World War II (1939–45)

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World War II (1939–45) CausesMilitary and Diplomatic CourseDomestic CoursePostwar ImpactChanging Interpretations
World War II (1939–45): Causes The entry of the United States into World War II came formally as a consequence of the Japanese naval air attack on Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941. But although overtly committed to neutrality, the U.S. government had been involved in the conflict, both morally and effectively, for over a year before that fateful date.

World War II was a conjunction of two geographically separated armed conflicts. The one that began with the German attack on Poland on 1 September 1939, and the British and French declarations of war on 3 September, was provoked by Adolf Hitler's commitment of the state of Germany, whose machinery he had completely captured for himself and his Nazi Party, to a drive for world hegemony. In this drive, Hitler saw, after the destruction of the Soviet Union and the annexation of its agricultural and energy resources, the United States as the ultimate enemy. Britain and France (up to the latter's defeat in 1940) recognized Hitler's drive to be incompatible with and inimical to their conception of a peaceable world based on consensus and mutual respect between the major, especially the European, powers. This conception they called “civilization,” seeing the alternative as chaos or “barbarism.” The attack on Poland was thus the occasion, not the cause, of the outbreak of armed conflict in Europe.

The second conflict arose from Japanese militarism and Japan's ambition to establish exclusive domination over greater East Asia, including Southeast Asia and the western Pacific, an ambition with strong racialist overtones. The first target of Japanese military expansionism was China, with whom conflict broke out in 1937. Britain and the United States became the second targets, since Japanese military opinion saw Western support for Nationalist China as the cause of the Chinese failure to acknowledge defeat. Britain, followed by the United States, attempted to contain Japan by diplomacy, backed by increasing economic pressure on the nation's need for imported metals and petroleum. Japan exploited German success against Britain and France to expand into Southeast Asia. U.S. economic pressure led the extreme nationalist elements in Japan to support war against the United States, accompanied by an all‐out assault on and capture of the French‐, Dutch‐, and British‐controlled areas in Southeast Asia and on the U.S.‐protected Philippines.

The two aggressor states had common enemies, including Britain and the United States—the latter, under the leadership of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, unwilling to see universalism destroyed by two cultures so antagonistic to consensual “world order” as those of Nazi Germany and militaristic‐nationalist Japan. In practice, Japan's relative weakness in the face of possible joint Anglo‐American resistance led successive Japanese governments to act only when events in Europe—the German defeat of France and occupation of the Netherlands in 1940, and the German occupation of southeastern Europe and invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941—seemed to open the way for a progressive takeover of French Indochina as an open threat to the oil, tin, rubber, and other mineral resources of Malaysia and the East Indies. President Roosevelt's decision in the winter of 1938–39 to strengthen Britain and France as the first barrier to the threat to the United States he recognized Hitler's Germany as constituting—a decision reiterated in the autumn of 1940, when British determination to continue the war against Germany was underlined by their victory in the Air Battle of Britain—made the progressive application of economic pressure on Japan inevitable. The United States was largely unprepared for war. Furthermore, the loss of British Malaysia to Japan might well prove fatal to Britain's ability to continue the war against Hitler in Europe.

Roosevelt had already shown his judgment that Germany constituted a greater threat to U.S. security than did Japan as early as 1936. To this he added a confidence in British and French military strength, suitably backed by American industry, which events were to prove quite inadequate. But apart from a moment of doubt in the summer of 1940, he never changed his policy of perceiving Germany as the main threat. The destroyers‐for‐bases agreement (1940), the Lend‐Lease Act and Agreements (1941), the denial of the western Atlantic by U.S. naval patrols to German U‐boat warfare in 1941, and the takeover of the occupation of Iceland from the British that year were all backed by a secret decision made in late 1940 that if America were to find itself at war with both Germany and Japan (wrongly believed to be coordinating their actions), priority would be given to the defeat of Germany in Europe.

American public opinion was divided, with Roosevelt somewhat restricted by isolationists, particularly in Congress. The belief that American entry into World War I had been secured by a combination of unscrupulous British propaganda, U.S. arms manufacturers, and New York bankers, bound by the scale of British purchases and borrowings to the defeat of Germany, reinforced traditional isolationism. War in Europe was a spectator sport. Most Americans supported Britain; but intervention necessitating the conscription of American youth to fight overseas was something else. Opinion on the West Coast was vigorously hostile to Japan. Yet for the bulk of Americans, war in China was likewise a spectator sport with Nationalist China the hero and militarist Japan the villain. A Japanese attack on the United States seemed inconceivable. Japan's ability to project its power across the Pacific and defeat American forces on their own territory was underestimated by both American military and civilian opinion, just as the ability of Japanese spiritual élan to overcome American technological superiority and productivity was overestimated in Japan.

By the beginning of 1941, the Japanese expansionists had already taken their moderate colleagues well on the way to war. The year 1940, believed to be the 2,600th anniversary of the founding of the Japanese empire, filled them with a millennialist, now‐or‐never spirit. In June 1940, with France defeated and invasion threatening Britain, Tokyo decided on Japanese expansion southward, rather than in China or against the Soviet Union, irrespective of any Western resistance. In August, the establishment of the “Greater East‐Asian Co‐Prosperity Sphere” was announced. In September, with American opposition hardening, Japan signed the Tripartite Pact with Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany. Direct military action forced the French to accept Japanese occupation of northern Indochina.

America stood largely aside from all this, offering little aid to the French or British, forced that summer to agree to close the route by which Nationalist China received Western arms supplies. But once Roosevelt had been reelected president in November, American economic pressure on Japan resumed. With most of its forces involved in containing Fascist Italy in the Mediterranean, Britain welcomed American leadership in the Far East, as a realization of something sought since the mid‐1930s. Staff talks between American, British, Chinese, and Dutch commanders in Southeast Asia were followed by close coordination of British and American economic pressure on Japan. The culmination was reached at the end of July 1941. The German attack on the Soviet Union on 22 June 1941 led the Japanese, freed from fears of the USSR, to occupy southern Indochina, outflanking the American‐protected Philippines and directly threatening Malaya. In response, the United States froze all Japanese assets in America and embargoed all oil and petroleum exports to Japan. Without American (or East Indian) oil, Japan's air forces and navy would be paralyzed.

There followed a dual‐track set of events for Japan. Internally, a series of imperial and ministerial/military liaison conferences drove the nation toward the decision for war. Externally, those opposed were driven to a succession of increasingly desperate attempts to negotiate an end to the embargo on terms that would not provoke a military coup in Tokyo. Had the United States leadership been willing to accept a modus vivendi by which Japan withdrew from southern Indochina in return for an end to the embargo and a free hand in China, the decision for war would have been abandoned. But neither President Roosevelt nor his secretary of state, Cordell Hull, let alone their British and Chinese allies, were ready for such a compromise, which could at best have been seen as only a postponement of conflict.

The actual Japanese decision to open hostilities by attacking Pearl Harbor only emerged as a plan in the summer of 1941 and was only adopted reluctantly in October. But it followed logically from the strategic position of the American forces in the Philippines across the flank of Japanese expansion into Malaya and the East Indies. By a narrow margin, the problem of supply was taken to rule out an actual invasion of Hawaii. U.S. strategic myopia, separate service commands, and failures in intelligence, analysis, and communications gave the Japanese total strategic and tactical surprise in their attack on Pearl Harbor; only the absent aircraft carriers, vital to America's naval victories later in 1942, escaped destruction.

President Roosevelt declared 7 December a “day of infamy,” and Congress declared war on Japan on 8 December 1941. On 11 December, under the Tripartite Pact, Hitler's Germany and Mussolini's Italy declared war on the United States. The two separate conflicts had become one global war.

Donald Cameron Watt

World War II (1939–45): Military and Diplomatic Course Officially, the United States remained neutral during the first two years of World War II and did not enter the conflict until December 1941, when it was forced to do so in response to both the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and a German declaration of war. In reality, however, it became an unofficial belligerent and ally of England in mid‐1940, and by the fall of 1941 it was engaged in an undeclared naval war with Germany.

The fundamental reason for this shift in U.S. policy was the series of dramatic German military victories in the spring of 1940, culminating in the June conquest of France. The speed and totality of these victories, largely the result of a very effective use of mechanized forces and airpower commonly referred to as Blitzkrieq, or “lightning war,” led many Americans to question their traditional belief that the Atlantic Ocean constituted a defensive moat that freed them from concern with the European balance of power and provided extensive time to prepare for any threat. German power now appeared to pose such a threat, one capable of crossing the Atlantic at will and easily defeating the meager U.S. military forces then in existence.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt proposed a twofold response to this perceived menace: national rearmament and sufficient aid to maintain British resistance and thereby keep the Germans preoccupied in Europe. Congress quickly agreed to rearmament with the first peacetime conscription and billion‐dollar defense bills in U.S. history, but aid to England aroused much more controversy. Consequently, Roosevelt used his executive powers in September to transfer fifty overage destroyers to Britain in return for ninety‐nine‐year leases on British bases in the western hemisphere, and justified the agreement as a net strategic gain.

