Pearl Harbor Iwo Jima Hiroshima
The United States entered World War II ideologically unified but militarily ill-prepared. A corporate-government partnership solved most of the production and manpower problems, and the massive wartime output brought an end to the Great Depression. Labor troubles, racial friction, and social tensions were not absent, but they were kept to a minimum. Roosevelt and the American generals made the decision that Germany must be defeated first, since it presented a more serious threat than Japan. Gradually, American production and American military might turned the tide in the Pacific and on the western front in Europe. The key to victory in Europe was the invasion of France, which coincided with the Russian offensive on the eastern front. Less than a year after D-Day, the war in Europe was over. In the Pacific, American forces with some aid from the British and Australians first stopped the Japanese advance and then went on the offensive. The strategy for victory involved long leaps from island to island that bypassed and isolated large enemy concentrations and drew progressively closer to the Japanese homeland. Conventional bombing raids pulverized Japanese cities, and American forces were readied for an invasion that the atomic bomb made unnecessary.
Fighting for Freedom: 1942-1945
1941 FDR's "Four Freedoms" speech. Fair Employment Practices Committee established.
1942 Japanese occupy Manila. United States interns Japanese Americans.
Doolittle raid. OPA freezes prices. Battle of the Coral Sea. Battle of Midway. Steel strike leads NWLB to impose Little Steel formula.
British and Americans launch bombing offensive against Germany. Darlan affair.
1942-43 Operation Torch. Battle of Guadalcanal.
1943 Casablanca Conference. Germans lose battle of Stalingrad. Congress repeals the Chinese Exclusion Act. Wildcat strikes. Detroit race riots. "Zoot Suit" riots. Mussolini resigns; Badoglio government surrenders. Invasion of Italy. Teheran Conference.
1944 War Refugee Board created. Liberation of Rome. Allies launch cross-channel invasion of Normandy. Allies free Paris. Hitler launches V-1 and V-2 rockets against London. Battle of Saipan. MacArthur returns to the Philippines. Japanese launch kamikaze attacks. Congress passes G.I. Bill of Rights. FDR wins fourth term. Gunnar Myrdal publishes An American Dilemma.
1944-45 Battle of the Bulge.
1945 Firebombing of Dresden. Americans and Russians meet at the Elbe.
War and Diplomacy: World War II transformed the United States more fundamentally than any conflict since the Civil War. It revolutionized American foreign policy by causing the nation's leaders to realize that the United States must commit itself to playing a leading role in postwar collective security efforts to avoid a repeat of the events that led up to the war; it expanded the role of the federal government in myriad ways; it ended the Great Depression; and it changed the role of women and other minority groups, fueling postwar demands for greater rights among groups that helped to maintain the nation's freedom during wartime.
Economic Transformations: World War II succeeded where the New Deal failed-in ending the Great Depression. Federal spending increased more than tenfold between 1939 and 1945; at the same time, Americans saved money due to the shortage of consumer goods, helping to spark a massive postwar boom. The war also spurred economic growth in the West, where federal military and infrastructural spending helped to transform the region's economy. The war led to unprecedented government spending on research and development, which produced a host of new innovations, with both military and civilian applications. Increased taxation, including the first federal withholding taxes, helped to finance the costly war effort.
American Diversity: The struggle against Nazi ideas of racial superiority forced the United States to grapple with the issue of racial and ethnic diversity in the United States. The United States placed over 100,000 Japanese Americans in internment camps in the name of protecting national security, a controversial decision that evoked little popular opposition at the time. Despite this action, the federal government and the American people largely came to see the nation's ethnic diversity as a source of its strength, a major difference from World War I, when government efforts to promote national unity helped spark anti-foreign hysteria. African Americans, the nation's most prominent racial minority, demanded a greater role in the war effort and an end to discrimination in defense industries; their military efforts helped lead to the desegregation of the armed forces soon after the war's end.
