World War II

views updated May 23 2018



The maintenance of peace in Europe in the 1920s and 1930s was both strengthened and weakened by the memory of the costs of World War I. On the one hand, that memory led many to have such a horror of military conflict that they shrank from the very idea. This horror, on the other hand, could favor a country determined on war by restraining those who in their revulsion at war had disarmed, were reluctant to rearm, and believed that almost any sacrifices these actions entailed were likely to be less than those a new conflict would exact.


This situation especially affected the nominal victors, France and Great Britain. Both had been terribly damaged by the war and found themselves abandoned by the United States, which had helped save them from defeat in 1918, had participated in the writing of the peace treaties, but had then turned its back on the settlement. The country most strengthened by the war had shoved the burden of keeping the peace on the countries most weakened by it. Furthermore, Russia, which had played a major role in the war in spite of military defeats, had collapsed internally, been taken over by the Bolsheviks, and was more interested in upsetting than maintaining the peace.

The country that took the initiative for another world war was Germany, but because the regime that did so for novel reasons acted in a world in which others had started wars of their own, something has to be said about the latter. Japan had begun imperial expansion at the end of the nineteenth century with war against China. There followed war with Russia, the annexation of Korea, and entrance into World War I on the Allied side in order to take parts of Germany's empire in the Pacific. In 1931 Japan seized Manchuria from China and continued its advance on the mainland. In July 1937 this led to open hostilities with China, but however awful for the Chinese, these actions were a continuation of prior Japanese expansionist policies.

Similarly, Italy under Benito Mussolini continued an expansionist policy that in prior decades had garnered colonial territories in Africa, the Dodecanese Islands in the Aegean Sea, and territory from Austria-Hungary. Mussolini's first major further step was the conquest of Ethiopia in 1936. In this case also, military aggression was the resumption of a prior policy. The aims of Germany were entirely different.

Unwilling to accept the defeat of 1918, increasing numbers of Germans rallied to the National Socialists (Nazis) led by Adolf Hitler. In his speeches and writings, he asserted that the Germans deserved to control the globe and could do so if they adopted a one-party state, redoubled their racial superiority by racial awareness and the removal of Jews, and went to war for proper aims. The latter he defined not as the snippets of land Germany had lost by the peace of 1919 but as many hundreds of thousands of square kilometers of land for settlement by Germans displacing the local population. The large families raised by the settlers would replace the casualties incurred in the conquest of the land and provide soldiers for the next conquests. Members of the old elite talked President Paul von Hindenburg into appointing Hitler as chancellor in January 1933. Thereafter, Hitler rapidly established the one-party state, initiated measures in the racial field, and ordered a massive program of rearmament.

Rearmament was geared to the wars Hitler expected to fight. A short war against Czechoslovakia requiring no special preparation would precede the main one against the Western Powers. The last war demonstrated that this was the one for which Germany must prepare most effectively. Victory in the west would enable Germany to crush the Soviet Union in a quick war. In German eyes incompetents now ruled over inferior races whom Germany had defeated the last time in spite of their largely Germanic ruling elite that had—fortunately for Germany—been replaced by the Bolsheviks. Victory over the Soviet Union, for which no special preparations were needed, would provide vast lands for settlement and also raw materials, especially oil, needed for the next war against the United States. Though easy to defeat, the United States was far away and had a substantial navy. When production of the weapons systems for war against France and Britain was under way in 1937, design and development of the intercontinental bombers and super-battleships for war with the United States were ordered.

At the last moment, Hitler called off the first war against Czechoslovakia and settled at Munich for his ostensible rather than his real aims; that is, he agreed to annex the areas inhabited primarily by Germans rather than occupy the whole country. What others imagined was a German triumph, he considered the worst mistake of his career. German diplomacy toward war in 1939 was accordingly dominated by a determination not to be trapped into negotiations once again. War against France and Britain was next, but that required a quiet eastern front. At the time that meant Lithuania, Poland, and Hungary. While Lithuania and Hungary became sufficiently subservient to Germany, the leaders of the revived Poland were unwilling to subordinate the country to anyone without a fight. Hitler therefore decided to fight Poland either by itself first or in conjunction with France and Britain if they decided to support Poland. To discourage the Western Powers temporarily or to fight them right away if they so chose, Germany looked for allies. Because further expansion of Italy and Japan was possible only at the expense of their World War I allies, these were the countries to which Hitler turned.

The Italian government was willing to ally itself with Germany in 1939, though on the understanding that war would come in three years. Japan, however, was at this time agreeable to an alliance against the Soviet Union but not against the Western Powers. Under these circumstances Hitler was prepared to entertain soundings from Moscow that he had previously rejected. The Soviet Union had a long border with Poland and could provide supplies to Germany if there were a renewed Allied blockade. Joseph Stalin, the Soviet leader, saw an opportunity to expand his country's territory and to encourage capitalist countries to fight one another. Rather than remain neutral or side with the Western Powers as they and the United States urged, he preferred to align his country with Germany. Germany and the Soviet Union divided eastern Europe between themselves with the Germans willing to sign over more than Stalin asked on the assumption that after victory in the west they would seize it all.

After carefully arranged incidents in which murdered concentration camp victims dressed in Polish uniforms were strewn around a German radio station to prove that Poland had attacked Germany, the German armed forces attacked Poland on 1 September 1939. To preclude a peaceful settlement, the German demands on Poland were kept secret until after the attack. Thus the German public could be rallied to a new war by a regime that believed collapse at home, not defeat at the front, had led to the loss of the last war. Combined with heavy air attacks on Polish cities and forces, the German thrusts broke Polish efforts to defend the country. There was sporadic heavy fighting, but the poorly equipped Polish forces were defeated quickly. The hope of the Polish staff to continue fighting through the winter in the forests and swamps of eastern Poland was destroyed by the Soviet Union's invasion of Poland on 17 September. The German and Soviet military quickly and most courteously sorted out their units to accord with the agreed upon partition of Poland. That partition was altered by an agreement exchanging the central portion of Poland to German control for most of Lithuania to join Estonia and Latvia under Soviet domination.

Britain and France honored their promise to defend Polish independence by declaring war on 3 September, an action followed by the British dominions of Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and, after some delay, the Union of South Africa. Ireland elected to remain neutral, while the British government of India entered the conflict and would create the largest volunteer army of the war. Both the British and French governments had hoped to avoid another war, and had made concessions to Germany in the endeavor of reconciling that country to living at peace with its neighbors. The negative reaction of Berlin to the concessions made at Munich convinced the two governments in the winter of 1938–1939 that if Germany struck again at any country that defended itself, they would have to go to war. Their effort to make this clear to Hitler in 1939 fell on deaf ears. Neither France nor Britain had rearmed sufficiently, though both had begun to do so in response to Germany's massive rearmament program. Afraid of a repetition of the massive casualties of the prior war, the French refused to carry out the offensive operation they had promised Poland earlier in 1939.

Hitler wanted to launch an offensive through the Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg in the late fall of 1939. The German air force, however, needed good weather for its supporting role, and that weather did not come. While postponing that offensive until 1940, the Germans prepared an invasion of Norway, with Denmark to be occupied as well, to have better access to the North Atlantic for their navy. With help from a base in the Soviet Union and treason from within Norway by Vidkun Quisling who gave his name to such action, the Germans seized Denmark and landed in Norway on 9 April 1940. The Western Allies sent forces to help the Norwegians defend themselves. The Germans won in southern Norway, were defeated in the northern part, but recovered there when the Allied forces were withdrawn because of the German offensive in the west. Of major importance were the heavy losses incurred by the German navy in the Norwegian operation. Many of its destroyers and cruisers were sunk, and the big warships damaged and hence out of service during the critical months of 1940 when they were unavailable to provide cover for an invasion of England.

On 10 May German forces invaded the three Low Countries. Unwilling to coordinate their own operations with France and Britain, these fell quickly. A breakthrough of the French defenses at Sedan enabled the Germans to cut through to the English Channel because the French commander in chief, General Maurice Gamelin, sent his reserve army into the Netherlands rather than keeping it in reserve. Because the effort to cut the German thrust failed, the British and French forces it had isolated were evacuated—without their equipment—through Dunkirk in early June. In those same days, the Germans pierced the new French line and struck into the interior. Unlike World War I when the French government had held fast, on this occasion a cabinet headed by the defeatist Marshal Philippe Pétain replaced it. Pétain asked for an armistice, signed one, and wanted to replace the French Third Republic with an authoritarian regime that he imagined could have a place in a German-dominated Europe.

The collapse of French resistance after a few weeks of fighting in the theater of war where opposing armies had struggled inconclusively for years in World War I had massive repercussions for all participants and major neutrals. For Hitler, victory over France consolidated his support at home even more fully. Construction of warships for war against the United States, temporarily interrupted for more urgent needs, was ordered resumed. Plans for the next war, that against the Soviet Union, could now be developed; the army general staff was already preparing them. Hitler and the army's chief of staff preferred to attack that fall, but it became apparent that preparations would take too long for a campaign in 1940. By 31 July Hitler decided that the invasion of the Soviet Union had to be postponed until the early summer of 1941. Preparations moved forward and were not confined to the military. Because Finland and Romania were to be allies, Germany would occupy Romania and reverse its policy toward Finland. That country had been assigned to the Soviet Union in the 1939 German-Soviet agreement but had fought for its independence when attacked by the Soviets in the winter of 1939–1940. The loss of territory to the Soviets in the peace of March 1940 made Finland amenable to siding with Germany. Similarly, Soviet annexation of parts of Romania in the summer of 1940 (with German support) encouraged that country to fight alongside Germany.

For a short time the Germans believed that victory in the west was complete. England would make peace or be bombed or invaded until it surrendered. But under the leadership of Winston Churchill, the prime minister, the British refused to make peace. They did not succumb to a German bombing campaign. They retained control of the air in the Battle of Britain in the summer of 1940 and thereby forced the Germans to postpone the projected invasion. As the British rebuilt their army, began to receive aid from the United States, and hit back at the Germans as best they could, they looked to a long war in which the peoples of Europe would so resent their conquerors as to rise up against them. A new British army would assist them to free themselves from a Germany weakened by blockade and an increasing bombing campaign.

Believing that the war was essentially over, Mussolini took Italy into it in order to share in the spoils of a war Germany had started before Italy was ready. The inadequately prepared Italian forces quickly ran into trouble in Africa and needed German help to hold onto Libya even as the British conquered their colonial empire in northeast Africa. Because the Germans had not informed him of their reason for occupying Romania, Mussolini decided in October 1940 to invade Greece from Albania (which Italy had occupied in 1939). Here also Italian forces met defeat and asked for German assistance. In April 1941 the Germans conquered Yugoslavia and Greece in short campaigns and continued with the conquest of the island of Crete in May. Mussolini, however, insisted in 1941 on sending troops to participate in the invasion of the Soviet Union.

The dictator of Spain, Francisco Franco, also wanted to join Germany in order to expand Spain's colonial empire. And he also sympathized with the Germans, who had helped him in the Spanish civil war (1936–1939). When he learned, however, that Germany insisted on acquiring bases on and off the coast of northwest Africa under full ownership—for their planned war against the United States—he decided not to enter the conflict directly. He assisted the Germans' submarine campaign and their intelligence operations, and sent a unit to fight the Soviets, but Franco was not about to cede one square centimeter of Spanish territory to anyone.

The Soviet Union was surprised by the rapidity of Germany's victory and, anticipating the possibility of a peace settlement, moved to annex the Baltic states and parts of Romania. Brushing aside all proposals and warnings from London, the U.S. government, and his intelligence services, Stalin was determined to maintain excellent relations with Germany. This meant not only providing the Germans with economic and other assistance but also hoping to join the Tripartite Pact that Germany, Italy, and Japan had signed in September 1940. The fact that this involved the possibility of the Soviet Union being obliged to fight the United States illuminates Stalin's enthusiasm for adhering to it. The Germans, who intended to invade the Soviet Union, ignored Soviet offers. They preferred receiving supplies until the hour of the invasion to negotiations that might entail Soviet withholding of economic aid as a lever.

The Japanese were delighted to see the colonial masters of South and Southeast Asia defeated by Germany because this appeared to open the road to further imperial expansion. When the Germans urged them to seize the French, British, and Dutch possessions, the Japanese explained that it would be risky with the United States still in control of the Philippines. The Germans replied that if the Tokyo government believed it could strike south only if it also went to war with the United States, then Germany would immediately join in. From the perspective of Berlin, the alternative to building a large navy was to find an ally who already had one because it made no difference whether American warships were sunk in the Pacific or Atlantic. Under these circumstances the Japanese government began preparations for a war far wider than the continuing hostilities with China. There the Japanese forces had conquered the ports and main industrial areas, but having rejected the possibility of a peace mediated by Germany in January 1938, were embroiled in an ongoing conflict marked by Japanese atrocities.

The dramatic German victories shocked the government and people of the United States. President Franklin D. Roosevelt formed the equivalent of a coalition government for the first time in the country's history and decided to run for an equally unprecedented third term. Facing danger in both the Atlantic and Pacific, Congress voted to create a two-ocean navy. For the first time it established a peacetime draft to create a real army. Hoping to keep the country out of open hostilities, the president labored to increase aid to Britain. An exchange of old destroyers for bases on British possessions simultaneously reinforced the British navy in the battle of the Atlantic and strengthened American defenses.

Britain could continue in the war only if the supply routes across the oceans remained open, a point recognized by both sides. From September 1939 on there was a ceaseless battle by the Germans to break and the British, increasingly aided by the Americans and Canadians, to maintain control of the oceans. Until the fall of 1943 German submarines, long-distance planes, and surface warships sank more ships than the Allies could build. In May 1943 the Allies sank German submarines at such a rate that the Germans temporarily withdrew from the North Atlantic, and in the fall Allied ship construction exceeded losses. Thereafter German efforts to return to the fray with new types of torpedoes and submarines were unable to reverse a tide turned in favor of the Allies by a combination of technological developments, code-breaking successes, the construction of escort warships and escort aircraft carriers, and the dedication of crews.


In June 1941 the Germans invaded the Soviet Union; from that time the overwhelming majority of World War II fighting took place on the eastern front. The German armies won early major tactical victories, but unlike the government of Nicholas II and the subsequent Russian provisional government (during World War I), Stalin was able to retain firm control of the unoccupied parts of the country. In August Red Army counterattacks drove back the Germans at one point on the central front. In late November the Germans were forced to retreat in the south; in December they were defeated before Moscow; and soon after they were obliged to retreat in the north. The Soviet winter offensive pushed the Germans back and inflicted great losses, but could not collapse their front. The Germans planned to renew their offensive in 1942, but lacking the strength to strike on more than one sector, decided on the southern one.

By the end of 1941, the war had changed in two other important respects. The Germans had initiated the demographic revolution that was the purpose of the war in their thinking. In October 1939 Hitler had directed the initiation of the first systematic killing program: the murder of handicapped people first in Germany and then in occupied Poland and elsewhere. In anticipation of the invasion of the Soviet Union, the second such program was ordered: the killing of all Jews in newly occupied Soviet territory. As this program was beginning to be implemented in the summer of 1941 and it became clear that the German military was agreeable if not enthusiastic, the killing was to be extended to all areas that Germany could reach in Europe and throughout the world. What came to be known as the Holocaust was a central feature of the war from then on.

The other major change in the war resulted from the initiative of Japan. In the summer of 1941 the authorities in Tokyo decided to strike in the south rather than attack the Soviet Union. They occupied southern French Indochina as a springboard for offensives pointing away from their war with China. The U.S. government attempted to delay and deter them, hoping that eventually the Japanese would see that Germany was likely to lose the war, a policy that came within two weeks of working. The Japanese, however, would not wait longer and struck the United States, Britain, and the Dutch on 7/8 December 1941. Germany and Italy, having reassured the Japanese that they would go to war with the United States, promptly did so. The countries of the Tripartite Pact had forced Britain, the Soviet Union, and the United States into an alliance. The prior conquests of the Germans and the early conquests of the Japanese for a while brought them control of larger resources than those of the Allies, but the latter used theirs more effectively and were therefore able to continue in the war.

The Japanese, by adopting Admiral Yamamoto Isoroku's plan to attack the American fleet on a Sunday in peacetime, had crippled the American navy temporarily but simultaneously galvanized the American public into full support of a war to the finish. The Japanese hope that after early conquests they could make a new settlement with the United States was aborted by the attack on Pearl Harbor. Japanese forces defeated the poorly prepared American and Filipino forces in the Philippines, crushed the Dutch, seized Malaya with its base at Singapore in short order, and drove the British-Indian army out of Burma, but none of these victories produced a peace settlement. Australian forces halted the Japanese on New Guinea, and the American navy first blunted the Japanese naval advance in May and then defeated the Japanese navy at the Battle of Midway in June 1942.

The Americans and British had agreed that Germany would be defeated first: It was the more dangerous enemy, and neither Britain nor the Soviet Union had any choice. The rapid advances of the Japanese in the first months of 1942 forced a temporary deviation from the "Europe First" strategy. Concerned about the Japanese seizure of the Solomon Islands in the Southwest Pacific and the construction of an airfield on one of the islands, Guadalcanal, the Americans landed there to seize the airfield and protect the route to Australia. There followed the longest battle in American history—from August 1942 to February 1943. American forces hung on and eventually achieved victory. The naval and land battles around Guadalcanal also prevented the Japanese from striking farther into the Indian Ocean than their brief incursion earlier, thereby eliminating the opportunity the Axis Powers might have had of joining forces in the Middle East. The Germans had advanced into Egypt in the summer of 1942 but were halted at El Alamein around the same time as the first American landing in the Solomons.


On the eastern front, Germany launched a summer offensive to seize the Caucasus oil fields and block the Volga River at Stalingrad. Local victories enabled them to advance, but unlike 1941 when the Germans had captured millions of prisoners—the majority of whom they killed or let die—this time the Red Army retreated and continued to fight. Both wings of the offensive were halted, one inside Stalingrad, the other in the Caucasus passes. A Soviet counteroffensive in November 1942 cut off the German army fighting in Stalingrad along with substantial Romanian forces. The German relief effort failed, and the attempt at air supply foundered on Soviet countermeasures and the diversion of German air transport to the fighting in Tunisia. Under spectacular circumstances a whole German army was destroyed; soon after, other portions of the front saw major Soviet offensives, while the German units sent into the Caucasus were withdrawn to avoid being cut off. The victories of the Red Army in 1942 had been assisted by the success of the British in May and June of 1941 in crushing a pro-German revolt in Iraq and occupying the French mandate of Syria, thereby eliminating the possibility of a German foothold south of the Caucasus.

In early November 1942 American and British troops landed in French northwest Africa to meet the British army driving back Axis forces from Egypt. The Germans built up an army in Tunisia and denied the Allies the critical Tunisian ports, but their counteroffensive stalled after a victory over the Americans at Kasserine Pass. The success of the Germans in holding Tunisia in the winter of 1942–1943, in part because of their use of air supply, meant that there could be no Allied invasion of western Europe in 1943. When Roosevelt and Churchill met to plan future moves in Casablanca in January 1943 they assigned the highest priority to the struggle against German submarines. The air offensives of the two would be coordinated to attack German industry and morale as well as to divert German resources from the eastern front. To reassure the home fronts and the Soviets, but even more to make certain that the Germans would not initiate another world war, the Allied leaders announced in public their previously adopted demand for unconditional surrender. As a follow-up to the campaign in Tunisia, they authorized a 1943 invasion of Sicily, perhaps to be followed by landings on the Italian mainland so that German forces could be kept busy in the Mediterranean theater while a 1944 invasion of western Europe was under preparation and implemented.

The Germans expected to launch another summer offensive in the east and worked to protect their own cities and develop weapons to destroy English cities in 1943. Unable to rescue their soldiers in Tunisia or those in Stalingrad, they hoped to reverse the tide in the east and to hold on to Italy and southeast Europe in the face of any Allied landings. The offensive in the east was postponed so that new tanks they had started to build could be employed, but when launched in the Kursk area, the largest armored battle of the war ended in a decisive German defeat. It was followed by the first Soviet summer offensive that drove the Germans out of much of the area they had conquered on the central and southern portions of the front. In spite of occasional local German counterattacks, the initiative had passed definitively to the Red Army, which was assisted, especially in regard to transportation, by massive quantities of supplies and equipment provided by the United States and to a lesser extent by Britain. By the end of the year, the Germans had been forced back considerably, a process that continued in the winter of 1943–1944 as the Red Army recovered important industrial and agricultural areas of Ukraine and relieved the German siege of Leningrad.

In the Pacific the struggle for the Solomon Islands and New Guinea continued with the Americans and Australians advancing against determined Japanese resistance. The American thrust northward from the Southwest Pacific under General Douglas MacArthur was supplemented by a second route of advance across the Pacific under Admiral Chester Nimitz. Initiated in late 1943 by landings in the Gilbert Islands, success there was followed by landings in the Marshall Islands early in 1944. The U.S. Navy was receiving both the repaired warships damaged at Pearl Harbor and large numbers of new ships ordered earlier. The Japanese were incapable of replacing their losses—to say nothing of increasing their navy. Having failed to realize before December 1941 that the conquest of oil wells, tin mines, and rubber plantations did not enable them to move these to the Japanese home islands but merely required the shipment of their products in Japanese merchant ships, the Japanese saw their shipping increasingly sunk by Allied submarines (especially once the Americans replaced their defective torpedoes).

In March 1943 the Allies began a new offensive in Tunisia that ended Axis resistance by early May. In July they landed on Sicily, which they wrested from the German and Italian defenders in a bitter two-month fight. The success of the initial landing following upon the loss of Italy's colonial empire and the destruction of an Italian army on the eastern front galvanized the internal opposition to Mussolini who was deposed and arrested in July. The Germans freed him and installed him in a puppet regime in northern Italy, but fascism had discredited itself and collapsed as a political system. The successor government surrendered to the Allies. It did this with such incompetence that the Germans were able to take control of most of Italy and all of the Italian-occupied portions of France, Yugoslavia, and Greece, as well as seize and deport to slave labor in Germany those Italian soldiers whom they had not murdered in an orgy of revenge. In September the Allies landed at the toe of Italy and at Salerno near Naples. The latter landing proved most difficult because of strong German resistance, a situation that would characterize the campaign in Italy thereafter. The American and British troops, joined by French, Polish, and Brazilian units, slowly fought their way up the peninsula. They seized airfields important for extending the range of Allied air forces, but were halted below Rome in spite of an amphibious landing at Anzio and repeated assaults elsewhere.

While the war had turned in favor of the Allies by the end of 1943, neither Germany nor Japan would give up. The Germans placed their hopes for victory on several factors. They believed it possible that the Allied coalition would break up. They expected that a new type of submarine would turn the tide in the battle of the Atlantic. That would either render an invasion in the west impossible or isolate it from reinforcement and supplies. They were working hard on several types of special weapons to employ in 1944 to destroy English cities, especially London, and thus drive the presumably war-weary English out of the conflict. Above all, they were confident that they could crush the expected Allied landing in the west. No new landing would be possible in the same year, and therefore the German army could shift forces east to defeat the Red Army that had suffered enormous casualties in prior fighting.

The Japanese were not hoping for victory but believed that stubborn resistance would so tire their enemies that a compromise peace could be attained. It seemed inconceivable to them that the Americans would be willing to expend the blood and treasure required to retake all the territories Japan still held so that they could return them to former colonial masters. And once the Americans grew tired of fighting, Japan's other enemies would also have to quit. Furthermore, Japan would recruit soldiers in the colonies of the Western Powers with fake promises of independence and use them to reinforce its own army. Two offensives were to be launched in 1944 to strengthen Japan's situation while making the operations of the Allies more difficult and costly.

One offensive was to cut the supply route to British-American bases in Assam, a province in northeast India, from which the Americans had established an air supply route to China called "The Hump" because it involved flying over the Himalayas. The Japanese also hoped that the offensive would produce a revolt by Indian nationalists and enable them to establish a puppet regime in Delhi under the Indian collaborator Subhas Chandra Bose. This operation ended in total defeat and led to the retaking of Burma by the British-Indian army by May 1945. The other offensive was in China and had two purposes. It was to secure a Japanese-controlled railway connecting forces in northern and southern China and simultaneously seize air bases built for American long-range bombers to attack the Japanese home islands. This offensive was entirely successful. Chinese resistance was crushed after some heavy fighting, most of the air bases were captured, and the Chinese Nationalist regime was so weakened as to play no further part in the war and, subsequently, to be defeated by the Communists. The victory over Chiang Kai-shek's forces, however, could not save Tojo Hideki, the Japanese prime minister, from losing his position because of a simultaneous Japanese defeat in the Marianas.