British prime minister Winston S. Churchill soon made clear that such aid was insufficient, however, and that Britain was running out of money to purchase American supplies. Roosevelt responded in December 1940 by proposing that Congress agree to lend or lease London extensive war material on the grounds that England constituted the first line of American defense and that its continued survival could preclude U.S. entry into the war. His critics maintained that such unneutral activities would bring about U.S. entry, but in March 1941 they were outvoted as Congress passed the Lend‐Lease Act and Agreements.

Determined to force a favorable end to the Sino‐Japanese War that had been raging since 1937 and achieve hegemony in the Far East, Japan during this time period decided to take advantage of the German victories by extending its influence into the European colonies of Southeast Asia. The British, French, and Dutch authorities were powerless to act against Tokyo due to the military events in Europe, but the United States responded with economic sanctions and the movement of its fleet to Hawaii. Japan in turn responded with the Tripartite Pact with Germany and Italy, a defensive military alliance asserting that an attack by a present neutral on one of them would be considered an attack on all. In actuality, this pact was a diplomatic bluff, never supported by actual military collaboration, to scare the United States out of assistance to England or China via the threat of a two‐front war. It failed to do even that, however, and in effect only hardened the American opposition to all three nations while convincing U.S. strategists of the need to plan for a two‐front, global war against all three Axis powers.

This thought had actually begun to dominate U.S. strategic planning as early as 1939 with the inception of the RAINBOW war plans. Yet throughout that year and most of 1940, attention had centered on continental and hemispheric defense. Then in late 1940, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Harold E. Stark proposed in his “Plan Dog” memorandum that the United States focus instead on a scenario in which it would be allied with England and would concentrate its forces in the Atlantic/European theater to defeat Germany first, while assuming the strategic defensive against Japan. Secret Anglo‐American staff conversations in Washington during early 1941 led to agreement in the so‐called ABC‐1 accord, and then the revised U.S. RAINBOW 5 plan, that this would constitute Anglo‐American global strategy should the two powers find themselves at war with the Axis.

The German attack on the Soviet Union in June 1941 only reinforced the validity of this strategic approach while providing Britain and the United States with another ally, albeit one perceived as weak and not to be trusted. Nevertheless, Churchill and Roosevelt quickly welcomed Soviet leader Josef Stalin and promised him material assistance. In July, Moscow and London signed an accord pledging mutual assistance and no separate peace. Then, in August, Churchill and Roosevelt met off the coast of Newfoundland in their first wartime summit conference and issued the Atlantic Charter, a statement of lofty war aims focusing on national self‐determination and eschewing any territorial desires.

Roosevelt still refused to commit the United States to entering the conflict, however, or even to convoying Lend‐Lease material to England. Yet he did create a de facto convoy system via the gradual extension of his definition of the western hemisphere “security zone,” including the occupation of Greenland in April and Iceland in July, and naval cooperation with the British fleet. By September this had resulted in a German U‐boat attack upon the U.S. destroyer Greer and a subsequent presidential “shoot on sight” order against German submarines. By late November, Congress had agreed to requested revisions of the U.S. Neutrality Acts that enabled Roosevelt to send Lend‐Lease supplies on armed and escorted U.S. merchant vessels, and the United States found itself engaged in a full‐scale if undeclared naval war with German submarines in the Atlantic.

War officially came in the Pacific when Japan responded to increasing U.S. economic sanctions, including a total freeze in the summer on Japanese assets, with a decision to go to war against Britain and the United States in an effort to obtain economic self‐sufficiency before the sanctions crippled its warmaking potential. The 7 December surprise naval air attack on Pearl Harbor was designed to remove the naval threat to the flank of the Japanese invasion forces moving into the resource‐rich Southeast Asia, thereby assuring military victory. It did so, but at the cost of infuriating the American people and guaranteeing Japan the unlimited war it could not win instead of the limited, colonial war it desired.

Adolf Hitler's decision to declare war on the United States three days later formally globalized the conflict. It also enabled Roosevelt and Churchill to reaffirm their “Germany First” strategy during the ensuing Arcadia summit conference in Washington. At that conference, they further agreed to the creation of a Combined Chiefs of Staff organization to run the global war and report directly to them; additional combined boards to meld their war efforts; full unity of command of all British and American land, naval, and air forces in all theaters; specific priorities for those theaters; and a combined Anglo‐American invasion of French North Africa (Gymnast) in 1942. In March 1942, they further agreed to a global division of responsibility whereby the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) assumed primary responsibility for the Pacific and the British chiefs for the Middle East, while the European theater remained a combined responsibility.

The Arcadia decisions would create a very special and unparalleled wartime relationship between Britain and the United States within the framework of a larger coalition. That so‐called Grand Alliance officially came into existence on 1 January 1942, when all the nations at war with any of the Axis powers signed the Declaration of the United Nations, pledging themselves to military victory and the creation of a postwar world based on the principles of the Atlantic Charter. The Soviet Union insisted upon retaining the Baltic States and portions of Poland and Romania that it had obtained as a result of the 1939 Ribbentrop‐Molotov Pact, however, and in meetings with British foreign secretary Anthony Eden in December, Stalin pressed for recognition of this frontier shift as well as other postwar territorial agreements. Eden was ready to consider such accords as a means of strengthening the alliance, but Roosevelt disagreed vehemently. Remembering the disastrous impact of the World War I secret treaties, he feared that territorial discussions would lead to acrimony within the alliance and endanger public support for the war effort; consequently, postponement of all such discussions would remain a fundamental U.S. policy until 1945.

The Arcadia decisions were accompanied and followed by a series of Allied military defeats, which called into question the very survival of the coalition and some of its members. In the Pacific, Japanese forces quickly destroyed all Allied resistance and conquered the Dutch East Indies, Singapore, Malaya, the Philippines, and Burma. They also appeared capable of conquering India as well as Australia and New Zealand, and of forcing a Chinese withdrawal from the war. In Libya and Egypt, German forces under Gen. Erwin Rommel advanced to within sixty miles of Alexandria and striking distance of the Suez Canal by June 1942. Simultaneously, German forces in Russia, checked in December for the first time in front of Moscow, now launched an offensive in the south that brought them to the Caucasus oil fields and Stalingrad on the Volga River. A complete Soviet collapse was widely predicted.

The American military response to these defeats was to propose the strategic defensive in all theaters except Europe and the immediate concentration of all available Anglo‐American forces in England for a cross‐Channel invasion in late 1942 or early 1943 in order to relieve the hard‐pressed Red Army and prevent its collapse, as well as to force the Germans into a two‐front war. Roosevelt concurred in March and Churchill in April, but in June the prime minister came to Washington once again and argued that the Channel could not be successfully crossed in 1942; rather than remain idle, Anglo‐American forces should invade French North Africa, as originally planned during the Arcadia Conference, and in conjunction with a British offensive in Egypt trap Rommel's forces. The JCS objected vehemently to such a strategic shift, and the conference ended inconclusively. A few weeks later, however, London vetoed cross‐Channel operations in 1942 and pressed for a North African substitute. Intent upon some 1942 offensive to bolster both public opinion and Soviet morale, Roosevelt concurred, and in mid‐July sent his dissenting military advisers to London for a second time to reach accord. The result was an Anglo‐American agreement to invade North Africa instead of northern France in the fall of 1942 (Torch).

Stalin, however, had been promised a cross‐Channel operation. Indeed, Roosevelt had used this operation as a means of obtaining Soviet agreement not to press for any territorial agreements during the negotiations that led to the Anglo‐Soviet Alliance of May 1942. Churchill therefore flew to Moscow in August to inform Stalin personally of the shift in Anglo‐American plans for 1942. Simultaneously, he promised a large cross‐Channel operation in 1943. With German forces at the gates of Stalingrad, the Soviet leader's response was frosty at best.

So, too, was the response of the JCS. From their perspective, Torch was a dangerous diversion and part of a badly flawed, politically inspired, peripheral strategy. Roosevelt had forced them to agree to it, but they now fought to limit its scope and free resources for Asia and the Pacific, where Japanese successes had created political as well as military crises. Most notable in this regard were continued Japanese movements into the South Pacific to cut Allied lines of communication to Australia and New Zealand, leading to pleas for assistance from those two governments and threats to remove their forces from the Middle East. Equally if not more ominous were warnings from Nationalist Chinese leader Chiang Kai‐shek that collapse was imminent unless additional U.S. aid was forthcoming. Such aid was quickly sent and temporarily quieted the crisis on the mainland. The Pacific crisis, however, would lead to a series of major battles.

In the spring of 1942, U.S. forces had first succeeded in blunting the Japanese Pacific threat in two pivotal naval air engagements. The Battle of the Coral Sea on 7–8 May, the first naval battle in which the opposing fleets did not even see each other, was tactically a draw but strategically a U.S. victory since the Japanese Navy halted its southern advance. The Battle of Midway on 4 June was a much more decisive victory, one of the most decisive of the war and of naval history in general. Rather than surprising and destroying the remnants of the U.S. Fleet as planned, the Japanese were themselves surprised as U.S. forces broke their naval code and destroyed 4 of their aircraft carriers as well as 253 planes. Tokyo was never able to recover from this loss of capital ships, aircraft, and trained pilots. Nevertheless, Japanese forces continued their advance southward by launching a land offensive along the northeastern coast of New Guinea and by seizing Tulagi and Guadalcanal in the Solomons astride the U.S.‐Australian lines of communication. Finding this intolerable, the JCS ordered the retaking of these islands at the same time the British were vetoing cross‐Channel operations and proposing the North African substitute.

