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U.S. History Curriculum
XII. WORLD WAR II
Understand Adolf Hitler's rise to power in Germany.
Hitler was born in Austria in 1889, the son of an Austrian customs official who died when Hitler was 14. His mother died a few years later. He dropped out of high school at 16 and moved to Vienna where he worked at various menial jobs. The young Hitler did not like what he saw in Vienna. He disliked the privileges of the Habsburg court and the nobility, he disliked the mixed nationalities of the empire, he disliked the Vienna workingman's attachment to Marxism, and most of all, he disliked the Jews who held many distinguished positions in business, law, medicine, art, and journalism in the city. He became exceedingly race conscious, like many others in many countries at the time.
In 1913 Hitler moved to Munich, and when World War I broke out he volunteered for the German army. He was a good soldier, serving as a dispatch runner to the front-line; he was temporarily disabled in a gas attack, he rose to the rank of corporal, and he received important military decorations for his services. For Hitler the war was a thrilling, noble, and liberating experience. When the war ended Hitler was transferred to Bavaria. In 1919, Barvaria was a principal area of Communist activity; a Bavarian Soviet Republic even existed for about three weeks until the federal government crushed it. Bavaria swarmed with secret societies and paramilitary organizations, both Communist and anti-Communist. Hitler, working with the army's political instruction program, joined at the army's request a tiny party called the German Workers' party and soon became its leader. Early in 1920 he proclaimed its 25-point program. Thus were born the Nazis, so called from the German way of pronouncing the first two syllables of National. Now demobilized, Hitler was fully launched on a career of radical politics.
In January, 1919, the German government was reorganized by a popularly elected National Assembly convened in the town of Weimar. The Assembly wrote a constitution that gave Germany a parliamentary democracy, with a strong executive. It was the most democratic constitution Germany had ever had. From its inception the Weimar Republic had to contend with opposition from the Communists on the left and extremist parties on the right. The Republic put down several Communists uprisings with the help of the right wing. The right wing detested the Social Democrats, the leading party in the government, whom they accused of having "stabbed in the back" the German army in the last months of the war by fomenting strikes and mutinies. They scorned the government for signing the Treaty of Versailles and for complying with the Allied demands for reparations. They murdered political opponents and staged repeated uprisings. Throughout Germany there was dissatisfaction with the inability of the Weimar Republic to stand up to what were widely considered unreasonable and degrading foreign demands, especially from France. The Great Depression caused the middle class to look about desperately for someone to save them from Bolshevism. The depression also stirred up the universal German loathing for the Treaty of Versailles. Many Germans explained the ruin of Germany by the postwar treatment it had received from the Allies--the constriction of its frontiers, the loss of its colonies, markets, shipping, and foreign investments, the colossal demand for reparations, the occupation of the Ruhr, the inflation of the 1920s, and much else. Hitler inflamed all such feelings by his propaganda. He denounced the Treaty of Versailles. He denounced the Weimar Republic as too weak to protect German rights. Hitler declared that Germans, pure Germans, must rely on themselves. He frightened the middle class with fears of a Communist take-over. Above all he denounced the Jews. In anti-Semitism Hitler found a lowest common denominator upon which to appeal to all parties and classes. At the same time the Jews were a small minority (only 600,000 in Germany--less than 1% of the population), so that in an age of mass politics it was safe to attack them.
Hitler succeeded in coming to power in a perfectly legal manner by taking advantage of the widening rift between right and left to present himself as the leader of a "revolution" leading to national unity and strength. In July, 1932 the Nazis won the largest number of votes and became the strongest party in the Reichstag. They demanded that Hitler be named Chancellor, but President von Hindenburg refused on the basis that the Nazis were likely to exacerbate, not decrease, social conflicts. In November, 1932 new elections were held and this time the Nazis lost 2 million votes, while the Communists made another advance. The good showing of the Communists frightened the traditional conservatives and induced them to seek an alliance with the Nazis. In January, 1933, Hitler was invited by the conservatives to head a coalition government. The men who engineered this deal had little sympathy or respect for Hitler, but they believed that by bringing him into the government they could thwart the Communist danger and at the same time control the government. On January 30, 1933, Hindenburg appointed Hitler Chancellor.
Hitler's first step was to abolish civil rights protecting the opposition. On February 27, 1933, unknown arsonists (most likely Nazis) set fire to the Reichstag building in Berlin. Hitler immediately blamed the fire on the Communists. He demanded that Hindenburg (who was senile) invoke constitutional emergency provisions and suspend civil liberties to safeguard the security of the country. On February 28 an "Ordinance for the Protection of the People and the State" was issued that indefinitely suspended civil liberties, authorizing:
"restrictions on personal liberty, on the right of free expression of opinion, including freedom of the Press, on the rights of assembly and association; violations of the privacy of postal, telegraphic, and telephonic communications; warrants for house searches; orders for confiscations as well as restrictions on property."
The police were by then largely in Nazi hands and they attacked the Communists with a vengeance. The party was outlawed and their leaders were arrested--with them went many Social Democrats and other outspoken anti-Nazis. "Political" and "criminal" offenses (as defined by the Nazis) were handed over to the political police (the Gestapo) and "People's Courts," created in 1934. Regular courts were enjoined from interfering with the police and confined to civil suits. In March, 1933 the Reichstag passed an "Enabling Act" divesting itself of legislative authority. As Chancellor, Hitler could henceforth issue laws, even those violating the constitution, without consulting the Reichstag.
