World War II Ethnic Strife

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World War II Ethnic Strife

Leitner, Isabella...141
Okubo, Mine...155
Universal Declaration of Human Rights...169

World War II (1939–45) was a global conflict in the mid-twentieth century that involved almost every part of the world. The war was fought between Allied forces led by the United States and Great Britain and the Axis powers led by Germany and Japan. Ultimately up to fifty million people lost their lives and many millions more were wounded. It was the bloodiest conflict in world history. Though officially starting in September 1939 when Germany invaded Poland, military expansions by Germany in Europe and Japan in Southeast Asia were already well under way. The war was a major influence on world history. It marked the first time nuclear weapons were used on civilian populations, it allowed the spread of a communist (a political and economic system in which a single political party controls all aspects of citizens' lives and private ownership of property is banned) movement from Russia into eastern Europe and Asia including China, and led to a shift in power in the world from the European countries to two world superpowers, the United States and the Soviet Union.

The war was driven by nationalistic, racial, and ethnic prejudices (a negative attitude towards others based on a prejudgment about those individuals with no prior knowledge or experience). Germany was dominated by the Nazi Party, a political party in Germany more formally known as the National Socialist German Workers' Party led by German dictator Adolf Hitler (1889–1945) from 1920 to 1945. Hitler and the Nazis based Germany's military expansion not only on the revived nationalistic pride of Germany following its defeat in World War I (1914–18), but also prominently on the racist idea of firmly establishing the Aryan race. Aryan race refers to people living mostly in northern Europe. They are characterized as tall, blond, and blue-eyed. Though no such thing as an Aryan race actually exists, Hitler promoted it as the master race with the Germans at the top. To achieve Aryan dominance, Nazi Germany embarked on the extermination of all peoples it considered detrimental to the purity of the Aryan race as well as to the politics of Nazi Germany, known as the Holocaust. This program of genocide (a deliberate destruction of a political or cultural social group) pursued by Nazi Germany during World War II led to the murder of eleven million people including six million Jewish men, women, and children.

Japan, like Germany, was also expanding militarily in the 1930s. As the democratically elected Japanese government was faltering during the early 1930s the military increasingly gained political power. Because Japan did not have many natural resources to support its growing industries, military leaders decided to establish a colonial empire based on its nationalistic desires, much like European nations had done in earlier centuries. In 1931 Japan invaded and seized the northeast Chinese province of Manchuria, a region rich in iron and coal. By 1937 Japanese forces began moving deeper in China to control other regions rich in resources Japan needed. Though condemned by other nations in the world for its military aggression, the Japanese continued expanding. With the United States beginning to take economic measures to halt the Japanese expansion, Japan launched a surprise attack on U.S. military bases in Hawaii on December 7, 1941, known as the bombing of Pearl Harbor. This act of aggression marked the entrance of the United States into the world war that had already been going on for over two years.

The war finally ended in 1945 with the surrender of Germany and Japan. Following the war, nations of the world were increasingly concerned about abuses of human rights (freedom from unlawful imprisonment, torture, or execution) caused by hatred, prejudice, and discrimination. The United Nations (UN) was founded in June 1945 to promote world peace and human rights for people worldwide. The UN was created to serve as an arbitrator (one who decides disputes) in times of conflict, when peace appears no longer feasible.

Two situations during the war that prompted human rights concerns were the genocide of European Jews by Nazi Germany and internment of Japanese Americans in remote camps primarily in the Western United States. Genocide is the end result of extreme prejudice. It is a planned, systematic attempt to eliminate an entire targeted group of people by murdering all members of that group. Beginning in 1933 and continuing through World War II, the Nazi army under leadership of Germany's dictator, tyrannical ruler Adolf Hitler, systematically rounded up and murdered over six million European Jews. This horrific episode in world history was known as the Holocaust. In the first excerpt of this chapter, The Big Lie: A True Story, Isabella Leitner was a twenty-eight-year-old Jewish woman living in Hungary when the Nazis swept into her country and rounded up over 400,000 Hungarian Jews for transport to death camps, also commonly called concentration camps. In the excerpt, Isabella explains what she and her family endured when sent to Auschwitz, one of the largest and most infamous death camps.

The second excerpt is taken from Citizen 13660 and describes a young Japanese American woman's experience as she was ordered to an internment camp. Japanese Americans were held as if prisoners for up to three years in these camps until the United States felt comfortable that the war was being won. Although most were U.S. citizens, they were stripped of all rights. The internment of Japanese Americans in camps was one of the worst examples of U.S. prejudice and discrimination against a single ethnic group in U.S. history.

The last primary source in this chapter is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted on December 10, 1948, by forty-eight nations, members of the newly formed United Nations organization. The Declaration was in part a response to the trampling of human rights during World War II. The Declaration has been and remains in the twenty-first century the foremost document on human rights ever written and adopted by the worldwide community.

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World War II Ethnic Strife

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