The fall of 1942 witnessed the end result of all these decisions—a series of major battles and campaigns that, taken together, constitute what is usually referred to as the “turning point” of the war. In October, British Gen. Bernard Law Montgomery defeated Rommel at El Alamein and forced the latter to retreat westward. A few weeks later, on 8 November, combined Anglo‐American forces under the command of Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower invaded Casablanca, Oran, and Algiers in French North Africa, secured French surrender, and drove eastward toward Tunisia, effectively trapping Rommel. Simultaneously, Australian, New Zealand, and U.S. forces halted the Japanese offensive on New Guinea and counterattacked while U.S. forces took Guadalcanal and in a six‐month campaign of attrition succeeded in holding it against numerous Japanese counterattacks. In November, the Red Army counterattacked and succeeded in first isolating and then forcing the January surrender of the entire German Sixth Army in Stalingrad. Taken together, these victories ended all Axis hopes of total victory and gave the strategic initiative to the Allies. The Axis still controlled enormous populations, resources, and territory, however, and their defeat was far from secured or predetermined. Indeed, Allied forces were badly dispersed in numerous theaters, and future military stalemate remained a distinct possibility.

In January 1943, Roosevelt, Churchill, and their advisers met once again to plan future strategy, this time in the recently captured Casablanca. Once again the British were able to win American acquiescence in their strategy, now in the form of an invasion of Sicily (Husky) after Rommel had been cleared from Tunisia and the probable postponement of cross‐Channel operations until 1944. In return, the Americans under the prodding of naval chief Adm. Ernest J. King insisted that more attention be given to the war against Japan, both in the Pacific and via operations in Burma to reopen supply lines to China. Both nations further agreed that first priority had to be given to the war against German submarines in the Atlantic, and that a combined bomber offensive should be launched against Germany from the United Kingdom.

The Casablanca Conference is best known not for these strategic decisions, but for Roosevelt's announcement at a press conference of the Allied policy of “Unconditional Surrender.” Actually, this had long been the unstated policy of and lowest common denominator within the Grand Alliance. Roosevelt verbalized it on this occasion for multiple political reasons: to reassure Stalin in the continued absence of a second front; to reassure Chiang in the continued absence of a major military effort in the China theater; and to reassure British and American public opinion in the aftermath of controversial compromises that Eisenhower had made with the Vichy French official, Adm. Jean Darlan, in North Africa. In doing so, however, Roosevelt made Unconditional Surrender the official Allied policy and thereby indirectly reinforced his own policy of postponing territorial issues until war's end.

Anglo‐American forces in 1943 obtained most of the objectives outlined at Casablanca, albeit not as rapidly as anticipated nor with the decisive results desired. Simultaneously, and to an extent consequently, serious military and political disputes arose once again within the Grand Alliance and threatened to disrupt the coalition. These disputes were successfully resolved in a series of high‐level conferences at year's end, thereby establishing both an agreed‐upon strategy for the duration of the war and a framework for establishing a postwar peace.

The greatest Allied successes in 1943 were on the eastern front and in the Atlantic. In July, Soviet intelligence enabled the Red Army to prepare for and halt, in the largest tank battle of the war, Hitler's thrust at the Kursk salient; German forces never recovered from the ensuing destruction of their armor. Simultaneously, Anglo‐American forces made effective use of their own intelligence breakthroughs, most notably cryptographic intercepts from the Enigma Machine (ULTRA), as well as new naval and air tactics to turn the tide against German submarines in the Battle of the Atlantic. In other areas, however, Anglo‐American successes were far more limited.

Unable to reconcile U.S. precision daylight bombing with British nighttime area bombing, the Combined Chiefs of Staff in effect allowed each nation to pursue its favored approach simultaneously under the umbrella of the Combined Bomber Offensive. While German cities were devastated and civilian casualties mounted, this controversial campaign also resulted in very high Allied casualties and destroyed neither German industrial capacity nor the civilian will to resist. In that sense it was a failure and revealed serious shortcomings in the strategic bombing concept. It did force the German Luftwaffe into an extensive war of attrition, however, one it could not win due to the enormous U.S. productive capacity. The result would be complete Anglo‐American control of the air by the time their forces invaded France in June 1944.

In Tunisia, Rommel in February 1943 was able to inflict a stinging defeat on the still green U.S. forces at Kasserine Pass. The Germans were soon overwhelmed by British forces under Montgomery coming from the south and the revived American forces under Gen. George S. Patton and Gen. Omar N. Bradley coming from the west, however, and on 13 May they surrendered in Tunis. Then, on 10 July, Anglo‐American forces under Eisenhower's overall command successfully invaded Sicily. Consequently, the Italians deposed Benito Mussolini and began secret peace negotiations that culminated in a 3 September surrender. Simultaneously, Eisenhower's forces invaded the toe and heel of the Italian “boot” and Salerno just below Naples.

In the Pacific, U.S. naval forces completed their victory at Guadalcanal and moved up the chain of Solomon Islands, while Gen. Douglas MacArthur's forces stopped the Japanese advance in New Guinea and in a series of “leapfrogging” moves along the northern coast dealt Japanese forces a series of stinging defeats. By year's end these dual lines of advance had isolated the major Japanese base at Rabaul and precluded the necessity of a costly invasion. Where to go next aroused heated controversy. Reverting to their prewar ORANGE war plan, naval planners called for a major thrust across the central Pacific toward Formosa. MacArthur disagreed and argued instead for a major offensive in his Southwest Pacific theater aimed at liberation of the Philippines. The JCS temporarily resolved this dispute by sanctioning both offensives, a resolution made possible by U.S. productive capacity and the subsequent availability of resources, with the final territorial objectives remaining undetermined. While MacArthur's forces continued their leapfrogging along the New Guinea coast, U.S. naval and Marine forces under Adm. Chester Nimitz began their central Pacific advance in November with bloody but successful assaults on Tarawa and Makin in the Gilbert Islands. The availability of resources did not extend to Southeast Asia, however, and the Burma invasion had to be canceled.

While American preoccupation with the Pacific deeply disturbed the British, their own preoccupation with the Mediterranean at the expense of cross‐Channel operations deeply upset the Americans. This strategic disagreement was heatedly debated and compromised during the May Trident and August Quadrant summit conferences in Washington and Quebec. At these meetings, the Americans agreed to the Italian campaign but only within limits that would allow for a May 1944 cross‐Channel assault (Overlord) under an American commander. In September and October, Churchill requested additional delays in the movement of landing craft and troops from the Mediterranean to England so as to take advantage in the Aegean of the Italian surrender, reinforce Eisenhower's forces in the wake of Hitler's rescue of Mussolini and decision to hold the Italian peninsula, and break the resulting military stalemate south of Rome.

Along with this Anglo‐American conflict came continuing problems with the Chinese due to the cancellation of the Burma operation and a very serious split with the Soviets over both Poland and cross‐Channel operations. In April 1943, Stalin broke diplomatic relations with the Polish government‐in‐exile, supposedly over Polish demands for investigation of the recently revealed Katyn Forest massacre of Polish officers, but actually due to Polish refusal to cede eastern Poland to Russia. Less than two months later, Stalin angrily denounced the further postponement of cross‐Channel operations until 1944. Secret low‐level German‐Soviet contacts took place during the spring, but without any concrete results. By the summer, separate peace rumors were filling the air.

All of these conflicts were resolved in a series of high‐level Allied conferences held between October and December 1943. The first of these was the Tripartite Foreign Ministers' Conference in Moscow, during which the British and Americans reaffirmed their intention to cross the Channel in the spring of 1944 and the Soviets responded with formal agreement to the Unconditional Surrender policy, Allied occupation of Germany, and a postwar collective security organization. Then, in November, Roosevelt met with Chiang as well as Churchill in Cairo and mollified the former with promises of an amphibious operation in the Bay of Bengal as well as postwar return of territory and equality as a great power. Immediately thereafter, Roosevelt and Churchill flew to Teheran for the first “Big Three” meeting, during which Roosevelt and Stalin finally forced Churchill to abandon additional Mediterranean campaigns and agree to lanch Overlord across the Channel in May 1944, with forces in Italy shifted to a supporting invasion of southern France (Anvil). Stalin in turn promised a simultaneous Soviet offensive in the east and entry into the war against Japan once Germany had been defeated. Informal political talks also took place, most notably over a possible shift in Polish boundaries westward and the future status of Germany. Churchill and Roosevelt then returned to Cairo for yet another conference, during which the Burma operation was once again postponed so as to provide Overlord with sufficient landing craft and Roosevelt appointed Eisenhower to command the operation.