While continuing their advance by landings along the northern shore of New Guinea and on small islands off its coast, especially Biak, the Americans were also striking across the central Pacific. The key target was the island of Saipan in the Marianas. Seizure of the island would provide a base for long-range bombers to attack the Japanese home islands, would make it easier to cut Japanese supply lines to their conquests farther south, and would provide a stepping-stone to other islands in the chain, primarily Tinian and Guam. The invasion in June 1944 proved very difficult because of fierce resistance; but not only was it eventually successful, it also precipitated the defeat of the Japanese naval force originally sent to help the Japanese garrison on Biak but instead diverted to Saipan. These American land and naval victories led to the fall of Tojo. Together with further American advances in the southwest Pacific, success in the Marianas prepared the way for the return of American forces to the Philippines.

In Europe the Allies planned to attack Germany from the south, west, and east while continuing to attack its industry and cities from the air. This last was assisted by the use of long-range fighter planes to escort American daylight bombers and, in the process, effectively crushed German fighter defenses in February and March 1944. In May Allied forces in Italy pierced the German lines below Rome, and, although failing to cut off the retreating German units, liberated Rome on 4 June. They pushed north from there and seized important airfields. They were unable to end German resistance in Italy, but that also implied a continued substantial diversion of German resources to that theater.

Both the invasion in the west on 6 June and the Red Army offensive soon after were greatly assisted by the deception of German intelligence about the direction of attack. The landings in Normandy by British and American units established five small beachheads that were joined in bitter fighting. During June and July the Allies pushed the Germans back, held against small counterattacks, captured the port of Cherbourg, but were unable to break into the open. A breakthrough was achieved on the American segment at the end of July. As American units poured into the French interior, the Germans mounted their main counteroffensive to cut off the penetration, but this was defeated. Large portions of the German army that had defended Normandy were destroyed, but substantial numbers of staff and soldiers escaped. As Allied forces pushed into the French interior, they were supported by the French Resistance and by an additional landing on the Mediterranean coast where ports critical for supplying the advancing armies were captured.

By early September most of France had been liberated and the Free French leader Charles de Gaulle had made a triumphal entry into Paris. From French colonies that had rallied to him in the summer of 1940 he had become both the symbol and the leader of a new France with an army that participated in the landing in the south of France and was now headed into Germany. In that country, the last remnants of opposition to the Nazi regime had been crushed after a series of efforts to kill Hitler, culminating in one on 20 July 1944, had failed in the face of overwhelming support for Hitler by the German military.

To delay the Allies, the Germans either held the French harbors as long as possible—some until May 1945—or destroyed them thoroughly. They rebuilt their forces in the west and were able to hold the Allies near the German-French border although the Americans crossed it at some points in October 1944. An attempt to seize the bridges over branches of the lower Rhine River and drive into the Netherlands and Germany on that route failed in September. As the Allies pushed against the German defenses, the latter prepared for a major counteroffensive.

The Soviet summer offensive of 22 June had been preceded by a major attack against Finland. The Red Army crushed Finnish resistance until the Finnish government sued for peace. The armistice signed in September led to fighting between the Finns and their former German allies. The latter withdrew into Norway, which they controlled until the end of the war. The preliminary Red Army operation was followed by the greatest Soviet military victory and German defeat of the war. In a series of surprise blows, carefully prepared and coordinated as well as supported by massive guerrilla strikes against German communications, the Red Army completely destroyed the German army group on the central part of the front. Soon after further major offensives in the south drove the Germans out of the rest of Ukraine. As Soviet forces advanced into prewar Poland and toward Romania, dramatic developments inside those territories affected the future course of events.

When the Red Army drove into central Poland and crossed the Vistula River above and below Warsaw, Polish underground forces inside the city rose in revolt. This underground was loyal to the government-in-exile in London and hoped to seize the city from the retreating Germans before the arrival of Soviet soldiers. Planning to establish a Communist regime in Poland loyal to Moscow, the Soviet government had broken relations with the government-in-exile, using as an excuse that government's interest in an independent investigation of the discovery at Katyń forest, not far from Smolensk, of the graves of thousands of Polish officers who had been captured by the Red Army in 1939 and shot by the Soviets in the spring of 1940. As the Germans fought the uprising and the Western Allies tried to help the insurgents by dropping supplies from planes, the Red Army halted and watched the Germans crush the Polish underground and level the Polish capital. These very conspicuous developments from August through October 1944 assured the Germans of additional months of control of the area but destroyed the great fund of public goodwill that the valiant fighting of the Red Army had created in Great Britain and the United States. Here was the clear sign of divergence in the alliance that initiated what came to be called the Cold War.

In Romania, a Red Army offensive in August 1944 was met by a coup against the regime of General Ion Antonescu that made it possible to destroy German forces in that country. Soviet forces units occupied Romania and were joined by Romanian troops in the fight against the Germans and their Hungarian allies. The Soviet Union thereupon declared war on Bulgaria and occupied that country. These advances of the Red Army facilitated direct contact with the Communist partisans of the Yugoslav resistance leader Tito and obliged the Germans to initiate a general withdrawal from Crete, the Aegean islands, Greece, Albania, and southern Yugoslavia. British troops landed in Greece and became involved in a civil war there. The major fighting in the winter of 1944–1945, however, took place in Hungary as the Red Army drove into that country and surrounded its capital, Budapest.

The Germans, having lost the oil fields of Romania, fought fiercely to retain those of Hungary. Their main effort, however, went into an offensive in the west. Mobilizing all possible reserves, they struck in December at the Americans in the Ardennes, hoping that a major victory would drive the Americans out of the war because of the collapse of their home front. That would force England out as well and enable Germany to concentrate on the eastern front. It was also their expectation that they would reach the major port of Antwerp and by depriving the Western Allies of supplies oblige them to withdraw even if not totally defeated. What Americans call the Battle of the Bulge entailed a German advance on the southern portion of the sector they assaulted, but the Germans were slowed down there and practically halted on the northern sector. With American reinforcements sent to critical points, the farthest German penetration halted, and the road junction of Bastogne held, the German offensive was exhausted. While some of the German units were then redirected to Hungary, the Western Allies pushed the Germans back to their starting positions, inflicting heavy losses in men and equipment Germany could not afford.

The depletion of Germany's strength contributed to the rapid advance of the Soviet January 1945 offensive. The Red Army rapidly overran the rest of Poland, cut off German forces in East Prussia by driving to the Baltic Sea, drove to the Oder River and even crossed it, and conquered the industrial area of Silesia too quickly for the Germans to destroy the factories and mines. After a temporary halt, the Red Army resumed the offensive. There was stiff resistance as the Soviets struck for Berlin, but in April they surrounded the city and fought their way into it. The Western Allies resumed their offensive in February, breaking German resistance on the left bank of the Rhine, crossing that river, and driving into Germany to meet the Red Army on the Elbe River at Torgau in April. Hitler committed suicide in his bunker in Berlin, having designated his navy commander, Karl Dönitz, as his successor. The latter ordered the remaining German forces to surrender unconditionally on 8 May.

Even before the end of fighting in Europe, the Americans and Soviets had begun the redeployment of forces to East Asia. There the Americans landed in October 1944 on Leyte in the Philippines. The bitter struggle over the island—which the Americans won—was accompanied by the largest naval battle of the war (the Battle of Leyte Gulf). Although the American position was severely threatened because Admiral William F. Halsey Jr. abandoned the landing force to chase a Japanese decoy fleet, a small force of American destroyers and escort carriers fought the main Japanese fleet so fiercely that the latter turned away imagining that they were facing the fleet carriers and battleships that were actually far distant. The length of the fighting on Leyte slowed but did not disrupt the American advance. In January 1945 there followed landings on the northern Philippine island of Luzon; in February, Marines landed on Iwo Jima in the Volcano Islands; and on 1 April a new American army began the slow and difficult fight for Okinawa in the Ryukyu Islands. Even as this bloodiest battle of the Pacific War was accompanied by Japanese suicide attacks, the British-Indian army completed the conquest of Burma and planned an invasion of Malaya, while Australian and American forces initiated operations against Borneo in the Dutch East Indies.

The Americans planned an invasion of Kyushu, the southernmost of the Japanese home islands. Because they expected a very difficult fight, an invasion of Manchuria by the Soviet Union was

expected to assist by tying down Japanese forces on the mainland. As decoded Japanese messages showed dramatic increases in the garrison on Kyushu, American leaders considered their options. Roosevelt had died in April, and Vice President Harry S Truman had succeeded him and authorized the Kyushu invasion in June. By the summer of 1945, the program Roosevelt had initiated for the development of atomic bombs, in which the British had been cooperating, was beginning to produce such bombs. Although the Allies originally feared that Germany might develop such a weapon, they had learned that the Germans had failed; subsequently they discovered that Japanese scientists were actually further along. The decision now was between using them on cities in the hope of shocking Japan into surrender or saving them up for support of the Kyushu landing scheduled for November. The decision of Truman, the army chief of staff General George Marshall, and the secretary of war Henry Stimson was to drop one on a city, and if that did not shift Japanese policy to drop a second one to give the impression that there was an indefinite supply, but then to save those subsequently available for the Kyushu invasion.

The defeat of Japanese forces on Okinawa appears to have brought Emperor Hirohito to recognize that Japan had to give in. The Allied leaders had called on Japan to surrender from their meeting in Potsdam after Germany's surrender. When this call was rejected, a first bomb destroyed Hiroshima (6 August), and when that did not produce the desired political effect, a second one was dropped on Nagasaki (9 August). In between these events, the Red Army broke into Manchuria and advanced rapidly. Japan's military leaders wanted to continue the war, hoping that the massive casualties they anticipated could be inflicted on the American landing would lead to a compromise. With the government leaders split evenly between advocates of surrender and continued fighting, the emperor intervened, insisting on surrender and personally making the announcement of unconditional surrender on 14 August 1945. An attempted coup in Tokyo by opponents of surrender failed narrowly, and Japanese forces followed the emperor's orders to lay down their arms.


The Germans lost because they acted on their own racial lunacies; the Japanese because they insisted on attacking a country they had no chance of defeating. The Allies won because they organized their defenses and coordinated their efforts far more effectively than their enemies. The Allies were aided by their enormously superior intelligence and substantially better political and military leadership. What collaboration the Axis found in occupied areas was offset by resistance their policies evoked.

The most costly and destructive war in history ended with approximately sixty million dead and innumerable others wounded, taken prisoner, and displaced. The Soviet Union had risen to world power status and controlled all of eastern Europe. Germany was completely occupied by its enemies. Some eleven million Germans fled or were driven from their homes into a Germany greatly reduced by cessions to the Soviet Union and Poland, the latter moved westward at Soviet insistence. Italy lost its colonial empire and a piece of territory in the northeast. Japan lost its empire, but unlike Germany, was not divided into occupation zones, retaining its unity under American supervision. The war accelerated the decolonization process started in World War I. A new international organization, the United Nations, was organized during hostilities and could try to cope with the problems of the postwar world. These were accentuated by new weapons, especially that combining the German ballistic missile (the V-2) with the American atomic bomb into the intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM).

Inside almost all participants the war had brought great changes. In the United States, there was a major shift of industry and population to the South, Southwest, and West. Furthermore, major changes in the status of African Americans and women were clearly starting. In Great Britain, a swing to the left brought the Labour Party to power in July 1945 and led to the development of a welfare state even as the colonial empire dissolved. The Soviet Union had gained both territory and power, but the failure to make domestic change would erode the legitimacy that victory over a terrible invader had provided its government. France could recover and pretend to great power status again. The smaller countries of western Europe resumed their development of prior years, while those of eastern Europe had lost their independence to the Soviet Union.

The countries of Central and South America had not been as affected by the war as most others. The peoples of the Near East and North Africa could pressure for independence from Britain and France while refusing to accept the establishment of a tiny Jewish state in their midst. The colonial peoples of South and Southeast Asia were unlikely to remain under European control for long. The victorious Nationalist regime in China had been so weakened by the war with Japan and its internal problems that it soon fell to the communists. The major defeated states, Germany, Italy, and Japan, began the arduous but eventually successful evolution toward prosperous democracies.

See alsoAppeasement; Auschwitz-Birkenau; Blitzkrieg; Britain, Battle of; Buchenwald; Bulge, Battle of the; Collaboration; Concentration Camps; Dachau; D-Day; Dunkirk; Einsatzgruppen; El Alamein, Battle of; Enigma Machine; Germany; Holocaust; Italy; Japan and the Two World Wars; Jedwabne; July 20th Plot; Katyń Forest Massacre; Kursk, Battle of; Maginot Line; Molotov-Von Ribbentrop Pact; Munich Agreement; Nazism; Nuremberg Laws; Operation Barbarossa; Partisan Warfare; Potsdam Conference; Prisoners of War; Resistance; SS (Schutzstaffel); Sudetenland; Ustase; Vlasov Armies; Wannsee Conference; War Crimes; Warfare; Warsaw Ghetto; Warsaw Uprising; World War I; Zyklon B.


Allen, Lewis. Burma: The Longest War, 1941–45. 1984. Reprint, London, 2000.

Drea, Edward J. In the Service of the Emperor: Essays on the Imperial Japanese Army. Lincoln, Nebr., 1998.

Glantz, David M., and Jonathan M. House. When Titans Clashed: How the Red Army Stopped Hitler. Lawrence, Kans., 1995.

McNeill, William H. America, Britain, and Russia: Their Co-operation and Conflict, 1941–1946. 1953. Reprint, New York, 1970.

Snell, John L. Illusion and Necessity: The Diplomacy of Global War, 1939–1945. Boston, 1963.

Spector, Ronald H. Eagle against the Sun: The American War with Japan. New York, 1985.

Weinberg, Gerhard L. A World at Arms: A Global History of World War II. 2nd ed. Cambridge, U.K., 2005.

Wright, Gordon. The Ordeal of Total War, 1939–1945. New York, 1968.

Gerhard L. Weinberg

World War II

views updated May 23 2018

World War II




World War II began in 1939 and lasted until 1945. Dividing the world between the Axis Powers—Germany, Italy and Japan—and the Allies, led by the United States, Britain, and the Soviet Union, it was fought over numerous theaters in Western and Eastern Europe, the Mediterranean Sea, Africa and the Middle East, and the South Pacific and Southeast Asia. The war ended in Europe with the surrender of Germany on 8 May 1945 and in Asia when Japan surrendered on 15 August of the same year. More than fifty million people died during World War II as the consequence of genocidal acts such as the Holocaust, the US bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the war's many military confrontations—the bloodiest taking place on the Pacific and European fronts.

The new technologies of war—atomic weaponry, jet aircraft, radar—contributed to World War II's effects on both military and civilian populations. Film technologies and film cultures likewise played significant roles. Although films were made during World War I, for both the Axis and Allied nations World War II was the first truly cinematic war: lightweight 16mm equipment was developed that gave unprecedented access to images of combat; world leaders Winston Churchill, Franklin Roosevelt, Joseph Stalin, Benito Mussolini, and Adolf Hitler all had personal projectionists who screened newsreels and documentaries as well as fiction films. And for both civilian and military populations on both sides of the conflict, film educated and entertained, communicated the progress of the war, and mobilized national feeling, as both Allied and Axis nations embraced cinema as a war industry.


The Nazis took control of the German government in 1933. After their defeat in World War I and years of economic depression, Germans were vulnerable to Hitler's rhetoric of nationalism and racial purity, which blamed Communists and Jews for Germany's social and economic problems. Joseph Goebbels, Hitler's minister of propaganda, was keenly interested in cinema. He over-saw the nationalization of the film industry, achieved over the next decade by acquiring controlling interests of German companies; in 1942 these holdings, as well as those of the Austrian and Czechoslovakian national industries, were consolidated in the Nazi-owned and -directed film company Ufa.

From 1933 onward, Goebbels took a personal interest in film production and previewed every film released. He consolidated governmental control further in 1936 by limiting film imports and banning all film criticism. Film criticism was replaced by Filmbeobachtung (film observation), wherein writers merely described content without comment on the quality. In addition, Goebbels endeavored to remove all Jews from the industry, as well as others with lives or beliefs unacceptable to Nazi ideology. Both Jews and non-Jews fled the German film industry in the 1930s.

Among those who sought refuge in Hollywood were directors Fritz Lang, Max Ophuls, Robert Siodmak, Billy Wilder, and Douglas Sirk and actor Conrad Veidt. Their influence on Hollywood film was as varied as their individual talents. But collectively, their impact was most notable in the translation of German expressionist aesthetics to the American screen, particularly in those adult thrillers that postwar French film critics would dub films noirs for their characteristically dark worldview and shadowy urban milieu. Billy Wilder directed one of the first noirs, Double Indemnity (1944), whose charismatic criminal couple, snappy dialogue, and stark visual style were highly influential.

Despite Goebbels's fascination with and control over film as a tool of indoctrination, most Nazi-produced films were anodyne entertainment. They were so free of overt political bias, in fact, that captured German films were screened in the postwar Soviet Union as trophies of victory, despite the sharp repression of most aspects of public culture during the final years of Stalin's leadership. But while screens were largely filled with the same comedies and musicals popular before the war, Germany also produced propaganda films for domestic and international distribution. In the early 1930s a number of fiction films focused on the opposition of Nazis and Communists, characterizing it as a generational struggle in order to appeal to younger audiences. In Hitlerjunge Quex (Hitler Youth Quex, 1933), for example, a boy joins the Hitler youth despite the objections of his drunken Communist father; when his unsavory family life is replaced by the wholesome discipline of the Nazis, he gains a new identity and a new focus for his loyalty.

German also produced propagandist documentaries. Leni Riefenstahl directed the most famous of these, Triumph des Willens (Triumph of the Will, 1935) and Olympia (The Olympiad, 1936). Made to commemorate the Nazi Party congress in Nuremberg in 1934, Triumph of the Will was a major production, with sixteen camera crews and sets designed to highlight Nazi power. It celebrated Nazi iconography and rituals in sequences marked by geometric precision and grandeur, its modernist aesthetic used to imagine the Nazi state as a beautiful and powerful mechanism for war. Widely distributed in Europe, Triumph of the Will was never shown in the United States, although a copy was held at the Museum of Modern Art. Americans first saw excerpts of Riefenstahl's film as sequences intercut into Frank Capra's documentary series, Why We Fight (1942–1944). Documenting the Olympic games in Berlin in 1936, Riefenstahl's Olympia was meant to demonstrate both Germany's cooperation with—and its superiority over—competing nations. However, stellar performances by non-Aryans, such as the African American runner Jesse Owens, qualified its ability to validate Nazi ideology.

Shortly before Hitler announced publicly what he termed the "final solution" to Germany's "Jewish problem" in 1941, Germany distributed some explicitly anti-Semitic films. One of the most popular was the historical epic, Jud Süß (Jew Süess, 1940). Its titular villain is a Jewish businessman who corrupts and destroys all who know him; in its climax he rapes the film's heroine and tortures both her father and lover. After the war, its director, Veit Harlan, would be the only Nazi filmmaker charged and tried for war crimes. He was not convicted, despite substantial evidence that the film was used to undermine popular opposition to the Holocaust. Made with the same purpose but with less box office success, Der Ewige Jew (The Eternal Jew, 1940) was a pseudo-documentary account of Jewish corruption and conspiracy throughout history. Alongside films that portrayed Germany's enemies as worthy of complete annihilation were those that promoted nationalism and militarism: blut und boden (blood and soil) dramas. The most lavish of these was the historical reconstruction, Kolberg (1945). Also directed by Harlan, it was an epic account of Prussian resistance to the French during the Napoleonic Wars; Goebbels was especially interested in the project and diverted Nazi troops from battle to work as extras in the film. It was released in 1945, but Allied bombing of Berlin prevented its being widely seen by German audiences.

After Germany surrendered it was occupied by the Four Powers—the United States, the Soviet Union, Britain, and France. They confiscated film holdings and decentralized the industry. Likewise, thanks to extensive lobbying on the part of the Motion Picture Association of America, the Occupation Statute of 1949 that created the Federal Republic of Germany also specified that no import quotas would protect its cinema from foreign—Hollywood—competition. Although there is some debate over just how much of the West German market Hollywood controlled after the war, it is clear that Hollywood took the opportunity to continue those distribution strategies declared illegal within the United States by the US Supreme Court's Paramount Decree of 1948, making West Germany a significant source of revenue. West German production was itself healthy but somewhat lackluster until the 1960s, when a new generation of young filmmakers rejected the generic entertainments of the past and called for a new German auteurist cinema.

Unlike the German film industry, Italian cinema during World War II remained for the most part privately funded. But Mussolini, like Hitler and Goebbels, recognized the significance of cinema to his political aims. His government provided support for production, and he kept close watch on all films produced. The majority of these, as in Germany, were pure entertainment: romances, melodramas, and comedies. The values of fascism were communicated primarily in historical epics, such as 1860 (Gesuzza the Garibaldian Wife, 1934) and Scipione l'Africano (Scipio the African, 1937), which provided opportunity to celebrate Italy's national pride and military prowess; overtly political films, however, were rare. Two exceptions were films made in honor of the Fascist Party's tenth anniversary: Camicia Nera (The black shirt, 1933), which dramatized the rise of fascism, and Vecchia Guardia (The Old Guard, 1934), which recounts a violent confrontation between fascists and socialists in 1922.

For the most part, mainstream Italian production favored screen fantasies with glamorous settings and situations, including romantic comedies and so-called "white phone" melodramas. The La Canzone dell'amore (The song of love, 1930) is characteristic of those films that set contemporary stories of emotional upheaval, love, and loss in brightly lit modernist interiors. Critics writing in journals such as Bianco e nero (White and Black) called for more realistic films to be made; in the early 1940s the aesthetic direction of Italian cinema began to shift. For example, Roberto Rossellini's documentary-influenced La Nave Bianca (The White Ship, 1942) anticipated neorealist cinema in its use of a hospital ship as its setting and medical corps staff and on-duty naval officers as actors. Likewise, Luchino Visconti's adaptation of James M. Cain's novel, The Postman Always Rings Twice (1934), titled Ossessione (1943), utilized regional settings and dialogue for its story of ill-fated love.

In addition to such aesthetic innovations, developments in Italy's film industry during the war would contribute to its postwar status in international film culture. The Venice Film Festival, which was inaugurated under Mussolini's leadership in 1932, became annual in 1935, was discontinued in 1942, and then revived in 1948 (it was interrupted by student protests in 1968; and, between 1969 and 1979, editions were non-competitive), would become a model for festivals begun in Cannes and Edinburgh in 1946 as well as those established during the 1950s in Berlin, Melbourne, Sydney, San Francisco, London, Moscow, and Barcelona. These festivals showcased postwar European cinema and were vital to the development of an international art cinema. Also important to Italy's postwar role in international film culture was the development of Cinecittà. Located in the southern part of Rome and designed to house all aspects of filmmaking, it was officially opened by Mussolini in April 1937. During the war it was the hub of Italian production. After the war, when Hollywood sought means to profit abroad despite protective legislation that froze a percentage of its assets, Italy's "Hollywood on the Tiber" became a key site for international co–productions and runaway productions.

On the Pacific front, World War II was shaped by Japan's imperialist ambitions. First signaled by Japan's invasion of Manchuria in 1932 and confirmed by its invasion of China in 1937, those ambitions widened following the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 to include the entire Pacific as well as Southeast Asia.

With Japan's changing role on the world stage came significant changes in its film culture. Its film industry was one of the world's most successful and fully developed, largely consolidated in three vertically integrated companies that collaborated with one another to keep out competitors, including Hollywood. Yet despite the fact that the Japanese industry was unusually successful at competing with Hollywood, Hollywood film and film culture, along with Western fashions, jazz music, and modern dance styles, were important to the urban Japanese of the 1930s. All of this changed, however, when Japan joined the Axis Powers. Taking its cue from the Nazi use of cinema as part of Germany's plan for total war, Japan tightened its control over film content. American music, dancing, and fashions were banned from the screen; nationalist aims were given priority, and a censorship office was created to ensure adherence to new laws governing film content. Film's purpose was no longer simply to entertain, but to accurately represent Japanese national identity, values, and beliefs. In pursuing this goal, censors were alert to any omission or misrepresentation of Japanese culture. For instance, Yasujiro Ozu was the highly successful director of shomingeki, stories of the everyday life of the lower classes. But his script for Ochazuke no aji (Flavor of Green Tea Over Rice, 1952) was rejected when he failed to include the traditional meal of red rice that wives fed to husbands departing for battle.

Japanese popular cinema of the 1930s included action-packed historical films (the jidai-geki) as well as a variety of genre films devoted to depicting contemporary life (the gendai-geki). These continued to be made but were increasingly directed toward the wartime goal of heightening national pride. During the early war years, the jidai-geki became less of an action genre and directed more toward depicting the power and grandeur of abstract values associated with military action, such as honor, duty, and self-sacrifice, as in Abe ichizoku (The Abe Clan, 1938). In the wartime epic Genroku Chushingura (The 47 Ronin), released in two parts in 1941, Kenji Mizoguchi recasts the familiar story in such a way that it focuses entirely on the nobility of sacrifice rather than on violence. The jidai-geki only recovered its fast-paced action orientation when young director Akira Kurosawa made Sugata Sanshiro ( Judo Saga) in 1943.

