Fascism swept Italy and Germany. Elsewhere, militarists consolidated their hold on the Japanese government. Soon fears of fascist domination were realized as nations fell, hapless victims to new aggressive leaders

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Passage 1: Road to War

hitler announces acquisition of austria, 1938
Economic hard times around the globe led to the rise of fascist leaders like Adolf Hitler. Here, Hitler receives the salute of the Reichstag upon announcing the annexation of Austria.

Storm clouds were darkening around the world. While Americans struggled to make ends meet during the Great Depression, fascism swept Italy and Germany. Elsewhere, militarists consolidated their hold on the Japanese government. Soon fears of fascist domination were realized as nations fell, hapless victims to new aggressive leaders.

Under the leadership of Adolf Hitler, Germany was particularly frightening. Emboldened by western inaction, Hitler demanded the Sudetenland, a region in western Czechoslovakia in 1939. The west appeased Hitler and gave in to his demands at the Munich conference. Finally, Hitler took the boldest step of all by attacking Poland in September of 1939. This last action forced European nations to declare war. World War II had begun.

map of sudetenland
This map of Czechoslovakia shows the fierce land-grabbing that took place in the Fall of 1938. Hungary, Germany, and Poland all managed to claim a piece as their own.

Meanwhile, Americans clung to their time-tested philosophy of isolationism. A series of Neutrality Acts sought to avoid the entrapments that plunged the nation into World War I. In the Neutrality Act of 1936, Americans were not permitted to travel on the ships of nations at war. A Neutrality Act of 1937 limited the trade of even non-munitions to belligerent nations to a "cash and carry basis."

Yet when Great Britain became the last bastion of freedom standing against a Nazi-controlled Europe, Americans reluctantly began to act. Led by President Roosevelt (FDR) in March 1941, Congress approved the Lend-Lease Act, which eventually appropriated $50 billion of aid to the Allies.

Neutrality was no longer a façade behind which America could hide. Hitler saw Lend-Lease as tantamount to a war declaration and ordered attacks on American ships. Roosevelt urged Congress and Americans to take action, including a military build up. In his famous Four Freedom speech he enumerated what the rights of any citizen of the world are and why it is important for America to lead the way.

Congress still hesitated as Roosevelt met with Churchill in the summer of 1941 and agreed to the Atlantic Charter, a statement that outlined Anglo-American war aims. At this point, the United States was willing to commit almost everything to the Allied war machine — money, resources, and diplomacy.

the attack on the uss nevada, robert taylor
Japanese bombers fire on the USS Nevada at Pearl Harbor. The surprise attack of December 7, 1941, left President Roosevelt with no choice but to enter World War II.

In the end, it was Japan who provoked the United States into war. The United States was the only nation standing against Japanese domination of the entire Pacific Rim. When economic sanctions against Japan produced a diplomatic stalemate, Japan launched a ruthless surprise attack against American naval bases at Pearl Harbor. Faced with an assault on its own forces, the United States finally entered the Second World War.

Passage 2: War in the Atlantic

For the second time in the 20th century, the United States became involved in a devastating world conflict. The mobilization effort of the government in World War II eclipsed even that of World War I. With major operations in both the Atlantic and Pacific theaters, American industries literally fueled two wars simultaneously.

The need to support two theaters caused a number of economic and social transformations in the country. The Great Migration of African Americans from the rural South to the industrial North was accelerated. New opportunities opened for women, particularly in employment in areas traditionally reserved for men, such as in construction and manufacturing. Tax rates were raised to generate revenue. Still, more money was needed so the government again launched Liberty and Victory Loan Drives like those that helped finance the First World War.

Top of Form

Bottom of Form

rosie the riveter
"Rosie the Riveter" served as both a symbol of women's contributions to the war effort as well as a call to others to join.

But the war effort also had a darker side. Civil liberties were compromised, particularly for the 110,000 Japanese Americans who were forcibly uprooted from their West Coast homes to be sent to remote relocation camps, called intern camps.

During the war, FDR faced many options for conducting an effective wartime strategy. Despite widespread cries for revenge against Japan, the first major decision made by the President was to concentrate on Germany first. Once Hitler was defeated, the combined Allied forces would concentrate on smashing Japanese ambitions.

Roosevelt and Churchill agreed to implement an immediate blockade of supplies to Germany and to begin bombing German cities and munitions centers. The army would attack Hitler's troops at their weakest points first, North Africa, and slowly advance toward German soil. Simultaneously, the Soviets turned the tide against Nazi advances into the Soviet Union by defeating the German forces at Stalingrad. By 1943, the Allies had begun to close the ring.

Once Northern Africa was secured, the Allies took the next step toward Germany by launching invasions of Sicily and Italy. Despite American gains in Italy, the Americans were bogged down. In response, the US and England decided to open up a new front on the Atlantic. In the morning of June 6, 1944, D-Day, a combined force of Americans, British, Canadians, and French launched the largest amphibious assault in history of the coast of Normandy France.

all-american air raid
The first American air attack on European enemies came in August 1942. Here, a belly gunner fires at German planes.