Hitler called his new order the Third Reich. He declared that, following the First Reich, or Holy Roman Empire, and the Second Reich, or empire founded by Bismarck, the Third Reich carried on the process of true German history. Like Mussolini, Hitler took the title of leader, or, in German, the Fuhrer. With the authority he now possessed Hitler rapidly proceeded to establish control over the whole of state and society. In the spring of 1933 all political parties were disbanded, and the Nazi party was declared the only lawful political organization in the country. Labor unions were abolished and strikes were forbidden. The government assumed increasing controls over industry, while leaving ownership in private hands--Hitler needed the support of big business to launch his rearmament program. Churches, both Protestant and Catholic, were "coordinated" with the new regime; their clergy were forbidden to criticize its activities. A Nazi Youth Movement, and schools and universities, indoctrinated the young in the new concepts.
To assure his personal power Hitler established an elite corps, the SS (Guard Detachment). The SS began as a bodyguard whose members took the oath of personal loyalty to Hitler and swore to carry out without question any orders he issued. Into it were recruited the most vicious elements of the Nazi movement. They staffed police posts, both overt and secret, and gradually penetrated much of the party and state machinery. From their ranks were drawn the concentration camp guards and, during world War II, the mass murderers.
The advent of the Nazis to power led immediately to the issuance of anti-Jewish laws. These laws deprived Jews of German citizenship (and hence the protection of the state) and forbade them to marry "Aryans." Jews were defined as anyone who professed the Jewish faith or who had at least one grandparent who was Jewish. Jews were beaten up, hounded, driven from public office, ruined in private business, fined as a community, put to death, or forced to flee the country after being stripped of all their possessions. These actions foreshadowed the wartime extermination of millions of Jews.
Hitler's main objective, once he gained dictatorial powers, was to give Germany a powerful armed force with which to conquer "living space" and subjugate the Continent. Shortly after the Nazis came to power the Germany economy was put on a wartime footing. Production soared: between 1932 and 1935 alone German steel production trebled. Hitler expected the armed forces and the economy to be fully geared for war by 1940.
Understand the European causes of World War II.
During his first two years as Chancellor Hitler pursued a relatively cautious foreign policy so as not to alarm Britain and France until he had solidified his grip on Germany and made progress with the secret rearmament program.
Hitler made his first overt aggressive move in March, 1935. He formally denounced the disarmament clauses of the Versailles Treaty and introduced compulsory military training. This measure did not produce any response from Britain and France. In fact Britain signed with Germany a naval agreement which, by establishing ratios of naval power between the two nations, implicitly legitimized Hitler's breach of the Versailles Treaty. A year later German troops marched into the demilitarized zone of the Rhineland. Again nothing happened, although by so Hitler had knocked out another prop of the French security system. There is general agreement among historians that the years 1935-1936 offered the last chance to stop Nazi expansion short of general war. We know now that German troops marching into the Rhineland had orders to pull back in the event of French countermeasures. The impunity with which Hitler violated the Versailles Treaty gained him immense prestige in Germany and vastly increased his self-confidence.
Behind Allied inaction lay the mood known as "appeasement." It was a crucial element in the chain of events leading to World War II, and indirectly played a major part in the conduct of international relations in the cold war that followed World War II. To "appease" meant yielding to the demands of the dictators in the belief that once these demands were satisfied the dictators would settle down and turn into good members of the international community. The principal and universal element behind appeasement was pacifism. World War I had settled few of the political problems of Europe at a horrible cost--half of all French males between the ages of 20 and 32 in 1914 had been killed in the war. There was widespread expectation that another world war would be infinitely more destructive, particularly for the civilian population. Anything seemed preferable to fighting. The pacifistic mood of the time is well reflected in a resolution adopted by some Oxford University students one month after Hitler came to power: "This House will under no circumstances fight for its King or country." Antiwar sentiment also pervaded much of German public opinion. Hitler's early popularity at home derived in large part from the fact that he achieved his aims by diplomatic pressure and not by war. With the exception of Winston Churchill, remembered chiefly for the fiasco of the 1915 Gallipoli campaign and for his poor performance as Chancellor of the Exchequer, and who was kept out of the British Cabinet and ignored, British leadership was addicted to appeasement. As late as 1938 Britain's expenditures on armaments were only one-quarter those of Germany.
In October, 1935 Italy launched an unprovoked attack on Ethiopia from Italian Somalia. The League of Nations condemned Italy as the aggressor and voted to impose on it economic sanctions. The economic sanctions were never enforced and Italy soon had all of Ethiopia. But the League's actions were irritating enough to push Italy into Germany's arms. Before long the two countries established close diplomatic links. Mussolini spoke of Rome and Berlin as forming a political "Axis." The term was subsequently applied to the whole anti-democratic, totalitarian bloc.