An important extension of the contemporary focus of the gendai-geki came in the form of battle and home-front films. Early war films such as Five Scouts (Gonin no sekkohei, 1939) and Tsuchi to heitai (Mud and Soldiers, 1939) focused less on violence than on the more routine aspects of battle, less on individual heroism than the work of the collective, with a style reminiscent of newsreel footage. But, significantly, representations of battle changed as Japan's global role changed, and films became more jingoistic after Pearl Harbor. Thus, the post-1941 films Mother of the Sea (1942) and Rikugun (The Army, 1944) are marked by overt signs of national and militarist pride—displays of armaments as well as literal and figurative flag waving of various kinds. In these terms, the bravura displays of nineteenth-century martial arts in Sugata Sanshiro might be read as not only the result of Kurosawa's auteurist tendencies—of which more would be seen in the decades to follow—but also as a sign of changing attitudes toward combat during the 1940s.

While war films depicted the changing attitude toward militarism, home-front films consistently celebrated small victories of ordinary people who bear their burdens with good cheer and unquenched patriotism, as in Hideko no shasho-san (Hideko the Bus Conductress, 1941). As in the wartime cinemas of the United States, the United Kingdom, and the Soviet Union, home-front films are often a site for female heroism. However, distinct from those home-front films that focus on romance or maternal affection as an adjunct to or even a source of patriotic fervor for women, Japanese home-front films tended to downplay all relationships in favor of that between the individual and the nation. The exceptions were interethnic romance films, such as the hugely popular China Nights (Shino no yoru, 1940), which used heterosexual desire as a figure of Japan's imperialist ambitions: against the backdrop of war-torn Shanghai, a Chinese girl is rescued from squalor by a handsome Japanese officer and transformed from a headstrong and willful orphan to a dutiful—and typically Japanese—wife.

Following the US bombing of Japan and its consequent surrender in 1945, American forces occupied the devastated country under the command of General Douglas MacArthur and his retinue, known as SCAP—the Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers. With the goal of remaking Japan in such a way that it would cease to be a threat to Western democracies, SCAP was especially interested in the film industry as a purveyor of cultural identity and as a potential tool for cultural change. In addition to censoring what it considered dangerous topics of militarism and nationalism in prewar and wartime film, SCAP encouraged film content that it considered useful to the cause of democracy, including screenplays supporting women's rights and opposing militarism. Considered a significant aspect of Japan's transformation, the film industry was supported by the United States, although steps were taken to break down its centralized character. A time of rapid change and expansion, the decade of the 1950s is commonly considered one of Japanese cinema's most successful, a time when the domestic industry prospered despite the hundreds of American films that flooded the marketplace. Certainly, it was an era when auteurs such as Kurosawa, Ozu, and Mizoguchi took their place as part of an international art cinema.


Although the initial response to the outbreak of war in Britain in 1939 was to close all cinemas, they soon reopened and film attendance grew steadily throughout the war years. In spite of shortages, the reduction of studio space available for feature film production, and increased taxation and the consequent increases in ticket prices, World War II was a prosperous time for British cinema.

General trends in film attendance were recorded in a survey undertaken for the Ministry of Information called The Cinema Audience, which showed that film outstripped newspapers and books in its ability to reach large segments of the population. Thus, the ministry's Films Division organized a program of both theatrical and nontheatrical exhibition, utilizing commercial cinema circuits as well as such other venues as churches, canteens, and even railway stations.

Given that the ministry's purpose was propaganda and information, most of the films commissioned by the Films Division were documentaries, and its "five minute films" were designed to fit easily into a program of feature film viewing. Their content varied from news to practical information, as in When the Pie Was Opened (1941), which used a variety of animation techniques to illustrate a recipe for making vegetable pie. But the Films Division also produced longer documentaries, such as what many consider the definitive document of the blitz, the Crown Film Unit's Fires Were Started (1943), directed by Humphrey Jennings. In some cases, it even funded commercial projects, such as Michael Powell's 49th Parallel (1941), a film that explained "why we fight." Scripted by Emeric Pressburger, it also explained—by bringing the war to America's doorstep—why Americans, too, should fight: a small band of Nazis stranded in Canada have a series of ideologically charged encounters with a French-Canadian trapper, an ethnically-German religious community, and an English intellectual who studies Native American cultures. In each encounter the opposition between democracy and Nazi ideology is made clear. Featuring two bankable British stars, Leslie Howard and Laurence Olivier, as well as a strong dose of adventure, it made top box office in Britain and abroad.

Following the bombing of British cities in 1940 and 1941, filmmakers called for fewer war films because they believed that an exhausted public needed escape from battle. In 1942 the Films Division issued a statement regarding its willingness to balance production between war films and other types of propaganda, provided that the films produced were of a high quality and positively represented the British identity and the democratic way of life. Depictions of a popular war ensued, a war fought on a variety of fronts by a variety of ordinary British people. For example, The Foreman Went to France (1942) and Millions Like Us (1943) depicted the wartime experiences and contributions of factory workers.

The successes of wartime British cinema would carry over into the early 1950s. After Powell and Pressburger's success with 49th Parallel, they continued to work together; one of their most popular wartime films was the portrait of military heroism, The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (The Adventures of Colonel Blimp, 1943). Still making films together in the 1950s, they constituted one of the most important creative collaborations in British cinema.

France was invaded by Germany in June 1940. The Nazis occupied Paris while a right-wing French government was established in Vichy. At the beginning of the Occupation, all films screened for French audiences were German productions. Some proved popular, including the anti-Semitic Jud Süß, but French audiences preferred French films, so domestic production was resumed in 1941. The Germans invested heavily in France's film industry, considering it both good diplomacy—to demonstrate the benefits of cooperation—and an investment in the future of a German-controlled European film industry. In the absence of films from its main competitor, Hollywood, French film enjoyed greater profits in the Occupation era than it had garnered before the invasion. Meanwhile, in the unoccupied zone, the Vichy government formed the Comité d'Organisation de l'Industrie Cinématographique (COIC) in 1940 to control film production. Both the scope of the COIC's distribution and its funding were limited, although it received support from the United States and Italy.

b. Bisacquino, Sicily, Italy, 18 May 1897, d. 3 September 1991

One of the most famous directors of the studio era—and one of the very few to have his name above the title—Frank Capra is best remembered today for a series of populist comedies he made in the 1930s, most notably Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936), Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939), and Meet John Doe (1941). Although his career before that was both prolific and varied, the comedies that pitted the little guy against corrupt institutions struck a responsive chord with Depression-era audiences.

Capra began his career in 1922, directing the independent short Fultah Fisher's Boarding House. Working his way into the industry, Capra became a comedy writer for both Hal Roach, for some of his Our Gang comedy shorts, and Mack Sennett, the recognized master of slapstick comedy. Capra then worked on three popular comedies starring the comedian Harold Lloyd, including Tramp, Tramp, Tramp (1926) and The Strong Man (1926). But the pair parted ways when Lloyd decided to direct his own films. In 1928 Harry Cohn, president of Columbia Pictures, then a struggling studio, hired Capra as a house director. Directing twenty-five films for the studio over the next ten years, nine of which were made in the first year alone, Capra rose to preeminence at Columbia.

The early Columbia films were in a variety of genres, but the perky comedy Platinum Blonde (1931), starring Jean Harlow, was a defining point in Capra's career. The film marked the first of eight collaborations with the writer Robert Riskin. One of their collaborations, It Happened One Night (1934), starring Clark Gable as a working class journalist and Claudette Colbert as a spoiled socialist who find themselves thrown together on a road trip adventure, swept the Oscars® and is recognized as one of the prototypes of the screwball comedy genre.

When the United States entered World War II, Capra joined the Army and produced a series of training films, the most important of which are seven collectively known as Why We Fight (1943–1945). Because Capra's Hollywood comedies were on one level entertaining pro-American propaganda, he proved adept at more overt political propaganda, bringing together a variety of cinematic techniques, clever editing, and a sure-handed manipulation of cultural iconography to sway Americans from their earlier isolationist stance and to motivate soldiers for battle.

After the war Capra's vision just as quickly seemed out of date, and he lost step with audiences. His later films failed to capture the success of his prewar work. Capra's major postwar film, It's a Wonderful Life (1946), reveals the director's loss of idealism and faith in the common man, as it requires the divine intervention of an angel to restore the hero's faith in American tradition and the masses.


Platinum Blonde (1931), American Madness (1932), The Bitter Tea of General Yen (1933), It Happened One Night (1934), Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936), Lost Horizon (1937), Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939), Meet John Doe (1941), Why We Fight, 1: Prelude to War (1943), Why We Fight, 2: The Nazis Strike (1943), Why We Fight, 3: Divide and Conquer (1943), Arsenic and Old Lace (1944), Know Your Enemy: Japan (1945), It's a Wonderful Life (1946)


Capra, Frank. The Name Above the Title: An Autobiography. New York: Macmillan, 1971.

Carney, Raymond. American Vision: The Films of Frank Capra. Cambridge, UK and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1986.

Glatzer, Richard, and John Raeburn, eds. Frank Capra: The Man and His Films. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1975.

McBride, Joseph. Frank Capra: The Catastrophe of Success. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1992.

Barry Keith Grant

In both the Vichy and German zones during the Occupation, censorship of film content strictly forbade any mention of the war; furthermore, laws were passed in both regions to prevent the employment of Jews in the

industry as well as the screening of pre-war films with Jewish actors. In both zones the dominant genres were comedies and melodramas designed to avoid all references to contentious political topics. The departure or imprisonment of French film talent meant that a new generation of French filmmakers emerged during the Occupation, including Jacques Becker, who was active in the resistance movement; Henri-George Clouzot; Claude Autant-Lara; Jean Delannoy; and others. The most significant of these new directors was Robert Bresson, who made his first film, Les Anges du péché (Angels of the Streets), in 1943.

Marcel Carné's Les Enfants du paradis (Children of Paradise, 1945) is undoubtedly the most famous film made during the Occupation. Like the "prestige" films made during the war, it was a costume drama with extraordinarily detailed settings and a multilayered narrative that created a densely textured world of nineteenth-century Parisian theaters and nightclubs. It shared with other productions of the Occupation, such as Jean Delannoy's L'Eternal retour (The Eternal Return, 1943), a sense of fatalism that scholars have read as a veiled response to the social and cultural changes brought by the Occupation.

After the Liberation ended the Nazi Occupation, numerous small production companies competed for France's market. In 1946 the prime minister signed an agreement with the United States to do away with prewar quotas, freeing up the market for competition among French producers—and from Hollywood. Within the year it became clear that French cinema needed support and protection. The government created the Centre National de la Cinématographie to regulate production, promote French film internationally, and organize festival entries. France established new quotas for American films in 1948 and made new development funds for film available in 1953. Altogether, these responses to Hollywood's overseas expansion set the stage for a revival of the French film industry, the economic context in which the French New Wave emerged.

While the film industries of most combatant nations made significant aesthetic and industrial changes to meet the needs of war information and propaganda, Soviet cinema was already committed to the cause of indoctrination. Governed by the policy of Socialist Realism, its cinema from 1935 onward was entirely dominated by the needs and requirements of the Communist Party: formal experimentation was banned and films were designed to educate and to provide role models appropriate to Communist ideology. World War II did nothing to change this, although historian Peter Kenez has observed that the opportunities afforded by the war—to depict some of the real suffering of Soviet peoples as evidence of Nazi treachery and the need for vengeance—offered a degree of representational freedom not otherwise associated with Stalinist film.

Prior to entry into the war, the Soviets made a number of anti-Nazi films, including Professor Mamlock (1938), in which the life of a Jewish surgeon is destroyed by the Nazis. Despite ideological opposition to the Nazis, Stalin signed a nonaggression pact with Germany in August 1939 in an attempt to avoid invasion. The pact held Germany at bay until June 1941; by early 1942 areas west of Moscow were under Nazi occupation. The abuses suffered by those in this area would fuel much of the war-era film that followed, in which vengeance was a dominant theme.

The majority of these films were documentary accounts—or fiction films with strong documentary tendencies. The first newsreel appeared three days after the war began, and newsreels continued to be released every three days throughout the war, despite limited resources. The first documentary made from this newsreel material was Nasha Moskva (Our Moscow, 1941), which depicted the home-front preparation for siege undertaken by soldiers and civilians. Perhaps the most important documentary of the war was the one that followed, Razgromnemetskikh voysk pod Moskvoy (1942), which focused on German losses—its prisoners of war, its weaponry destroyed and discarded in the snow. Released in the United Kingdom and the United States under the title Moscow Fights Back, it won a New York Film Critics' award. In the documentaries that followed, Soviet filmmakers demonstrated a willingness to depict the pain and injuries of war unusual in World War II cinemas: its purpose was to stoke up Russian hatred of its enemy. For instance, in Alexander Dovzhenko's Bitva za nashu Sovetskuyu Ukrainu (Ukraine in Flames, 1943), he heightened the effect by intercutting captured Nazi footage—of smiling Germans—with images of suffering in the Ukraine.

Shortages plagued Soviet film production during the war and major studios were lost early on; when films could no longer be produced in Moscow and Leningrad, Mosfilm and Lenfilm moved to cities in Central Asia. In order to keep village soviets supplied with film during a time of limited resources, production shifted from full length to short films from 1941 to 1942; these were released in groups called the Fighting Film Collections. The shorts varied from documentaries to short dramas; the best known is called Pir v Girmunka (Feast in Zhirmunka 1941), directed by Vsevolod Pudovkin, in which a Soviet woman feeds a poisoned meal to the occupying army. In order to assure the Germans that the food is wholesome, she eats with them and dies; her body is discovered along with the enemy corpses.

From 1942 onward, feature-length production was again possible; the majority of these were war films, including a number that dealt with partisan warfare. The key themes in these films were the happiness of Soviet life before invasion, the brutality of the Nazis, and the consequent necessity for courage and vengeance on the part of both men and women. A number of films showed graphic violence against women and children, including Raduga (The Rainbow, 1944), in which a newly delivered mother is tortured, a newborn baby is killed, and a young boy who tries to bring food to a prisoner is executed. Home-front films, like partisan war films, often featured female heroes, but instead of directly fighting the evil Nazis, they struggled as civilians to support the war effort.

After the war's end, Soviet film production dropped precipitously; by the 1950s, only four or five feature films were released each year. The reason for this appears to be that under Stalin the political demands upon scripts were so strict that few could be completed.


Following World War I, Americans entered into a period of profound isolationism. The US government, despite the escalation of what Americans called the European War, would remain neutral until 1941. But with the founding of the Hollywood Anti-Nazi League in 1936, the Hollywood community politicized itself in advance of the government, a stance strengthened by the nearly complete elimination of the German market for its films. Without the worry of losing overseas profits, Hollywood from 1939 to 1941 released a number of anti-Nazi films, such as Warner Bros.' Confessions of a Nazi Spy (1939) and MGM's The Mortal Storm (1940). As a result, Hollywood drew fire from isolationist groups in the United States. This culminated in a congressional investigation led by an anti-Semitic Republican. senator from North Dakota, Gerald Nye; his accusation of "fifth column" or Communist sympathies in Hollywood would be resurrected after the war, during the House Un-American Activities Committee investigations between 1947 and 1954.

The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor ended US neutrality—and the Nye investigation. The alliance forged between Washington and Hollywood as a result of World War II was unprecedented, as Hollywood had functioned from the 1930s onward as a voluntarily self-regulated industry under the aegis of the Production Code Administration (PCA), whose standards for morality were designed to allow the Hollywood film industry to avoid costly interventions by state censors. Immediately after Pearl Harbor, President Roosevelt made film into a war industry with the creation of the Office of the Coordinator of Government Films; additionally, in 1942 he formed the Office of War Information (OWI) to oversee all government press and information services, including motion pictures. Its domestic arm, the Bureau of Motion Pictures, was a liaison between the government and Hollywood. Through an often complex process of negotiation between Hollywood and these government bodies, the ideals meant to be incorporated into the war film—abstract values such as heroism, selflessness, and the need for cooperation, as well as the more specific concerns of the OWI such as the desirability of purchasing war bonds—were added to the values and beliefs already promoted by Hollywood. Endeavoring to follow the guidelines provided in numerous memos and booklets, Hollywood studios still made comedies, musicals, dramas, romances, and action-packed adventure films, but they did so on behalf of the war effort.

Combat films such as Guadalcanal Diary (1943), Air Force, (1943) and Objective Burma (1945) were based on real events insofar as they concerned themselves with actual places and combat initiatives, but their purpose was to engage and inspire their audience as much as to inform. In doing so, they characteristically depicted an ethnically mixed group of US soldiers, metonymic of America's diversity, drawn together despite their differences by their patriotism—and by their hatred of a common enemy. In order to properly direct American hatred of its enemies, US combat films depicted Nazis as cold and efficient killers but tended to imagine the Japanese as bestial, subhuman—worthy of annihilation. Such simple representations of America's role in the war gave way, by its end, to more complex depictions of heroism, such as John Ford's They Were Expendable (1945), which withheld victory and emphasized values of tenacity and devotion to duty rather than unreflective assumptions of racial or national superiority.

b. Ruth Elizabeth Grable, St. Louis, Missouri, 18 December 1916, d. 3 July 1973

Betty Grable sang and danced her way through Hollywood movies from the age of fourteen. After signing with RKO in 1932, her most memorable roles were as the perky co-ed in films like Collegiate (1936), Pigskin Parade (1936), Campus Confessions (1938), and College Swing (1938). Her career took off in the 1940s, when she signed with Twentieth Century Fox and starred in the Technicolor musical Down Argentine Way (1940). A series of colorful, light-hearted star vehicles followed, each the definitive escapist entertainment for American civilian and military audiences during World War II: Moon Over Miami (1941); Footlight Serenade, Song of the Islands, and Springtime in the Rockies (all 1942); Sweet Rosie O'Grady and Coney Island (both 1943); Pin Up Girl (1944); and The Dolly Sisters and Billy Rose's Diamond Horseshoe (both 1945).

The US Treasury Department noted that she was the highest-paid woman in America, having made $300,000 for the year 1946–1947. This was not too surprising, given that she was the star for whose legs Fox purchased an insurance policy for a million dollars with Lloyds of London in 1940. This was most certainly a publicity stunt to launch its newest star, but it forecast what was to be Grable's best-known role during World War II—that of a pin-up girl.

Pinups, which featured idealized photos or illustrations of beautiful young women, revealingly dressed or (occasionally) nude, shown in a full-body pose, were ubiquitous in World War II visual culture. Featured on playing cards, greeting cards, calendars, matchbooks, tacked up to the walls of barracks, even hand-painted on flight jackets and the noses of planes, they formed a persistent visual presence in the lives of American soldiers. A number of Hollywood stars—like Gene Tierney, Ava Gardner, and Veronica Lake—were popular pin-ups, but the most famous and the most reproduced pin-up image was undoubtedly Grable's 1943 bathing suit photo, showing off her legendary legs. Unlike many pinups, such as the well-known photos of Rita Hayworth in a negligee kneeling in bed or that of Jane Russell reclining against a haystack, the Grable pinup did little to signify a narrative or prompt a particular fantasy. Petite in her high heels, with an almost too-large cluster of blond curls on top of her head, Grable appeared inviting and yet wholesome, sexy but not overly glamorous. With good reason, she called herself "the enlisted man's girl." Grable's pin-up image was designed to accommodate the viewer's need to dream and escape. A pocket Venus and all-American every girl, Grable's pinup was an accessible, and portable, piece of Hollywood fantasy.


Collegiate (1936), Pigskin Parade (1936), Campus Confessions (1938), College Swing (1938), Down Argentine Way (1940), Footlight Serenade (1942), Sweet Rosie O'Grady (1943), Pin Up Girl (1944), The Dolly Sisters (1945), Billy Rose's Diamond Horseshoe (1945)


Fussell, Paul. Wartime: Understanding and Behaviour in the Second World War. New York: Oxford University Press, 1989.

Martignette, Charles G., and Louis K. Meisel. The Great American Pin-Up. New York: Taschen, 2002.

Amanda Howell

Tenacity and devotion to duty were likewise central to homefront dramas. Generally speaking, these films constructed their representations of a cohesive nation—a homeland—around images of family and tended to identify the home front with the "good mother" who loves and protects. Since You Went Away (1944), an award-winning home-front drama, explored the life of a family that experiences the full range of privations and losses

associated with the war; at the hub of the household, the wife and mother dispensed good sense and affection to both her children and others. The film was an epic-length, studio-era film at three hours, and the extended family and its friends, like the combat group, appeared as a microcosm of America, bound by a common cause—and by maternal affection.

Whereas combat films and home-front dramas leavened propaganda with entertainment, other features retooled the pleasures of musical and comic entertainment for the purposes of patriotism. Important to World War II musicals was the way that popular songs linked musical fantasy worlds to everyday life during wartime—an effect heightened in films about "putting on a show," such as This Is the Army (1943). This film is structured around Irving Berlin's compositions, including "God Bless America"—a patriotic song so popular that it became the alternative US national anthem.

Comedies allowed both military and civilian audiences to laugh at the strictures of wartime. When popular entertainers donned uniforms, the resultant fish-out-of-water comedies like Abbott and Costello's Buck Privates (1941) and Bob Hope's Caught in the Draft (1941) poked fun at military discipline—and those incapable of embracing it. Home-front comedies offered the opportunity to make jokes about shared experiences—such as housing shortages, the comic premise for The More the Merrier (1943).

In addition to the role played by studios, some of Hollywood's best directors took their talents to the military, including John Ford, who was the chief of the Field Photographic Branch of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS); John Huston, who was in the US Army Signal Corps; and William Wyler, who served as an Air Force officer. In their productions, they brought Hollywood storytelling techniques to bear on representations of key battles. One of the most effective was Ford's documentary, The Battle of Midway (1942), which offered an elegiac vision of America designed, like the combat film, to inspire as well as inform. Ford's remarkable technicolor combat footage, including the dramatic image of the US flag being raised in the midst of aerial bombardment, is accompanied by snippets of traditional folk music, intercut with narration meant to reflect the views of ordinary Americans.

Wartime cinema was not only accountable to the OWI's requirement to educate, inform, and inspire; it was also subject to the oversight of the Office of Censorship, whose responsibility was to clear foreign films for import and US films for export. While the OWI concerned itself with whether or not Hollywood's productions would help to win the war, the Office of Censorship was concerned with whether or not a film might benefit the enemy, either through breaches of national security or through impolitic representations of the US or Allied nations. Alert to any curtailment of already reduced overseas markets, Hollywood soon learned to avoid its once-commonplace comic ethnic types—at least of Allied nationals—and likewise to tread a fine line in representations of the US military in its service comedies, lest its films be blocked from foreign distribution for offering representations thought to endanger—or belittle—the war effort.

The work of the Production Code Administration was entirely separate from that of the OWI and Office of Censorship. However, when there was a clash between the goal of the OWI to inform the public regarding the purpose and progress of the war and that of the PCA to protect American audiences from representations it deemed immoral, the PCA moderated its stance, particularly in regard to screen depictions of violence. Prior to the war, the Production Code had required that combat be bloodless; but as other media such as photojournalism and radio delivered more graphic information to Americans than the Code allowed on screen, motion pictures came under pressure from their audiences and from the government to likewise provide more explicit

representations. In 1943 Roosevelt, in response to advice from the OWI, urged the military to cease its policy of withholding the most brutal images of war from newsreel coverage, including images of both enemy and American dead. John Huston tested the limits of documentary reportage in his film The Battle of San Pietro (1945) and made what is perhaps the most moving of the US war-era documentaries, a graphic representation of the battle for a small Italian village in which over one thousand US soldiers were killed. After the war, explicit newsreel footage of Germany's concentration camps was shown nationwide at the request of President Dwight Eisenhower, despite the fact that its horrific images of the Holocaust violated the Code.

In qualifying the moral authority exerted by the PCA, the government tacitly acknowledged the existence of an audience rather different from the one specified by the Code, an audience to be brought into full partnership with the war effort—and the war's losses—rather than one to be protected from images that might inflame or disturb. In the late 1940s and through the 1950s and 1960s, Hollywood's relationship with its audience—newly prosperous and becoming rapidly more educated and suburbanized—would continue to change, one of many challenges the industry encountered in the postwar period.

SEE ALSO Censorship;Documentary;France;Great Britain;Holocaust;Italy;Japan;Propaganda;Russia and the Soviet Union;Ufa (Universum Film Aktiengesellschaft);Violence;War Films


Aldgate, Anthony, and Jeffrey Richards. Britain Can Take It: The British Cinema in the Second World War. Oxford and New York: Blackwell, 1986.

Avisar, Ilan. Screening the Holocaust: Cinema's Images of the Unimaginable. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1988.

Basinger, Jeanine. A Woman's View: How Hollywood Spoke to Women, 1930–1960. New York: Knopf, 1993.

Burch, Nöel. To the Distant Observer: Form and Meaning in the Japanese Cinema. London: Scolar Press, 1979.

Chambers, John Whiteclay II, and David Culbert, eds. World War II: Film and History. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1996.