Culture: Despite the natural anxiety caused by the war, the conflict also demonstrated the resilience of American culture and society. Americans came to believe that they were fighting to uphold the ideals of democracy and material prosperity. They looked forward to a postwar age in which mass consumption would be the order of the day. Families were strained as a result of the demands of military services, as working women often lacked access to child care. Marriage rates increased significantly during the war, as did births (a preview of the postwar "baby boom.".
George, J. & Brown, J. (2007). AP achiever: Advanced placement american history exam preparation guide. McGraw Hill.
Digital HistoryWorld War II killed more people, involved more nations, and cost more money than any other war in history. Altogether, 70 million people served in the armed forces during the war, and 17 million combatants died. Civilian deaths were ever greater. At least 19 million Soviet civilians, 10 million Chinese, and 6 million European Jews lost their lives during the war. In both domestic and foreign affairs, its consequences were far-reaching. It ended the Depression, brought millions of married women into the workforce, initiated sweeping changes in the lives of the nation's minority groups, and dramatically expanded government's presence in American life.
The Dawn of the Atomic Age
In 1939, Albert Einstein wrote a letter to President Roosevelt, warning him that the Nazis might be able to build an atomic bomb. On December 2, 1942, Enrico Fermi, an Italian refugee, produced the first self-sustained, controlled nuclear chain reaction in Chicago. To ensure that the United States developed a bomb before Nazi Germany did, the federal government started the secret $2 billion Manhattan Project. On July 16, 1945, in the New Mexico desert near Alamogordo, the Manhattan Project's scientists exploded the first atomic bomb. It was during the Potsdam negotiations that President Harry Truman learned that American scientists had tested the first atomic bomb. On August 6, 1945, the Enola Gay, a B-29 Superfortress, released an atomic bomb over Hiroshima, Japan. Between 80,000 and 140,000 people were killed or fatally wounded. Three days later, a second bomb fell on Nagasaki. About 35,000 people were killed. The following day Japan sued for peace.
President Truman's defenders argued that the bombs ended the war quickly, avoiding the necessity of a costly invasion and the probable loss of tens of thousands of American lives and hundreds of thousands of Japanese lives. His critics argued that the war might have ended even without the atomic bombings. They maintained that the Japanese economy would have been strangled by a continued naval blockade, and that Japan could have been forced to surrender by conventional firebombing or by a demonstration of the atomic bomb's power. The unleashing of nuclear power during World War II generated hope of a cheap and abundant source of energy, but it also produced anxiety among large numbers of people in the United States and around the world.
Biography of America
World War II (series 22)
America is enveloped in total war, from mobilization on the home front to a scorching air war in Europe. Professor Miller's view of World War II is a personal essay on the morality of total war, and its effects on those who fought, died, and survived it, including members of his own family.
The Decision to Drop the Atomic Bomb
In the fall of 1994, the Air and Space Museum of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., installed in its main hall the fuselage of the Enola Gay, the airplane that dropped the first atomic bomb ever used in warfare on Hiroshima in 1945. Originally, the airplane was to have been accompanied by an exhibit that would include discussions of the many popular and academic controversies over whether the United States should have used the bomb. But a powerful group of critics led by veterans' groups and aided by many members of Congress organized to demand that the exhibit be altered and that it reflect only the "official" explanation of the decision. In the end, the museum decided to mount no exhibit at all. The Enola Gay hangs in the Smithsonian today entirely without explanation for the millions of tourists who see it each year.
The furor that surrounded the Air and Space Museum installation reflects the passions that the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki continue to arouse among people around the world, and people in the United States and Japan in particular. It also reflects the continuing debate among historians about how to explain, and evaluate, President Truman's decision to use the atomic bomb in the war against Japan.
Truman himself, both at the time and in his 1955 memoirs, insisted that the decision was a simple and straightforward one. The alternative to using atomic weapons, he claimed, NAGASAKI SURVIVORS A Japanese woman and child look grimly at a photographer as they hold pieces of bread in the aftermath of the dropping of the second American atomic bomb this one on Nagasaki.