After D-Day, the days of the German resistance were numbered. Paris was liberated in August 1944 as the Allies pushed slowly eastward. Meanwhile, the Soviet Union was moving into German territory as well. Hitler, at the Battle of the Bulge, launched a final unsuccessful counteroffensive in December 1944. Soon the Americans, British, and Free French found themselves racing the Soviets to Berlin.

invasion of normandy
D-Day troops wade into the waist-deep water and onto the shore to face the enemy in battle.

Along the way they encountered the depths of Nazi horrors when they discovered concentration camps with survivors of Nazi abuse, including Jews, homosexuals, and others considered “undesirable”. The Jews were the main target. The systematic killing of 6 million Jews by the Nazis has been known as the Holocaust, and was carried out by the Nazis after the leadership agreed on the "Final Solution," the Nazi plan to exterminate the Jewish people.

liberated holocaust survivors
Following the defeat of the Nazi regime, the full extent of the Holocaust was at last revealed.

When the Allies entered Berlin, they discovered that the mastermind of all the destruction — Adolf Hitler — had already died by his own hand. With little left to sustain any sort of resistance, the Germans surrendered on May 8, 1945, hereafter known as V-E (Victory in Europe) Day. Soon after, the victorious allied powers would seek justice for the abuses committed by the Nazis during the war, in a series of trials known as the Nuremberg Trials.

Passage 3: The Pacific Front

Defeating Germany was only part of America's mission. Led by General Douglas MacArthur, the Americans were confident they could win back Pacific territory controlled by Japan. But, in 1942, Japan was on the offensive. At Coral Sea, the US fought Japan to a stalemate.

Later in June, Japan hoped to capture Midway Island, an American held base about 1000 miles from Hawaii. Midway could have been used as a staging point for future attacks on Pearl Harbor. Thankfully, the United States was still benefiting from being able to decipher Japanese radio messages. Airplane combat decided the Battle at Midway. After the smoke had cleared, four Japanese aircraft carriers had been destroyed. After the Battle of Midway, the Japanese were forced to fall back and defend their holdings.

general macarthur during wwii
In 1941, Gen. Douglas MacArthur was forced to surrender the Philippines, but made his famous promise of "I shall return." Three years later, he made good on his promise to liberate the islands.

After Midway, the US went on the offensive. Island hopping was the strategy used by the United States command. With this strategy, the United States selectively chose a path that would move U.S. naval forces closer and closer to the Japanese mainland. In October 1944, MacArthur returned to the Philippines. The capture of Iwo Jima and Okinawa cleared the way for an all-out assault on Japan. Despite heavy losses, the Japanese refused to surrender. They intensified the attacks on American ships with suicide mission kamikaze flights.

After President Roosevelt died, Harry Truman had learned of the development of a great destructive force – nuclear bombs – as a result of a secret project, known as the Manhattan Project. First, an Allied demand for an immediate unconditional surrender was made to the leadership in Japan. Although the demand stated that refusal would result in total destruction, the Japanese military command rejected the request for unconditional surrender. Truman then made the decision to use the nuclear bombs.

mushroom cloud over nagasaki
A "mushroom" cloud rises over the city of Nagasaki on August 9, 1945.

On August 6, 1945, a plane called the Enola Gay dropped an atomic bomb on the city of Hiroshima. Instantly, 70,000 Japanese citizens were vaporized. In the months and years that followed, an additional 100,000 perished from burns and radiation sickness. On August 9, a second atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki, where 80,000 Japanese people perished. Five days later, the Japanese surrendered, hereafter known as V-J (Victory in Japan Day).


After all the blood and sacrifice, the Axis powers were defeated. The Grand Alliance that emerged victorious attempted to arrive at post war cooperation. After a series of conferences during the war, such as Yalta and Potsdam, the allies had shown some capacity for cooperation. Both, for instance, agreed on trials for Nazi war criminals and the division of Germany. Most importantly, both the USSR and the US agreed to establish a new international organization to prevent future wars. Unlike the League of Nations, the United Nations would emerge as an important and powerful institution for peace and cooperation for decades to come.

Yet, despite sacrifices and the common bond that carried both superpowers through the war, the relationship did not long last. Deep distrust and diverging interest tore at the fragile fabric. At its heart, the United States was unwilling to sit idle while another form of totalitarianism spread westward from Moscow. One international struggle immediately followed the previous, and the world was once again involved in an epic struggle that claimed millions of additional lives — the Cold War.

Excerpts from: Notes and http://www.ushistory.org/us/

Passage Items

1st Passage

  1. At the Beginning of World War II, United States was stuck in its isolationist ways and Congress hesitated in dealing aggressively against Nazi Germany. How did FDR attempt to break us away from Isolationism? (list 3 actions)

  2. In two words, identify the event that led of American involvement in World War II?

2nd Passage

  1. Complete the chart below by identifying 2 major social changes and 2 major economic changes that resulted from the US entry into World War II.

    Social Changes


    Economic changes







  2. What was the allied attempt to open a new front in the Atlantic in 1944 called?

3rd passage

  1. Identify whether each item below is a: 1. US war time strategy, 2. battle/ military encounter , or 3. Attempt at negotiation.

    1. Coral Sea

    2. Midway

    3. Island hoping

    4. Manhattan project

    5. Yalta

    6. United Nations conference

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