Doherty, Thomas. Projections of War: Hollywood, American Culture, and World War II. New York: Columbia University Press, 1993.

Ehrlich, Evelyn. Cinema of Paradox: French Filmmaking under the German Occupation. New York: Columbia University Press, 1985.

Hirano, Kyoko. Mr. Smith Goes to Tokyo: Japanese Cinema under the American Occupation, 1945–1952. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1992.

Hull, David Stewart. Film in the Third Reich: A Study of the German Cinema, 1933–1945. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1969.

Kenez, Peter. Cinema and Soviet Society, 1917–1953. Cambridge, UK and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1992.

Kracauer, Siegfried. From Caligari to Hitler: A Psychological History of the German Film. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1947.

Mancini, Elaine. Struggles of the Italian Film Industry under Fascism, 1930–1935. Ann Arbor, MI: UMI Research Press, 1985.

Sato, Tadao. Currents in Japanese Cinema. Tokyo and New York: Kodansha International, 1982.

Welch, David. Propaganda and the German Cinema, 1933–1945. New York: Oxford University Press, 1983.

Amanda Howell

World War II

views updated Jun 11 2018

World War II


The Second World War was history's largest and most significant armed conflict. It served as the breeding ground for the modern structure of security and intelligence, and for the postwar balance of power that formed the framework for the Cold War. Weapons, materiel, and actual combat, though vital to the Allies' victory over the Axis, did not alone win the war. To a great extent, victory was forged in the work of British and American intelligence services, who ultimately overcame their foes' efforts. Underlying the war of guns and planes was a war of ideas, images, words, and impressionsintangible artifacts of civilization that yielded enormous tangible impact for the peoples of Europe, east Asia, and other regions of the world.

Scope and Consequences of the War

The war pitted some 50 Allied nations, most notable among which were the United States, United Kingdom, Soviet Union, and China, against the Axis nations. The name "Axis," a reference to the straight geographic line between the capital cities of Rome and Berlin, came from a pact signed by Germany and Italy in 1936, to which Japan became a signatory in 1940. Ultimately a number of other nations would, either willingly or unwillingly, throw in their lot with the Axis, but Germany and Japan remained the principal powers in this alliance.

Although the roots of the conflict lay before the 1930s, hostilities officially began with the German invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939, and ended with the Japanese surrender to the United States six years and one day later. The war can be divided into three phases: 193941, when Axis victory seemed imminent; 194143, when Axis conquests reached their high point even as the tide turned with the U.S. and Soviet entry into the war; and 194345, as the Allies beat back and ultimately defeated the Axis.

Over those six years, armies, navies, air units, guerrilla forces, and clandestine units would fight across millions of square miles of sea and land, from Norway's North Cape to the Solomon Islands, and from Iran to Alaska. The war would include more than a dozen significant theatres in western Europe, the north Atlantic, Italy, eastern and southern Europe, Russia, North Africa, China, southern Asia, Southeast Asia, and the Pacific islands. Less major, but still significant, engagements took place in East Africa, the Middle East, and West Africa. There were even extremely limited engagementsmostly at the level of diplomacy, espionage, or propagandain South America and southern Africa.

Death toll. World War II and its attendant atrocities would exact an unparalleled human toll, estimated at 50 million military and civilian lives lost. Combat deaths alone add up to about 19 million, with the largest share of this accounted for by 10 million Soviet, 3.5 million German, 2 million Chinese, and 1.5 million Japanese deaths. (The United States lost about 400,000, and the United Kingdom some 280,000.)

Adolf Hitler and the Nazis killed another 15.5 million in a massive campaign of genocide that included the "Final Solution," whereby some 6 million Jews were killed. Another 3 million Soviet prisoners of war, along with smaller numbers of Gypsies, homosexuals, handicapped persons, political prisoners, and other civilians rounded out the total. Principal among the Nazi executioners was the SS, led by Heinrich Himmler, which operated a network of slave-labor and extermination camps throughout central and eastern Europe.

About 14 million civilian deaths have been attributed to the Japanese. They imposed a system of forced labor on the peoples of the region they dubbed the "Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere," and literally worked millions of civilians and prisoners of war (POWs) to death in their camps. The Japanese also conducted massacres of civilians that rivaled those undertaken by the Nazis in Russia.

Soviet non-combat atrocities accounted for another 7 million deaths. Victims included members of deported nationalities, sent eastward to prevent collaboration with the Nazis; murdered German POWs; returning Soviet POWs killed because of their exposure to the West; and other campaigns of genocide conducted by Soviet dictator Josef Stalin.

World War II served as a watershed between the multi-polar world of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and the bipolar world of the Cold War. It ended the military dominance of European powers, but also

ushered in an era in which Europe, heavily aided in its recovery by the United States so as to avoid another European war, became a major economic power.

The war transformed the United States from an isolationist giant, with little interest in affairs outside the Western Hemisphere, to a modern superpower. Symbolic of this transformation was the construction of the Pentagon building, commenced just before the United States entered the war. The war also marked the birth of the modern U.S. intelligence apparatus, of which the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), led by Major General William Donovan, was the progenitor. OSS would cease to function soon after the war's conclusion, but two years later, it would be replaced by a far more lasting organization, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

Despite the wartime alliance with the Soviet Union, and the creation of the United Nations in an effort to settle international differences peacefully, the Cold War was an all but inevitable result of the war, which left only two superpowers in its wake. Thenceforth, the world would be divided between the United States and its alliesamong which would be its two wartime enemies, West Germany and Japanand the Soviet Union and its affiliates. These would include East Germany and eastern Europe; Communist China from 1949 to the Sino-Soviet rift of the late 1950s; and a number of states in the gradually emerging developing world of the Middle East, Africa, and Asia.

The conflict spelled an end to the European colonial empires, and brought independence to dozens of countries in the Middle East, Africa, and south and east Asia. Among the many states that owed their existence to the war was Israel. The effects of the Holocaust moved Western leaders to action, and Western sympathy helped ensure support for the establishment of a Jewish state.

The Axis and the Causes of the War

The victory of Benito Mussolini's Black Shirts in Italy in October 1922, introduced the world to Fascism, which reinterpreted nationalism in totalitarian terms, i.e., as an all-encompassing political movement intended to supplant all other centers of influence, such as religion, in the life of the individual. Hitler regarded Mussolini as a mentor, yet the Nazis would eclipse the Fascists in terms of strength, influence, and impact on world history.

Not only was Germany's militarily more powerful than Italy's, but the agenda of the Nazis, who took power in January 1933, had a much greater sense of urgency.

Central to Hitler's plans, outlined in his manifesto Mein Kampf (1924), was the elimination of central and eastern European Jews, who Hitler regarded as the principal barrier to German European dominance. Intimately tied with this plan was his vision of conquest and colonization in Russia and eastern Europe, which wouldafter the Jews and Slavs had been exterminatedconstitute a German empire or reich that Hitler predicted would last a thousand years.

This consciously millenarian vision drew on German history and national mythology, citing as the first and second reichs the Holy Roman Empire of the Middle Ages and the German Empire of 18701918 respectively. It appealed not only to longstanding strains of anti-Semitism in Europe, which dated back at least to the time of Crusades, but also to disaffection with what the Germans regarded as their betrayal and humiliation in World War I and with the Versailles Treaty of 1919. In a country that had recently been devastated by inflationGermany's economic crisis preceded the worldwide Great Depression by several years, and was even more severeNazism seemed to offer a solution for strengthening a once-great nation that had fallen on difficult times.

Communism and the Spanish Civil War. At a rhetorical and symbolic level, Hitler opposed Communism, and used the threat of Soviet Russia as justification for his moves to arm Germany in the 1930s. In reality, the Nazis and Soviets provided one another with mutual assistance, continuing a pattern begun in World War I, when imperial Germany had aided V. I. Lenin. After the war, German aristocrats, nationalists, and Communists all opposed, and helped bring down, the liberal democratic Weimar Republic. Though Hitler killed thousands of Communists after he gained power in January 1933, German military forces trained in Russia, and Germany provided Russia with equipment.

This secret relationship would become public when the two sides signed the Non-Aggression Pact on August 23, 1939, but until that time, Hitler and Stalin made much of their putative opposition to one another. The Spanish Civil War (193639) provided them with a proxy battleground, as Germany and Italy tried out new armaments in support of the Nationalists, led by Francisco Franco. The Republican side turned to Stalin for help, but he gave them little assistance while siphoning resources and leaders, some of whom went to Moscow and never returned.

On the other hand, the romance and mythology of the Republican cause provided the Soviets with a propaganda victory that comported well with their current "Popular Front" strategy. In accordance with the latter, Communists worldwide ceased calls for world revolution, and instead formed alliances with liberal, socialist, and anarchist movements. Later, Stalin would form a "popular front" on a grand scale, as he aligned himself with the United States and Great Britain.

Munich and Mussolini. Hitler's rhetorical opposition to Communism won him tacit support from Britain and France, which in the 1930s regarded Nazism as the lesser of two evils. At Munich in September 1938, British and French complicity yielded Germany title to a portion of Czechoslovakia known as the Sudetenland. In the view of many historians, the Munich conference and the appeasement efforts of British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain rendered war all but inevitable.

Munich also sealed the relationship between Mussolini and Hitler. Despite their later alliance, Mussolini, a former Communist, rightly perceived significant differences between his nationalism and Hitler's racism. If Britain and France perceived Hitler as a buffer against Stalin, then Mussolini in the early 1930s seemed like a buffer against Hitler. What brought Italy and Germany together was the same complex of factors that eventually forged a three-way alliance with Japan: a shared desire for greater power, territorial ambitions that had supposedly been frustrated by the democratic powers, and a string of diplomatic and military successes that encouraged ever bolder moves.

Japan, militarism, and expansionism. When its troops marched into Manchuria in 1931, Japan launched the first in the series of conquests and invasions during the 1930s that set the stage for the war. Though nominally led by an emperor, Hirohito, by that time the nation had come under the control of military officers, who had imposed a dictatorship. The Japanese lacked a single powerful leader until Hideki Tojo emerged at the top in 1941.

Although certainly authoritarian and strictly controlled, the Japanese system was technically not totalitarian, in the sense that it did not have a specific, animating modern ideology. Instead, it relied on ancient national myths, combined with an abiding sense that Japan had been wronged in its struggle to make a place for itself as a world power. The Japanese belief system combined nationalistic and racial themes: like the Nazis, they regarded all other peoples as inferior. This would have seemingly made the Japanese and Nazi systems mutually exclusive, but because they were at opposite sides of the world, it provided a convenient formula for dividing the planet between them.

Each of the three future participants in the Axis Pact set out to test the resolve of the other powers to oppose them, and found such opposition all but nonexistent. The League of Nations, formed to put an end to wars after World War I, failed to act decisively when Italy conquered Ethiopia in 193536, when Germany occupied the Rhineland in 1936, when Japan conquered most of eastern China in 193738, or when Germany annexed Austria in 1938.

193941: The Axis triumphant. Over the course of the first nine months of 1939, Germany added the rest of Czechoslovakia, while Italy occupied Albania. Having signed the Non-Aggression Pact with Stalin in August, Hitler invaded Poland on September 1. Britain and France, which on March 29 had pledged to support Poland, declared war, but did not attack Germany. During the next few weeks, Germany and Russia divided Poland between themselves, and in November, the Soviet Union launched a separate war with Finland.

Although the Soviets eventually emerged victorious in March 1940, the Russo-Finnish War convinced Hitler of Stalin's vulnerability. Stalin had decimated his officer corps with his purges in the 1930s, and his collectivization efforts had been accompanied by the imprisonment, starvation, and deaths of millions. The Soviet Union was to prove much stronger, however, than Hitler imagined. And if Hitler believed that Japan would join him in making war on the Soviets, he was mistaken; the Soviet performance against the Japanese during the little-known tank battle at Nomonhan in Manchuria in August, 1939, effectively convinced the Japanese of Russia's true strength.

From 1939 to 1941, the Axis unquestionably had the upper hand in the conflict. During the first part of this period, nicknamed "the Phony War," hardly a shot was fired in western Europe. Only in the spring of 1940 did Hitler's forces resume action, conquering Denmark, Norway, the Low Countries, and France. The French, who relied on the defenses of the Maginot Line (designed to fight a World War Istyle conflict of limited movement), surrendered after a nominal resistance effort. Most of the country fell under direct Nazi control, which a small portion to the southeast, with the town of Vichy as its capital, formed a pro-Axis government.

The speedy capitulation of the French left the British alone in opposition to the Nazis. In May 1940, Chamberlain resigned, and was replaced by Winston Churchill. In this change, the British people gained an unexpected advantage; over the next five years, Churchill, widely regarded as one of history's great orators, would stir his people to action with a series of memorable speeches. Yet, the position of the British was perilous, and as the Nazi Luftwaffe launched an aerial campaign against them in August, it seemed that German victory was only a matter of time.

Axis victories and blunders. At about the same time that the Battle of Britain began, Mussolini attacked the British in North and East Africa. He thus unexpectedly offered England a venue for fighting the Axis outside of Europe, and eventually German forces would be diverted into the Africa campaign.

In southern Europe, Hitler managed to compel Bulgaria, Hungary, and Romania into joining the Axis, but this advantage was overshadowed by another diversion of forces caused by Mussolini. Mussolini invaded Greece in October 1940, and Greek resistance proved so fierce that in April 1941, German forces rolled into southern Europe. Churchill attempted to oppose them in Greece, but the Germans pushed back British forces, and in history's first airborne invasion, took the isle of Cretean important Mediterranean basein May.

By mid-1941, virtually all of Western Europe, except Britain and neutral Switzerland, Spain, and Sweden, belonged to the Axis. But the Balkan campaign had pushed back Hitler's timetable for the most important campaign of the war, the invasion of Russia. The purpose of all other fighting up to that point had been to eliminate opposition as Germany invaded the Soviet Union, and rather than conquer Britain, Hitler preferred to enlist it as an ally against Stalin. He called off attacks on British air bases in May 1941, but by then the Nazi bombardment had inflamed British sentiment against Germany.

194143: The Tide Turns

On June 22, 1941, the Nazis invaded Russia. Operation Barbarossa, as it was calledits name a reference to the twelfth century Holy Roman Emperor Frederick I Barbarossawas the largest land invasion in history. Fought according to the blitzkrieg ("lightning war") tactics already demonstrated elsewhere in Europe, the invasion relied on mechanized infantry divisions and Panzer (tank) columns with heavy aerial support.

The invasion would initially yield enormous victories for the Nazis, who quickly doubled the size of their territory by annexing most of western Russia. However, the Germans had started the invasion relatively late in the year and were eventually delayed in their advances, given the challenges posed by the Russian winter. This delay was partly due to the incursion into southern Europe, but also resulted from arguments between Hitler and his general staff, which put off the invasion for several weeks.

Not content to be Germany's Führer or supreme leader, Hitler also wished to be generalissimo, and eventually he would push aside all military planners and take personal control of the war effort. Not only did Hitler, a corporal in World War I, lack the generals' understanding of strategy, but he tended to be bold where prudence counseled caution, and vice versa. When he had a good chance of taking Britain, he demurred, but a year later, he swept into Russia without taking adequate stock of the consequences.

German troops were not equipped with clothing for the winter. This was in part a consequence of the fact that Hitler resisted apprising his armies or his people of the sacrifices necessary for war. Whereas the Allies immediately undertook rationing efforts, Hitler was slow to enact rationing for fear of unleashing discontent. Likewise, he was ill-inclined to equip his men for a long campaign, and thus admit that such a campaign likely awaited them.

America enters the war. Japan launched its first major offensive of the war in early December 1941, when, in addition to attacking the United States at Pearl Harbor, it swept into the Philippines, Malaya, Thailand, and Burma. The result of these decisive attacks, combined with German victories in Russia, was to bring the Axis to the height of its powers in 1942. At that point, it seemed possible that the two major Axis powers, taking advantage of anti-British unrest in Iran and India, might even link up, thus controlling a swath of land and sea from Normandy to the Solomon Islands.

In actuality, events of 1941 would serve to bring an end to Axis hopes of world conquest. While the invasion of Russia would ultimately cripple the German Wehrmacht, or army, the introduction of the United States to the war would give the Allied force a seemingly bottomless supply of equipment with which to wage the war. It also brought in a vast military force that, alongside the British, would drive back the Germans in North Africa (despite impressive resistance by the tank commander German Erwin Rommel) and make two key landings on the European continent, in Italy and France.

Thus, the attack on Pearl Harbor, intended as a first strike to eliminate American opposition, would prove a miscalculation on a par with Hitler's invasion of Russia. Hitler welcomed the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor at the time, and quickly declared war on the United States, thus, giving him justification for sinking U.S. ships crossing the north Atlantic in order to deliver supplies to Britain. This proved a benefit to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who, up to then, had been confronted by strong isolationist opposition to war with Germany.

194345: The Allies victorious. Unlike the Axis, the Allies were not bound by one single formal alliance. Instead, there were agreements such as Lend-Lease, whereby the United States provided equipment to Great Britain even before it entered the war. Later, America would extend Lend-Lease to the Soviet Union, providing considerable assistance to its future Cold War enemy.

There were also a number of conferences whereby the leaders of the Allied nations planned the postwar world. These included Newfoundland in August 1941, and Casablanca in January 1943, (United States and Britain only), Teheran in November 1943, Yalta in February 1945, and Potsdam in July 1945. (By the latter point, Roosevelt had died and was replaced by Vice-President Harry S. Truman, while Churchill had been voted out in favor of Clement Atlee and the Labour Party.)

As with the Axis alliance of Germany and Italy, there was an alliance within this alliancethat of the United States and Britain. Between Roosevelt and Churchill was a strong personal bond that reflected the ultimate commonality of aims between their two nations. More strained was the relation of these leaders with Stalin. The alliance with Soviet Russia was a marriage of convenience, as all three powers faced a common enemy in Nazi Germany, but Churchill in particular never let down his guard where Stalin was concerned. (And he was right to do so, as Stalin's intelligence services were busy gathering secrets in England.)

To a much smaller extent, the United States and United Kingdom made common cause with the Chinese Nationalists, led by Chiang Kai-shek, and the Free French under General Charles de Gaulle. In neither case did these leaders speak for their entire nations. Chiang's Nationalists expended greater resources on fighting the Communists, led by Mao Tse-tung, than they did against the Japanese invaders. The Communists, who enjoyed widespread peasant support, proved able defenders, and though they would become enemies of the United States, at the time America regarded them as a useful ally against the Japanese. As for de Gaulle, who operated from London, he represented only a tiny portion of France, most of which made little effort to resist Nazi and Vichy rule.

Driving back the Axis in Europe. In Russia, the Germans got as far as the suburbs of Moscow before the winteralong with the resurgent Red Army and a defiant populacecaught up with them. Lengthy sieges at Stalingrad and Leningrad (the latter lasting more than 800 days) would spell an end to German hopes of conquest. Led by Georgi Zhukov, the Red Army gradually drove back the Germans and began the long, steady push into central Europe.

After defeating the Germans in North Africa in late 1942, the Allies invaded Sicily in July 1943, and Italy itself on September 9. This forced Mussolini to retreat to northern Italy, where he would serve as puppet ruler of a Nazi-controlled state for the remaining two years of his life. On June 6, 1944, an Allied force of some 2,700 ships and 176,000 U.S., British, Canadian, and other troops landed at Normandy, in the largest amphibious invasion in history.

By the end of 1944, Allied victory in Europe began to seem all but imminent, but a number of obstacles still stood in the way. Hitler's scientists had developed the V2 rocket, precursor of modern missiles, and Germany fired several of them against England. The Allies, meanwhile, relentlessly bombed German cities, bringing the Reich to its knees. The Battle of the Bulge in the Ardennes forest in December 1944 was the later major Axis offensive in Europe.

With the Soviets surrounding Berlin, Hitler on April 30, 1945, committed suicide in his bunker with his mistress, Eva Braun, along with propaganda minister Josef Goebbels and Goebbels's family. Two days earlier, Mussolini and his mistress, captured by Italian resistance fighters, had been shot. The Germans surrendered to the Allies on May 7. Only after the surrender did the full magnitude of the Holocaust become apparent, and for this and other crimes, those German military and political leaders who did not commit suicide would be tried before the World Court.

The defeat of Japan. In the carrier-dominated Battle of the Coral Sea in May 1942, the first naval battle in which opposing ships never caught sight of one another, neither side gained a clear victory, but the Allies won the upper hand at the Battle of Midway the following month. Later that summer, the U.S. Marines fought the Japanese at Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands, one of the bloodiest battles of the war. Late in 1943, the Marines began a series of assaults on Pacific islands, including the Gilbert, Marshall, Caroline, and Mariana chains. Allied forces under General Douglas MacArthur liberated the Philippines in the fall of 1944.

Early in 1945, Allied forces under Major General Curtis LeMay began dropping incendiary bombs on Japanese cities, while the Marines took the nearby islands of Iwo Jima and Okinawa. Still, the Japanese resisted, and Allied leaders contemplated a land invasion, to begin in November. The invasion, they calculated, would cost as many as 1 million American lives, with untold casualties on the among the Japanese.

Instead of invading Japan, the United States unleashed the results of the Manhattan Project, which it had begun secretly 1942. Before dropping the atomic bomb, the Allies issued one more plea for the Japanese to surrender, and when they did not, the American B-29 bomber Enola Gay dropped a bomb on the city of Hiroshima. Despite the devastation wrought by this, the first use of a nuclear weapon in warfare, the Japanese still refused to surrender. On August 9, the United States dropped a second bomb, this one on Nagasaki. At this point, Hirohito urged the nation's leaders to surrender. Tojo and several others committed suicide, and on September 2, 1945, Japanese representatives formally surrendered.

A War of Information, Images, and Ideas

The Manhattan Project was the most dramatic expression of a theme that ran through the entire conflict, that ideas and information often contribute as much to a successful military effort as do troops and weapons. Though the First World War brought airplanes into widespread use, along with tanks, and resulted in the popularization of radio soon afterward, the Second World War saw the first true marriage of science and defense to yield the military-industrial complex familiar today. Its legacy is evident in the many technological innovations that were either introduced during its course, or very soon after the fighting ended. In addition to nuclear power and the missile, these include radar, computers, jet engines, and television.

The war also introduced modern concepts of covert and special operations, on the part of the OSS, the British Special Operations Executive (SOE), military intelligence units, and special warfare units that included the Rangers and the precursors to the Navy SEALS of today. The Germans had their spies as well, some of whom even managed to infiltrate the United States, but their efforts in this regard were never as successful as those of the Allies.

Cryptology. In the cryptologic war, the Allies were the unquestioned victors. Perhaps the single greatest intelligence success of the war was the British deciphering of the Germans' secret system of communications. Early in the war, British and Polish intelligence officers obtained a German Enigma cipher machine, to which a team of mathematicians at Bletchley Park applied their expertise. The result was Ultra, the British system for reading the German ciphers.

Thanks to Ultra, the British knew many of the targets in advance during the Battle of Britain. In north Africa in 1942, Ultra helped Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery predict Rommel's actions. So vital was the Ultra secret that the British used it with the utmost of caution, careful not to act to often or too quickly on information it revealed for fear that this might tip off the Germans. Only in the 1970s did the world learn of the Ultra secret.

American successes included the breaking of the Japanese RED cipher by the U.S. Navy, and the PURPLE cipher by the U.S. Army Signal Intelligence Service prior to the war. During the war, the navy proved more successful at breaking the ciphers of its counterpart than did the army. Also notable was the American use of codetalkers transmitting enciphered messages in the Navajo Indian language, which made their transmissions indecipherable to the Japanese. Neither the Japanese nor the Germans scored any major cryptologic victory against the Allies.

Deception, secrets, and covert operations. The Allied invasion of Italy was accompanied by a number of behind-thescenes moves. Just before the invasion of Sicily, British naval intelligence obtained the body of a man who had recently died, and arranged for his bodyclad in the uniform of a major in the Royal Marinesto wash up on a shore in Spain. On his person were documents laying out a British plan for an imminent invasion of the Balkans, information the British knew the Germans (who had numerous agents in Spain) would acquire. The ruse, known as Operation Mincemeat (subject of the 1953 film The Man Who Never Was ) left the Germans unprepared for the subsequent invasion.

The surrender of most of Italy by Marshal Pietro Badoglio appears to have been the result of behind-thescenes talks with the Allies. During the moments of turmoil in the capital as Mussolini's government was over-thrown, a British intelligence officer provided Badoglio with a safe haven. In 1945, Allen Dullesfuture director of the CIAsecretly negotiated with SS General Karl Wolff for the surrender of all German forces in Italy.

Another deception campaign, known as Bodyguard, preceded the Normandy invasion of June 1944. Using German agents in England who had been turned by British intelligence, the Allies conducted an elaborate campaign designed to convince the Germans that they were attacking anywhere but Normandy. Radio transmission from Scotland seemed to indicate a thrust toward Norway, while the appearance of Montgomery near Gibraltar suggested an invasion through Spain. (In fact "Montgomery" was actually a British actor who resembled the general.)