This series of conferences would prove critical, both militarily and politically. It by no means ended Allied conflicts and differences, but it did result in an agreed‐upon strategy that would preserve the alliance and lead to total military victory. It also established the essential prerequisites for a new postwar order based on Allied dominance and cooperation, verbalized by Roosevelt as the “Four Policemen,” within a global collective security framework. Additionally, it marked both a decline in British power and the rise of the Soviet Union and the United States. Henceforth, these two emerging superpowers would exercise more and more control over both the war effort and postwar plans.

The year 1944 witnessed the results of these 1943 accords in an extraordinary series of Allied military victories. The most notable of these involving U.S. forces was Operation Overlord, the largest amphibious invasion in history. After meticulous preparation, including an extensive deception plan, it was successfully launched on 6 June 1944 against the Normandy coast under Eisenhower's overall command. Progress was extremely slow, however, even after the launching a few weeks later of the promised and massive Soviet offensive in Byelorussia, and only in late July did Allied forces break out of the bridgehead. Their progress after that date was extremely rapid, however, partially because Hitler's simultaneous decision to counterattack at Avranches enabled them to form a pincer that almost destroyed his entire army in the west. In the ensuing debacle, Anglo‐American forces were able to sweep through France very rapidly, liberating Paris on 25 August and moving into the Low Countries. But large numbers of German forces managed to escape before the pincers closed around the so‐called Falaise pocket, and they would effectively regroup in the fall to fight again.

The Anglo‐American sweep through France was aided not only by the Soviet offensive in the east, but also by a breakthrough in Italy that culminated in the capture of Rome on 4 June and the subsequent invasion of southern France in August. These took place long after they were supposed to, however, and were subjects of great controversy. Seeking to break the Italian deadlock in late 1943, Churchill had pressed for an amphibious landing at Anzio. Although successfully launched in January 1944, it remained an isolated and endangered bridgehead until May–June, when Allied forces under Gen. Mark Clark finally broke through the main German lines. Clark's decision to take Rome enabled the main body of German troops to escape northward and thus to fight on until the spring of 1945.

The Anzio fiasco delayed preparations for Anvil and reinforced Churchill's desire to cancel that operation in favor of a movement eastward into Yugoslavia. Fed up with the prime minister's continued interest in the Balkans, and aware of Eisenhower's desperate need for additional port facilities, the Americans bluntly refused such a shift and insisted that a delayed Anvil be launched, even after Overlord. Churchill was forced to accede to the renamed Operation Dragoon, and on 15 August, Allied forces landed in southern France and quickly advanced up the Rhône Valley, where they joined Eisenhower's forces moving eastward. Those forces now included nine armies organized into three army groups: the British‐Canadian 21st under Montgomery, the American 12th under Bradley, and the Franco‐American 6th under Gen. Jacob Devers.

A similar string of military successes took place in the Pacific during 1944 as the “dual advance” picked up momentum. While MacArthur's forces continued to leapfrog along the northern coast of New Guinea and nearby islands, Nimitz took Kwajalein in the Marshall Islands. During the summer his forces conquered Saipan, Tinian, and Guam in the Marianas, and destroyed what remained of the Japanese naval air forces in the Battle of the Philippine Sea. In October, the joint chiefs finally decided to invade the Philippines rather than Formosa, and MacArthur's forces landed at Leyte Gulf. In the ensuing naval Battle of Leyte Gulf, the largest naval engagement in history, the Japanese surface fleet was virtually destroyed. Simultaneously, U.S. submarines sank much of the Japanese merchant fleet.

The first nine months of 1944 were also marked by substantial progress in postwar planning. In July, representatives of forty‐four nations meeting in Bretton Woods, New Hampshire, established the basis of a new postwar economic order, including a World Bank and an International Monetary Fund. Then from August to October, British, Chinese, Soviet, and U.S. diplomats meeting at the Dumbarton Oaks estate in Washington, D.C., reached agreement on the essentials of a postwar collective security organization. In September, Churchill, Roosevelt, and their advisers met for a second time in Quebec (Octagon), both to plan their next military moves and to consider numerous postwar issues. As Churchill noted at the beginning of this conference, virtually everything the Allies had touched in the last nine months had turned to gold.

The luster was quickly tarnished, however. Throughout 1944, the China theater and Burma had remained notable exceptions to the string of Allied victories, with the Japanese repelling Allied ground and air offensives and launching major counteroffensives of their own. By May, the Allies had successfully halted an invasion of India; but in China, the Japanese overran the U.S. air bases that had recently been established by Gen. Claire Chennault and precipitated a near collapse of Chinese forces. U.S. Gen. Joseph Stilwell, who had been sent to China in 1942 to serve as Chiang's chief of staff, blamed the Chinese leader for the fiasco. So did his superiors in Washington, who now demanded that control of Chinese forces be ceded to Stilwell. Chiang, however, insisted that Stilwell was the problem and in the fall demanded his recall. Roosevelt complied and replaced him with Gen. Albert C. Wedemeyer, but the combination of success in the Pacific and failure on the Asian mainland led the JCS to downgrade the future importance of the China theater, put increased emphasis on obtaining Soviet entry into the Far Eastern war, and focus even more intently on the naval advance in the Pacific. By October that advance was running into problems of its own, largely as a result of new Japanese suicidal tactics (most notably but far from exclusively the kamikaze air attacks) that increased both the length of battles and the number of U.S. casualties.

The situation in the European theater during the fall was not much better. In August, German forces had appeared to be on the brink of collapse, but they were able to rally in the fall and postpone total defeat—most significantly when they checked Montgomery's September attempt to use airborne forces to cross the Rhine River defenses in the Netherlands (Market‐Garden). Thereafter, Eisenhower's controversial “broad‐front” approach, involving a series of slower, methodical offensive operations to bring his entire front to the Rhine defenses, dominated Anglo‐American strategy despite heated protests by his subordinates, each of whom insisted he could end the war if given all the supplies. Then, in December, Hitler launched a counteroffensive against the thin U.S. forces in the Ardennes in an effort to reach Antwerp and thereby split the British and American armies. The resulting “bulge” in the American lines gave this largest U.S. engagement of the war its name, and led Eisenhower to temporarily transfer control of two U.S. armies north of the German advance to Montgomery. The bulge never developed into an open break, largely because of fierce resistance by the outnumbered Americans, combined with reinforcements and counterattacks by Patton in the south and Montgomery in the north, the return to good weather and with it Allied airpower, and a massive Soviet offensive that brought the Red Army to within thirty‐five miles of Berlin. In the end, Hitler wasted the last of his reserves on this operation. Its only accomplishment was to delay further Anglo‐American advances until the spring and thereby guarantee that the Red Army would reach Berlin before the British or the Americans.

By early 1945 this probability, along with the extent of Soviet conquests in Eastern and Central Europe, had begun to worry numerous American as well as British officials. Stalin's August–September halting of the Red Army on the east bank of the Vistula River and abject refusal to assist the Polish Home Army in its uprising against the Germans in Warsaw appalled these individuals and led to deep worries over the extent of Soviet territorial conquests and postwar goals. With American vetoes foreclosing his proposed military operations to secure some postwar influence in the Balkans, Churchill in October flew to Moscow for a second time and arranged with Stalin for British and Soviet spheres of influence in the Balkans; two months later, he made use of this agreement to suppress forcibly a Communist uprising in Greece.

Given this fait accompli as well as military events and the deterioration in Allied relations, Roosevelt realized that he could no longer avoid discussion of postwar issues. Such issues, as well as strategy for termination of the war, would dominate the second Big Three conference, held in February 1945 at Yalta in the Crimea. There the Big Three were able to reach agreement on operations for the final defeat of Germany, military occupation zones in Germany and Berlin, a shift of Polish boundaries westward and a Communist‐dominated Polish provisional government, free postwar elections for all of Europe, the outline of a charter for what would become the United Nations, and Soviet entry into the war against Japan within three months of German defeat in return for territorial concessions focusing on reacquisition of Russian losses from the Russo‐Japanese War of 1904–05. The advent of the Cold War after 1945 led to severe condemnation of Roosevelt for many of these agreements, most notably those concerning Poland and the Far East. At the time, however, he and his advisers believed that they had guaranteed both total victory in the war and a stable postwar peace, and in the ensuing years his supporters defended the accords as both understandable and unavoidable in light of the power, position, and continued importance of the Red Army to the war effort.

The post–Yalta Conference euphoria proved to be totally justified militarily but largely unjustified diplomatically. In March, U.S. First Army forces captured an intact Rhine River bridge at Remagen, leading Eisenhower to alter his plans and allow these forces rather than Montegomery's to seize the initiative. When Montgomery did cross a few weeks later, the two forces linked up and trapped 350,000 German troops in the Ruhr. After another heated Anglo‐American debate, Eisenhower then ordered a limited U.S. movement southeastward to the Elbe River rather than a move by Montgomery against Berlin, on the grounds that he needed to prevent a collision with the Red Army and a Nazi movement into the Bavarian Alps for protracted guerrilla warfare, and that the German capital was no longer a military objective or worth U.S. casualties—especially in light of the fact that by the Yalta accords the city would be divided into zones of occupation anyway. Meanwhile, Soviet behavior in Poland and Romania led Churchill and Roosevelt to accuse Stalin of breaking the Yalta accords, while the Soviet leader in turn accused them of trying to negotiate a separate peace on the Italian front. Amidst bitter recriminations, Roosevelt died unexpectedly on 12 April, leaving a host of unresolved military and diplomatic issues to his unprepared successor, Harry S. Truman. A few weeks later, Soviet and American forces met along the Elbe at Torgau, splitting Germany in half. On 30 April, Hitler committed suicide in his Berlin bunker as Red Army forces took the city, and on 7–8 May his successor, Adm. Karl Doenitz, surrendered unconditionally.

