii, the United States entered World War II on the Allied side.

Section 3: On the Home Front

Japan’s surprise attack united the American people and made it necessary to refocus the economy for the war effort. At home, civilians provided weapons, equipment, and medical supplies for American troops overseas. With much of the male work force serving in the military, job opportunities became available to women, although usually for less pay than men. Minorities took on new roles as well as they were gradually integrated into the armed forces. Japanese Americans, however, suffered discrimination, and many were sent to interment camps.

Section 4: War in Europe and Africa

German forces occupied not only most of Europe, but much of North Africa. Allied armies were able to win their campaign in North Africa in 1943. From 1944 to 1945, the Allies fought a two-front war in Europe to defeat the Nazis. With Operation Overlord, the Allies entered France and pushed the Germans back. Soviet troops drove the Germans from Russia to Poland. As the Allied armies freed German-held areas, they discovered death camps where Jews were enslaved, killed in gas chambers, and burned in ovens. Ultimately 6 million Jews were killed in the Holocaust.

Section 5: War in the Pacific

After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the Allies fought the Japanese for four long years in the Pacific. The United States adopted the strategy of island hopping to advance towards Japan. The Japanese refused to surrender, and Truman decided to use the newly-developed atomic bomb—first on Hiroshima, and then on Nagasaki. After the bombing, the Japanese surrendered, ending the most destructive conflict in history.

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