The Ethiopian war was barely over when a civil war broke out in Spain. In July, 1936 A group of conservative army officers, led by General Francisco Franco, invaded Spain from Morocco with the purpose of overthrowing a left-wing republican government which had recently won the elections. The Spanish Civil War was the most devastating war in all Spanish history; over 600,000 died, and it was accompanied by extreme cruelties on both sides. Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy immediately aligned themselves with Franco and sent troops (the Italians over 50,000) and equipment. The Soviet Union sent equipment, technicians and political advisors to the government side and stigmatized the rebels under Franco as the agents of international fascism. Thousands of volunteers of leftist or liberal sympathy, from the U.S. and Europe, served in Spain with the loyalist republican forces. The Spanish Civil War split the world into fascist and antifascist camps. The war ended in March, 1939 when Franco established an authoritarian, fascist-type rule over the exhausted country.
In November, 1936, Germany and Japan signed the Anti-Comintern Pact, ostensibly directed against the Communist International but actually a treaty of friendship. Italy signed a year later, and in 1941 the pact was renewed with eleven other countries also joining. Thus, while the democracies were ineffectually trying to preserve peace at any price, a group of expansionist countries formed a counter-alliance. The successes of Nazi diplomacy lay in its knowledge of precisely how far to push blackmail before its victims rebelled. Its crowning achievement was the Munich agreement of 1938.
Hitler believed that the 85 million Germans had to acquire additional "living space," raw materials and food stuffs or face extinction. Since history showed that space could be acquired only by violence, Hitler believed that war was inevitable--the only question was when, and under what conditions. Germany would attain the peak of military strength in 1943-1945, and this would be the latest date for launching war, although it could begin earlier. In any event, Hitler's immediate goal in 1938 was to destroy Austria and Czechoslovakia so as to protect Germany's flank for the critical operations in the West. Hitler cleverly camouflaged his assault on Austria and Czechoslovakia with slogans of national self-determination. All he wanted, he proclaimed, was to bring into the Reich the Germans who against their will had been separated from it: the Austrians and the German minority in the Sudeten region of Czechoslovakia.
The Austrian Republic was brought down in March, 1938, by the combined pressures of Germany from without and a Nazi "Fifth Column" from within. The country with its 6 million Germans was then fused with Germany into a Greater Reich. The Czechs, unlike the Austrians wanted no dealings with the Germans and were prepared to resist them: their military equipment was first rate, and their frontier was heavily fortified. Czechoslovakia was the only country in central Europe in 1938 that was still a democracy and it had the highest standard of living east of Germany. Strategically it was the keystone of Europe. It had a firm alliance with France, and an alliance with the Soviet Union; Soviet aid was made dependent of the functioning of the French alliance. In the spring of 1938 the Nazis began to stir up trouble among the 3 million Germans inhabiting the Sudeten region. Prague was prepared to go far in meeting the Sudeten Germans' demands for autonomy, but each time it made a concession the stakes were raised and more civil disturbances followed. Hitler, declaring "intolerable" alleged Czech persecution of the Sudeten Germans, threatened to intervene on their behalf. In September, 1938, war seemed imminent.
Hitler invited the British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, the French Premier Edouard Daladier, and Mussolini to a meeting at Munich to deal with the crisis. Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union (which had been urging a firm stand against Germany) were excluded from the meeting. At Munich Chamberlain and Daladier accepted Hitler's terms and then put enormous pressure on the Czech government to yield. France repudiated its treaty obligations to protect Czechoslovakia, and ignored the Soviets who had reaffirmed their willingness to aid the Czechs if the French acted. Germany was allowed to annex the Sudetenland. This area contained the mountainous approaches and the fortifications, so that its loss left Czechoslovakia militarily defenseless. Hitler promised to guarantee the integrity of what remained of Czechoslovakia. Barely one month after the signature of the Munich agreement, in total disregard of his pledges, Hitler ordered the German army to occupy the remainder of Czechoslovakia. The republic, shorn of its fortifications and with no allies, could offer no resistance and capitulated in March, 1939.
Hitler then began to apply pressure on Poland, demanding Danzig and a corridor linking Germany with East Prussia. The Poles refused to bargain on these matters. Britain and France finally realized that nothing short of European hegemony would satisfy Hitler and they guaranteed Poland's independence. But Hitler doubted that these pledges would be honored should he succeed in smashing Poland with one quick blow. On April 3, 1939, he issued secret orders to prepare the invasion of Poland.
Stalin realized the Hitler posed a serious threat to the Soviet Union. Hitler's threats of an anti-Communist crusade and the 1936 conclusion of the Anti-Comintern Pact with Japan were direct threats to his country. The Soviet Union was diplomatically isolated, and in the event of a combined German-Japanese attack could count on the support of no major power. Stalin took measures to overcome this isolation. In September 1934 the Soviets joined the League of Nations. In May, 1935 it signed the previously mentioned treaties with Czechoslovakia and France. Perhaps the Soviet purges of 1935-1938 were connected with the international situation, serving to eliminate rivals for power in the event of war and internal anarchy.
Western appeasement of Hitler aroused Stalin's suspicions. He began to believe that it was part of a deliberate plot on the part of England and France to buy their own safety by deflecting Hitler's ambitions from the West to the East. The Munich agreement and the German occupation of Czechoslovakia seemed to confirm these suspicions. Stalin appears to have concluded that Eastern Europe had been conceded to Hitler as a springboard for an attack against the Soviet Union. Since by early 1939 Japanese and Soviet troops were involved in clashes along the Mongolian border, Stalin's alarm was based on realistic considerations. Stalin decided to buy himself time. On August 23, 1939 the Soviet Union and Germany signed a treaty of nonaggression and friendship. In a protocol kept secret at the time, it was agreed that in any future territorial rearrangement the Soviet Union and Germany would divide Poland between them, that the Soviet Union would have a "sphere of influence" over Finland, the Baltic States, and Bessarabia (which had been lost to Rumania in World War I). In return the Soviets pledged to stay out of any war between Germany and Poland, or between Germany and the Western democracies.