With the common enemy totally defeated, Soviet‐American relations continued to deteriorate throughout the spring. Some differences were resolved by Harry Hopkins's June visit to Moscow and the July Big Three summit conference in the Berlin suburb of Potsdam, but only partially and temporarily as the two nations' definitions of a secure postwar world began to collide and mutual suspicions increased. The method by which the war against Japan came to an end both reflected and reinforced those collisions and suspicions.

American forces made substantial progress in the Pacific War during the first half of 1945, liberating the Philippines, destroying what remained of the Japanese merchant fleet, conquering the islands of Iwo Jima and Okinawa, and launching a devastating strategic bombing campaign against Japanese cities from their bases in the Marianas. Nevertheless, the Japanese used their new suicide tactics to exact a heavy toll on American troops and naval forces in the Philippine, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa campaigns. Although Japan's position was clearly hopeless, its armed forces fought on fanatically in the hope of forcing a negotiated peace with the Americans. Simultaneously, American scientists successfully developed and in July successfully tested the first nuclear weapon. Seeing this weapon as a means of shocking the Japanese into a quick surrender and obtaining the “diplomatic bonus” of impressing the Soviets with this new, awesome power, Truman and his advisers ordered the use of atomic weapons against Japanese cities. On 6 August, Hiroshima was destroyed, and on 9 August, Nagasaki. In between, on 8 August, the Soviet Union entered the war, thereby fulfilling its Yalta pledge and depriving Japan of all hopes for a mediated end to the war. On 14 August, Japanese leaders agreed to surrender, albeit with the proviso that the emperor be retained, and on 2 September, they signed the official surrender documents.

World War II thus ended militarily. Diplomatically, however, continued friction within the Grand Alliance would preclude the possibility of any general peace treaty and would lead instead to the forty‐five‐year Cold War between the Soviet Union and the United States.
[See also Air Force, U.S.: Predecessors of, 1907–46; Army, U.S.: Since 1941; China‐Burma‐India Theater; Holocaust, U.S. War Effort and the; Marine Corps, U.S.: 1914–45; Navy, U.S.: 1899–1945; World War II, U.S. Air Operations in: The Air War in Europe; World War II, U.S. Air Operations in: The War Against Japan; World War II, U.S. Naval Operations in: The North Atlantic; World War II, U.S. Naval Operations in: The Pacific.]


Center for Military History, U.S. Army , United States Army in World War II, 79 vols., 1947–.
Samuel E. Morison , History of U.S. Naval Operations in World War II, 15 vols. 1947–62.
Wesley F. Craven and James L. Cate, eds., The Army Air Forces in World War II, 7 vols., 1948–1958.
William H. McNeill , America, Britain and Russia: Their Cooperation and Conflict, 1941–1946, 1953.
U.S. Marine Corps , History of U.S. Marine Corps Operations in World War II, 5 vols., 1958–1971.
John L. Snell , Illusion and Necessity: The Diplomacy of Global War, 1939–1945, 1963.
Herbert Feis , Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin: The War They Waged and the Peace They Sought, 1967.
Peter Calvocoressi,, Guy Wint,, and and John Pritchard , Total War, rev. ed., 2 vols., 1989.
Gaddis Smith , American Diplomacy in World War II, 1941–1945, 2nd ed. 1985.
H. P. Willmott , The Great Crusade, 1989.
Martin Kitchen , A World in Flames: A Short History of the Second World War in Europe and Asia, 1939–1945, 1990.
Robin Edmonds , The Big Three: Churchill, Roosevelt, and Stalin in Peace & War, 1991.
Robert J. Maddox , The United States and World War II, 1992.
David Reynolds,, Warren F. Kimball,, and and A. O. Chubarian , Allies at War: The Soviet, American and British Experience, 1939–1945, 1994.
Gerhard Weinberg , A World at Arms: A Global History of World War II, 1994.
Richard Overy , Why the Allies Won, 1995.
Stephen E. Ambrose , American Heritage New History of World War II, 1997.
Stephen E. Ambrose , Citizen Soldiers: The U.S. Army from the Normandy Beaches to the Bulge to the Surrender of Germany, 1997.
Tom Brokaw , The Greatest Generation, 1998.

Mark A. Stoler

World War II (1939–45): Domestic Course The early stages of American mobilization before its entry into World War II in December 1941 were halting and gave little indication of the prodigious efforts to come. A critical step was massively to expand the U.S. Army. After France fell in June 1940, this could no longer be delayed. But President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who was soon to run for an unprecedented third term, did not wish to offend antiwar voters—often called isolationists—so, in the end both sponsors of the conscription program known as Selective Service were Republicans, Senator Edward R. Burke of Nebraska and Congressman James W. Wadsworth of New York. Among the other Republicans who provided essential support were two Wall Street lawyers with a longtime interest in the military, Grenville Clarke and Henry L. Stimson, the latter a distinguished statesman who soon became secretary of war.

On 2 August, Roosevelt finally endorsed Selective Service, and so did Wendell Willkie, the Republican candidate for president. Burke‐Wadsworth's Selective Training and Service Act received majority votes of 58–31 in the Senate and 263–149 in the House, and was signed into law 16 September 1940. America's first peacetime draft provided for the registration of men aged twenty‐one to thirty‐five who might be called up for twelve months of training and service within the United States. The first call inducted 1.2 million men, while 800,000 reservists were mobilized as well. Owing to the high degree of public support, there was no wholesale refusal to register for the draft, unlike during World War I, although there was some conscientious objection by pacifists and others. The main difficulty was that a U.S. Army numbering only 270,000 officers and men could not more than triple in size during one year without having serious problems.

In the end, these problems were solved, however. Even the extension in 1941 of the term of enlistment from one year to two and a half provoked little more than angry protests from the men—although it was almost derailed in the House, which extended service by a margin of one vote. If late in coming, the draft—later stretched to include men aged eighteen to forty‐four and service for the duration—worked well. A total of more than 16 million men and women served in the military during the war, approximately 11 million in the army and Army Air Force, 4 million in the navy, 670,000 in the Marines, and 330,00 in women's military units. Most were draftees, although 5 million volunteered for service, primarily in the navy and Army Air Force. The army, stretched thin around the world, could have used even more people. But women were not drafted for noncombat assignments, as in Britain. The military also lost large numbers of men who were declared “4‐F,” that is, mentally or physically unfit for service. Others were given occupational deferments to keep them on critical jobs in defense plants.

Mobilizing the civilian economy proved to be more difficult than raising an army. Even after his reelection in 1940, President Roosevelt was reluctant to make demands on the public, and refused also to hand over the direction of mobilization to a single head, or “czar.” Thus, he created a series of agencies with limited mandates, commonly referred to as “monstrosities” at the time, while shortages of commodities and disputes over priorities made a farce of prewar mobilization.

After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and the U.S. formal entry into the war, Roosevelt established the War Production Board. He also created an Office of Economic Stabilization under James Byrnes, an ex‐senator, which began to bring order out of chaos. A Controlled Materials Plan finally established an effective method of allocating critical commodities. The rubber shortage, caused by Japan's seizure of most of the world's rubber trees, was solved by building synthetic rubber plants and rationing gasoline. The rationing, which politicians feared people would reject, won popular acceptance after a distinguished panel led by the financier Bernard Baruch issued a report proving beyond doubt that there was no way to conserve rubber except by limiting automobile use. Consequently, in 1942 a national speed limit of 35 miles per hour was established, and most drivers were given a weekly limit of 3 gallons of gas.

War financing was an outstanding success, thanks in important part to the work of Beardsley Ruml, the treasurer of Macy's Department stores. He led a group of businessmen who argued that the income tax should be extended to all workers, instead of the affluent few, and that taxes should be collected “at the source,” in the form of payroll deductions. This effort resulted in the Revenue Act of 1942, which raised the number of taxpayers from 7 to 42 million. It cost the United States $318 billion to wage World War II, 45 percent of which came from current revenues—a much higher percentage than in any previous war. The balance was paid for by borrowing from banks, bond sales to financial institutions, and also to the general public—which bought $49 billion worth of Liberty bonds.

The manufacture of automobiles, home appliances, and many other products was suspended for the duration. Meanwhile, industrial wages rose by 22 percent and net farm income doubled. With more money chasing fewer goods, inflation would have soared had not the government imposed wage and price controls, which were resented but largely effective. So, too, was the elaborate system of rationing food, clothing, and other consumer goods, in which stamps or coupons worth various “points” were required in addition to cash to make a purchase. As availability and the number of points required for any given item changed constantly, shopping could be a nightmare. Still, despite some black marketeering, rationing did the job, aided by backyard “Victory Gardens,” which in 1943 produced 8 million tons of produce—more than half the nation's total.