The Normandy deception included the creation an entire unit, the First U.S. Army Group (FUSAG), from thin air. FUSAG, which was supposed to be landing at Calais rather than Normandy, had a putative commander in General George S. Patton, fresh from victories in North Africa and Italy. Large tent encampments created the illusion of massive troop strength, while fake tanks, landing craft, and other equipment gave indications that the Allies were gearing up for a major operation. So, too, did radio communications from Patton's headquarters, as well as a heavy Allied bombing campaign over Calais in the days leading up to June 6. The ploy succeed in diverting 19 German divisions from Normandy.

The race to develop an atomic bomb involved several covert operations, including British sabotage directed against Nazi weapons materials in Norway, as well as an intelligence-gathering operation known as Alsos. The name was chosen by Major General Leslie Groves, who oversaw the Manhattan Project, because alsos is Greek for "grove." Members of the Alsos team, which included both U.S. Army and Navy personnel, scoured research laboratories in Germany, Italy, France, and Belgium for information on Axis bomb-making efforts.

Propaganda. At the simplest level of ideas, propagandathough a feature of wars since the beginning of historyplayed a particularly significant role in the Second World War. Its importance to the Nazis is symbolized by the fact that in his final hours, Hitler had Goebbels beside him. Goebbels, who like Mussolini was a former Communist, had powerful instincts for making appeals to the populace, using all available media, including print, radio, and film. (The Nazis even conducted early experiments with television.)

Films by Leni Riefenstahl in the 1930s romanticized the myth of Aryan superiority, while cruder propaganda from Goebbels' office excited hatred toward Jews. During the war, Axis powers on both sides of the world made considerable use of radio through broadcasters such as Lord Haw Haw (a.k.a. William Joyce), Axis Sally (Mildred Gillars, an American), and a number of Asian females collectively dubbed "Tokyo Rose" by U.S. forces. The Allies conducted a propaganda war of their own, through radio broadcasts and the efforts of the U.S. Office of War Information and the Voice of America.



Breuer, William B. Undercover Tales of World War II. New York: J. Wiley, 1999.

Farago, Ladislas. The Game of the Foxes: The Untold Story of German Espionage in the United States and Great Britain during World War II. City: Publisher, 1971.

Persico, Joseph E. Roosevelt's Secret War: FDR and World War II Espionage. New York: Random House, 2001.

Shirer, William. The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1960.

West, Nigel. A Thread of Deceit: Espionage Myths of World War II. New York: Random House, 1985.


Army Security Agency
Cold War (1945-1950), The start of the Atomic Age
COMINT (Communications Intelligence)
Cryptology, History
FBI (United States Federal Bureau of Investigation)
FISH (German Geheimschreiber Cipher Machine
French Underground during World War II, Communication and Codes
Germany, Intelligence and Security
Italy, Intelligence and Security
Japan, Intelligence and Security
Korean War
OSS (United States Officer of Strategic Services)
Pearl Harbor, Japanese Attack on

Red Orchestra
Room 40
SOE (Special Operations Executive)
Soviet Union (USSR), Intelligence and Security
Special Relationship: Technology Sharing between the Intelligence Agencies of the United States and United Kingdom
Truman Administration (1945-1953), United States National Security Policy
Ultra, Operation
United Kingdom, Intelligence and Security
Vietnam War
World War I
World War II, The Surrender of the Italian Army
World War II, United States Breaking of Japanese Naval Codes
World War II: Allied Invasion of Sicily and 'The Man Who Never Was'

World War II

views updated Jun 11 2018

World War II








World War II was a military conflict from 1939 to 1945 that engulfed much of the globe. It is considered to have been the largest and deadliest war in world history, killing 62 million people on the battlefield, in massive bombings of civilians in cities, and by genocide. There were two hostile campsthe Axis Powers of Germany, Italy, Japan, Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary, Croatia, Slovakia, Finland (cobelligerent), Thailand, and others; and the Allied Powers of the British Empire and Commonwealth (including India, Canada, Australia and New Zealand), France, the United States, the Soviet Union, China, the Netherlands, Norway, Belgium, Poland, and others. The global reach of the empires of France, Italy, and Britain meant that non-European areas became directly involved with battles fought in Africa, the Middle East, Europe, and Asia. Organized civilian resistance movements in occupied countries (notably Yugoslavia, France, and Greece) made important contributions to the Allied war effort. The economic effects of the war have been estimated at $1 trillion in 1945 (approximately $10.5 trillion in 2005 terms). It is the only time in history that nuclear weapons were used (by the United States against Japan). The end of World War II resulted in the partitioning of Europe into East (ruled by Communist governments under the sphere of influence of the Soviet Union aligned under the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance, or Comecon, and the Warsaw Pact) and West (with democratic governments receiving economic reconstruction aid through the U.S. Marshall Plan aligned under NATO), the U.S. occupation of Japan, and new international organizations such as the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund, and the World Bank. The immediate postwar era also saw the rise of European integration efforts with the formation of the European Coal and Steel Community and the European Economic Community, which would develop into the European Union by the end of the century, and the beginning of the cold war between the United States and the Soviet Union that would mark the second half of the twentieth century.


Territorial expansion of Germany and Italy began before any military hostilities. The most noted example of territorial demands made by Hitlers Germany is Czechoslovakia (where Germans comprised one-third of the population), followed by German-speaking Austria. But the Reich sought further expansion. Many in Germany never accepted the creation of Poland following World War I, and they focused territorial demands on the Polish Corridor, a narrow strip of land separating East Prussia from Germany that allowed Poland access to the Baltic Sea, but also sought broader territory that would expand Germany to a common border with Russia. In 1935 Germany regained the Saar region, in March 1936 it reoccupied the Rhineland, and in 1937 it achieved Anschluss (union) with Austria. Italys fascist leader, Benito Mussolini, also hoped to acquire territory, particularly at the expense of France, Albania, and Greece, to create a New Roman Empire. In 1934 Italy moved against Abyssinia on the border of Italian Somaliland and Ethiopia. Territory was also an important factor in the war in Asia. One of the most often cited reasons for Japans aggression in Asia is that nations need for the raw materials naturally lacking in its own territory. Thus Japan, the only burgeoning industrial economy in Asia at the time, invaded first Manchuria, then other areas throughout the Asian mainland, and finally the Western Pacific in order to secure necessary natural resources such as oil and iron ore.

The economic effects of the Treaty of Versailles and the Great Depression were important factors in radicalizing German politics. In April 1921 Germany was presented with a reparations bill of $33 billion by the victorious allies of World War I. Reparations payments hobbled the weakened German economy, causing rapidly rising inflation and a dramatically depreciating currency. France refused Germanys request for a postponement, Germany defaulted on the war reparations in 1923, and the French army occupied part of the Ruhr (the German industrial zone). Hyperinflation ensued as the German currency, the mark, plummeted to 4 billion marks to the dollar (from 75 marks to the dollar in 1921 and 18,000 in January 1923), eliminating life savings and making salaries worthless. Groceries cost billions of marks (wheelbarrows of currency were needed for a single loaf of bread) and hunger riots broke out. In September 1923 the German government resumed reparations payments, inciting bitter popular resentment and paving the way for extremist political groups such as the Nazi Party (National Socialist Party).


Under the terms of the Treaty of Versailles, the German army was allowed to remain intact and was not forced to admit defeat by surrendering. The German general staff supported the idea that the army had not been defeated on the battlefield and could have fought on to victory were they not betrayed at home (the Dolchstosslegende, or stab-in-the-back legend) by German politicians who signed the November 1918 armistice (the November Criminals). The theory became very popular among Germans: Adolf Hitler, a World War I veteran, became obsessed with this idea, laying blame firmly on Jews and Marxists for undermining Germanys war effort. The Nazi Party won 230 of 608 seats in the Reichstag (German parliament) in January 1933; within six months Hitler was elected chancellor. The Nazis pledged to first restore Germany to its rightful place in Europe, and then to seek world power.

Racism and anti-Semitism characterized the Nazi Party, which organized official boycotts of Jewish shops and professional men and the opening of the first concentration camp in Dachau, outside Munich, in March 1933. In September 1935 the Nuremberg Laws relegated Jews to separate, second-class status and prohibited intermarriage and sexual relations with Aryan Germans. In November 1938 Nazis orchestrated a nationwide pogrom on Jews following the murder of a German diplomatic assistant in the German embassy in Paris by a French Jew. Jewish homes, shops, and 191 synagogues were destroyed and 20,000 Jews were arrested on Kristallnacht (Night of Broken Glass). German anti-Semitism culminated in the Holocaust.

Although technically an absolute monarchy under Emperor Hirohito, Japan was politically dominated by a group of militaristic generals in charge of the most powerful army in Asia at the time. Japanese militarism was accompanied by racism, toward both Europeans and other Asians, especially Chinese and Koreans. Anyone who was not Japanese was considered inferior and treated as such. One example of Japanese violent racism is General Shiro Ishiis Unit 731 experiments in Pingfan in Harbin, China, in which as many as 10,000 Chinese, Korean, and Russian prisoners of war and civilians were subjected to brutal experiments in vivisection, germ warfare, and weapons testing.


Britain and France followed an early policy of accommodation and compromise in Germanys favor in the hope of avoiding another war, known as the policy of appeasement; many thought the Treaty of Versailles imposed unreasonable demands on Germany. In June 1935 the Anglo-German Naval Agreement was signed, signaling Britains unwillingness to defend the Versailles settlement. In March 1936 German military reoccupation of the Rhineland (demilitarized under the Versailles Treaty) met with no opposition from France and thus successfully challenged Frances willingness to defend the Versailles settlement. In January 1937 Hitler publicly broke with the Treaty of Versailles.

Neville Chamberlain, the prime minister of Britain from 1937 to 1940, is known for adopting a policy of appeasement in an attempt to preserve the peace and buy time for any major rearmament. In September 1938 Britain, France, and Italy agreed at the Munich Conference to grant Czechoslovakias Sudetenland to Germany. In return, Hitler gave Chamberlain his personal word on future cooperation. The Munich Pact is considered the height of appeasement. On his return to London, Chamberlain stated: We regard the agreement signed last night [Munich Pact] and the Anglo-German Naval Agreement as symbolic of the desire of our two peoples never to go to war with one another again. My good friends, for the second time in our history, a British Prime Minister has returned from Germany bringing peace with honor. I believe it is peace for our time. Go home and get a nice quiet sleep. Chamberlain resigned in 1940 and was replaced by Winston Churchill, who led Britain to the end of the war. The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of nonaggression signed by Germany and the Soviet Union in 1939 is also considered by some historians as an act of appeasement or as an attempt by Joseph Stalin to buy time to prepare for an impending German attack on the Soviet Union.


Since 1940 the United States had allowed the covert operation in China of the American Volunteer Group, or Chennaults Flying Tigers, to assist the Chinese war effort. The Flying Tigers destroyed an estimated 115 Japanese aircraft, sunk numerous Japanese ships, and participated in the Burma land campaign. U.S. president Franklin D. Roosevelt cut exports of oil and scrap iron to Japan in 1941. Japan planned and executed a strike on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on Sunday, December 7, 1941, to cripple the U.S. Pacific fleet and consolidate oil fields in Southeast Asia. The attack on Pearl Harbor achieved military surprise and severely damaged the U.S. navy, and it remains the largest military attack on U.S. soil.

Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hitler declared war on the United States on December 11, 1941, in the hope that Japan would assist Germany by attacking the Soviet Union (it did not). Pearl Harbor, in conjunction with Hitlers declaration of war, gave Roosevelt the domestic support he needed to join the war in Europe and Asia without meaningful opposition from Congress. Many historians consider this an important turning point of the war in Europe, marking the formation of a grand alliance of powerful nations (the United Kingdom, the United States, and the Soviet Union) against Germany.


After World War II, Europe was informally partitioned into Western Europe and Eastern Europe under the NATO and Warsaw Pact military alliances and the Marshall Plan and Comecon economic arrangements. Germany was formally divided into the states of the Federal Republic of Germany (F.D.R., or West Germany) and the German Democratic Republic (G.D.R., or East Germany). Allied troops remained in Germany for decades following the war. Following German reunification in October 1990, the new united Germany still had Soviet troops stationed in its eastern provinces.

The U.S. Marshall Plan intended to rebuild the European economy and promote European unity while thwarting the political appeal of communism. For Western Europe, economic aid ended the dollar shortage and stimulated private investment for postwar reconstruction. The Marshall Plan required European states to work together to utilize the funds, an obligation that later facilitated the formation of the European Economic Community.

The Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (COMECON, Comecon, CMEA, or CEMA) was formed in 1949 as an economic organization of Communist states. Its original members were the Soviet Union, Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Albania, the German Democratic Republic, and Poland. Albania, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, and Romania, which were allied with the Axis Powers during the war, came under the Soviet sphere of influence, with their Communist governments joining the Soviet-led Comecon economic and trade area, as did Poland. In 1950 East Germany joined Comecon. (Other members included Mongolia [1962], Cuba [1972], and Vietnam [1978]. Yugoslavia [1964] was an associate member; other Communist countries or Soviet-friendly governments were observers.) Comecon members had common approaches to state economic ownership and planned management, and political regimes that espoused the ideologies of Marxism-Leninism. In 1949 the ruling Communist parties of the founding states were also linked internationally through the Cominform, the Communist Information Bureau, which established information exchanges between members. The East European members of Comecon were also militarily allied with the Soviet Union in the Warsaw Pact.

In Asia, the U.S. military occupation of Japan led to Japans democratization. Chinas civil war continued during and after World War II, culminating in the establishment of the Communist Peoples Republic of China. Europes Asian colonies India, Indonesia, and Vietnam started toward independence.


One of the most important legacies of World War II was the creation of a set of international institutions to provide for international governance of global security and monetary relations. Postwar security and economic institutions were created exclusively by the victorious Allied Powers and reflected the postwar power structure. The term United Nations was first coined by Roosevelt during the war to refer to the Allies. On January 1, 1942, the Declaration by the United Nations committed the Allies to the principles of the Atlantic Charter and pledged them not to seek a separate peace with the Axis Powers. Thereafter, the Allies used the term United Nations Fighting Forces to refer to their alliance. The United Nations institutions were created during the war itself to govern international relations after the war.

The initial ideas for a global security organization were first elaborated at wartime Allied conferences in Moscow, Cairo, and Tehran in 1943. During August to October 1944 representatives from France, Britain, the Soviet Union, China, and the United States met in Dumbarton Oaks in Washington, D.C., to prepare plans for an organization that would maintain peace and security, and economic and social cooperation. The formal monetary conference predated the security conference: The United Nations Monetary and Financial Conference of July 1 to 22, 1944 (called the Bretton Woods conference), took place in Bretton Woods, New Hampshire, with 730 delegates from 45 Allied countries. It established the Bretton Woods system of international exchange-rate management that remained in place until the mid-1970s, and it produced two separate institutions (called the Bretton Woods institutions) to monitor, regulate, and facilitate international monetary affairs and finance in the postWorld War II era. The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, both headquartered in Washington, D.C., have had lasting influence on the international political economy since their inception. The International Monetary Fund was entrusted with overseeing the global financial system by monitoring exchange rates and balance of payments, providing liquidity, and offering technical and financial assistance. The World Bank, or International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD), was entrusted with providing finance such as grants or loans at preferential rates, technical assistance, and advice to countries for the purpose of economic development and poverty reduction, and for encouraging and safeguarding international investment. Although the World Banks activities have evolved to focus on developing countries, the first loan issued by the World Bank was approved on May 9, 1947, to France in the amount of $250 million for postwar reconstruction; this remains its largest loan to date in real terms. World Bank loans and grants provide financing to countries that have no access to international capital markets.

The United Nations Conference on International Organizations opened at the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco on April 25, 1945, with fifty nations and some nongovernmental organizations represented. Initially referred to as the United Nations Organization, the UN was comprised of several administrative bodies (General Assembly, Secretariat, Economic and Social Council, Trusteeship Council, and the International Court of Justice to adjudicate disputes among nations), the most prominent of which is the Security Council, where members resolve action on issues of war and aggression. (For example, all UN peacekeeping operations must be approved by the Security Council.) The United Nations Charter was signed on June 26, 1945, and the UN, headquartered in New York City, came into existence in October 1945 after the charter had been ratified by the five permanent members of the Security Council and a majority of signatory states. It replaced the League of Nations, which had been founded after World War I and had proved ineffective at preventing war and securing peace and order. The structure of the UN reflected the World War II victory, with the most powerful Alliesthe United Kingdom, France, the United States, the Soviet Union, and Chinaholding the only permanent seats in the UN Security Council with veto power over decisions. The World Bank and International Monetary Fund came into existence a few months after the UN, in December 1945 following international ratification of the Articles of Agreement (called the Bretton Woods agreements).

Another legacy of World War II saw the development and use of many new technologies, including long-range missiles, jet aircraft, radar, and atomic (nuclear) weapons. Nuclear weapons were created in the top-secret Manhattan Project in the United States (with assistance from the United Kingdom and Canada) by an international team that included émigré scientists from Central Europe, initially out of fear that Germany would develop them first. (The Soviet Union became the second nuclear power in 1949.) Nuclear weapons have only been used twice in the history of warfare, both in the closing days of World War II by the United States against Japan, the first on August 6, 1945, on the Japanese city of Hiroshima, and the second on August 9, 1945, on the Japanese city of Nagasaki. Each use comprised the dropping of a single airborne atomic bomb (atom bomb, A-bomb, or simply the bomb). The bombs killed an estimated 200,000 people (mostly civilians) instantly, and twice as many later through the effects of radiation. The advent of nuclear weapons came only weeks after the signing of the UN Charter, providing immediate impetus to concepts of arms limitation and disarmament. The first resolution of the first meeting of the UN General Assembly on January 24, 1946, was The Establishment of a Commission to Deal with the Problems Raised by the Discovery of Atomic Energy, which called upon the commission to make specific proposals for the elimination from national armaments of atomic weapons and of all other major weapons adaptable to mass destruction.

World War II atrocities and genocide in both Europe and Asia led to a consensus that nations must work to prevent such tragedies in the future. Another early objective of the United Nations was to create a legal framework for considering and acting on complaints about human rights violations. The UN Charter obliges all member nations to promote universal respect for, and observance of, human rights and to take joint and separate action to that end. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1948 as a common standard of achievement for all.

World War II resulted in a fundamental shift in global power from the weakened British Empire to the United States and the Soviet Union. Almost immediately following World War II, a protracted geopolitical, ideological, and economic struggle emerged between two of the most powerful Allied Powersthe United States and the Soviet Union. The struggle was called the cold war because it did not involve direct armed conflict between the United States and the Soviet Union, although each formed an opposing military alliance in Europe and engaged in the biggest arms race (including nuclear weapons) in history. The cold war lasted from about 1947 to the collapse of communism in the late 1980s, the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, and the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO, or the North Atlantic Alliance, Atlantic Alliance, or Western Alliance) was established with the signing of the North Atlantic Treaty on April 4, 1949, in Washington, D.C., for the purpose of collective security of the members, binding each to a military alliance with all the others. The treaty avoids identification of an enemy or concrete measures of common defense, but the implied adversary was the Soviet Union. This marked a significant change in the isolationist tendencies of the United States and signaled the lasting involvement of the United States in European security affairs. It also formally divided the World War II Allies in the West from the Soviet Union by creating a new military alliance composed largely of World War II Allied Powers. The original members of NATO were the United States, France, Britain, Belgium, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Portugal, Norway, Denmark, and Iceland (West Germany was not incorporated until 1955, after the formation of the Warsaw Pact).

In 1955 the Warsaw Pact (Warsaw Treaty, or Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation, and Mutual Assistance) was established as a military organization of Eastern and Central European Communist states to counter the threat perceived by NATO. Its members consisted of the Soviet Union, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Poland, Romania, East Germany (in 1956), and Albania (which withdrew in 1968). Similar to the NATO members, the Warsaw Pact signatories pledged to defend each other if one of them was attacked. It is noteworthy that the members of the Warsaw Pact consisted of Axis Powers as well as Allied Powers (the Soviet Union and Poland). The Warsaw Pact officially dissolved in 1991. Although not a member of NATO, the Axis Power Japan became allied with the United States. Although not a member of the Warsaw Pact, the Allied Power China was friendly to the Soviet Union. Countries such as Yugoslavia, Switzerland, Austria, India, Sweden, and Finland conspicuously maintained their neutrality by participation in the Non-Aligned Movement.

SEE ALSO Defense; Deterrence, Mutual; Disarmament; Pearl Harbor; Warfare, Nuclear; Weaponry, Nuclear


Bundy, McGeorge. 1988. Danger and Survival: Choices About the Bomb in the First Fifty Years. New York: Random House.

Churchill, Winston S. 19481953. The Second World War. 6 vols. Boston: Houghton-Mifflin.

Gaddis, John Lewis. 1997. We Now Know: Rethinking Cold War History. Oxford: Clarendon Press; New York: Oxford University Press.

Gaddis, John Lewis, ed. 1999. Cold War Statesmen Confront the Bomb: Nuclear Diplomacy Since 1945. New York: Oxford University Press.

Gilbert, Martin. 1988. Atlas of the Holocaust. New York: Pergamon Press.

Keegan, John, ed. 1978. Who Was Who in World War II. New York: T. Y. Cromwell.

Keegan, John. 1989. The Second World War. London: Hutchinson.

Kimball, Warren F. 1992. America Unbound: World War II and the Making of a Superpower. New York: St. Martins Press.

Overy, Richard J. 1995. Why the Allies Won. New York: W. W. Norton.

Shirer, William L. 1959. The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. New York: Simon and Schuster.

Tohmatsu, Haruo, and H. P. Willmott. 2004. A Gathering of Darkness: The Coming of War to the Far East and the Pacific. Lanham, MD: SR Books.

Watt, Donald Cameron. 1989. How War Came: The Immediate Origins of the Second World War, 19381939. New York: Pantheon.

Young, Robert. 1996. France and the Origins of the Second World War. New York: St. Martins Press.

Anastasia Xenias

World War II

views updated May 18 2018


World War II began in the Far East where Japan, having invaded China in 1931, became involved in full-scale hostilities in 1937. In Europe the German invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939, brought Britain and France into the war two days later. Italy declared war on Britain on June 10, 1940, shortly before the French surrender on June 21. Having defeated France but not Britain, Germany attacked the Soviet Union a year later on June 22, 1941. Then the Japanese attacked United States naval forces in Hawaii on December 7, 1941, and British colonies in Hong Kong and Malaya the following day. The subsequent German and Italian declarations of war on the United States completed the lineup: Germany, Italy, and Japan, the Axis powers of the Anti-Comintern Treaty of 1936, against the Allies: the United States of America, the British Empire and Dominions, and the Soviet Union. Only the Soviet Union and Japan remained at peace with each other until the Soviet declaration of war on August 8, 1945, two days after the atomic bombing of Hiroshima.

The pattern of the war resembled a tidal flow. Until the end of 1942 the armies and navies of the Axis continually extended their power through Europe, Africa, Asia, and the Pacific. Toward the end of 1942 the tide turned. The Allies won decisive victories in each theater: the Americans over the Japanese fleet at Midway and over the Japanese army on the island of Guadalcanal; the British over the German army in North Africa at el Alamein; and the Soviet army over the German army at Stalingrad. From 1943 onward the tide reversed, and the powers of the Axis shrank continually. Italy surrendered to an Anglo-American invasion on September 3, 1943; Germany to the Anglo-American forces on May 7, 1945, and to the Red Army the following day; and Japan to the Americans on September 7, 1945. The war was over.


Why did the Soviet Union become entangled in this war? German preparations for an invasion of the Soviet Union began in 1940, following the French surrender, for three reasons. First, the German leader Adolf Hitler believed that the presence of the Red Army to his rear was the main reason that Britain, isolated since the fall of France, had not come to terms. He expected that a knockout blow in the east would finish the war in the west. Second, if the war in the west continued, Hitler believed that Britain would use its naval superiority to blockade Germany; he planned to ensure Germany's food and oil supplies by means of overland expansion to the east. Third, Hitler had become entangled in the west only because of his aggression against Poland, but Poland was also a means to an end: a gateway to Ukraine and Russia where he sought Germany's "living space." Thus an immediate attack on the Soviet Union promised to over-come all the obstacles barring his way in foreign affairs.

At the same time the Soviet Union was not a passive victim of the war. Soviet preparations for a coming war began in the 1920s. They were stepped up following the war scare of 1927, which strengthened Josef Stalin's determination to accelerate military and industrial modernization. At this stage Soviet leaders understood that an immediate war was unlikely. They did not fear Germanywhich was still a democracy and a relatively friendly powerbut Poland, Finland, France, or Japan. They feared for the relatively distant future, and this is one reason why Soviet rearmament, although determined, was slow at first; they understood that the first task was to build a Soviet industrial base.