The Nazi-Soviet pact stupefied the world. Communism and Nazism, supposed to be ideological opposites, had come together. The pact was recognized as the signal for war; all last minute negotiations failed. The Germans invaded Poland on September 1, 1939. On September 3 Great Britain and France declared war on Germany and World War II began.
Understand the war in Europe during 1939-1941.
The invasion of Poland exceeded all Nazi hopes. Using mechanized units to break through enemy lines, spread out behind them, and form vast "pincers" to isolate and trap large enemies units, the German blitzkrieg ("lightning war") reached Warsaw in a week. (To illustrate how deadly war had become, the Germans took 45,000 casualties in the "easy" victory over Poland). On September 17 the Soviet Union entered eastern Poland to claim the territories accorded it by the secret agreement with Germany. Simultaneously, Soviet troops occupied strategic bases in the three Baltic republics.
In October, 1939, when Finland refused Soviet demands for territorial concessions (Leningrad was only 20 miles from the Finnish border) the Soviet army attacked. The campaign at first went badly for the Soviets, confirming European opinion in its low estimate of their fighting capacity. In the end, however, Soviet superiority in numbers forced the Finns to capitulate in March, 1940. The Finns had to yield somewhat more territory to the USSR than originally demanded but retained their independence.
In the West the winter and spring of the first year of war passed without action, in what came to be known as the "phony war." The only important engagement occurred in Scandinavia. The British and the Germans simultaneously tried to seize Norway, but the Germans got there first with larger forces, occupying Denmark on the way in April, 1940. The Scandinavian campaign cost Germany most of its navy. In July, 1940 the German navy could only deploy for action three cruisers and four destroyers. All the other ships of destroyer size or larger had been sunk or damaged. These losses would be significant when Hitler wanted to invade Britain.
The German offensive against France through the Low Countries began on May 10, 1940. Belgian fortresses were captured in a matter of hours by specially trained parachute units. Dutch cities were bombed into submission. Rotterdam was leveled, killing in the process 40,000 civilians. Refugees seeking to flee the combat zone were deliberately machine-gunned from the air to create chaos, clog the roads, and hamper reinforcements. The French and British sent into Belgium the majority of their forces. But the Germans delivered their main armored thrust through Luxembourg and the Ardennes forest, long considered by the French to be impassable to tanks. The German divisions drove deep into northern France and cut off the Allied armies in Belgium. The Dutch and Belgian armies capitulated and a large part of the French army surrendered.
Subsequently, the British managed to evacuate nearly their entire trapped Expeditionary Force, plus a considerable French contingent--338,000 men in all--through Dunkirk, but most of their equipment had to be left behind. On June 13-14 the Germans entered Paris, and shortly after France signed an armistice. The country was divided into two zones: the northern one was placed under German occupation, and the southern one was established as a satellite state ruled from Vichy. The republic was dead; the very slogan Liberty, Equality, Fraternity was banned from official use.
Mussolini attacked France on June 10 as soon as it was clear that Germany had defeated it. Shortly thereafter, he invaded Greece and moved against the British in Africa. The Duce tied his own destinies, for good or ill, to those of the Fuhrer. Since the Germans were emphatically the senior partner in this combination, since they were on good terms with Franco in Spain, and since the USSR was benevolently neutral, they now dominated the European continent. Hitler impressed millions of French, Russians, Poles, Czechs, and others, prisoners of war or civilians, to work as slave labor in his war industries, in one of the largest forcible displacements of population in history.
Britain was left alone to face the Axis powers. In May, 1940, Winston Churchill became Prime Minister. Churchill never wavered in his determination. Britain, he announced, would fight "if necessary for years, if necessary alone," until Germany gave up all its conquests. Confronted with this intransigence Hitler prepared to invade Britain. The first phase of the operation was to secure mastery of the air, essential for the safe transport of the invasion force across the Channel. Early in August the Luftwaffe, the German air force, launched its offensive against the Royal Air Force (RAF). British aircraft and training were slightly superior to Germany's, the British had broken the German communication code, and the use of radar, all combined to give the RAF a two to one kill ratio over German aircraft. If Germany had continued its attack on the RAF it would have succeeded in its plan to destroy the British air force, but the Luftwaffe's losses were so high that in September it changed tactics: instead of daytime attacks on air installations, it carried out nighttime attacks on cities. The intention was to break civilian morale and force Britain to make peace. These attacks failed and Hitler lost the Battle of Britain and his chance to invade England.
At the end of 1940 Hitler was at the peak of his power. Yet his power derived from a five-year priority in armament, the gap between German and foreign military power was bound to narrow: everyone was arming now, including the United States. In other words, Hitler had to act while he still held his great advantage. In September, 1940 Germany concluded with Italy and Japan a Tripartite Pact dividing Asia and Africa into spheres of influence: Italy was to have the Mediterranean, Japan southeast Asia, and Germany central Africa.
