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If the Great Depression and Dust Bowl were not enough, the U.S. also faced difficult times in foreign policy during the 130s. In general, FDR's policies were popular especially the Good Neighbor policy actually started by President Hoover. This policy led to the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Latin America and the Caribbean plus improved reciprocal trade agreements. The Platt Amendment was revised to eliminate the right of the U.S. to intervene into Cuba. Relations with Mexico, Panama, and Haiti also improved. The U.S. also established a time table for Filipino independence in 10 years.
At the same time relations with Europe and Asia were not going so smoothly. FDR created controversy when he recognized the Soviet Union in 1933. But, the U.S. needed all the friends we could get. The U.S. did not want the Soviet Union to join forces with Germany.
But, that was the least of the problems. Fascism had become a bigger problem that Communist. Fascism is nationalistic militarism that usually includes the repression of minorities and non-conformists. Now, this is a definition more confusing that the term. Nationalistic means extreme patriotism. Militarism means forced allegiance. And, minorities means not only ethnic minorities but religious, political, disabled, and other minorities such as Gypsies.
Benito Mussolini of Italy has been called the "father of facism." Of course, he was not the first to use these tactics, but he redefined fascism. There was no well-defined program but subordination of the individual to the state. Freedom had to be sacrificed for authority and order. As he said "Everything is in the State." He took power in Italy in 1922 in a illegal coup. He exploited the disillusionment after World War I. Italy had been an Allied Power but received no rewards, lost thousands of troops, left Italy impoverished, and inflation rampant. Mussolini also feared the progress of Socialism and Communism in Italy. Mussolini gave himself dictatorial powers and became known as "Il Duce" or "the leader." After an assassination attempt in 1925, he extended power further. He eliminated the Italian Parliament and abolished freedom of the press, assembly, and the right for laborers to go on strike. His secret police stifled dissidence. Arrests, arbitrary detention, and exiling the unwanted people followed including political opponents. Communist leaders received life sentences in prison. Mussolini wanted to rebuild the Roman Empire and avenge old feuds. At the same time, he was not as bloodthirsty as fellow fascist Adolf Hitler in Germany.
But, before we discuss Hitler, let's take a look at what was going on in Japan. A different kind of fascism had developed there under Emperor Hirohito. Many Japanese people believed he was God and were willing to die for him. As commander of the military, Hirohito will tell them to do just that. Japan also faced disillusionment after World War I. Italy had been in the Allied Powers and felt unrewarded, faced a deep depression, and had to deal with their lack of self-sufficiency such as oil rubber, and tin. Hirohito wanted to be imperialistic like the U.S., France, and England. Japan had already occupied Korea in 1909. The Japanese people believed they were the natural dominant leader of Asia and the Pacific.
Meanwhile, German fascism fueled by anger over World War I emerged. Germany had lost territory, ordered to pay huge reparations, were forced to disarm and forced to rebuild the government as a democratic system.
The German surrender in World War infuriated many Germans including one soldier, Adolf Hitler. He managed to develop a following within the Nazi party. In 1923, Hitler tried to lead a takeover of the government in a coup but failed and was imprisoned for nine months. During that time he wrote his famous book Mein Kampf which means My Struggle. Volume 1 of Mein Kampf was published in 1925 and Volume 2 in 1926. The book was autobiographical but also laid out his political theories. Basically, he blamed the Jews for everything.
In 1933, the Nazi party won the majority in the Reichstag or German legislature. The aging leader Hindenburg appointed Hitler Chancellor. When Hindenburg died, Hitler took total control. One of his first actions was to eliminate democracy. So, really, the Germans had voted democratically to get rid of democracy. Hitler wanted to return Germany to its prewar status and extend power over Europe and the world. He also wanted to purify Germany of non-Aryans. Here's an article that explains the evolution of the meaning of the term Aryan. Hitler defined it as Germanic and Nordic people who he considered superior. Italy, Japan, and Germany eventually formed the Axis Powers in 1936. Ironically, neither the Japanese or Italians would be considered Aryan in Hitler's definition.