American invasion of mainland Japan that might have cost as many as a million lives. Given that choice, he said, the decision was easy. "I regarded the bomb as a military weapon and never had any doubt that it should be used." Truman's explanation of his decision has been supported by the accounts of many of his contemporaries: by Secretary of War Henry Stimson, in his 1950 memoir, On Active Service in Peace and War; by Winston Churchill; by Truman's senior military advisers. It has also received considerable support from historians. Herbert Feis argued in The Atomic Bomb and the End of World War II (1966) that Truman had made his decision on purely military grounds to ensure a speedy American victory. David McCullough, the author of a popular biography of Truman published in 1992, also accepted Truman's own account of his actions largely uncritically, as did Alonzo L. Hamby in Man of the People (1995), an important scholarly study of Truman. "One consideration weighed most heavily on Truman," Hamby concluded. "The longer the war lasted, the more Americans killed." Robert J. Donovan, author of an extensive history of the Truman presidency, Conflict and Crisis (1977), reached the same conclusion: "The simple reason Truman made the decision to drop the bomb was to end the war quickly and save lives."
Other scholars have strongly disagreed. As early as 1948, a British physicist, P. M. S. Blackett, wrote in Fear, War, and the Bomb that the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was "not so much the last military act of the second World War as the
first major operation of the cold diplomatic war with Russia." The most important critic of Truman's decision is the historian Gar Alperovitz, the author of two influential books on the subject: Atomic Diplomacy: Hiroshima and Potsdam (1965) and The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb and the Architecture of an American Myth (1995). Alperovitz dismisses the argument that the bomb was used to shorten the war and save lives. Japan was likely to have surrendered soon even if the bomb had not been used, he claims; large numbers of American lives were not at stake in the decision. Instead, he argues, the United States used the bomb less to influence Japan than to intimidate the Soviet Union. Truman made his decision to bomb Hiroshima in the immediate aftermath of a discouraging meeting with Stalin at Potsdam. He was heavily influenced, therefore, by his belief that America needed a new way to force Stalin to change his behavior, that, as Alperovitz has argued, "the bomb would make Russia more manageable in Europe."
Martin J. Sherwin, in A World Destroyed (1975), is more restrained in his criticism of American policymakers. But he too argues that a rapidly growing awareness of the danger Stalin posed to the peace made leaders aware that atomic weapons and their effective use could help strengthen the American hand in the nation's critical relationship with the Soviet Union. Truman, Sherwin said, "increasingly came to believe that America's possession of the atomic bomb would, by itself, convince Stalin to be more cooperative."
John W. Dower's War Without Mercy (1986) contributed, by implication at least, to another controversial explanation of the American decision: racism. Throughout World War II, most Americans considered the Germans and the Italians to be military and political adversaries. They looked at the Japanese very differently: as members of a very different and almost bestial race. They were, many Americans came to believe, almost a subhuman species. And while Dower himself stops short of saying so, other historians have suggested that this racialized image of Japan contributed to American willingness to drop atomic bombs on Japanese cities. Even many of Truman's harshest critics, however, note that it is, as Alperovitz has written, "all but impossible to find specific evidence that racism was an important factor in the decision to attack Hiroshima and Nagasaki."
The debate over the decision to drop the atomic bomb is an unusually emotional one driven in part by the tremendous moral questions that the destruction of so many lives raises and it has inspired bitter professional and personal attacks on advocates of almost every position. It illustrates clearly how history has often been, and remains, a powerful force in the way societies define their politics, their values, and their character.
"Hiroshima: Was it Necessary?" by Doug Long
The decision to drop two atomic bombs on Japan remains one of the most controversial in American history, so much so that a group of historians recently held a mock trail for Harry Truman on the decision. Peruse the sites listed above and summarize the arguments for the prosecution and the defense. Ultimately, do you think President Truman made the right decision? Why or why not? Should the second bomb (Nagasaki) be held to a different moral standard than the first (Hiroshima)?