In December, 1940 Hitler gave his General Staff instructions to prepare for Operation Barbarossa, the invasion of the Soviet Union. Hitler's strategy was to launch a lightning offensive that would bring German armies in 8 to 10 weeks to the banks of the Volga. The territories conquered were to provide Germany with abundant foodstuffs, raw materials, and slave labor, transforming German-dominated Europe into a self-sufficient, impregnable fortress. Areas east of the Volga were to be left to the Russians. Having destroyed the Soviet army, Hitler intended to turn southward and take over the Middle East and North Africa. The assault on the USSR was conceived not merely as a war of conquest; it was to be a war of extermination, the first phase in clearing Eastern Europe of the "inferior races" for subsequent German settlement. The Germans about to invade the Soviet Union were given the explicit authority--indeed, they were told that it was their patriotic duty--to kill anyone whom they considered to be or chose to define as being a "Communist" or an "intellectual," as well as captured enemy soldiers.
The German invasion of the Soviet Union was originally scheduled for mid-May, 1941 but it had to be postponed a month. The Italians bogged down in Greece, and in April Hitler sent troops to bail them out. In the process the Germans also invaded and occupied Yugoslavia. On June, 22, 1941, three million German troops along with more than 500,000 soldiers of countries allied with Germany (and over 600,000 horses) plunged into Soviet territory. The Soviets were not prepared for the attack, and had not even fully mobilized. Within six weeks the road to Moscow lay open. By the end of September the Germans had taken a toll of 2.5 million men, 22,000 guns, 18,000 tanks, and 14,000 planes. But Hitler, intending to avoid Napoleon's mistake, decided to postpone capture of the capital in order first to destroy what was left of Soviet armies and industrial resources in the northern and southern parts of the country.
Hitler's decision to postpone the capture of Moscow gave the Soviets two months in which to raise fresh troops in the east and organize their defenses. It also forced the Germans to open the drive on Moscow at the onset of the winter, for which they had made no provisions. The offensive resumed early in October. On December 2, in savage fighting, the Germans penetrated the suburbs of the city, but here they were stopped. German soldiers were exhausted from 6 months of continuous combat and froze in their summer uniforms; their motorized equipment stalled for lack of antifreeze. On December 5-6 the Russians counterattacked and by the middle of January, 1942 the German army had been pushed a 100 miles to the west of Moscow. Hitler, infuriated by the reverse, sacked his top officers and assumed personal command.
On the Soviet side, the German invasion produced a tremendous surge of national sentiment. At first the population offered little resistance to the Germans, and in some areas even welcomed them. But as soon as the army and SS began to shoot civilians and prisoners, and ship people to Germany (ultimately over 3 million were sent as slave labor) resistance stiffened. Surrounded Soviet military units often refused to surrender, fighting to the last man. Stalin, in his propaganda, abandoned all pretense of defending communism, and frankly exhorted the nation to fight for "Holy Russia." The Soviet determination had not been planned for by Hitler and his generals, for the miserable showing the Red Army had made in the war with Finland led them to expect a rapid collapse of Soviet morale.
Understand Japanese aggression that led to World War II
Many factors were responsible for the strong imperialist drive that emerged in Japan at the beginning of the 20th century. The nationalist desire for equality with the Western powers was one important factor. Another was the economic motivation of maintaining access to the raw materials and markets of East Asia, which might be denied Japan if neighboring countries fell under the domination of one or another of the powers. Perhaps the most important underlying factor was the prevailing political instability of East Asia. In Korea and China, where Japan had the greatest economic advantage, old impotent governments were being undermined by revolutionary movements. The impending collapse of these governments caused consternation in Japan because they might be replaced with either Western control, or nationalistic governments that could rally the people against Japan's security and economic interests.
Prior to World War I, the international system in Asia was in rough equilibrium. World War I upset this balance, and caused the eventual collapse of the East Asian power structure. During the war Japan seized German holdings in Shantung and German-held islands in the South Pacific: the Carolinas, Marianas, Marshalls, Palau, and Yap.
In 1911 the Manchu dynasty was overthrown and China underwent years of anarchy. Taking advantage of the situation, Japan delivered in January, 1915, 21 Demands on China. The 21 Demands sought Chinese recognition of the transference of German rights in Shantung to Japan; the employment of Japanese as advisors to the Chinese government; Chinese purchase of arms from Japan; and permission for Japan to construct railways in China. These demands caused an international uproar: first, because they were interpreted as a unilateral departure from the system of understanding developed among the powers since the Chinese-Japanese War of 1895; and second, because it marked a growing Japanese-American estrangement and the emergence of the United States' role as protector of the new Chinese Republic which had come into existence in 1912. After negotiations with the U.S., Japan withdrew its demand for Japanese "advisors" to the Chinese government (Chinese acceptance of this demand would have made China a virtual protectorate of Japan) and China accepted the rest.
The issues between Japan and the U.S. reappeared at the Paris Peace Conference of 1919. Japan requested that a clause advocating racial equality be inserted in the League of Nations Covenant. The U.S. and Britain, feared that this would mean that Asians would have to be admitted to their countries as immigrants on an equal basis with Europeans, and they voted it down. In addition, Wilson supported China's contentions that the war had canceled Germany's leasehold in Shantung and that the treaties Japan had forced upon her were void since they were obtained by coercion. Wilson only capitulated when Japan threatened to walk out of the peace conference and boycott the League. These actions convinced the Japanese that they were still not accepted as equal partners by the Western world.