The United States never fully mobilized, despite achieving full employment. There was no labor draft, for example, though Roosevelt suggested one in 1944—much later than he should have. Congress refused to act even then, so industry was forced to rely on incentives that varied greatly from firm to firm, resulting in local labor deficits. Often these were caused by housing shortages, which neither government nor private enterprise did much to ease. With so many men in uniform, industry was forced, against its will at first, to hire women, including married women with children. Yet it was rare for government at any level, or for industry itself, to provide the child‐care and support services that mothers required. Despite all obstacles, women flocked to defense plants. Their symbol, “Rosie the Riveter,” was based on fact. America could not have produced what it did without the millions of women who took the hardest jobs in shipyards, steel mills, aircraft plants, and every heavy industry except mining.

Yet, even without going flat out, America stunned the world by arming and equipping not only its own armed forces but, to a considerable extent, those of its Allies as well. Before Pearl Harbor, Roosevelt had said that the United States would become the “arsenal of democracy,” and so it did. Some $50 billion in Lend‐Lease aid flowed to all corners of the world. Britain and its Commonwealth received about half of this; the Soviet Union $10 billion. At war's end, the Soviet Union possessed 655,000 motor vehicles, of which 400,000 were made by Americans; the United States also supplied the USSR with 2,000 locomotives, 11,000 freight cars, and 540,000 tons of rail. In addition, the Soviets received from their allies, chiefly the United States, over 20,000 combat aircraft and 11,500 tanks and self‐propelled guns.

Predictably, national elections were determined by military events. In the 1942 congressional elections, after a string of American defeats in the Pacific War, and before the successful invasion of North Africa, voters elected so many Republicans that, together with conservative Democrats, they gained effective control of Congress. Although it gave Roosevelt great discretion over military and diplomatic affairs, the conservative coalition in Congress did all it could to destroy the New Deal—ending many useful social agencies, such as the Civilian Conservation Corps and the National Youth Administration. In the 1944 presidential election, with the war going well, Republicans took a beating at the polls. FDR, and his new vice president, Harry S. Truman, defeated Governor Thomas E. Dewey of New York, winning 25 million votes to his 22 million. The New Deal, however, remained curtailed.

Although the mass media were filled with war news and exhortations of every kind, government did not establish a ministry of propaganda, despite considerable pressure to do so. Instead, when Roosevelt established the Office of War Information, he gave it a limited mandate, and did not react strongly in 1943 when Congress abolished all of its domestic functions except for the Bureau of Motion Pictures—which attempted, with little success, to make films more progressive. Hollywood did crank out an enormous number of war‐related movies, a few of which, such as Casablanca, live on still. For the most part they were ephemeral; many of the most successful films of the period, such as Going My Way and National Velvet, had nothing to do with the war.

There was no ministry of science either, yet weapons development was one of the great successes of the war. In 1941, FDR created an Office of Scientific Research and Development (OSRD) to coordinate, rather than direct, advancements in weaponry. Headed by Dr. Vannevar Bush, the OSRD brought cooperation between military, industrial, and educational experts to a level never before seen in the United States. Under OSRD direction, radar was improved, the radio proximity fuse was developed, and many other innovations created for military use. And it was OSRD that persuaded Roosevelt to back what became the atomic bomb—which entailed not only building an entire industry from scratch, but persuading Congress to finance a secret effort, the Manhattan Project, without being told what it was paying for.

Popular entertainments of every kind flourished, partly because of the need for diversion, partly because there was little to buy at a time when workers were earning more money than ever. Ball parks, racetracks, and similar facilities prospered, as did the music industry. Perhaps more than films, the popularity of certain types of songs says much about the national mood in wartime. The biggest hits were not about the war itself, but spoke to the emotions that war inspired. The most popular song of 1944 was the touching “I'll Be Seeing You.” Another hit was “I'll Be Home for Christmas,” with its melancholy epilogue—“if only in my dreams.” The biggest seller of the war years was Irving Berlin's nostalgic “White Christmas.”

Although civil rights and liberties were not suspended entirely, as during World War I, they took the usual beating. A great miscarriage of justice occurred in 1942 when the entire Japanese and Japanese American population of the West Coast was transported to internment camps. Despite receiving a clean bill of health from the FBI following a roundup of suspected aliens, more than 100,000 of them would spend much of the war behind barbed wire in so‐called “relocation” camps, an action upheld by the Supreme Court in the Japanese American internment cases. Racism further disfigured the national effort when minorities sought work in the booming war industries. Attacks against Mexican Americans took place in Southern California, and against blacks in many places. The worst race riot broke out in Detroit on 20 June 1943, leaving 35 dead and 700 wounded—most of them African Americans.

Yet, despite all the difficulties and heartbreaks, and the ugly outbursts of racism, war made life seem more precious, which is probably why the suicide rate fell by a third. Similarly, the birth and marriage rates, which had reached new lows in the thirties, started their fateful rise—early signs of the baby boom that would transform the nation.

Although America suffered less than any other major warring nation, victory did not come without sacrifice. In addition to the 400,000 uniformed personnel who died, hundreds of thousands more were disabled. All who served lost, as most felt at the time, on average three years of their lives—as did their wives, sweethearts, and children. Americans did everything that was asked of them, and would have done more if more had been wanted, as polls repeatedly showed. At war's end they were right to feel proud: in saving their country from defeat, they also helped to save democracy, putting all free peoples in their debt.
[See also Demography and War; Economy and War; Ethnicity and War; Film; Gender and War; Internment of Enemy Aliens; Music, War and the Military in; Propaganda and Public Relations, Government; Public Financing and Budgeting for War; Public Opinion, War, and the Military; Race Relations and War; Science Technology, War, and the Military; Society and War; Women in the Military.]


Richard M. Dalfiume , Desegregation of the U.S. Armed Forces: Fighting on Two Fronts, 1939–1945, 1969.
Geoffrey Perrett , Days of Sadness, Years of Triumph: The American People, 1939–1945, 1973.
Paul A. C. Koistinen , The Military‐Industrial Complex, 1980.
H. G. Nichols, ed., Washington Dispatches 1941–1945: Weekly Political Reports from the British Embassy, 1981.
Nelson Lichtenstein , Labor's War at Home: The CIO in World War II, 1982.
Peter Irons , Justice at War, 1983.
Harold G. Vatter , The U.S. Economy in World War II, 1985.
Paul Fussell , Wartime: Understanding and Behavior in the Second World War, 1989.
Doris Weatherford , American Women and World War II, 1990.
William L. O'Neill , A Democracy at War: America's Fight at Home and Abroad in World War II, 1993.

William L. O'Neill

World War II (1939–45): Postwar Impact Insulated from the war's destructiveness, most Americans foresaw that World War II would shape their future, but not how it would. Alone among major combatants, the United States was physically undamaged and economically vitalized by the war. Even its loss of 400,000 uniformed personnel in combat was censored in visual culture and small compared to other countries' losses. Just as most Americans had to imagine the war itself, they had to imagine its consequences.

To do so, they projected the past into the future. Above all, they felt stung by World War I's tragic aftermath, traumatized by the Great Depression, and transfixed by mighty enemies in World War II. Uncertain, secretive, exhausted by the war, President Franklin D. Roosevelt gave them only a few signals about what to expect, but did voice their broad desire for a better life and for “security”—a word inscribed in the names of countless postwar agencies and acts of Congress. Thus, most Americans saw the war's impact as rising steeply during hostilities, then receding sharply until some ill‐defined, worrisome normality resumed. Enormous focus on returning 16 million veterans to civilian life exhibited that expectation—almost magically, the veterans' readjustment would be the nation's—even as the tool for achieving readjustment, the G.I. Bill (1944), broke sharply from the past. The postwar economy attracted fear and hope, nourished by the depression and by propaganda promising an economic reward for wartime sacrifices. Thanks partly to the G.I. Bill, the hope was largely met.

In contrast, few foresaw the war's consequences for social relations. In fact, the war undermined the existing racial system by extending federal power into the Jim Crow South, inspiring the aspirations and tactics of African Americans, and reshaping national priorities. Pushed by black spokesmen like A. Philip Randolph, leaders increasingly saw racial discrimination as an anachronism that squandered resources needed to wield power abroad and mocked the claim of defending freedom against Fascist and Communist oppression. Though cautious on racial matters, FDR sounded this theme: a nation facing “totalitarianism” should strengthen its “unity and morale by refuting at home the very theories which we are fighting abroad.”

President Harry S. Truman's 1948 order banning segregation and discrimination in the military flowed from forces set in motion by the war, which also eroded religious and ethnic barriers. The war reworked systems of gender and sexuality in more complex ways. Prizing both male virtue and women's contributions, wartime culture set the stage for a virtual invention of the “traditional family,” to the detriment of many women and homosexuals. However varied their fortunes, social groups nonetheless had something in common: their fate was now shaped by America's global power and the national government's resultant additional authority. As world war faded into cold war, this temporary change turned into a lasting one that few anticipated.