While this was going on in Asia and Europe, the U.S. had fallen into an isolationist mood. Americans were bitter about World War I also. As late as 1939, the new opinion polls revealed 70% of Americans did not want to get involved in the problems of Europe and Asia. By the time that feeling changed, it was almost too late to save Europe and Asia from the Axis Powers. I consider myself a pacifist but this is one war I have trouble figuring out how the U.S. could have avoided. I even go so far to suggest the U.S. waited too long to get involved. What do you think?
The aggression began in 1931. Japan made the first move in 1931 by invading Manchuria and Shanghai, China, inn 1932. By 1938, Japan controlled China's coast. Meanwhile, Italy occupied Ethiopia (Abyssinia) to avenge their defeat in 1896 when Italy tried to occupy it during the partitioning of Africa. Ethiopia became the only African nation not occupied during partitioning by the European takeover of Africa. At the same time, Hitler began remilitarizing the Rhineland that had been established as off limits to Germany in the Treaty of Versailles to protect France (1936). Also, in 1937, Japan attacked the Soviet Union but repelled under the leadership of the Soviet leader Joseph Stalin.
Also in 1938, Hitler annexed Austria without a fight. He was born there and had lots of support. He then demanded control of the German-speaking parts of Czechoslovakia. Czechoslovakia had become a democratic state allied with France and the Soviets but was encircled by Germany and including over three million German-speaking citizens.
In an effort to stop further German aggression, English Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain traveled to meet with Hitler. His solution to the aggression was "appeasement." That means giving into demands to pacify and avoid war. Chamberlain agreed to give Hitler the German-speaking parch of Czechoslovakia (1938) if Hitler promised to stop his aggression. In 1939, Hitler attacked and took control of most of the rest of Czechoslovakia. Then, Hitler demanded Poland surrender to Germany. But, there was a problem with this. England and France ahd treaties to help Poland if attacked.
Then, in August of 1939, the world was shocked when the two previous enemies, Germany and the Soviet Union, signed the Soviet Nazi Pact treaty. This treaty provided safety for Germany if they attacked the Soviet neighbor of Poland. Meanwhile, Germany would not interfere in the Soviet takeover of the Balkans (Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, and Finland)).
On September 1, 1939, Germany attacked Poland with the first "blitzkrieg" or lightning war where all forces are used to attack a country. Military leaders were particular targeted. Hitler said if the head falls off the body will fall. England and France made an effort to assist Poland but it was too late. Germany occupied Poland and England and France declared war on Germany. That did not slow the aggression. In November 1939 through March of 1940, the Soviets attacked and occupied the Balkans, Denmark, and Norway. Meanwhile, Hitler launched the blitzkrieg on Western Europe.
Most of Western Europe was under siege. Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, and France were all defeated and occupied by Germany. Spain under fascist leader Francisco Franco declared neutrality as did Switzerland. Then, Hitler went after England in the "Battle of Britain." This was a three month air war during 1940 (August - October). This included the "London Blitz" that included day and night air attacks. But, England survived and actually won the battle in terms of aircraft lost. Germany lost 1733 aircraft and England lost 915. The attack was called off in October of 1940 and revealed some of Hitler's weaknesses. He failed to see the importance of sea power and never ordered a land attack on England. But, while no one was looking, Germany occupied Romania.
All this shook the U.S. and big changes began. Until 1940, the U.S. had been busy passing neutrality laws including an effort to amend the Constitution to require a vote by the people to declare war. In addition, the U.S. implemented a "Cash and Carry" policy that meant the U.S. would sell arms to the Allies for cash and they had to come get the supplies. By the end of 1940, the U.S. scrambled to figure out what to do to avoid war. One thing the U.S. did was to punish Japan for its attacks on China. The Second Open Door Note had promised the U.S. would respect the sovereignty and borders of China. So, the U.S. placed and embargo on Japan. Their assets were frozen in banks and shipments of iron and oil ceased. Then in September of 1940, Congress passed the Conscription Act, the first peacetime military draft in U.S. history. Then in March of 1940, Congress passed the Lend-Lease Act in which the U.S. agreed to provided unlimited supplies to Allies on cred and bring the supplies to them. That lead to the sinking of U.S. merchant ships. Meanwhile, the U.S. began a military build-up in case the war engulfed the country.