In the early 1930s Stalin became sharply aware of new real threats from Japan under military rule in the Far East and from Germany under the Nazis in the west. In the years that followed he gave growing economic priority to the needs of external security. However, for much of the decade Stalin was much more concerned with domestic threats; he believed his external opponents to be working against him by plotting secretly with his internal enemies rather than openly by conventional military and diplomatic means. In 19371938 he directed a savage purge of the Red Army general staff and officer corps that gravely weakened the armed forces in which he was simultaneously investing billions of rubles. The same purges damaged his own credibility on the world stage; as a result those countries with which he shared common interests became less likely to see him as a worthy ally, and his external enemies became more likely to attack him. Stalin therefore approached World War II with several deadly enemies, few friends in foreign capitals, and an army that was growing and well equipped but morally broken.

Conflict between the Soviet Union and Japan was different from conflict with Germany. Japan first: From their base in north China in May 1939, the Japanese armed forces began a series of probing border attacks on the Soviet Union that culminated in August with fierce fighting and a decisive victory for the Red Army at Khalkin-Gol (Nomonhan). After that, deterred from encroaching further on Soviet territory, the Japanese shifted their attention to the softer targets represented by British and Dutch colonial possessions in southeast Asia. In April 1941 the USSR and Japan concluded a treaty of neutrality that lasted until August 1945;

it lasted because, while Japan was fighting America and the Soviet Union was fighting Germany, neither wanted war on a second front.

In contrast to Japan, Germany was too near and too powerful for the Soviet Union to be able to deter single-handedly. Stalin's difficulty was that he lacked willing partners. Therefore, when Hitler unexpectedly offered the hand of friendship in the summer of 1939 Stalin accepted it. The result was the notorious nonaggression pact of August 23, 1939, that secretly delineated the Soviet and German spheres of influence in eastern Europe, giving western Poland to Hitler and eastern Poland and the Baltic to Stalin. Germany was to move first. When Germany did so, Britain and France entered the war.

For nearly two years Stalin stood aloof from the war in the west, exploiting the conditions created by the pact with Hitler. He traded with Germany while still preparing for war. The preparations were costly and extensive. The Red Army continued to rearm and recruit. Stalin annexed Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, and the northern part of Romania, and moved his defensive lines toward the new western frontier with Greater Germany. Attacking Finland he won a few kilometers of extra territory with which to defend Leningrad at a cost of nearly 400,000 casualties, one-third of them dead or missing. The utility of these preparations appeared doubtful. The communities living in the Soviet Union's new buffer zone were embittered by the imposition of Soviet rule; when war broke out the territory passed almost immediately into the hands of the invader. Moreover, Stalin believed these preparations to be more effective than his enemy did. He thought he had postponed war several years into the future just as Hitler was accelerating forward plans to end the peace with a surprise attack.

Stalin's true intentions, had he successfully put off a German attack in 1941, are still debated. Some have read his speeches and the plans of his generals as indicating that he envisaged launching an aggressive war on Germany; beyond that lay a future in which a defeated Germany and an exhausted Britain would leave it open to him to dominate the whole continent. Some of Hitler's generals promoted this idea after the war in order to justify themselves. While Stalin's generals sometimes entertained the idea of a preemptive strike, and Soviet military doctrine supported attack as the best means of defense, the Russian archives have demonstrated clearly that Stalin's main concern was to head off Hitler's colonial ambitions on Soviet territory; he had no plans to conquer Europe himself.

At all events it is clear that Hitler caught Stalin and the Red Army by surprise. Stalin's culpability for this has been much debated. His view of Hitler's intentions was strongly held and incorrect, and he did not permit those around him to challenge it. Still, it is worth recalling that democratic leaders could also be taken by surprise. For example, U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt, though not a brutal dictator, was surprised by the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.


Barbarossa, the German operation to destroy the Red Army and seize most of the European part of Russia, began on June 22, 1941. For the next three years Hitler committed no less than 90 percent of his ground forces to the campaign that followed. German troops quickly occupied the Baltic region, Belarus, Ukraine, now incorporating eastern Poland, and a substantial territory in Russia. Millions of Soviet soldiers were surrounded. By the end of September, having advanced more than a thousand kilometers on a front more than a thousand kilometers wide, the invaders had captured Kiev, established a stranglehold around Leningrad, and stood at the gates of Moscow.

The Germans advanced rapidly but suffered unexpectedly heavy casualties and equipment losses to chaotic and disorganized Red Army resistance. They were met with a policy of scorched earth: The Soviet authorities removed or destroyed industrial facilities, food stocks, and essential services before the occupiers arrived. German supply lines were stretched to breaking point.

In the autumn of 1941 Stalin rallied his people by appealing to Russian nationalism and imposing harsh discipline. Soviet resistance denied Hitler his chance of a quick victory at the cost of hideous casualties. Moscow was saved, and Leningrad did not surrender. In December Stalin ordered the first strategic Soviet counteroffensive. It was too ambitious and only achieved a few of its goals, but for the first time the Germans were caught off balance and had to retreat. There followed a year of inconclusive moves and countermoves on each side, but the new German successes appeared more striking. In the spring and summer of 1942 German forces advanced hundreds of kilometers further across the south of Russia towards Stalingrad and the Caucasian oil fields. Then, at the end of the year, these forces were largely destroyed in the Red Army's defense of Stalingrad and its winter counteroffensive.

After Stalingrad the position of the German forces in the south became untenable, and they were compelled to retreat. In the summer of 1943, Hitler staged his last strategic offensive in the east on the Kursk salient; the offensive failed and was answered by a more devastating Soviet counter-offensive. The German Army could no longer hope to force a stalemate, and its eventual defeat became certain. Even so, the liberation of Soviet territory from German occupation took an additional eighteen months. The German army did not collapse in defeat. As a result, the Red Army's journey from Kursk to Berlin occupied two years of bloody fighting.


The German invasion not only turned friends into enemies but also enemies into friends. In July 1941 the British signed a pact with the Soviet Union for mutual assistance. In September President Roosevelt authorized the supply of aid to the Soviet Union under the terms of the Lend-Lease Act. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December, the United States joined the war against Germany and the three countries formed an alliance that laid the foundation for the United Nations.

The Alliance was held together by a common interest in the defeat of the Axis powers. Moreover, the Soviet resistance to Hitler electrified world opinion, nowhere more than in the Allied countries. The courage of the Soviet people in the face of suffering aroused respect and admiration. Much of this was focused on the figure of Stalin, who thereby gained an extraordinary political advantage.

Behind the scenes the Alliance was fraught with tension. This was for two reasons. One was the division of labor that quickly emerged among the Allies: The richer countries supplied economic aid to the Soviet Union, which did most of the fighting. It could not be done more efficiently in any other way. Still, not all Russians felt grateful, and Stalin repeatedly demanded that the British and Americans

open a second front to draw off the German ground forces to the west. This did not happen until the Allied invasion of France in June 1944.

The other source of tension was a difference in conceptions of the postwar world. The Americans sought a liberalized global economy without empires, while Stalin wanted secure frontiers and a wide sphere of influence across eastern Europe. The British wanted to defend their own empire but were also committed to an independent postwar Poland, their reason for entering the war in 1939. Anxieties increased as it became clear that Stalin intended eastern Europe generally, and Poland in particular, to become subservient to Soviet interests after the war.


The outbreak of war in 1941 brutally exposed Stalin's miscalculations. Although badly shocked, he was not paralyzed. Among his first measures he created a Chief Headquarters, the Stavka, and began to evacuate the armor steel rolling mills on the Black Sea coast. While ordering ceaseless, often futile counterattacks, he also authorized the establishment of a broader framework for the evacuation of people and assets from the frontline regions. On June 28 his nerve gave way, and he gave in briefly to depression. On the afternoon of June 30, other leaders came to urge him to form a war cabinet, and he pulled himself together. The result was the State Defense Committee (GKO).

The progress of the war forced Stalin to change his style of leadership. At first he closely involved himself in the detail of military operations, requiring the Red Army to attack continually and ordering vengeful punishments on all who authorized or advocated retreat. He executed several generals. Communications with the front were so poor that a degree of chaos was inevitable, but on a number of occasions Stalin prevented large forces from extricating themselves from encirclement and capture. Evidently he came to recognize this style as counterproductive, because he eventually drew back from micromanaging the battlefield. He gave his generals greater freedom to decide operational details and speak their minds on strategy, although he retained unquestioned authority where he chose to exert it. This led to more effective decision making and, combined with the growing experience and confidence of his officers, laid the foundations of later victories.

Soviet victory in World War II is often cited as the justification for Stalin's prewar policies of industrialization and rearmament. From a comparative standpoint the success of the Soviet war effort is nonetheless surprising. Why did the Soviet Union not simply fall apart under massive attack, as Russia had done under rather less pressure in World War I? As industrial production was diverted to the war effort, farmers withdrew from the market. Food remained in the countryside, while the war workers and soldiers went hungry. The burdens of war were not distributed fairly among the population, and this undermined the Russian war effort both materially and psychologically. In World War II the Soviet Union was still relatively poor. Other poor countries such as Italy and Japan also fell apart as soon as the Allies seriously attacked them. Italy and Japan were relatively reliant on foreign trade and thus vulnerable to blockade. The Soviet Union depended on getting food from tens of millions of low-productivity farm workers to feed its armies and industries; this supply could easily have failed under wartime pressures.

Stalin and his subordinates did not allow the Soviet government and economy to disintegrate. The Soviet institutional capacity for integration and coordination matched that of much more developed economies. As a result, despite still being relatively poor, the USSR was able to commit a significant share of national resources to the war effort. After a wobbly start, war production soared. Food was procured and rationed effectively: Enough was allocated to soldiers and defense workers to permit sustained effort in disastrous circumstances. There was not enough to go around, and millions starved, but morale did not collapse in the way that had destroyed the tsarist monarchy. Thus collective agriculture, although a disaster in peacetime, proved effective in war.

Things nearly went the other way. The outbreak of war was a huge shock not only to Stalin personally but more generally to Soviet institutions. The bureaucratic allocation system did not collapse, and planners went on churning out factory plans and coordinating supplies, but these soon became irrelevant. On the supply side, many important military-industrial centers were lost, and the capacities they represented existed only on paper. On the demand side, army requirements to replace early losses with new supplies of soldiers and equipment were far greater than the plans. For some time the gap between real needs and real resources could not be bridged.

The first phases of mobilization were carried out in an uncontrolled way, and this proved very costly. Munitions production soared, but the production of steel, fuel, and other basic industrial goods collapsed. In 1942 an economic crisis resulted not just from the successful German offensives but also from uncontrolled mobilization in 1941. The heart of the war economy now lay in the remote interior, where many defense factories had been relocated from the west and south. But these regions were unprepared for crash industrialization: They lacked transport, power, sources of metals and components, an administrative and commercial infrastructure, and housing and food for the new workforce. Without these there was no basis for a sustained war effort.

After 1942 several factors allowed the situation to ease. Soviet victory at Stalingrad changed the military balance and the growing Allied air offensive against Germany from the west also helped to draw German resources away from the eastern front. More resources also relaxed the pressure: These came from the recovery of output from its post-invasion trough, the completed relocation of defense industry, and greater pooling of Allied resources through economic aid. It is estimated that in 1943 and 1944 the U.S. Lend-Lease program contributed roughly 10 percent of the total resources available to the Soviet economy. From the soviet consumer's point of view, 1943 appears to have been even worse than 1942, but in 1944 and 1945 there were marked improvements.

In the most dangerous periods of the war, Soviet society was held together by a combination of individual voluntarism, national feeling, and brutal discipline. There were crucial moments when the army wavered. In August 1941 and July 1942, Stalin issued notorious orders that stigmatized those who allowed themselves to be taken prisoner as traitors, penalized their families, and ordered the summary execution of all who retreated without

orders. By these barbarous methods, order in the armed forces was restored. In the civilian economy minor offenses involving absence from work as well as unauthorized quitting were ruthlessly pursued, resulting in hundreds of thousands of criminal cases each year; those convicted were sent to prison or labor camps. Food crimes involving abuse of the rationing system were severely punished, not infrequently by shooting. Spreading defeatist rumors was punished in the same way, even if it was the truth. It is not so much that everyone who supported the war effort was terrorized into doing so; rather, such measures made it much easier for individuals to choose the path of collective solidarity and individual heroism. The barbarity of German occupation policies also contributed to this outcome.


The Soviet experience of warfare was very different from that of its Allies, Britain and the United States. Large in territory and population, the Soviet Union was poorer than the other two by a wide margin in productivity and income. It was Soviet territory that Hitler wanted for his empire, and the Soviet Union was the only one of the three to be invaded. Despite this, the Soviet Union mobilized its resources and contributed combat forces and equipment to Allied fighting power far beyond its relative economic strength.

These same factors meant that the Soviet Union suffered far heavier costs and losses than its Allies. After victory, Hitler planned to resettle Ukraine and European Russia with Germans and

to divert their food supplies to feeding the German army. He planned to deprive the urban population of food and drive much of the rural population off the land. Jews and communist officials would be killed and the rest starved into forced migration to the east.

The Soviet Union suffered roughly 25 million war deaths compared with 350,000 war deaths in Britain and 300,000 in the United States; many war deaths were not recorded at the time and must be estimated statistically after the event. Combat losses account for all U.S. and most British casualties; the German bombing of British cities made up the rest. The sources of Soviet mortality were more varied. Red Army records suggest 6.4 million known military deaths from battlefield causes and half a million more from disease and accidents. In addition, 4.6 million soldiers were captured, missing, or killed or presumed missing in units that failed to report. Of these approximately 2.8 million were later repatriated or reenlisted, suggesting 1.8 million deaths in captivity and a net total of 8.7 million Red Army deaths. But the number of Soviet prisoners and deaths in captivity may be understated by more than a million. German records show a total of 5.8 million prisoners, of whom 3.3 million had died by May 1944; most of these were starved, worked, or shot to death. Considering the second half of 1941 alone, Soviet records show 2.3 million soldiers missing or captured, while in the same period the Germans counted 3.3 million prisoners, of whom 2 million had died by February 1942.

Subtracting up to 10 million Red Army war deaths from a 25-million total suggests at least 15 million civilian deaths. Thus many more Soviet civilians died than soldiers, and this is another contrast with the British and American experience. Soviet sources have estimated 11.5 million civilian war deaths under German rule, 7.4 million in the occupied territories by killing, hunger, and disease, and another 2.2 million in Germany where they were deported as forced laborers. This leaves room for millions of civilian war deaths on territory under Soviet control, primarily from malnutrition and overwork; of these, one million may have died in Leningrad alone.

In wartime specifically Soviet mechanisms of premature death continued to operate. For example, Soviet citizens continued to die from the conditions in labor camps; these became particularly lethal in 1942 and 1943 when a 20 percent annual death rate killed half a million inmates in two years. In 1943 and 1944 a new cause of death arose: The deportation and internal exile under harsh conditions of ethnic groups such as the Chechens who, Stalin believed, had collaborated as a community with the former German occupiers.

The war also imposed severe material losses on the Soviet economy. The destruction included 6 million buildings that previously housed 25 million people, 31,850 industrial establishments, and 167,000 schools, colleges, hospitals, and public libraries. Officially these losses were estimated at one-third of the Soviet Union's prewar wealth; being that only one in eight people died, it follows that wealth was destroyed at a higher rate than people. Thus, those who survived were also impoverished.


The war had a greater effect on the external position of the Soviet Union than on its internal organization and structure. The Soviet Union became a dominant regional power and quickly thereafter an atomic superpower. The wartime alliance soon fell apart, but the Soviet Union soon replaced it with a network of compliant neighboring states in central and eastern Europe and remodeled them in its own image. This set the stage for the Cold War. In the process the popular sympathy in the west for the Soviet Union's wartime struggle quickly dissipated.

Within the country, the victory of the wartime alliance gave rise to widespread hopes for political relaxation and an opening outward but these hopes were soon dashed. Living conditions remained extremely tough. Millions were homeless; it was just as hard to restore peacetime production as it had been to convert to a war footing; and the pressure to restore food supplies on top of a bad harvest led to one million or more famine deaths in Ukraine and Moldavia in 1946. In addition, Stalin used the victory not to concede reforms but to strengthen his personal dictatorship, promote nationalism, and mount new purges although with less publicity than before the war. After an initial phase of demobilization, the nuclear arms race and the outbreak of a new conventional war in Korea resulted in resumed growth of military expenditures and revived emphasis on the readiness for war. Not until the death of Stalin did the first signs of real relaxation appear.

After the famine of 1946 the Soviet economy restored prewar levels of production of most commodities with surprising speed. It took much longer, possibly several decades, to return to the path that the economy might have followed without a war. It also took decades for the Soviet population to return to demographic balance; in 1959 women born between 1904 and 1924 outnumbered men of the same generation by three to two, despite the fact that women also fought and starved.

One of the most persistent legacies of the war resulted from the wartime evacuation of industry. After the war, despite some reverse evacuation, the war economy of the interior was kept in existence. Weapons factories in the remote interior, adapted to the new technologies of nuclear weapons and aerospace, were developed into closed, self-sufficient company towns forming giant, vertically integrated systems; they were literally taken off the map so that their very existence became a well kept secret. Thus, secretiveness and militarization were taken hand in hand to new levels.

It is easier to describe the Soviet Union after the war than to say what would have happened if the war had gone the other way. World War II was a defining event in world history that engulfed the lives of nearly two billion people, but the eastern front affected the outcome of the war to a much greater extent than is commonly remembered in western culture and historical writing.

See also: cold war; lend lease; military, soviet and post-soviet; stalin, josef vissarionovich; war economy; world war i; yalta conference


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Mark Harrison

World War II

views updated May 11 2018


WORLD WAR II. In the aftermath of World War I, the United States attempted to disengage itself from European affairs. The U.S. Senate rejected American membership in the League of Nations, and in the 1920s American involvement in European diplomatic life was limited to economic affairs. Moreover, the United States dramatically reduced the size of its military in the postwar years, a measure widely supported by a public increasingly opposed to war. Events in Europe and Asia in the 1930s and early 1940s, however, made it impossible for the United States to maintain a position of neutrality in global affairs.

Rise of the Nazi Party and German Aggression

After its defeat and disarmament in World War I, Germany fell into a deep economic decline that ultimately led to the rise to power of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party during the 1930s. The Nazis rearmed the nation, reentered the Rhineland (1936), forced a union with Austria (1938), seized Czechoslovakia under false promises (1938), made a nonaggression pact with Russia to protect its eastern frontier (1939), and then overran Poland (September 1939), bringing France and Great Britain into the war as a consequence of their pledge to maintain Polish independence. In May 1940 a power thrust swept German troops forward through France, drove British forces back across the English Channel, and compelled France to surrender. An attack on England, aimed to deny use of Britain as a springboard for reconquest of the Continent, failed in the air and did not materialize on land. Open breach of the nonaggression treaty was followed by a German invasion of Russia in June 1941.

Prior to America's formal entry into war, the United States assisted France and Britain by shipping tanks and weapons. The United States turned over naval destroyers to Britain to hold down the submarine menace and itself patrolled large areas of the Atlantic Ocean against the German U-boats, with which U.S. ships were involved in prewar shooting incidents. The United States also took over rights and responsibilities at defense bases on British possessions bordering the Atlantic.

In 1940 the U.S. course was mapped by rapidly passing events. The German invasions of Norway, Denmark, Holland, Belgium, Luxembourg, and France triggered American actions. In his Chicago speech of 1937, President Franklin D. Roosevelt had promised to quarantine aggressors. In his Charlottesville, Virginia, speech on 10 June 1940, he went further. He not only indicted Germany's new partner, Italy, but also issued a public promise of help to "the opponents of force." In June also he assured himself of bipartisan political support by appointing the Republicans Frank Knox and Henry L. Stimson to head the Navy and War Departments, respectively.

The Selective Service and Training Act of 1940 instituted peacetime conscription for the first time in U.S. history, registering sixteen million men in a month. In August 1941 Roosevelt and the British prime minister, Winston Churchill, met at Argentia, Newfoundland, to formulate war aims; with their staffs they delved into overall strategy and war planning. For the first time in U.S. history the country was militarily allied before a formal declaration of war. At this meeting the Atlantic Charter was established. In September 1941 the draft act was extended beyond its previous limit of one year—even though by the slim margin of a single vote in Congress—and the full training, reorganization, and augmentation of U.S. forces began.

Japanese Attack on Pearl Harbor

During the Nazi buildup in Germany, Japan had been fortifying Pacific islands in secret violation of treaties, encroaching on China in Manchuria and Tientsin in 1931 and in Shanghai in 1932, starting open war at Peking in

1937, and thereafter, as Germany's ally, planning further conquests.

The United States opposed this Japanese expansion diplomatically by every means short of war, and military staff planning began as early as 1938 for the possibility of a two-ocean war. American policymakers determined that the nation's security depended on the survival of the British Commonwealth in Europe and the establishment in the Pacific of a U.S. Navy defense line that must run from Alaska through Hawaii to Panama.

On 7 December 1941, a sneak attack by Japanese carrier-based planes surprised and severely crippled the U.S. fleet at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, dooming American forces in the Philippines. Japan was now free to expand into Southeast Asia and the East Indies, toward Australia. On 8 December, Congress declared war on Japan, and on 11 December it responded to war declarations from Italy and Germany—allied to Japan by treaties—by similar declarations put through in a single day of legislative action in committees and on the floor of both houses of Congress.

Before the month of December was out, Churchill was again in Washington, bringing with him military and naval experts for what has been called the Arcadia conference. Within weeks Washington had created the Combined Chiefs of Staff, an international military, naval, and air body that was used throughout the war to settle strategy, establish unified command in the separate theaters of war, and issue strategic instructions to theater commanders.

Organization, Preparation, and Strategy

Almost immediately after the declaration of war, under the first War Powers Act, the United States began a reorganization and expansion of the army and the navy, including the National Guard already in federal service. Increasing numbers of reservists were called to active duty, not as units but as individuals, to fill gaps in existing units, to staff the training centers, and to serve as officers in new units being formed. Additional divisions were created and put into training, bearing the numbers of World War I divisions in most cases, but with scarcely any relation to them in locality or in personnel of previously existing reserve divisions. New activities were created for psychological warfare and for civil affairs and military government in territories to be liberated or captured. The air force also underwent a great expansion, in personnel, in units, and in planes. Notable was the creation and shipment to England of high-level, precision daylight bombing units, which worked with the British to rain tons of bombs on enemy centers. Later they assisted the invasions and major attacks. Disrupting German factories and rail

lines and weakening the entire German economy, the bombing campaign was extremely important in Hitler's downfall. The armed forces of the United States, in general, expanded their strength and put to use a host of details in tactics and in equipment that had been merely experimental in the preceding years. From new planes to new rifles, from motorization to emergency rations, from field radio telephones to long-range radar, progress was widespread.

In addition to new concepts of operation and new and improved mechanized matériel, there was an all-out popular war effort, a greater national unity, a greater systematization of production, and, especially, a more intense emphasis on technology, far surpassing the efforts of World War I. The U.S. effort would truly be, as Churchill predicted after the fall of France in 1940, "the new world with all its power and might" stepping forth to "the rescue and liberation of the old."

In an unprecedented burst of wartime legislative activity, Congress passed the Emergency Price Control Act and established the War Production Board, the National War Labor Board, the Office of War Information, and the Office of Economic Stabilization. Critical items such as food, coffee, sugar, meat, butter, and canned goods were rationed for civilians, as were heating fuels and gasoline. Rent control was established. Two-thirds of the planes of civilian airlines were taken over by the air force. Travel was subject to priorities for war purposes. There was also voluntary censorship of newspapers, under general guidance from Washington.

There was special development and production of escort vessels for the navy and of landing craft—small and large—for beach invasions. There was a program of plane construction for the air force on a huge scale and programs for the development of high-octane gasoline and synthetic rubber. Local draft boards had been given great leeway in drawing up their own standards of exemption and deferment from service and at first had favored agriculture over industry; soon controls were established according to national needs. By 1945 the United States had engaged more than sixteen million men under arms and improved its economy.

The grand strategy, from the beginning, was to defeat Germany while containing Japan, a strategy maintained and followed by the Combined Chiefs of Staff. The strategy was closely coordinated by Roosevelt and Churchill—except on one occasion when, in the early summer of 1942, Admiral Ernest J. King (chief of naval operations) and General George C. Marshall (army chief of staff) responded to the news that there would be no attempt to create a beachhead in Europe that year by suggesting a shift of U.S. power to the Pacific. Roosevelt promptly overruled them.

Campaign in the Pacific

Almost immediately after the strike at Pearl Harbor, the Japanese invaded the Philippines and overran American garrisons on Guam and Wake Island in late December. They soon captured Manila and then conquered the U.S. forces on the Bataan peninsula by April 1942, along with

the last U.S. stronghold on Corregidor on 6 May. Japan then feinted into the North Pacific, easily seizing Attu and Kiska in the Aleutian Islands, which it held until March 1943.

