Thus far, World War II has been the deadliest and bloodiest war. More than 38 million people died by the end of the war, many of them innocent civilians. It was also the most destructive war in our current history. The fighting raged on in many parts of the world, with the brunt of it being in Europe and Japan. More than 50 nations participated in this war, which changed the world forever.
For Americans, World War II had a clear-cut purpose; they were fighting to defeat tyranny. Most of Europe had been conquered by Nazi Germany, which was under the evil control of Adolf Hitler. The war in Europe began with Germany’s unprecedented invasion of Poland in 1939. It seemed that wherever the Nazi army went, they came down with a vengeance on the Jews of that area. They also went after anyone who didn’t fit their idea of the “Master Race”, Aryans.
In Asia and the Pacific, the Japanese armies invaded countries and islands. On December 7, 1941, The Japanese planes bombed Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Within hours the U.S. Congress declared war against Japan, plunging the U.S. headfirst into World War II.
Many historians today believe that some of the causes of World War II can be traced to World War I (1914-1918). Americans had fought in that earlier war to “Make the world safe for Democracy.” Those were the words and goals of President Woodrow Wilson (President from 1913 to 1921). However, the peace treaties that ended World War I seemed only to create in many people and governments, bitterness and anger that eventually boiled over and helped instill the inevitable beginnings of World War II.
Germany and its allies had been defeated in World War I. Germany was ordered to hand over one-sixth of its territory and forced to pay huge reparations (payments by a defeated country for the destruction it caused in a war). After World War I, Germany suffered from high unemployment and uncontrollable inflation, making German money worthless.
A “League of Nations” was set up after World War I to help try to keep the peace. However, the United States did not join, and other countries were too busy with their problems to concern themselves with Germany and other trouble spots. As the 1930s came about, the world was hit by an economic depression. Workers worldwide lost their jobs, world trade fell off, and times were extremely hard all around. The world’s citizens were looking for leaders to bring them the change they desperately wanted and needed.
There were numerous causes of the War itself; however, the most important cause, was World War 1 in and of itself. After the First World War, the actively involved nations were divided into two groups; the Allied Powers, formed by France, British Empire, Russian Empire, United States of America etc. and the Central Powers, which consisted of the German Empire, Austria-Hungary and others of the like that were not on the winning end of the war. The Treaty of Versailles, a peace treaty that followed the end of World War 1, held Germany responsible for the war and put many harsh penalties on Germany, including military restrictions and disarmament of their country. They were also to pay a rather large fine and make substantial territorial concessions to the Allied Powers.
After the end of World War I, Germany saw the rise of Adolf Hitler and his concept of Nazism (National Socialism, later converted to the National Socialist German Workers Party, NSDAP) both of which became quite popular in 1930s. Nazism was a form of Socialism and was different from Marxism, which was typically characterized by racism and expansionism. National Socialism calls for obedience to a strong leader, so Adolf Hitler portrayed himself as that strong leader. While Germany witnessed the rise of Adolf Hitler and Nazism, Italy witnessed the rise of Benito Mussolini and Fascism. Fascism is formed by violence, racism, and totalitarianism. Both of these concepts are quite similar to each other, and this portrayed Hitler and Mussolini as the leaders of the war against the Allied Powers.
In the 1930s, the United States found itself largely concerned with the domestic economic troubles of the Great Depression, even as international crises loomed in Europe and Asia. Benito Mussolini, the dictator of Italy, had begun waging war in Ethiopia using chemical weapons, such as mustard gas, and slaughtering thousands of innocent people. A violent and brutal civil war raged in Spain, staging General Francisco Franco’s fascists against a variegated alliance of Communists and Democrats. Josef Stalin had risen to absolute power in Russia after imprisoning and executing several of his political enemies.
Downtrodden Germans had rallied around Adolf Hitler, their new hero, and leader, who called for Aryan deliverance after Germany’s humiliation in World War I and launched an aggressive campaign to “unify” the German race throughout Europe. Meanwhile, in the East, Japan had invaded Manchuria and was threatening to conquer China because they were, at the time, virtually unchecked by Western powers, who were preoccupied with problems closer to home.
Through the troubled years of the late 1930s, Americans did everything they possibly could to avoid being drawn into these growing conflicts abroad. In the end, staying out of World War II proved impossible; by the middle of 1941, President Roosevelt had committed American ships to an undeclared naval war with Germany in the North Atlantic, and on 7 December, 1941 any question of America’s further neutrality in the conflict ended with the mortifying surprise attack by the Japanese against the American naval station at Pearl Harbor.