There were still surprises to come. One of the biggest surprises began on June 22, 1941, when the Axis powers led by Hitler's Germany launched at attack on the Soviet Union known as Operation Barbarossa. This broke the treaty between the two countries. Hitler always regarded the Russians as "Communist Jews. Of course, he also said FDR was a Jew and Eleanor Roosevelt was African-American. Hitler believed the occupation of the Soviet Union would be relatively easy and Germany would control an enormous territory with many resources. It did not turn out how Hitler planned. He should have read about Napoleon's effort. The Soviets fought bravely including men, women, children, civilians, and the military. Before the Nazis new what happened the winter set in. They were unprepared since they planned a brief encounter. What is winter like in Russia? Well, it forced the German military to retreat back to Germany. One of my favorite pictures of the Germans was the soldiers wearing women's coats because that's all they could find.
The biggest surprise for the U.S. occurred on December 7, 1941, the Japanese attack on the U.S. Military in Hawaii at Pearl Harbor and on the mainland as well. Ironically, the U.S. military knew Japan planned such an attack since their code had been broken. The U.S. code never was broken due to the Navajo Code Talkers. The Navajo language was so difficult, the enemies could not figure it out. At any rate, military experts believed japan would attack the Philippines since that is much closer to Japan than Hawaii. No one believed such an attack on Hawaii was possible with the technology of the day. To protect the U.S. Pacific fleet from an attack on the Philippines, all 96 ships were ordered to Pearl Harbor.
There was a bit of good luck. Admiral Husband Kimmel, then the Commander of the Pacific Fleet (he will be replace with Admiral Chester Nimitz of Texas after the attack) ordered the carriers to sea on maneuvers. Unfortunately, the Army Command General Short ordered all U.S. airplanes be concentrated on runways to prevent sabotage. Despite knowing about a possible attack, however, there was no heightened alert issued abd many military personnel relaxed on shore leaves.
Japan planned to attack Pearl Harbor all along. The plan was to destroy the U.S. fleet and by the time the U.S. rebuilt it would be too late. The attack, though, was an enormous task. Hawaii is 1,000 miles from Japan. It was complex, too, since Japan planned to attack Malaya, the Philippines, and Dutch East Indies at the same time. On December 5, 1942, the Japanese fleet moved to within 500 miles from Hawaii. Midget submarines were launched and awaited orders 10 miles off Oahu. The U.S. Navy detected one but lost it.
At 6:00 a.j. on Sunday, December 7, over 300 Japanese planes took off from carriers including torpedo planes and bombers. Meanwhile, the U.S. Navy sighted another mini-sub and destroyed it. The men on board the ship were concerned since the U.S. was not officially at war. Still no alert was issued. At 7:02 a.m., a private on duty at the radar station detected some unidentified blips on the radar screen and informed his superior and was told not to worry. It was probably out planes. then, another mini-sub was detected and destroyed. The 14th Naval District Admiral Claude Block informed of the events decided to "await further development." By the time he informed Kimmel, it was too late.
At 7:55 a.m. the Japanese squadron leader screamed "Tora, Tora, Tora" meaning victory even before the battle began. Men on ships in Pearl Harbored noticed incoming planes and thought they were American until they passed so close they could see the pilots. Then the ships began to be hit with torpedoes and bombs. First the cruiser Raleigh was hit, but still the sailors were unsure of what was happening. Then the Utah, Helena, and Arizona were hit. Confusion was everywhere. The the Oklahoma was hit with five torpedoes. The Arizona was hit two more times, exploded and capsized with over 1,000 sailors lost. At 7:57 a.m., Hickam Field was hit and at 8:02 Wheeler Field fighter base was hit. Men stuggled to get to their posts. Efforts to organize a defense were chaotic. Weapons had not been made ready and were locked up. No one could find the keys. Returning fire, the U.S. sailors shot one another and U.S. planes. By 10:00 a.m., it was all over and the Japanese planes disappeared. There was nothing left to do but attempt rescues.