Gen. Douglas MacArthur had been pulled out of the Philippines before the fall of Corregidor and sent to Australia to assume responsibility for protecting that continent against Japanese invasion, increasingly imminent since Singapore and Java had been taken. With great skill, MacArthur used American and Australian forces to check Japanese inroads in New Guinea at Port Moresby. He also used land and sea forces to push back the Japanese and take the villages of Buna and Sanananda, although not until January 1943. To block a hostile thrust against MacArthur's communications through New Zealand, marine and infantry divisions landed in the Solomon Islands, where they took Guadalcanal by February 1943 after bitter, touch-and-go land, sea, and air fighting.

Almost concurrently, the navy, with marine and army troops, was attacking selected Japanese bases in the Pacific, moving steadily westward and successfully hitting the Marshall Islands at Eniwetok and Kwajalein, the Gilberts at Makin and Tarawa, and—turning north—the Marianas at Guam and Saipan in June and July 1944. To assist the army's move on the Philippines, the navy and the marines also struck westward at the Palau Islands in September 1944 and had them in hand within a month. American control of the approaches to the Philippines was now assured. Two years earlier, in the Coral Sea and also in the open spaces near Midway, in May and June 1942, respectively, the U.S. Navy had severely crippled the Japanese fleet. MacArthur's forces returned in October 1944 to the Philippines on the island of Leyte. Their initial success was endangered by a final, major Japanese naval effort near Leyte, which was countered by a U.S. naval thrust that wiped much of the Japanese fleet. U.S. forces seized Manila and Corregidor in February 1945, thus bringing to a successful conclusion the Bataan-Corregidor campaign.

American land and sea forces were now in position to drive north directly toward Japan itself. Marines had landed on Iwo Jima on 19 February and invaded Okinawa on 1 April, both within good flying distance of the main enemy islands. The Japanese navy and air force were so depleted that in July 1945 the U.S. fleet was steaming off the coast of Japan and bombarding almost with impunity. Between 10 July and 15 August 1945, forces under Adm. William F. Halsey destroyed or damaged 2,084 enemy planes, sank or damaged 148 Japanese combat ships, and sank or damaged 1,598 merchant vessels, in addition to administering heavy blows at industrial targets and war industries.

Until the island hopping brought swift successes in 1944, it had been expected that the United States would need the China mainland as a base for an attack on Japan. The sea and land successes in the central and western Pacific, however, allowed the United States, by the spring of 1945, to prepare for an attack on Japan without using

China as a base. This situation was the result of three major factors: (1) the new naval technique of employing the fleet as a set of floating air bases, as well as for holding the sea lanes open; (2) the augmentation and improvement of U.S. submarine service to a point where they were fatal to Japanese shipping, sinking more than two hundred enemy combat vessels and more than eleven hundred merchant ships, thus seriously disrupting the desperately needed supply of Japanese troops on the many islands; and (3) MacArthur's leapfrogging tactics, letting many advanced Japanese bases simply die on the vine. Not to be overlooked was MacArthur's personal energy and persuasive skill.

Campaigns in Africa and Italy

Pressures, notably from Russian leaders, began building early in the war for an invasion of the European mainland on a second front. Because of insufficient buildup in England for a major attack across the English Channel in 1942—even for a small preliminary beachhead—U.S. troops were moved, some from Britain with the British and some directly from the United States, to invade northwest Africa from Casablanca to Oran and Algiers in November 1942. After the long coastal strip had been seized and the temporarily resisting French brought to the side of the Allies, British and American forces under the command of Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower pushed east. The Germans were reinforced and concentrated. Sharp and costly fighting by air, army, and armor attacks and counterattacks, notably in February 1943 at the Kasserine Pass, ended with the Allied conquest of Tunisia and a great German surrender at Tunis, Bizerte, and Cape Bon. Meanwhile, at the Casablanca Conference in late January, Roosevelt and Churchill called for the "unconditional surrender" of the Axis powers. It would be a war to the finish, not a negotiated, temporary peace.

The next step was an invasion of Sicily, using large-scale parachute drops and perfected beach-landing skills, as a step toward eliminating Italy from the war. In September, Italy proper was invaded, the British crossing the Strait of Messina and the Americans landing at Salerno near Naples. Five days later, Italy surrendered, but the Germans occupied Rome and took control of the Italian government. After a long check midway up the "boot" of Italy on a line through Cassino, a dangerous landing was made at Anzio. Fierce German counterattacks there were stopped, and a following breakthrough carried U.S. forces past Rome, which fell on 4 June 1944. In July the Allied forces pushed through to the line of Florence and the

Arno River, the British on the east and the Americans on the west. Thereafter, although some British and American advances were made and a final offensive in April 1945 sent American troops to the Po Valley, Italy ceased to be the scene of major strategic efforts; the theater was drained to support the Normandy invasion, in southern France.

Invasion at Normandy and the Liberation of France

For the principal invasion of France, an inter-Allied planning staff had been created in March 1943 in London. In May the first tentative attack date was set, for early May of the following year, in what was called Operation Over-lord. The buildup of units and supplies proceeded steadily for nearly a year, aided by improved successes against German submarines targeting seagoing convoys. Finally, after several weeks of delays, on 6 June 1944—popularly known as D Day—the greatest amphibious invasion in history was launched across the English Channel, involving more than 5,300 ships and landing craft. It was a huge, carefully and intricately coordinated land, sea, and air action, with a precisely scheduled flow of reinforcements and supplies. The Germans anticipated that the Allies would land at Calais, so the landings along the Normandy coast caught the Germans completely by surprise.

The battle on the Normandy beaches on 6 June was vicious, particularly at Omaha Beach, where U.S. troops encountered stubborn German resistance. By nightfall the Allies had established a beachhead on the French coast, and within weeks they drove from the Normandy coast deep into the French countryside. Thick hedgerows provided the Germans with excellent defensive terrain, but relentless Allied aerial bombardment and a flank attack by U.S. infantry and tanks, under the command of Gen. George Patton, split the German lines.

The Germans reacted to this penetration by finally drawing their reserve Fifteenth Army out of the Calais area, where it had been held by an Allied ruse and the threat of a second beach landing there. They struck directly west across the American front to try to cut off the leading U.S. troops who had already begun entering Brittany. This German effort was blocked by General Omar Bradley's forces. Relentless Allied attacks shattered German resistance in northern France and on 25 August Paris fell to American divisions with scarcely a battle.

The Germans retreated rapidly and skillfully for the distant frontier and their defense lines, except where they at points resisted the British in order to try and hold the seaports along the northern coast. While these events were taking place, a landing had been made in southern France on 15 August 1944, by a Franco-American force under U.S. command. It swept from the Riviera up the Rhone Valley and joined U.S. forces that had come east across northern France from Normandy. By September Brest fell into U.S. hands, and a German army in southwest France had surrendered, completely cut off. France was almost completely liberated from German occupation.

Battle of the Bulge and German Surrender

In the fall of 1944, Allied forces began the invasion of Germany, which many observers believed tottered on the brink of collapse. On 16 December, however, the Germans launched a sweeping counterattack that caught American and British forces completely by surprise. In several days of intense fighting, the outcome of the Battle of the Bulge hung in the balance. On Christmas Eve, however, an American counterattack sent German forces reeling. American air bombardments turned the German retreat into a crushing rout. The Battle of the Bulge was the Germans' final major effort of the war. They had used up their last major resources and had failed.

Through large-scale production and mass transportation, the U.S. air forces in Europe had been built to high strength so that they could take severe losses and still defeat the enemy. From bases in Britain and from bases successively in North Africa and Italy, American bombers had struck at the heart of the German economy. Through large-scale air raids, like those on Ploesti, Romania, a decisive proportion of German oil refinery production was disabled. German planes and tanks faced severe fuel shortages. German fighter planes, beaten back by the British in 1940, were later cut down by the Americans' heavily armed bombers and their long-range fighter escorts. Except for a short, sharp, and costly new campaign in the final month of 1944, German planes had ceased to be a serious threat. At the same time, to aid the ground troops, the U.S. fighter-bombers were taking to the air under perilous conditions over the Ardennes. German flying bombs (V-1s) and rocket bombs (V-2s) had continued to blast Britain until their installations were overrun in late March 1945, but they had no effect on ground operations or on air superiority as a whole.

In February 1945 the American armies struck out into the Palatinate and swept the German forces across the Rhine. The enemy forces destroyed bridges as they crossed—all but one. On 7 March an advanced armored unit of the U.S. First Army approached the great railway bridge at Remagen, downstream from Koblenz, found it intact, dashed over it, tore the fuses from demolition charges, and drove local Germans back. Troops were hustled over the bridge for several days before it collapsed from damage, but by then pontoon bridges were in place.

Avoiding the heavily wooded Ruhr region in the center, the previously planned northern crossing of the Rhine was effected with navy, air, and parachute help on 2 March 1945; all arms drove directly eastward into Germany while the First and Third Armies drove eastward below the Ruhr, the First Army soon swinging north through Giessen and Marburg to make contact at Paderborn and Lippstadt with the northern force. More than 300,000 Germans were thus enclosed in the Ruhr pocket.

Germany's military strength had now all but collapsed. The British on the American left raced toward Hamburg and the Baltic. The U.S. First Army pressed through to Leipzig and met the Russians on 25 April 1945 at Torgau on the Elbe River, which had been established at the Yalta Conference as part of the posthostilities boundary with Russia. The U.S. Third Army dashed toward

Bavaria to prevent possible German retreat to a last stand in the south. The southernmost flank of the American forces swung southward toward Austria at Linz and toward Italy at the Brenner Pass. The U.S. Seventh Army, on 4 May, met the Fifth Army at Brenner Pass, coming from Italy, where German resistance had likewise collapsed. Germany asked for peace and signed its unconditional surrender at Allied headquarters at Reims on 7 May 1945.

Bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki; Japanese Surrender

Progress in the Pacific theater by this time had been substantial. U.S. ships and planes dominated sea and air close to Japan. Troops were soon to be redeployed from the European theater. Protracted cleanup operations against now-isolated Japanese island garrisons were coming to a close. American planes were bombing Tokyo regularly. A single raid on that city on 9 March 1945 had devastated sixteen square miles, killed eighty thousand persons, and left 1.5 million people homeless, but the Japanese were still unwilling to surrender. Approved by Roosevelt, scientists working under military direction had devised a devastating bomb based on atomic fission. A demand was made on Japan on 26 July for surrender, threatening the consecutive destruction of eleven Japanese cities if it did not. The Japanese rulers scorned the threats. President Harry S. Truman gave his consent for the use of the atomic bomb, which was dropped on Hiroshima on 6 August, killing 75,000. There were more warnings, but still no surrender. On 9 August, Nagasaki was bombed. Two square miles were devastated, and 39,000 people were killed. Five days later, on 14 August, the Japanese agreed to surrender. The official instrument of surrender was signed on 2 September 1945, on board the battleship Missouri in Tokyo Bay.

The defeat of the Axis powers did not resolve all of the geopolitical issues arising from World War II. The spirit of amity among the Allied powers collapsed shortly after the war, as the United States and the Soviet Union rapidly assumed a position of mutual hostility and distrust. Germany was divided in half by the Allied victors, with West Germany aligned with the United States and East Germany with the Soviet Union. The United States also established security pacts with Japan and Italy, bringing them within the American defense shield against the Soviets. Ironically, therefore, during the Cold War the United States found itself allied with the former Axis nations and found itself at odds with its former ally, the USSR. Not until 1990, when the Cold War finally came to an end with the collapse of the Soviet Union, was Germany reunited as one nation.


Blum, John Morton. V Was for Victory: Politics and American Culture during World War II. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1976.

Dallek, Robert. Franklin D. Roosevelt and American Foreign Policy, 1932–1945. New York: Oxford University Press, 1979.

Feis, Herbert. The Road to Pearl Harbor: The Coming of the War between the United States and Japan. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1950.

Linderman, Gerald F. The World Within War: America's Combat Experience in World War II. New York: Free Press, 1997.

Overy, Richard. Why the Allies Won. London: Jonathan Cape, 1995.

Rhodes, Richard. The Making of the Atomic Bomb. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1986.

Spector, Ronald H. Eagle Against the Sun: The American War with Japan. New York: Free Press, 1985.

Weinberg, Gerhard L. A World at Arms: A Global History of World War II. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1994.

Wyman, David S. The Abandonment of the Jews: America and the Holocaust, 1941–1945. New York: Pantheon Books, 1984.

ElbridgeColby/a. g.

See alsoAir Power, Strategic ; Aircraft Carriers and Naval Aircraft ; Army of Occupation ; Army, United States ; Blockade ; Cold War ; Lafayette Escadrille ; Mobilization ; Naval Operations, Chief of ; Navy, Department of the ; Pearl Harbor ; Unconditional Surrender ; War Crimes Trials ; War Department ; World War II, Navy in andvol. 9:America First ; Franklin D. Roosevelt's Message on War Against Japan ; Hobby's Army ; The Japanese Internment Camps, 1942 ; Total Victory Speech ; War and the Family ; Women Working in World War II .

World War II

views updated May 11 2018


War involving the Axis (Germany, Italy, Japan, Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria) against the Allies (Britain, France, the United States, the Soviet Union, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, China, Denmark, Greece, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, South Africa, and Yugoslavia).

When World War II began on 1 September 1939, the Middle East consisted of independent, semi-independent, and colonial states. From east to west they included the following: Iran and Turkey were independent, with Iran under Reza Shah Pahlavi and Turkey a republic. Syria and Lebanon were republics but under French control. Transjordan and Iraq were monarchies but under British control. Palestine was a League of Nations mandate under British control. The Arabian peninsula consisted of Saudi Arabia and Yemen, both independent, and Oman and a variety of Persian/Arabian Gulf states within the British sphere of influence. Egypt (with the strategic Suez Canal) and the Sudan were nominally independent but really under British control. Libya was an Italian colony. The French effectively controlled the rest of North AfricaTunisia, Algeria, and Moroccoexcept for the western regions under Spanish rule.

In World War II, Britain and France were allied against Germany and Italy. All except Germany had significant imperial holdings and interests in the Middle East. Germany wanted not only the defeat of Britain and France, but German gains in this region. As the war began, the Axis powers controlled only a small part of the Middle EastLibya and some other Italian territory taken during the Ethiopian annexation in 1935. The fall of France to Germany in May 1940 and the establishment of the quasi-independent Vichy republic in June 1940 dramatically
altered the balance of power: In addition to Italy's territories being in their sphere of influence, the Axis powers had acquired France's territories.

North and East African Campaigns

The British initiated their first military action in the Middle East by an attack on French naval vessels at Oran, Algeria, 3 July 1940which crippled the French fleet there (and resulted in 1,300 French dead). This was part of an effort to ensure that the Axis powers could not use the French fleet; the French squadron at Alexandria was disarmed while two French submarines in British ports joined the Free French forces fighting with the British. The next day, Italian forces from Ethiopia occupied border towns in the Sudan, and within six weeks they penetrated British Kenya and seized British Somaliland. On 13 September, Italian forces under Rodolfo Graziani invaded Egypt; they penetrated some sixty miles (90 km) within a week, and dug in along a fifty-mile (80 km) front from the coast to Sidi Barrani.

Since the threat to the Suez Canal was of primary importance, the British countered first against Graziani's army of 200,000. General Sir Archibald Wavell launched a surprise attack with an army of 63,000 on 6 December and drove through the Italian lines at Sidi Barrani, capturing 40,000 Italian troops by 12 December. The campaign continued for two months, ending with Italian surrender at Benghazi, Libya, on 7 February 1941. With advance units at al-Agheila, the British had advanced about five hundred miles (800 km), captured 130,000 Italian soldiers, and taken four hundred tanks and one thousand guns.

On 15 January 1941 the British launched an attack against Italian forces in East Africa, from the Sudan. Mogadiscio, capital of Italian Somaliland, fell on 26 February, followed by Neguelli in southern Ethiopia on 22 March; the capital, Addis Ababa, fell on 6 April.

These British successes were soon to be reversed. Germany had not yet committed her forces to Operation Barbarossa, the invasion of Russia (22 June 1941), and in February and March was able to reinforce the Italians in western Libya with two divisions under General Erwin Rommel. In the meantime, the British had turned their attention to the defense of Greece, diverting troops from North Africa.

Rommel opened his attack on 3 April, and the British retreated from their recent gains in Libya. The Axis forces drove the British back to the Egyptian frontier by 29 May. The tables then turned when Germany diverted troops from North Africa for the invasion of Russia. The British launched an offensive on 11 December and were able to drive into Libya as far as Benghazi by 25 December. A reinforced Rommel was able to begin a drive on Egypt on 22 May 1942 that did not end until checked at al-Alamayn (El Alamein), just eighty miles (127 km) from Alexandria. General Montgomery's offensive from al-Alamayn began on 23 October, resulting in expulsion of Axis forces from Egypt by 12 November and the end of the threat to Egypt and the Suez Canal.

At about the same time, on 8 November, a British-American force under U.S. General Dwight D. Eisenhower began Operation Torch, the invasion of North Africa. Allied forces disembarking in French Morocco and Algeria faced some opposition from Vichy forces, but by 11 November, the two sides had reached an armistice. Pressed by Montgomery's Eighth Army in Libya and the new threat from the west, Rommel concentrated the Axis forces in Tunisia. Into 1943, bitter fighting continued, particularly at the Kasserine Pass, but by 12 May all German and Italian resistance had ended. The Axis powers had 950,000 men dead or captured and had lost 8,000 aircraft and 2.4 million tons of shipping.

Southwest Asia and Turkey

While the significant fighting of World War II in the Middle East was in Africa, the British still faced serious threats in Southwest Asia. The regimes in both Iran and Iraq flirted with support of the Axis powers as a means of diminishing British influence over their affairs. On 2 May 1941, pro-Axis sympathizers in Iraq tried to seize power. British forces intervened and put down all resistance by 31 May. Fearing that Reza Shah Pahlavi might take Iran into the German camp in the summer of 1941, British and Soviet forces entered Iran in late August and forced him to abdicate in favor of his son, Muhammad Reza Pahlavi, on 16 September. These actions effectively secured Iraq and Iran for the Allies.

The fall of France in June 1940 threatened to bring Syria and Lebanon into the Axis sphere of influence. Quick action by the British and Free French forces prevented this. On 8 June these forces occupied Syria and Lebanon. On 16 September Syria was proclaimed an independent nation, as was Lebanon on 26 November. Both remained loyal to the Allies during World War II, but soon after the end of hostilities they were able to assert their independence and obtain the withdrawal of Allied forces from their territory.

World War I had led to the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire and the creation of the Turkish republic under Kemal Atatürk. Turkey then faced pressure from both sides and from within as World War II loomed on the horizon. Atatürk and his successor, İsmet İnönü, favored the British as the power they believed would ultimately win. Other Turks feared Britain's ally, the Soviet Union, as a traditional enemy and realized that by June 1941 German troops were within 100 miles (160 km) of Istanbul. Still others remembered the disastrous decision of October 1914, when the Ottomans joined the Central Powers in World War I.

Shortly after the beginning of World War II, on 19 October 1939, Britain and France concluded a fifteen-year mutual assistance pact with Turkey. German success in 1940 and the invasion of Russia in 1941, however, led many Turkish leaders to favor the Axis. Thus, on 1 November 1940, İnönü declared it to be Turkish policy to remain a nonbelligerent in the war, while maintaining friendly ties with both Britain and the Soviet Union. The Allies, of course, continued to pressure Turkey for support, and on 3 December 1941, just before the United States declared war, the American Lend-Lease program was extended to Turkey. İnönü still pursued a neutral course but by 1943 realized that the Axis would lose. In August 1944, Turkey broke diplomatic relations with Germany, and on 23 February 1945 it formally declared war to comply with requirements for participation in the UN conference to be held in San Francisco in April.


The Jewish and Arab populations of Palestine greeted World War II with mixed emotions. Neither was content with British rule. The Arabs resented the rule of their country by a European power pledged to uphold the Balfour Declaration (sanctioning Palestine as a haven for persecuted Jews from all parts of the world). The Jewish population, the Yishuv, suspected British commitment to the Balfour Declaration, especially since the British banned Jewish immigration into Palestine after 1939.

In light of the antisemitism of Nazi Germany and its extermination of European Jewry as a matter of state policy, the Yishuv had little recourse but to support the Allies. The resources of the Jewish community in Palestine were put at the disposal of the British, and efforts (often resisted by British authorities) were made to raise Jewish military units to support the war effort. Early in the war the Yishuv devised the Carmel Plan, to create a Jewish enclave on the Palestine coast, near Haifa, to resist a German landing and occupation. Fortunately, this never became necessary.

A small minority of Jews did continue to resist British control of Palestine. The LEHI (Stern Gang), under Abraham Stern, urged rebellion against the British and even approached the German representatives in Vichy-controlled Syria with an offer of support against the British in Palestine. Even after this offer was rejected and Stern killed in confrontation with British authorities in early 1942, this splinter group continued to resist the British; other Jewish groups then began to oppose the British as the war progressed, since British support of the Zionist cause seemed less than enthusiastic.

Some Arabs viewed Germany as an instrument to rid themselves of British rule. The mufti of Jerusalem, Hajj Amin al-Husayni, lent his support to the Nazi cause, and when fleeing from Jerusalem in 1937 and from Beirut in October 1939 to Baghdad, he established contact with the German ambassador to Turkey, Franz von Papen, offering Arab support. After an anti-British revolt in 1941, the British reestablished control of Iraq in May 1941. Hajj Amin, who participated in the revolt, left for Turkey and later for Rome and Berlin to support the Axis powers after they promised to free the Arab world and support its independence and unity. He was able to generate some support for the Axis among the Arabs, but the defeat of the Italians and Germans in North Africa prevented this from becoming a factor in the war.

The War's Effect on the Middle East

World War II ended with British and French control of most of the Middle East. The war did, however, shatter the aura of the invincibility of their arms. Consequently, rapid changes occurred in the regionArab states asserted their independence, and the Jewish population of Palestine declared the State of Israel in 1948. Iran and Turkey insisted on full partnership in the international community. The European powers would no longer have undisputed control over the fates of the peoples in this region.

With the end of the war the United States emerged the premier Western power, but the challenge of the Cold War with the Soviet Union would soon have its own impact on the oil-rich Middle East.

see also alamayn, al-; atatÜrk, mustafa kemal; husayni, muhammad amin al-;İnÖnÜ, İsmet; montgomery, bernard law; pahlavi, reza; rommel, erwin; stern, abraham; wavell, archibald percival; yishuv.


Hourani, Albert. A History of the Arab Peoples. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 1991.

Keegan, John. The Second World War. New York: Penguin, 1990.

Lewis, Bernard. The Emergence of Modern Turkey, 3d edition. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002.

Peretz, Don. The Middle East Today, 6th edition. Westport, CT: Praeger, 1994.

Sachar, Howard M. A History of Israel: From the Rise of Zionism to Our Time, 2d revised and updated edition. New York: Knopf, 1996.

Time-Life Books. WW II: Time-Life Books History of the Second World War. New York: Prentice Hall, 1989.

daniel e. spector

World War II

views updated May 21 2018


World War II (19391945) was an international conflict involving 61 countries that mobilized over 100 million people for military service in four geographic regions: Europe, Asia, Africa, and the South Pacific. The war left 55 million people dead (30 million civilian and 25 million military), cost over one trillion dollars, and resulted in more material destruction than any other armed conflict in history. The United States emerged from the war as the most powerful nation in the world, while the Soviet Union gained a stronghold over Eastern Europe.

The war pitted the Allied Powers (the United States, Canada, Australia, Great Britain, France, Russia, and China, among others) against the Axis Powers (Germany, Italy, Japan, Hungary, Bulgaria, Romania, and others). The leading figures for the Allies were U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt (19331945), British Prime Minister Winston Churchill (19401945, 19511955), and Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin (19281953). The Axis was led by German dictator Adolph Hitler (19331945), Italian dictator Benito Mussolini (19221943), and Japanese Prime Minister Hideki Tojo (19411944).

World War II began on September 1, 1939, when 1.5 million German troops invaded Poland. Germany's superior air power and technologically advanced armored and motorized divisions overwhelmed Polish forces that were often fighting on horseback with obsolete equipment. By September 20, Poland had been overrun by the German blitzkreig (lightening war).

England and France declared war on Germany in response to the invasion. Undeterred, German forces swept through Western Europe in the spring of 1940, taking Norway, Denmark, Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands. In June France was overtaken. The German war machine was not stymied until that fall when Hitler attempted to subdue Britain by air and sea. Aided by the development of radar, Britain handed Germany its first significant defeat of the war, forcing Hitler to indefinitely postpone a land invasion of England.

Despite its proclaimed neutrality, the United States was preparing for war. Congress approved the sale of surplus war material to Britain in June 1940, and it passed the first peace-time-draft legislation in September. In March 1941, Congress appropriated $7 billion in Lend-Lease aid to countries fighting against the Axis. Four months later the United States stationed Marines in Iceland and authorized the Navy to escort convoys in the area. In August President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Churchill signed the Atlantic Charter, outlining joint national policies for the postwar period.