Expectations were nearer the mark regarding international relations: Americans knew their nation was a superpower; most expected it to act like one, and few yearned for the isolationism that purportedly had led to World War II. Axis aggression, the Depression, and the war's startling technological advances, all seemed to forecast a seamless postwar world presenting new threats to America's economic and military security. Against those threats, most leaders argued, the United States would have to mobilize power even in peacetime, just as wartime victory gave many Americans confidence that they could do so, alone or through the new United Nations. As Gen. George C. Marshall warned in 1945, the vast “ocean distances” that once protected America had evaporated; reliance on such outdated factors would put “the treasure and freedom of this great Nation in a paper bag.”

Initially, many Americans feared renascent German and Japanese power, but Americans' brittle mix of anxiety and arrogance, stoked by their possession and use of atomic weapons, shaped perceptions of the Soviet Union. Many soon regarded Stalinist Russia as the old Axis wolf in bear's clothing—“Red fascism” was a common term eliding the two. Likewise, for decades, leaders defending their Cold War policies cited failure to foresee Axis aggression and violence, symbolized by the 1938 Munich Conference and the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor. While scholars dispute the Cold War's causes, World War II certainly created an institutional and imaginative apparatus in America that at least initially exaggerated—with help from a ruthless Stalinist regime—the Soviet menace to the United States. The war's greatest legacy was Americans' newfound sense of permanent peril and the Cold War it helped to nourish.

Thus, too, postwar developments extended the impact of World II into an indeterminate future. The Cold War gave permanence to temporary wartime improvisations in national governance—secrecy, conscription, repression, industrial and scientific mobilization, and high levels of defense spending. Because of the Cold War, or under its guise, America exercised awesome military, economic, and political power in the postwar world. World War II alone did not make that happen, but it set the stage for it to happen, as did many of America's war‐weakened European allies, who nervously encouraged its postwar role and joined it in NATO (the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, 1949). Since victory impresses leaders and institutions, American technological and logistical supremacy in World War II also shaped how Americans would wage later wars—including, disastrously, the Vietnam War. Seen that way, World War II accelerated America's militarization—pervasive military and defense influence—in a historical process as defining as industrialization and urbanization earlier had been.

Its handmaiden was a more powerful national government, a development often erroneously attributed solely to the New Deal. Indeed, national security imparted to the federal government a size, reach, and legitimacy never decisively achieved under the New Deal. Its broad mandate embraced social programs—the G.I. Bill, initiatives in civil rights, and federal aid to education, for example—seen variously as rewards for Americans' sacrifices in war, expressions of national vitality, and necessities for tapping all available resources. Rather than imposing sharp choices between “welfare” and “warfare,” the Cold War “militarized” national security and blurred the two, at least as long as national abundance and credible threats abroad allowed. The war taught a related lesson that few leaders would forget: massive government spending promoted prosperity. Only in the 1980s and 1990s did the system dissolve and with it much of national government's legitimacy.

Until then, it helped to sustain Americans' impressive prosperity and economic power. And since the system served “national security,” it largely escaped the stigma of “welfare” or “social engineering” attached to the New Deal. Because it prized military and technological strength, it sent prosperity flowing above all to men, institutions, and corporations in the “gunbelt,” particularly to the south, southwest, and the West Coast—to the long‐run detriment of trade unions, women, minorities, older industrial regions, and the nation's economic competitiveness. But with defense spending so huge, and economic competitors so damaged by the world war, a majority of Americans initially shared in midcentury prosperity.

World War II also forged a new sense of patriotism and nationhood that lingered into the Cold War era. To be sure, unity was defined as well by exclusion—of conscientious objectors, right‐wing zealots, and Japanese Americans during the war, and pacifists, leftists, gay people, racial militants, and others after it. Ethnic, racial, and religious tensions remained. Yet crusades against enemies abroad prized inclusiveness at home, if only to mobilize all the nation's resources. Catholics and Jews (especially those of Southern and Eastern European background), refugees fleeing fascism and communism, African and Asian Americans, and others generally, though unequally, tapped into and benefited from the assimilationist mood.

World War II also shaped postwar culture. Again, national pride—a conviction that America was now the world's cultural capital—swelled. But a darker sensibility—skeptical, tragic, or apocalyptic—characterized fiction, religious writing, and movie genres like film noir. Pearl Harbor, the Nazi Holocaust, and the atomic bomb generated a pervasive iconography of the horrors of modern warfare. Their symbols first served to dramatize not what the United States did to others—as in the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki—but what others—a nuclear Soviet Union—could do to the United States, and thus to undergird Washington's Cold War policies. But it measured the war's staying power that these symbols were recycled decades later to different purposes—by the antinuclear, anti–Vietnam War, anti‐abortion, and AIDS action movements, among others.

The war's most lasting impact was as benchmark of national greatness. As Dwight D. Eisenhower demonstrated, military service in World War II became a virtual requirement for the presidency during the Cold War, just as most leaders invoked World War II when framing Washington's great postwar initiatives at home and abroad. During the war's fiftieth anniversary celebrations in the United States, only a celebratory stance seemed possible—as indicated by the outcome of a bitter debate over the 1990s Smithsonian Institution exhibit of the B‐29 bomber, Enola Gay, that attacked Hiroshima—one that honored the real virtue and unity while dismissing the complexities and conflicts in America's conduct of the war.

Both reassuring and disquieting, the celebratory stance registered national pride, but also the gnawing sense that World War II was the nation's finest hour, its moment of greatest unity and purposefulness, with everything after it more dubious, complex, or tragic. Placing it at the center of their modern history, Americans were left to wonder how, outside the arena of war, they might restore past unity and glory.
[See also China, U.S. Military Involvement in; Gender and War; Germany, U.S. Military Involvements in; Japan, U.S. Military Involvement in; United Kingdom, U.S. Military Involvement in; War and Society.]


Ernest R. May , “Lessons” of the Past: The Use and Misuse of History in American Foreign Policy, 1973.
John M. Blum , V Was for Victory: Politics and American Culture During World War II, 1976.
Richard Polenberg , One Nation Divisible: Class, Race, and Ethnicity in the United States Since 1938, 1980.
Susan Hartmann , The Home Front and Beyond: American Women in the 1940s, 1982.
William S. Graebner , The Age of Doubt: American Thought and Culture in the 1940s, 1991.
Ann Markusen,, Scott Campbell,, Peter Hall,, and and Sabina Deitrick , The Rise of the Gunbelt: The Military Remapping of Industrial America, 1991.
William L. O'Neill , A Democracy at War: Americans Fight at Home and Abroad in World War II, 1993.
George H. Roeder, Jr. , The Censored War: American Visual Culture During World War Two, 1993.
Michael S. Sherry , In the Shadow of War: The United States Since the 1930s, 1995.

Michael S. Sherry

World War II (1939–45): Changing Interpretations For over half a century, a general consensus has existed on the fundamental cause of World War II in Europe: on 1 September 1939, Adolf Hitler attacked Poland without provocation in order to obtain Lebensraum (expanded territory for Germany), his stated goal from the time he wrote Mein Kampf (1925). Often corollary was the claim that Hitler not only preached aggressive war against France and the Soviet Union but followed a carefully timed blueprint of expansionism. As revealed in the Hossbach Memorandum of 5 November 1937, the Führer had made Austria and Czechoslovakia his immediate targets. Winston S. Churchill said in the House of Commons on 14 March 1938, well over a year before war broke out, “Europe is confronted with a program of aggression, nicely calculated and timed, unfolding stage by stage.” From the war crimes prosecutors at Nuremberg to Walter Hofer's book War Premeditated, 1939 (1955), few disagreed.

By the sixties, the matter of a timetable was being challenged. Only a minute group of people, often rooted in neo‐Nazism, took seriously David Hoggan's The Forced War: When Peaceful Revisionism Failed (1961; English translation, 1989), an attempt to absolve Hitler of all aggressive designs. Far more formidable was Origins of the Second World War (1961), written by the provocative British historian A. J. P. Taylor. Hitler—claimed Taylor—was governed primarily by opportunism and improvisation, a position challenged in the many works of Gerhard L. Weinberg, for example, The Foreign Policy of Hitler's Germany (2 vols., 1970, 1980). Many historians—such as Alan Bullock in his Hitler: A Study in Tyranny (1952) and Gordon Brook‐Shepherd in The Anschluss (1963)—long held that Hitler kept his options open until the last minute.

Even prominent German historians, however, share in the consensus that any ad hoc method to Hitler's diplomacy operated within such long‐standing goals as Germany's control of Europe, mastery of the seas, internal warfare against the Jews, and external warfare against the Slavs—see, for example, Eberhard Jäckel, Hitler's Weltanschauung (1969; English translation, 1972); Andreas Hillgruber, Hitlers Strategie: Politik und Kriegfuhrung, 1940–1941 (1975); Klaus Hildebrand, The Foreign Policy of the Third Reich (1970; English translation, 1973); and Karl Dietrich Bracher, The German Dictatorship (1969; English translation, 1970). Some German historians, participating in the Historikerstreit (historians' debate) of the 1980s, sought to “relativize” Hitler's genocide by pointing to other global atrocities and stressing the anti‐Bolshevik nature of Nazism; see for example, Ernst Nolte, Der europäische Bürgerkrieg, 1917–1945: Nationalsozialismus und Bolshewismus (1987), a position strongly criticized in Richard J. Evans, In Hitler's Shadow: West German Historians and the Attempt to Escape from the Nazi Past (1989). Nonetheless, few historians took seriously Hitler's claim that the attack on Russia of 21 June 1941 was a mere preventive strike before Josef Stalin attacked; and a major 1995 study confirmed the traditional picture: James Barros and Richard Gregor, Double Deception: Stalin, Hitler, and the Invasion of Russia (1995).