Over 2300 people were dead including civilians. Over 1100 were wounded. Twenty ships had been sunk or badly damaged. Over 150 airplanes had been destroyed. In comparison, Japan lost 55 men, 29 planes, one large submarine, and 5 mini-subs.
On December 8, FDR described it as the "Day of Infamy" or evil and requested a declaration of war. Congress concurred. While the U.S. only declared war on Japan, due to the Axis Powers' treaty, Germany and Italy declared war on the U.S. with Japan on December 11.
That was the bad news. The U.S. was at war. The good news was that the economy was booming. The Great Depression was over. For Americans, entry into the war was both good news and bad news on the "homefront." The homefront refers to life in the U.S. during the war. Of course, the good news was employment. Unemployment was no more than 1% throughout the war. I always say if you could not get a job during the war, you just were not trying. Actually, we had a shortage of labor and that is always good news for laborers. Many New Deal relief programs were eliminated and replaced by defense and government jobs. Wages increase especially in the defense industry and overtime was welcomed by most after the Great Depression. Many moved into better and non-traditional jobs. Americans were on the move to find the best opportunities.
In Texas, a major rural to urban shift resulted. Texas became a predominantly urban state during the war. Another million and half African-Americans left the South. Cities grew dramatically including Dallas that increased its population by 50%. But, this led to problems. Housing shortages, strained city services, and conflicts as strangers mingled resulted. Some feared the deterioration of morality in a party atmosphere that developed as men went off to war and had a lot of fun before their departures.
Most people tried to cope. Support for the war was unprecedented and few protest developed. To many it was seen as the "Good War." Why would they say that? Even rationing of consumer goods was accepted for goods needed for the war including rubber, gas, food, etc. Consumers had to have ration cards to buy these items kind of like food stamps. Needless to say, though, a bustling illegal black market emerged so if you had money, you could get what you wanted.
Other Americans sacrificed much more for the war effort. For Japanese-Americans, the war was only bad news. Suddenly they were viewed as potential traitors and saboteurs. This is despite the fact that 2/3 had been born in the U.S. out of a population of about 120,000 people. But, prejudice against Asians had always been a problem and with the war it turned into hysteria especially on the West Coast. Non-Japanese Asians started wearing button stating they were not Japanese. As result of hysteria and despite no evidence that Japanese-Americans were disloyal, the U.S. government (yes, FDR) ordered a round-up of all Japanese-Americans despite Eleanor Roosevelt's opposition. Their property was confiscated and they were placed in "Relocation Camps." They were actually concentration camps or prisons and they were there for the duration of the war. (Taxpayers now pay reparations to Japanese-Americans who lost everything.) There was one way to get out of the camps. Men could join the military. Does that make any sense whatsoever? If they were potential traitors, why would they be allowed in the military. In fact, a Japanese-American unit became the most decorated unit in Europe. All Japanese-Americans were sent to Europe so the U.S would not kill them accidentally.
For American Indians there was both good and bad news. This was the first war they were drafted and they will emerge with a heroic status especially the Navajo due to the Code Talkers. For Hispanics, the war meant more mixed results. During the Great Depression, prejudice toward them had increased and many repatriated (deported). With the war and the labor shortages especially in agriculture with better jobs available, Mexicans began to look a lot better. This led to a treaty between the U.S. in 1942 in which Mexico agreed to send laborers to the U.S. This became known as the Braceros Movement. Thousands of Mexicans will come to the U.S. trough the 1950s with this program. Many became citizens. I have had many students who can trace their U.S. roots to the Braceros Movement. If Mexicans are confused about the U.S. attitude toward them, it should not surprise anyone. We don't want them, we do want them. It goes back and forth depending on what is good for the U.S.