U.S. relations with Japan were also deteriorating. In September 1940, the United States prohibited the exportation of steel, scrap iron, and aviation gasoline to Japan after Japanese troops entered northern Indochina. When Japanese troops occupied southern Indochina in July 1941, President Roosevelt retaliated by freezing Japanese assets in the United States. Diplomatic efforts between the two countries ended when Japan bombed the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on December 7, 1941. The next day Congress declared war on Japan.

Axis military conquests continued in 1942. In January Japan invaded New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, the East Indies, Burma, and the Philippines. In February Germany invaded North Africa and two months later sent troops into Greece and Yugoslavia. On June 22, 1941, Hitler ordered three million troops into Russia. Dubbed Operation "Barbarossa," Germany's invasion took the Soviet Red Army by surprise. More than a million Soviet troops were taken prisoner during the first three months of battle, and by the end of the year, German soldiers had advanced several hundred miles, camping outside of Moscow and fighting in Stalingrad.

Hitler's drive into Russia marked the peak of territorial expansion for Axis powers during World War II. It also marked a turning point. German advances were slowed by autumn rains, and then halted by the Russian winter. Most German soldiers in Russia lacked warm clothing and sufficient supplies. A number of German divisions retreated, while others were taken prisoner by the better-outfitted Russians. Reinforcements and resources sent to bolster German troops on the Eastern Front in 1942 did so at the expense of Axis campaigns on the Western Front and in Africa during 1943.

The Allies began 1943 with a string of victories in North Africa, ultimately leading to the surrender of all Axis forces on the continent by May. From North Africa the Allies invaded Sicily, where they routed enemy troops and proceeded onto the Italian mainland. Hitler's attempt to invigorate the Russian invasion during the summer of 1943 only further depleted Axis resources. As 1943 ended the Soviets were on the offensive, driving German forces back across Poland. At the same time the Allies were on the offensive in the South Pacific where U.S. troops captured the Solomon, Aleutian, and Gilbert Islands.

At the outset of 1944 the Allies drafted plans for an invasion to end the war in Europe. U.S. General Dwight D. Eisenhower (18901969) headed "Operation Overlord," the largest amphibious assault in history. In the early morning hours of D-Day, June 5, 1944, 5,000 ships, 10,000 planes, and 176,000 soldiers crossed the English Channel and pounded the beaches at Normandy, France. Despite suffering heavy casualties against well-armed, concrete-fortified German defenses known as pillboxes, the Allies opened a 60-mile beachhead through which a million troops would pass during the next month. Paris was liberated by August. The Germans made a desperate Nazi counterattack at the German-Belgian border in December 1944, which is called the "Battle of the Bulge" for the deep bulge it created in Allied lines. After its failure, the German army collapsed inside the Allied vise. U.S. forces from the west and Russian forces from the east converged at the Elbe River in April, and Germany unconditionally surrendered the next month, on May 7, 1945.

Following victory in Europe, the Allies turned their attention to the South Pacific. After securing control of Iwo Jima, the Philippines, and Okinawa, the Allies made plans for invading Japan. To avoid the heavy casualties predicted to result from such an invasion, President Harry S. Truman (19451953), who took office following President Roosevelt's death, authorized the dropping of two atomic bombs. On August 6, 1945, the first bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, and three days later the second bomb was dropped on Nagasaki. Japan unconditionally surrendered on September 2.

Prior to his death Roosevelt met with Churchill and Stalin in February 1945, at the Yalta Conference, where the three leaders agreed to separate postwar Germany into four zones that would be occupied by the United States, Great Britain, France, and the Soviet Union. During the period of occupation Germany would be disarmed and its economy rebuilt. The Red Army's occupation of its postwar zone, however, gave way to the creation of Communist governments in Eastern Europe under Soviet control. The Yalta Conference also established the groundwork for an international war crimes tribunal at Nuremberg for the prosecution of Nazi leaders. Finally, the Yalta Conference finalized details for the creation of the United Nations.

World War II also brought greater unity to the U.S. home front. Over 16 million U.S. citizens served in the armed forces during the war, so just about everyone knew a relative, friend, or acquaintance that was fighting in some part of the world. Families pulled together through food shortages, increased taxes, and lines at the gas station. An unprecedented number of women went to work, particularly in factories. Not surprisingly, the troops' return home in 1945 precipitated the postwar Baby Boom.

Topic overview

Soldiers, Sailors, and Airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force! You are about to embark upon the Great Crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you . . . I have full confidence in your courage, devotion to duty, and skill in battle. We will accept nothing less than full victory!

dwight d. eisenhower, supreme commander, allied expeditionary force, d-day, june 5, 1944

See also: Baby Boom, Home Front, Lend-Lease Act, Postwar Prosperity, United Nations, War and the Economy


Ambrose, Stephen E. Citizen Soldiers: The U.S. Army from the Normandy Beaches to the Bulge to the Surrender of Germany, June 7, 1944 to May 7, 1945. New York: Touchstone Books, 1998.

. Eisenhower: Soldier and President. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1990.

. The Victors: Eisenhower and His Boys: the Men of World War II. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1998.

Baily, Bernard, David Brion Davis, David Herbert Donald, John L. Thomas, Robert H. Wiebe, and Gordon S. Wood. The Great Republic: A History of the American People. Lexington, KY: D.C. Heath and Company, 1981.

Morris, Herman C. and Harry B. Henderson. World War II in Pictures (2 vols.). World Cleveland, 1945.

World War II

views updated Jun 08 2018


The inherent conflict between the organizational needs of a nation at war and individual rights raised several constitutional questions during World War II. Although the Roosevelt administration showed far greater sensitivity to the protection of civil liberties than did the administration of woodrow wilson, restrictions on individual rights did take place, most notably the incarceration of thousands of Japanese American citizens.

As the nation prepared for war even before Pearl Harbor, franklin d. roosevelt adopted the view that the Constitution allowed the President great flexibility in meeting his obligations as commander-in-chief. With Congress reluctant to act, Roosevelt expanded his foreign policy prerogatives by negotiating secret executive agreements. In October 1939 the United States and nineteen Latin American states established a "neutrality belt" through the Declaration of Panama. In August 1941, Roosevelt and Winston Churchill defined the war aims of the free world in the Atlantic Charter. The most famous executive agreement involved a swap of fifty overage American destroyers in exchange for British naval bases in the Caribbean. Although conservatives attacked the President's alleged dictatorial behavior, a majority in Congress and of the American people supported the agreements.

In May 1941 the President proclaimed an "unlimited" emergency to justify various defensive measures for the western hemisphere. What this meant, and on what constitutional authority it relied, remained uncertain. Attorney General frank murphy declared that "the constitutional duties of the Executive carry with them the constitutional powers necessary for their proper performance." Like abraham lincoln and Woodrow Wilson before him, Roosevelt believed in "the adequacy of the Constitution"—that whether or not specific powers were spelled out, the Constitution granted the President and Congress sufficient authority to meet any crisis.

Roosevelt's use of executive agreements and executive orders, revolutionary in themselves, masked the fact that more often than not he sought—and received—legislative authorization. The Neutrality Act of 1939, the Draft Act of 1940, the Lend-Lease Act of 1941 all gave the President broad discretion; following Pearl Harbor, Congress passed a series of measures giving the chief executive extensive powers over the economy and the government. Roosevelt not only fully utilized these powers but told the nation that he would exercise whatever authority he thought necessary for the successful prosecution of the war. At one point, Roosevelt warned that if Congress failed to repeal a portion of the 1942 Price Control Act, "I shall accept the responsibility and I will act.…The President has the power, under the Constitution, and under Congressional acts, to take measures necessary to avert a disaster." But, he assured the people, he would always act with due regard to the Constitution, and "when the war is won, the powers under which I act automatically revert to the people—where they belong."

Although wartime measures are often challenged in the courts, unless there is an egregious violation of a specific constitutional prohibition the courts will affirm the law or delay a decision until the end of hostilities. The Supreme Court heard several challenges to the sweeping price-fixing provisions in the Emergency Price Control Act of 1942. Although Congress had set few limitations on presidential discretion and although these delegations of authority far exceeded the scope of those struck down in schechter poultry corporation v. united states (1935), the Court rejected all challenges to the law; the judiciary would not second-guess the executive and legislative branches on what had to be done to win the war.

The seizure of property to avert labor disputes, the freezing of wages and prices, and even executive agreements with the force of law are less troubling in wartime than restrictions placed on individual liberties. In World War I the Justice Department and the postal authorities had shown little regard for constitutional protection of dissident speech and publication. Because no pro-German or antiwar sentiment existed between 1941 and 1945 comparable to that of the earlier war, the Roosevelt administration expressed—and, for the most part, maintained—a firmer commitment to civil liberties. The wartime Justice Department, headed successively by Frank Murphy, robert h. jackson, and francis biddle, showed itself unwilling to stifle expression in the name of national unity.

Many of the worst abuses during World War I had resulted from prosecutions under state criminal laws, but the Roosevelt administration avoided a repetition of those abuses. It asserted sole federal control over internal security through the alien registration act of 1940, and a few months later the Supreme Court affirmed federal supremacy. In hines v. davidowitz (1941) the Court overturned a Pennsylvania alien registration statute on the ground that the federal law had preempted the field.

The administration did, however, seek to revoke the citizenship of allegedly disloyal naturalized citizens of German and Italian origin, on the supposition that current disloyal or even dissident behavior proved they had earlier secured citizenship under false pretenses. The case testing this policy happened to involve neither a Nazi nor a Fascist sympathizer but a communist. The government based its case on the claim that membership in the Communist party proved the defendant did not have the "true faith and allegiance to the United States" that citizenship demanded. The Court, by a 6–3 majority, rejected the government's claim in Schneiderman v. United States (1943). Although citizenship constituted a privilege granted by Congress, Justice Frank Murphy explained, once a person became a citizen he or she enjoyed all the rights guaranteed by the Constitution, especially freedom of thought and expression. This and other cases reversing denaturalization orders indicated how far the nation had moved from its anti-alien hysteria of World War I, at least in terms of freedom to express unpopular ideas.

The country did, however, deprive one group of basic constitutional rights in what has remained the greatest civil liberties stain on the Roosevelt administration's record—the incarceration of more than 110,000 men, women, and children of Japanese origin, two-thirds of them native-born American citizens, solely on the basis of race. Anti-Japanese sentiment, especially on the West Coast, long predated the war, but the attack on Pearl Harbor whipped it up to hysterical proportions. Fears of fifth-column attacks and sabotage, reinforced by Japanese military victories, led to demands that both Japanese aliens (Issei) and American citizens of Japanese ancestry (Nisei) be removed from the coastal areas and relocated inland.

On February 19, 1942, President Roosevelt signed executive order 9066 authorizing military officials to designate parts of the country as "military areas" from which any and all persons might be excluded. Roosevelt issued the order on his authority as commander-in-chief, but army lawyers feared that so slender a constitutional reed might not support evacuating large numbers of citizens solely on the basis of their race. So they asked for, and received, congressional affirmation of 9066 on March 21.

Three days later, the army declared a curfew along the coastal plain for German and Italian nationals and for all persons of Japanese ancestry. Three days after that, both Issei and Nisei were prohibited from leaving the military areas, and then on May 9, they were excluded from West Coast military zones. Japanese Americans could comply with these contradictory orders only by reporting to central depots, from which they would be transferred to relocation centers in the interior. Although families could stay together, they had to leave homes and jobs and dispose of their property within a matter of days, often sustaining severe losses in the process. Amazingly, the Japanese and Japanese Americans responded cooperatively, and a number of younger Nisei volunteered to serve in the army, where their units turned out to be among the most highly decorated in the European theater of operations.

A race-based policy of such striking dimensions could hardly avoid constitutional challenge, and within a short time the nation's High Court had placed its imprimatur on relocation. In Hirabayashi v. United States (1943), a native-born citizen had been arrested for failing to report to a control center and for violating the curfew. The Court, speaking through Chief Justice harlan f. stone, unanimously affirmed the curfew as lying within the presidential war powers as well as congressional authority. Although any racial discrimination was "odious to a free people," the Court would not challenge the discretion of the military in its interpretation of the war powers.

Justices Murphy, william o. douglas, and wiley b. rutledge entered concurring opinions that practically amounted to dissents; Murphy in particular noted the "melancholy resemblance" between American treatment of the Japanese and the incarceration of Jews in Nazi-dominated Europe. But the three reluctantly consented to what they perceived as an unconstitutional program because of the supposedly critical military situation.

The Justices heard two other relocation cases in 1944, and in both they shied away from the central question of constitutional authority for the detention of peaceful American citizens. In Korematsu v. United States, an American citizen, turned down for voluntary army service because of ulcers, had refused to leave the military zone. Justice hugo l. black's majority opinion tried to separate the issue of exclusion from that of detention and found the war powers of Congress and the President sufficient to sustain an order excluding certain persons, for whatever reason, from designated military zones. Black rather ingenuously said that race had nothing to do with the case; Fred Korematsu had been ordered to leave the area not merely because he was Japanese, but because of military necessity. This time Justices Murphy, Jackson, and owen j. roberts entered strenuous dissents, with Roberts bluntly declaring that Korematsu had been convicted "for not submitting to imprisonment in a concentration camp."

The same day, in Ex parte Endo, the Court unanimously authorized a writ of habeas corpus to free Mitsuye Endo, a citizen whose loyalty had been clearly established. Although the american civil liberties union had hoped to make this case a challenge to the entire relocation program, Justice Douglas carefully skirted that issue. He confined his ruling to the narrow question of whether the government could detain persons whose loyalty had been confirmed. There is evidence that Douglas wanted to go further, but that even this late in the war, other members of the Court still did not feel free to challenge the relocation program.

There has been general condemnation of the relocation program and of the Court's decisions affirming it from that day forward, and the judgment of history has clearly been that the Roosevelt administration and the Court erred badly. In later years, Congress took several steps to apologize to the Japanese Americans and, at least partially, to indemnify them for their suffering and losses. Gordon Hirabayashi, Fred Korematsu, and others also succeeded in overturning their convictions on the basis of the misconduct of government attorneys in misleading the Supreme Court.

The Court also considered constitutional issues involving treason and espionage. Ever since Aaron Burr's trial (1807), the Court had held to a restricted definition of treason, from which it did not depart during World War II. It drew a sharp distinction between civilian trials for treason and military trials for espionage, in which different criteria for evidence and guilt prevailed.

The first case arose from the arrest of eight Germans put ashore from submarines with orders to sabotage American defense plants. Quickly arrested and tried by military tribunals, which sentenced six of them to death, they appealed to the Supreme Court. In Ex parte Quirin (1942) a unanimous Court affirmed the powers of the President to establish military commissions with appropriate jurisdiction to try such cases. Chief Justice Stone's elaborate opinion, however, also implied that even spies and prisoners of war had some rights under the Constitution; that implication had no basis in either American or English law, and the Court soon backed down. In Ex parte Yamashita (1946) Stone conceded that a Japanese general tried for war crimes had no constitutional rights and could appeal his conviction only to military authorities.

In two treason cases involving American citizens arising from the German saboteur incident, the Court adhered to a strict interpretation of treason, "levying War against [the United States], or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort." In cramer v. united states (1945), Justice Jackson held for a 5–4 Court that the overt act had to be traitorous in intent by itself, and not merely appear so because of surrounding circumstances. In haupt v. united states (1947), however, the Court moved away from this rigorous intent standard to sustain the conviction of the father of one of the Germans, whose activities were "'steps essential to his design for treason."

The government then prosecuted other Americans who had aided the enemy during the war, such as Douglas Chandler, who had broadcast English-language programs from Berlin during the war. The Chandler case raised the issue of whether treason could take place only within the territorial limits of the United States. In Kawakita v. United States (1952) the Court ruled that treason encompassed activities by American citizens anywhere.

Melvin I. Urofsky

(see also: Executive Power; Executive Prerogative; Japanese American Cases; Naturalization; Stone Court; War, Foreign Affairs, and the Constitution.)


Hurst, J. Willard 1971 The Law of Treason in the United States. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press.

Irons, Peter 1983 Justice at War. New York: Oxford University Press.

Rossiter, Clinton L. 1976 The Supreme Court and the Commander-in-Chief. Ithaca, N.Y.:Cornell University Press.

Second World War

views updated May 18 2018

Second World War. Germany made the Second World War: a necessary condition was a nationalist German government ready, even eager, to use force. Hitler did not create the social and economic conditions that gave him power, but he brilliantly exploited them to develop a state usable for his own purposes, which went further than most Germans would consciously have ventured. The Nazis, who preached violence to forge unity between social classes, included those whose first aim, to increase German power in the world, required the co-operation of the military, the civil service, and industrialists, and also Nazis whose first, egalitarian, aim was to destroy the influence of those privileged groups. Hitler reflected and helped to win the dominance among Nazis of those who wanted international power. His coming to power was with the help of German conservatives who combined with the Nazis to resist socialists, in preference to working with socialists to block the Nazis.

Hitler's strength lay in the support of voters; many voted Nazi through despair at the depression of 1930–2. Arguably, it was the consequence of the treaty of Versailles after the First World War and its insistence on reparations payments by Germany which forced the maintenance of deflationary policies to keep up the exchange value of the mark, as well as recent memories of the catastrophic inflation of 1923, itself even more plausibly the result of the enforcement of reparations. Hitler, and the expansionist German nationalists he stood for, seemed a result of Versailles. Most British opinion concluded that those, especially the French, who had tried to enforce Versailles were to blame and that to soften the nationalism of Hitler's Third Reich the remaining grievances of Versailles should be remedied. Hence, British ‘appeasement’. Towards Germany, even towards Hitler, conciliation seemed better than confrontation. France should be restrained and the anti-fascism proclaimed by the Soviet Union checked. Without the United Kingdom (and the British empire), restraint on the militarily reviving Germany could not be effected and though French governments attempted to work with Italy and the Soviet Union, Italy was weak in resources and the Soviet Union struggling to exploit its own. As Hitler understood, British policy determined how far he could move towards a ‘purified’ German nation, self-sufficient and militarily invulnerable, without engaging in war. Until 1939, with British acquiescence, Hitler won success after peaceful success: restoring compulsory military service, creating an air force, remilitarizing the Rhineland, absorbing Austria, annexing the German-inhabited areas of Czechoslovakia, and then, in March 1939, destroying Czechoslovakia altogether. Hitler's growing support in Germany, as foreign success went with full employment, steadily increased his freedom of action.

In Britain, however, appeasement became unpopular. Neville Chamberlain, its leader, felt obliged to threaten force to compel German restraint and insisted that change to German benefit should take place only by way of negotiation. On 31 March 1939 he pledged Britain to defend Poland, and tried, at last, to build a ‘peace front’. Chamberlain's policy was to persuade, or coerce, Hitler into acceptance of moderate change which would leave intact Britain's capacity to defend her independence. The British aim was to preserve the European balance of power, Hitler's to destroy it. In 1939 the British obstructed him. But the alliance attempted between Britain, France, and the USSR failed. Probably Stalin observed Chamberlain's reluctance to make a Soviet alliance because it would be too provocative to Germany and wreck chances of renewed Anglo-German concord. Stalin thought it safer to make his own bargain with Hitler, took up appeasement, and agreed to help Hitler to destroy Poland.

After an attempt to persuade Britain not to interfere, Germany attacked Poland, in theory to solve German grievances about Polish mistreatment of ethnic Germans, in fact to increase German resources, ‘living space’. At dawn on 1 September 1939 began what became the Second World War. On 3 September Britain and France declared war on Germany. The unusually vicious nature of the German government already made morally desirable the defence of European balance.

As expected, Poland did not last long against German attack and was partitioned with the USSR. Anglo-French strategy was defensive, waiting to build up their armed strength. In May and June 1940 it went badly wrong. France, defeated by a German attack in May 1940, whose main weight was further south than anticipated, surrendered in June. Italy joined Germany, tempted by the prospect of participation in a prospective peace conference. Hitler could now organize Europe to support the German war effort. Everything seemed possible: the British would surely give in. Carefully calculating, while offering inspiring calls to arms, Churchill led the cabinet to resist, assuming, correctly, that the navy and air force could prevent German troop landings in sufficient force to occupy England in 1940 and that US economic help would enable protracted defence. The victory of the RAF in the Battle of Britain in 1940 blocked invasion, but in 1941 German submarines nearly defeated Britain; British code-breaking came to the rescue in June.

In 1941 Hitler decided to attack the USSR before the defeat of Britain. In 1940 President Roosevelt, hesitantly, had decided to try to keep Britain fighting. In 1941, therefore, Hitler feared that the war in the west might escalate into war with the USA and decided, after tentative attempts to make a new bargain with Stalin, to defeat the USSR first. His advisers expected success in 1941. It went wrong. Roosevelt, concerned to maintain a world balance of power, gave help to the USSR. The ‘Lend-Lease’ Act permitted him to supply countries at war without payment. Like Churchill he strove to keep the Red Army fighting. The Red Army wore down the German army while the Americans made tanks, aircraft, and ships; hence Hitler's defeat.

In the 20th cent. Japan maintained expanding population by trade, either by co-operating in the international structures or by forceful seizure of raw materials, especially fuel. In 1930–45 the Japanese authorities used force to counter trade barriers erected by foreign countries, threatening British and Dutch rubber, tin, and oil. The US government, working to maintain a world balance of power in 1940 and 1941, tried to check Japan by denying raw materials. The Japanese, with the threat from the USSR met by the Germans, decided to seize essential resources. In December 1941 encouraged by Germany, Japan attacked the US Pacific fleet at Pearl Harbor and invaded Malaya, Burma, and the Dutch East Indies. Hitler, conscious that the USA was already an opponent, and still hopeful of victory over the USSR, clarified the conflict by declaring war on the USA. The Second World War involved Germany, Italy, and Japan against the USA, USSR, and the British empire, with France overrun by Germany, and China, divided between nationalists and communists, uncertainly united in resistance to Japanese attempts to control Chinese resources and trade.

The British empire and the USA fought a world war. Both gave priority to defeating Hitler. The main effort against Japan came from the USA. The failure of the Chinese to defend territories from which Japan could be attacked reduced the British role in Burma from the expansion of the line of communications to China to the defence of India and the eventual reassertion of British power in Malaya and Singapore.

In Europe the American army hoped to concentrate all Anglo-American resources in the United Kingdom to invade Europe at the earliest date possible. Churchill and the British thought Germany must first be weakened by campaigns in north Africa and Italy. Roosevelt agreed with Churchill in order to avoid delay in bringing some US forces into action in the European theatre; partly he wanted to maintain US public interest in the war against Hitler, partly to demonstrate US eagerness to take some burden off Soviet forces. Thus, their main operations were delayed and British and US ground forces became fully engaged against the German army only after the landings in Normandy in June 1944. By September 1944 the allies had defeated Germany; Anglo-American forces closed to the Rhine, the Red Army had taken Romania, territorial losses and bombing ended German ability to sustain war for much longer. However, SS coercion and fear of the allies, especially the Soviets, enabled Hitler to delay the end until May 1945.

In the Pacific, Japan, too, continued the war long after defeat brought about by attacks by US submarines on transport ships and US bombing attacks on Japanese industry. Japanese authorities, led by the emperor, accepted defeat only after the use of two atomic bombs, developed in time in the USA.

In Europe the war created a partition, which lasted for more than 40 years, between communist states, influenced or controlled by the USSR, and societies dominated by more or less tempered liberal capitalism. The partition came surprisingly peacefully, though with particular problems in Poland, accepted in the end as belonging to the communist sphere, and with increasing tension for a time in Germany, where an administrative partition agreed during the war lasted for several decades. In the East partition brought devastating and protracted conflict in China, where communists triumphed in civil war; in Korea, split in two, after a fierce war; and in Indo-China, where conflict lasted for decades. Here, as in Europe, capitalism is recovering among ‘communist’ states, but in Asia liberalism is less evident.

Germany, Italy, and Japan, the defeated countries, are today more agreeable to live in and far more prosperous than were the countries that precipitated the bloodshed of the Second World War. All, so far, are more tolerant societies. The Nazis demonstrated to rational human beings the dangers of the menacing idiocy of racial prejudice by carrying it through to its chilling conclusion in the mass murder of Jews, as enemies of ‘Germanic and Aryan purity’.

In 1940 the United Kingdom, inspired by Churchill, continued to fight. The British preferred American domination to Hitler's. In 1945 the USA became the greatest power in the world, and, with the collapse of the Soviet empire in the 1990s, perhaps the only super-power.

R. A. C. Parker


Bell, P. M. H. , The Origins of the Second World War in Europe (1986);
Calvocoressi, P., Wint, G., and and Pritchard, J. , Total War: The Causes and Courses of the Second World War (1989);
Iriye, A. , The Origins of the Second World War in Asia and the Pacific (1987);
Parker, R. A. C. , Struggle for Survival: The History of the Second World War (Oxford, 1989);
Weinberg, G. , A World at Arms (Cambridge, 1994).

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