When World War I ended, the U.S., Great Britain, and Japan found themselves on the threshold of a great naval arms race. The U.S. government planned construction of a vast fleet of 39 battleships and 12 cruisers. Britain and Japan would either have to expend vast sums in counter building or fall behind in the race. The U.S. was uneasy about the British-Japanese Alliance (1905) and wanted a navy that could defeat the combined Japanese-British fleet. Pressure from Britain and the U.S. public (who were not eager to spend huge sums on defense that soon after World War I) caused the Harding Administration to call a conference in Washington in November, 1921. At the Washington Conference a 5:5:3 ratio in battleships and aircraft carriers for the U.S., Great Britain and Japan was set. Lesser craft remained unregulated. In return for Japanese acceptance of a smaller ratio (which the Japanese believed would be sufficient to guarantee its dominance in the western Pacific), the U.S. promised Japan that it would not increase its fortifications in the Pacific west of Hawaii and Britain pledged that it would not increase them east of Singapore and north of Australia. The British-Japanese Alliance was terminated.
From 1928 to 1932 Japan was brought to a crisis point by the onset of the Great Depression and by rising internal opposition to the framework of foreign relations established by the Washington Conference. The army wanted to take stronger measures against China in Manchuria, fearing that if they did not, the opportunity to secure them permanently for Japan would be lost. The Kuomintang, the Nationalist Party in China under the leadership of Chiang Kai-shek, embarked on a campaign of national unification, accompanied by radical antiforeign outbursts and by slogans demanding an end to the unequal treaties that the powers (including Japan) had forced China to sign. China was also weakened by the civil war between the Communists under the leadership of Mao Zedong, and the Nationalists.
The Manchurian Incident on September 18, 1931 can be viewed as the beginning of World War II. A small explosion on the tracks of the Japanese railway was taken as sufficient pretext for attacking Chinese troops and expanding Japanese control. The Japanese army conquered all of Manchuria and established a Japanese puppet state, Manchukuo. When the League of Nations condemned Japan as the aggressor, the Japanese left the League. After decades of sowing the winds of nationalism among the Japanese people, the elites were now reaping the whirlwind. They had used education, the media, and a variety of grassroots organizations to mobilize nationalist sentiment among the populace for the hard struggles required to support industrialism and imperialism, and now the government was caught in a trap of its own making. Popular nationalism became a runaway force, extremely difficult to control -- especially for a government so weak and cumbersome. By 1936, the military controlled the Japanese government.
For China, the Japanese conquest of Manchuria was disastrous. After 1931 the Nationalist government completely neglected land reform and the terrible poverty of the Chinese peasant. Chinese peasants paid about half of their crops to their landlords in rent. Fifty percent of the land was owned by a mere 4 percent of the families, usually absentee landlords living in cities. Peasants were heavily in debt and chronically underfed. Eggs and meat accounted for only 2 percent of the food peasants consumed.
The Manchurian Incident was a turning point for Japan. Japan abandoned the general policy of cooperation with the Western powers, and chose to pursue its own destiny in East Asia. The leadership now spoke of an "Asian Monroe Doctrine," declaring Japan's responsibility for maintaining peace in Asia. To maintain the strategic posture demanded by its new policy Japan now needed military power sufficient for three major tasks: to defeat the Soviet army, whose strength on the borders of Manchukuo had been vastly augmented; to guarantee the security of the home islands against the U.S. navy; and to compel the Chinese government to accept Japan's position in Manchuria and northern China. Japan was never able to achieve these objectives.
Understand United States foreign policy prior to its entry into World War II.
As the world edged toward war in the mid-1930s a wave of isolationist sentiment swept across the United States. A Gallup poll in 1937, for example, revealed that 64 percent of the public viewed intervention in World War I as a mistake. A 1934 Senate investigation led by the isolationist Senator Gerald Nye of North Dakota revealed that vast profits were made by arms manufactures and financiers during World War I. As Nye summed it up, "When Americans went into the fray, they little thought that they were . . . fighting to save the skins of American bankers who . . . had two billions of dollars of loans to the Allies in jeopardy." The investigation seemed almost as anti-business in bias as antiwar, and reflected the widespread view that greedy bankers and industrialists encouraged or instigated international strife--a much too simple explanation for war.
In July, 1937 a clash between Japanese and Chinese troops in Peking (the "China Incident"), broadened into an all-out war by Japan to reduce China to a protectorate status. The "China Incident" marked a turning point in American policy. President Roosevelt turned to a more clearly internationalist course. He hoped to keep the U.S. out of war, but, not at the expense of the United States' interests in Asia and Europe.
Gradually, as public support for a stronger course slowly developed in America, the State Department indicated to Japan that a line was being drawn. The Two-Ocean Naval Act of 1938 vastly increased naval construction. Meanwhile Japan openly proclaimed in 1938 her plan for a "New Order" for East Asia, claiming that the Open Door no longer applied in China. The U.S. objected vigorously to the "New Order" and reasserted its interests in China and the Far East. The Pacific Fleet was moved to Pearl Harbor to remind Tokyo of American power and will to resist. Finally, the administration in mid-1939 gave the required notice to terminate the Japanese-American commercial treaty of 1911, thereby opening the way for economic sanctions against Japan.