For Hispanics who had already been in the U.S. many were able to move into better obs. Over 300,000 served in the military. 17 earned the Congressional Medal of Honor. The 88th Division of the Infantry was an elite combat division known as the "Blue Devils" and made up of Hispanics. FDR even appointed Carlos Castaneda of the University of Texas at Austin as a special assistant in Fair Employment Practices for Hispanics that led to several actions to improve conditions and promotions to better jobs. Efforts to end discrimination in schools included training for teachers about Hispanic culture. By the end of the war, the Hispanic economy improved, they had more access to unions, business ownership had increased, and job opportunities improved.
This did not come without conflict and bloodshed especially in California as Anglo and Hispanic young men began mingling for the first time for most. Conflict erupted in the so-called Zoot-Suit Riots of 1943. The worst violence was in California but there were problems in other cities, too. The violence was generally between Anglo servicemen and Hispanic youth in brawls although African-Americans were also attacked. Hispanics were inevitably blamed and arrested for the problems. Many were happy to get rid of "miscreants" and "hoodlums." This was followed by accusations of police brutality by Hispanics. After the brawls ended Eleanor Roosevelt was blamed for it all for stirring up racial discard by encouraging equality.
It was a similar situation for African-Americans. But something had happened in the African-American community as result of World War I, the Harlem Renaissance, FDR and Eleanor's advocacy of civil rights, and strong organizations like the NAACP and the new Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) in 1942. NAACP membership grew to 1/2 million by the end of the war. African-Americans had supported FDR and now they wanted rewards. Their new assertiveness shocked FDR and the public. Even before Pearl Harbor, African-Americans began demanding equal opportunity in the defense industry during the Lend-Lease era.
By 1941, A. Philip Randolph emerged as the spokesman for African-Americans since W. E. B. DuBois had gone to African. Randolph was and is a very interesting man. He got his start in the powerful Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters Union in which he served as President. Randolph met with FDR before the war and demanded the U.S. government order non-discrimination in defense industry jobs. He said if that was not done, he would organized 100,000 African-Americans to march on Washing to protest. FDR wanted to avoid that so he agreed to the demands. He issued an Executive Order banning discrimination that led to African-Americans holding 6% of defense jobs (still 5% under represented). FDR also establish the Fair Employment Committee to investigate violations. FDR also agreed to protect African-Americans from overdrafting by limiting them to 10.6% in the military (the percentage of African-Americans in the population).
The military also opened opportunities to African-Americans. (Almost a million served in the military.) Still mostly segregated, there were still successes and many firsts. During World War II we will have the first black pilots and first African-American Brigadier General (Benjamin D. Davis). Officer training was expanded and African-Americans served on draft boards. Also, the Coast Guard and Marines opened to African-Americans. But, like Hispanics all this did not come without violence. In 1943 a series of riots erupted. The worst was in Detroit in which 25 African-Americans died (17 shot to death by police) and 9 Anglos were killed but not by the police. There was one good result from this tragedy. State and local governments formed commissions to deal with race relations and the violence decreased.
Like minorities, women were affected by the war. Suddenly after being discouraged from working in the depression, the war meant they were begin encouraged to to work especially in the defense industry. The government told women it was their patriotic duty. According to the women I interviewed for my thesis, patriotism was all fine and good, but they went to work for money after the depression. American women responded as did the women of the other Allied Powers (England and Soviet Union that had joined the Allies after Hitler's attack). It is not insignificant that the Axis Powers' women did not respond as readily. Why do you think German, Italian, and Japanese women were reluctant to go to work while American, English, and Soviet women jumped at the opportunities.