As to Asia, rarely did historians ever see a Japanese master plan at work. If David Bergamini's Japan's Imperial Conspiracy (1971) asserted that Emperor Hirohito masterminded Japan's aggression of the 1930s, no serious historian today finds any specific blueprint in that decade to conquer all East Asia. Even the famous Marco Polo Bridge incident of 7 July 1937, an event near Peking (Beijing) that triggered the Sino‐Japanese War of 1937–45, did not result from any planned Japanese campaign.

If, however, Japan had blundered into the bridge incident, Japan's leaders increasingly perceived that their nation's security and prosperity, indeed very survival, depended upon domination of East Asia. To Japan's leaders, such mastery increasingly relied upon the ability ultimately to fight the Soviets and the Americans and to destroy Nationalist China. Michael A. Barnhart's Japan Prepares for Total War: The Search for Economic Security, 1919–1941 (1987) stresses the Imperial Japanese Army's desire for resources in Manchuria, northern China, and possibly the Southwest Pacific. By the 1970s, some Japanese historians were acknowledging their country's aggressive policies; see, for example, (Japanese contributors to Dorothy Borg and Shumei Okamoto, eds., Pearl Harbor as History: Japanese‐American Relations, 1931–1941 (1973)
, and James W. Morley, ed., Japan's Road to the Pacific War, 4 vols. (1976–84, translated from Taiheiyo senso e no michi
, a multivolume work by Japanese scholars).

The historiographical debate over U.S. entry into World War II was in many ways a replay of the isolationist‐interventionist debate of 1939–41. During the pre–Pearl Harbor debate over such Roosevelt policies as Lend‐Lease and armed convoys in the Atlantic and embargoes against Japan in the Pacific, isolationist historians called the president's measures warlike and provocative, and their postwar histories were efforts to support their case— Charles A. Beard, President Roosevelt and the Coming of the War, 1941 (1948), and Harry Elmer Barnes, ed., Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace: A Critical Examination of the Foreign Policy of Franklin D. Roosevelt and Its Aftermath (1953).

The most extreme writers, a mere handful, argued without credible evidence that the Roosevelt administration possessed specific foreknowledge of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, but—seeking a “back door” to full‐scale U.S. participation in the European War—permitted the deliberate loss of American lives and ships: Charles Callan Tansill, Back Door to War: Roosevelt Foreign Policy, 1933–1941 (1952), and John Toland, Infamy: Pearl Harbor and Its Aftermath (1982). A British and an Australian writer recently levied a similar unsubstantiated accusation against the British prime minister, Winston Churchill: James Rusbridger and Eric Nave, Betrayal at Pearl Harbor: How Churchill Lured Roosevelt into World War II (1991). A less extreme argument by a respected scholar, Paul W. Schroeder, The Axis Alliance and Japanese‐American Relations, 1941 (1958), claimed that U.S. intransigence over China led to the conflict; this still finds adherents, but most scholars believe American leaders were less committed to liberating China than Schroeder suggests.

Interventionist historians were quick to supply rejoinders to the isolationist polemics, the standard work for many years being William L. Langer and S. Everett Gleason's two‐volume The World Crisis and American Foreign Policy (1952–53). Waldo Heinrichs's Threshold of War: Franklin D. Roosevelt and American Entry into World War II (1988) in many ways updates their findings. Accusations of conspiracy and deceit concerning Pearl Harbor have long been rejected by all major scholars. Gordon W. Prange, At Dawn We Slept: The Untold Story of Pearl Harbor (1981), and Roberta Wohlstetter, Pearl Harbor: Warning and Decision (1962), emphasize communications and intelligence analysis failures. Currently debated are such matters as the wisdom of America's Far Eastern diplomacy, in particular, the levying of economic sanctions on Japan on 25 July 1941— Jonathan G. Utley, Going to War with Japan, 1937–1941 (1985); the responsibility of the American commanders in Hawaii— Edward L. Beach, Scapegoats: A Defense of Kimmel and Short at Pearl Harbor (1995); blundering diplomats— R. J. C. Butow, The John Doe Associates: Back Door Diplomacy for Peace, 1941 (1974), and Hilary Conroy and Harry Wray, eds., Pearl Harbor Reexamined: Prologue to the Pacific War (1990); and multinational oil companies— Irvine Anderson, The Standard‐Vacuum Oil Company and United States East Asian Policy, 1933–1941 (1975).

By the 1960s, the interventionist interpretation had so strongly swept the historical profession that not a single major professional historian defended the isolationists' conspiratorial view. Revisionism itself, however, did not die; rather, it took a different form. In 1959, William Appleman Williams's Tragedy of American Diplomacy (rev. ed. 1962) presented World War II as “the war for the American frontier,” an effort to preserve the U.S. democratic and capitalistic system by eliminating the closed economic blocs of Germany and Japan. A few economically oriented writers asserted that overproduction led the United States into the war in order to keep open foreign markets— Patrick J. Hearden, Roosevelt Confronts Hitler: America's Entry into World War II (1987)—or to secure the wealth of Southeast Asia— Jonathan Marshall, To Have and Have Not: Southeast Asian Raw Materials and the Origins of the Pacific War (1995).

The Cold War led to more bitter controversy about World War II, this time centering on wartime diplomacy. Over the years, four schools have emerged. Defenders of Franklin D. Roosevelt, if they differed with the president on particulars, saw the president's wartime diplomacy as usually pragmatic and realistic; he was a man much attuned to the realities of power. Examples include Robert A. Divine, Roosevelt and World War II (1969); James MacGregor Burns, Roosevelt: Soldier of Freedom, 1940–1945 (1970); and Robert Dallek, Franklin D. Roosevelt and American Foreign Policy, 1932–1945 (1979). Conversely, a “realist” school portrayed the president understandably, if unfortunately, as too attached to universalistic and unattainable Wilsonian goals; see, for example, Gaddis Smith 's American Diplomacy During the Second World War, 1941–1945 (1965; 2nd ed. 1985)
. A few right‐wing isolationist critics, such as William Henry Chamberlain, America's Second Crusade (1950), opposed unconditional surrender of Germany, saw Japan as a bastion against the USSR, and found FDR needlessly solicitous of Stalin, going so far as to betray Poland and China. Although such an isolationist critique never attained scholarly standing, it was long prevalent in right‐wing political circles. A left‐wing “revisionist” school, represented by Gabriel Kolko—The Politics of War: The World and United States Foreign Policy, 1943–1945 (1968)—described the Roosevelt administration as relentlessly pursuing open capitalistic markets and sources of raw materials at the expense of Britain, the Soviet Union, and even the Third World. Although Kolko enjoyed some popularity in the 1960s, the pragmatic and idealist schools retained the most adherents. An important subdebate, prompted by the Cold War revisionist Gar Alperovitz, centered on the claim that the Truman administration undertook the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki primarily to intimidate the Soviets—Atomic Diplomacy: Hiroshima and Potsdam (1965; 2nd, expanded ed. 1994)—a motive most historians see as decidedly secondary to winning the war as rapidly as possible.

The terms of debate over the war, however, are currently being altered by new forms of investigation, including comparative cultures— Akira Iriye , Power and Culture: The Japanese‐American War, 1941–1945 (1981)
; bureaucratic politics— Theodore A. Wilson , The First Summit: Roosevelt and Churchill at Placentia Bay, 1941 (1969; rev. ed. 1991)
, and Mark M. Lowenthal , Leadership and Indecision: American War Planning and Policy Process, 1937–1942 (1988)
; public opinion— Michael Leigh , Mobilizing Consent: Public Opinion and American Foreign Policy, 1937–1947 (1976)
; and definitions of American national security— Lloyd C. Gardner , Spheres of Influence: The Great Powers Partition Europe, From Munich to Yalta (1993)
[See also Disciplinary Views of War.]


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P.M.H. Bell , The Origins of the Second World War in Europe, 1986, Part 1.
Mark A. Stoler , Historiography: U.S. World War II Diplomacy, Diplomatic History, 18 (Summer 1994), pp. 375–403.
Barton J. Bernstein , Understanding the Atomic Bomb and the Japanese Surrender: Missed Opportunities, Little Known Near Disaster, and Modern Memory, Diplomatic History, 19 (Spring 1995), pp. 227–73.
Justus D. Doenecke , Historiography: U.S. Policy and the European War, 1939–1941, Diplomatic History, 19 (Fall 1995), pp. 669–98.
Michael A. Barnhart , The Origins of World War II in Asia and the Pacific, Diplomatic History, 20 (Spring 1996), pp. 241–60.

Justus D. Doenecke

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