Hitler's total disregard for the Munich Agreement and his invasion of Poland in September, 1939 helped weaken the isolationist sentiment in America. A Gallup poll taken after the fall of Poland indicated that 84 percent of the American people wanted an Allied victory and 76 percent, despite an overwhelming desire to remain at peace, expected America to become involved in the war sooner or later.
After the fall of Poland Congress passed the "Cash & Carry Act." Belligerents now could purchase arms and other war goods provided they paid cash and transported their purchases on their own ships. The act still banned loans to belligerent governments and prohibited U.S. ships from entering war zones. Since the British navy ruled the seas, "Cash and Carry" obviously would benefit the Allies while giving Americans profits without any risk of involvement. The administration felt confident that, assured of U.S. supplies, Britain and France could defeat Hitler without American intervention.
The fall of France stunned Americans. It seemed incredible that France, which had held out so heroically in World War I, could be utterly defeated in a campaign of a few weeks duration. Many feared that Britain would also fall, leaving no one to stand between the Nazi armed machine and an unprepared America. American interests were definitely at stake. In a Hitler dominated Europe, U.S. trade would be restricted or even terminated. A victory over Britain would give Germany the world's strongest navy and probable control of the North Atlantic, threatening both U.S. security and trade. Along with its Japanese ally, the fascists could threaten American security and economic interests anywhere on the globe. Americans also could not look kindly upon fascism--an ideology totally foreign to the American concept of liberal-capitalism--being spread throughout the world. Yet, when the Germans struck in the West, the U.S. army could field fewer than a third the number of divisions Belgium put in the field; there were all of 150 fighters and 50 heavy bombers in the army air force.
In this crisis, FDR decided to seek an unprecedented third term in the presidency. Congress was galvanized into appropriating over $10 billion for military defense and passing the first peacetime military conscription law in U.S. history (the draft was extended in 1941 by only one vote). He helped insure Republican support for his policies by bring in two Republicans into his cabinet (Frank Knox [1936 vice-presidential candidate] as Secretary of the Navy and Henry L. Stimson [Secretary of State under Hoover] as Secretary of War).
A desperate Britain pleaded with FDR for more arms. Britain particularly needed destroyers to cope with German U-boat attacks. Roosevelt understood that Britain's survival was in America's best interests. As he once remarked to an aide: "If we want to keep out of this war, the longer we keep the Allies going, that much longer we stay out of this war." Roosevelt still had to mollify public opinion so he could not come right out and give Britain war goods. On September 2, 1940 Britain granted the U.S. long-term leases to six Western Hemisphere bases, and gave two others free, in exchange for 50 American mothballed World War I destroyers. London also announced that the British fleet would never fall into German hands. The eight bases, from Newfoundland to British Guiana strengthened the ability of the U.S. to defend the Western Hemisphere and Roosevelt emphasized that point--he even called the swap the most important contribution to American security since the Louisiana Purchase--but the real significance of the deal was that it marked the end of neutrality for the U.S. Henceforth it assumed the role of a nonbelligerent aiding one side in the war against the other.
Roosevelt still could not move too fast. Polls revealed that while four of every five Americans supported aid to England, 82 percent opposed entering the war. In the 1940 presidential campaign The Republican candidate, Wendell L. Willkie, questioned FDR's "promise to keep our boys out of foreign wars." Roosevelt did win a third term, though by a closer margin than in 1932 and 1936.
After the election, in December, 1940, FDR declared in a radio address to the nation that the United States must become "the great arsenal of democracy." To avoid the World War I problem of war debts, the President proposed that material be transferred or leased to the Allies for payment in kind "or any other direct or indirect benefit" of value to the U.S. Clause VII of the Lend-Lease Act contained a blueprint for a postwar open-door designed to break down such barriers to trade as the British imperial preference system. On March 11, 1940 Roosevelt signed the Lend-Lease Act into law. Ultimately the country expended around $50 billion under the act.
The U.S. rapidly drifted into a limited and undeclared war with Germany after the passage of lend-lease. Roosevelt acted primarily upon his own executive authority as Commander-in-Chief in taking these measures, bypassing Congress. The U.S. seized Axis shipping in American ports, the navy patrolled Atlantic shipping routes reporting German U-boat sightings to the British, and American troops occupied the Danish colonies of Greenland in April, 1941 and Iceland in July, to prevent an Axis seizure. The American navy began to convoy American shipping loaded with lend-lease goods half-way across the Atlantic, thereby effectively doubling the efficiency of the British escort fleet.
In September, 1941 the destroyer the USS Greer was attacked by a German submarine as it broadcast the submarine's position to a British patrol plane. Less than candidly, Roosevelt publicly branded the attack as unprovoked and issued orders to the navy to shoot on sight at those "rattlesnakes of the sea." After this incident the U.S. navy also escorted British shipping half-way across the Atlantic. In October, the Germans attacked the destroyer Kearney and sank the Reuben James, both of which were engaged in convoying. These incidents outraged the public, and Congress in November permitted the arming of American merchant ships and their sailing into the war zones. An undeclared limited naval war existed between the U.S. and Germany by the fall of 1941.