World War II changed American women forever. About 1/2 of all women worked at some point during the war. The war changed which women worked, too. Before generally single young women worked. During World War ii, 60% were married and 50% had children. They received better wages than ever before, unions opened to them, and the military also provided opportunities with the formation of the WACs (Army), WAVES (Navy), and SPARS (Shore Patrol). 216,000 women served in the military.
These changes had a huge impact on African-American and other minority women. Domestic service had been the main occupation of African-American and immigrant women. During World War II there was a 50% decline in the ratio of domestic servants to households and that ratio never recovered. Middle-class and wealthy housewives could not find maids due to the labor shortage. They saw it a crisis. Advertisements in the newspapers included offering defense industry wages for maids. Some Americans blamed Eleanor Roosevelt again for getting minorities all stirred up. There was even a rumor that maids had formed an organization, The Eleanor Clubs with the motto "Put a white woman in every kitchen."
The war also changed the dominant image of women. We have seen women as nurturers and sex symbols. In World War II they became Rosie the Riveter.
Suddenly women had muscles, were strong and independent. They were patriotic and ready to work. The larger photo has a riveter in her lap. A riveter was used to get bolts in airplanes and ships. My Mom was a Rosie the Riveter and loved it. She bragged she could rivet faster than the men. Only later did she learned she was being paid less that the men doing the same job. She complained about that the rest of her life.
Of course, when women went to work there were problems such as day care. For the first time, Americans debated about what to do with children of working mothers. The federal government did create the first federal funding for day care in the Lanham Act. Day care centers were built near defense industry locations. The childcare "experts" used the opportunity to observe the children of working mothers and advise mothers on how they were making mistakes in raising their children. Nothing like coming to pick up your child at day care after working 8 hours in a factory or ship and have to listen to somebody tell you what you were doing wrong. I would have probably slapped someone.
These centers were not there for everyone. That began another debate about "latch key" children. I bet some of you were latch-key children. They also debated how old should a child be before turning over the key to her/him. Do you know the law today about leaving children unsupervised?
That was not the biggest controversy about women. Arrests f women increased 150% during the war. Most of the arrests were sex-related. That also led to a hysteria sexually transmitted diseases. A double standard became rather obvious. So-called "loose women" would be rounded up from bars and other locations and tested. Newspapers reported by name the women found to be infected. Men did not receive this treatment. Women who were infected had to go to Quarantine Hospitals. They were locked up in this prison-like institution for six months for treatment and job training as domestic servants.
World War II brought many changes to the homefront but nothing compared to other countries. 20 - 30 million people were killed. Economies and infrastructures were destroyed. The U.S. did not suffer like many countries, but the military did make great sacrifices. The U.S. military and industry will be a major reason for the ultimate outcome of World War II. Before we move into the war itself, we need a song. Let's sing a marching song The Caissons Go Rolling Along (Has Lyrics). You may also do a Song Analysis Worksheet for your Project(s) if you wish.
The U.S. military effort was dramatic. 15 million Americans served and 300,000 died. Another 120,000 were Prisoners of War (POWs). Some Americans paid a higher price than others. Hispanics, Cherokees, and Polish-Americans were over-drafted. But they created one of the most powerful military machines in history.
After the U.S. entered the war, the leaders of the Allied Powers met. That included FDR, Stalin, and Winston Churchill, the Prime Minister of England. They decided on a "Hitler First" strategy and concentrate on Europe. The U.S. would be on its own in the Pacific and try to hold off the Japanese until help could arrive after victory in Europe. The Pacific front will be mostly a U.S. effort, though. The Allies would focus on North African that had been occupied by Germany after the defeat of France. Most of North African was French colonies (and that's another subject altogether) so under Axis control. This policy was not popular in the U.S. where Americans wanted to go after Japan after Pearl Harbor. To sooth American nerves, an American was assigned the role of Commander of all Allied Forces in Africa and Europe. This was General Dwight D. Eisenhower, a future President. Unlike World War I, the countries would work together.
The plan began with North Africa. By 1942, the so-called Vichy Government of France was cooperating with the Axis Powers in North Africa. Not all of the French recognized this government and the French resistance to the Nazis was powerful.
England started by getting a foothold in Egypt in Operation Torch. The U.S. launched an offensive from the west in Morocco. England pushed to the west while the U.S. to the east to trap the Germans in the middle (Tunisia). Begun in November, 1942, the Allies succeeded in May, 1943. Then it was on to Italy in September, 1943. Mussolini fell in a riot by Italians who hanged him. Italy surrendered but the Germans did not. Brutal fighting continued until May, 1944, when the Allies finally took control of Italy.
The next major offensive was on June 6, 1944, the D-Day Invasion in Normandy (North France). Several links to videos about one of the major battles in history are at the top of this page under Youtube. Feel free to do Film or Youtube Analysis Worksheets.
One million Allied troops were involved in the D-Day invasion as men had to fight their across unprotected beaches while Germans above them tried to stop them. I never have understood that kind of courage. How can a man or woman get the courage to run across an open beach while being shot at with the most modern weapons? The plan was to gain a foothold in France and the gradually create a line through France and liberating France before pushing the Germans out. Had an attempted assassination on Hitler at this time had succeeded, millions of lives could have been saved. But, the invasion continued and France was liberated in August of 1944. By September the line through Europe was complete. Meanwhile, the Soviets continued pushing the Germans east of their territory. Hitler had one more surprise, though.
The turning-point battle of the European front occurred in the winter of 1944-45 and was called the Battle of the Bulge as Germans launched a surprise attack on the Allied line through Europe. Eisenhower believed the Germans did not have the strength left to do that so the Allies were relatively relaxed. With the help of General George Patton over the U.S. infantry, General Omar Bradley over U.S. tanks, and British Sir Bernard Montgomery over English troops, Germany was stopped but it had been costly and was the bloodiest battle of World War II. The Allies were left with 20,000 dead and Germans lost 16,000, In the end, though, Germany was so weakened, defeat was inevitable. Eventually the Allies push the Germans back to Germany and on May 7, 1945, Germany surrendered, Hitler committed suicide, and the Holocaust was revealed as Allied troops marched through Europe. Another 12 million died in the Holocaust, half of them Jews.
Meanwhile, the Pacific front was going better than expected. In the beginning it had been grim. With the attack on Pearl Harbor, Japan also attacked other territories from Guam to Thailand, from Hong Kong to Singapore. The Japanese believed the U.S. would not fight due to racial prejudice. This was a major miscalculation, but the U.S. had disadvantages. The Navy was crippled and the military was spread out all over Europe and North Africa. The U.S. was forced to retreat including out of the Philippines. The Commander of the Pacific Army was General Douglas MacArthur (remember him from the Bonus March?) and stationed in the Philippines. Ordered to leaved on April 9, 1942, he promised "I shall return." He left 12,500 American troops and 60,000 Filipino troops behind. Despite heroic fighting, they surrendered.
This led to the Bataan Death March, the low-point in the Pacific war for the U.S. Forced to march 65 miles in the tropics without food or water, beaten as they went or executed if they fell behind, 1/4 of them died (6-11 million). 1/4 of the Americans who died were Hispanic who had been sent to the Philippines due to being Spanish-speaking like the Filipinos. By that time, Japan controlled most of the Pacific.
The U.S. did have some advantages. Knowledge of the Japanese code helped with knowing their strategy. the U.S. still had its carriers, too. At home Rosie the Riveter and other laborers worked hard to rebuild the Navy and Air Force.
Having the carriers proved to be critical when the U.S. managed to halt Japan's advance on Australia and New Guinea in the Battle of the Coral Sea, the first carrier battle. The two fleets fought 100 miles apart. Although there was no clear winner, Japan abandoned plans to attack Australia and New Guinea. Japan was surprised by the U.S. Much of the credit went to Admiral Chester Nimitz, the Commander of the U.S. Pacific fleet. And, he had a big surprise for Japan.
He knew Japan planned to attach a U.S. territory, Midway Island, despite a decoy movement near Alaska and the Aleutian Islands. On June 4, 1942, Japan attacked Midway believing the U.S. Navy was far away. After the initial assault, Japan was confident. They took a break to rearm and prepare for the next assault. Suddenly, the U.S. attacked surprising Japan like at Pearl Harbor. This was the Battle of Midway and turned out to be the turning-point battle in the Pacific. After a four day battle, Japan lost 4 carriers, 300 aircraft, and 5,000 troops killed. The U.S. lost one carrier, 15 planes, one destroyer, and 307 men. This equalized the navies and the U.S. soon surpassed the Japanese Navy due to exceeding all production expectations. Midway ended the Japanese offensive but they were no where near a surrender.
The U.S. began an island-hopping strategy that was brutal but successful. One by one, Pacific island were taken by the U.S. as the Navy gradually approached Japan itself in 1945. In February, Iwo Jima was taken and 5500 Americans killed. In April through June, Okinawa left 12,500 Americans dead. In July, the U.S. retook the Philippines but 10,400 Americans died. By then, most of the Pacific was under U.S. control. Also, the European War ended so the U.S. began to get some help from the other Allies.
Japan was desperate. They resorted to kamikazes or Japanese suicide pilots who crashed their planes into U.S. ships. They were all volunteers dying for God. Still, Japan refused to surrender. The main reason was the Allies demand for "unconditional" surrender. The Japanese feared the fate of Hirohito and refused so the fight continued including the bombing of Japan. So what could the U.S. do to end the war?
The Allies would not back off the "unconditional" demand. The decision fell into the lap of a new U.S. President Harry Truman. On April 12, 1945, FDR died suddenly of a cerebral hemorrhage. Harry Truman took over. he had three options to end the war.
First, he could continue the war as it was, a war of attrition. But everyone was weary. Some men had been in the military since 1942. The second option was a D-Day-like invasion but casualties would be high. The third option was to drop the atom bomb on Japan.
When Truman took over, he did not know about the Manhattan Project. FDR had not shared that information. The Manhattan Project was the research and development program for the atom bomb. By July, 1945, the U.S. had built three bombs. When the other Allies received notice of this development, there was opposition to using them. Even Eisenhower believed the atom bombs unnecessary as Japan was already defeated. The Soviets promised to send more help to end the war and Japan began making overtures to surrender without the Hirohito issue. And the fact was, no one knew what would happen if an atom bomb exploded. Some believed the world would end.
Despite this on July 16 Truman ordered a test with the first bomb in the White Sands near Alamogorda, New Mexico. It worked, the world did not end, but we did not know about radioactive sickness and had exposed hundreds of troops to the explosion. Truman ordered the second bomb dropped on Japan. So on August 6, Hiroshima Japan was hit. 70-80,000 died immediately. Still, Japan did not surrender, so on August 9, Nagasaki, Japan was hit with another 80,000 killed.
On August 10, Japan surrendered unconditionally. The war formally ended on September 2. The worst war in world history had ended. Do you agree with Truman's decision?
So, what were the results?
20-30 million people had died including 300,000 Americans. The U.S. ended up the world power militarily and economically. Fascism had been deterred, but Communism was alive and well and had helped win the war. New science and technology came out of the war including the development of penicillin, the first antibiotic in medicine. On the other had, technology brought about the atom bomb. Another result was the creation of the United Nations to replace the League of Nations and this time the U.S. will be heavily involved. Another result of the war was the first action of the United Nations, the creation of a safe have for Jews in Israel. This has led to more problems because the Palestinian land was taken for the creation of Israel. They still continue to struggle over that territory.
Not all the questions had been answered. Would peace last? Would the Depression return with the end of the war? What would women and minorities to? Could we trust the Soviets? And, what about the atom bomb? What did it all mean? The Post-War Era (1945-60) will bring answers to those questions.