As the China conflict expanded Japan was less prepared to deal with the Soviet army on the Manchurian border and the American fleet in the Pacific. At the time Germany began the war in Europe, the Japanese were in the last stages of being defeated by the Soviet Union in bitter and bloody fighting on the border of Manchuria and Outer Mongolia (the Nomonhan Incident); at the same time the American navy embarked on increasing the size of its Pacific fleet. By the spring of 1940 the Japanese concluded that America's crash program would result in its gaining naval hegemony in the Pacific by 1942, and that Japan must have access to the oil of the Dutch East Indies in order to cope with U.S. power. In the autumn of 1940 Japan signed the Tripartite Pact with Germany and Italy, in which the signatories pledged to aid one another if attacked by a power not currently involved in the European war or the fighting in China. Japan thereby hoped to isolate the U.S. and dissuade it from conflict with Japan, thus opening the way for Japan to seize the European colonies in Southeast Asia, grasp the resources it needed for self-sufficiency, and cut off Chinese supply lines. To free its northern flank Japan signed a neutrality pact with the USSR in April 1941; and when Hitler attacked the Soviet Union in June, the Manchukuo-Soviet border seemed wholly secure. In July, 1941 Japanese troops entered French Indochina.
The U.S. responded to these actions by banning the sale of aviation gasoline to Japan in July, 1940, added scrap iron to the prohibited list in October, and in December gave Chiang Kai-shek a $100 million loan and promises of military aid. Roosevelt also stationed the Pacific Fleet permanently at Pearl Harbor. The U.S. had broken the Japanese diplomatic (and later naval) code so the U.S. had a clear idea of Japanese's goals. After the Japanese move into French Indochina Roosevelt froze all Japanese assets in America and trade in effect ceased. He also embargoed all oil exports to Japan. The British and Netherlands governments also took similar action.
The oil embargo stunned Japan. With only about a year's supply of petroleum on hand, Japan would either have to come to terms with the U.S. or strike for an independent supply. Rather than turn back Japanese leaders were prepared to take risks. As one leader explained to the Emperor a month before Pearl Harbor, "It is impossible from the standpoint of our domestic political situation and of our self-preservation, to accept all of the American demands [a complete Japanese withdrawal from China and French Indochina]. If we miss the present opportunity to go to war, we will have to submit to American dictation. Therefore, I recognize that it is inevitable that we must decide to start a war against the United States. I will put my trust in what I have been told: namely, that things will go well in the early part of the war; and that although we will experience increasing difficulties as the war progresses, there is some prospect of success."
The American government knew that Japan would attack but not where. All signs pointed to an imminent attack upon the British-Dutch colonies in Southeast Asia, but would Japan also strike at American territory? If she bypassed the Philippines, the administration was not sure that Congress would declare war. The surprise attack upon Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 removed these uncertainties. In a masterfully executed raid, a Japanese carrier task force slipped undetected across the Pacific to unleash a devastating aerial attack against the Pacific Fleet and nearby naval and military installations. Five battleships, three cruisers, and lesser warships were sunk or heavily damaged. The Japanese destroyed 188 aircraft and killed approximately 3,000 men. Japan lost only 27 aircraft and six midget submarines. Fortunately for the U.S., the three American aircraft carriers stationed at Pearl Harbor were at sea when the raid occurred. Even so, Japan had severely crippled American naval and air power in the Pacific and thereby gained time to overrun her targets in Southeast Asia.
A few days after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor Germany and Italy declared war on the United States insuring their own destruction.
Understand the war in Europe 1941-45.
During joint American and British talks held in early 1942 it was decided that the Allies would give priority to the European theater. Germany was the most powerful of the Axis partners, and if allowed to consolidate its hold on the Continent could transform it into a fortress that no subsequent effort would be able to reduce.
The greatest contribution the United States could make to the Allied cause was to put to military use its vast industrial plant. One year after Pearl Harbor the American production of armaments equaled that of Germany, Italy, and Japan put together, and by 1944 it was double that. The consumption of men and machines in World War II was enormous. For example, during world War II the Soviet Union received from the U.S. over 400,000 trucks, 12,000 tanks, 14,000 planes, and an large quantity of other goods, totaling 17.5 million tons. The Soviets themselves built approximately 100,000 tanks, 100,000 aircraft, and 175,000 artillery pieces during war. About two thirds of this material was destroyed in the fighting and 20 million Russians died. At first it looked as if the Germans, with their blitzkrieg that could rapidly penetrate an enemy's front by a large force of tanks, closely assisted by ground-attack aircraft and followed by motorized infantry and artillery, had found a way around the terrible slaughter of trench warfare. Once through the front line, the tanks would push on at high speed to the enemy's higher command posts and vital communications centers deep in the rear and spread chaos behind the front, which would then collapse almost of its own accord when the troops holding it found themselves cut off from their own headquarters and supplies.
No innovation in warfare stays a surprise for very long, and by the middle of the war, when German forces were fighting deep inside the Soviet Union, attrition had returned with a vengeance. The solution to the blitzkrieg tactic of rapid penetration was to make the defended zone deeper--many miles deep, with successive belts of trenches, mine fields, bunkers, gun positions, and tank traps which would slow down the armored spearheads and eventually wear them away. This moving front caught up cities and civilians in its maw, chewing them up as it moved along. On the average the countries from Germany eastward, where the fighting was most intense and prolonged, lost about 10 percent of their populations killed (in contrast, the U.S. lost about 1/2 of 1 percent of its total population with no physical damage to its homeland).
In 1943 and 1944 the Soviet army's casualties were 80 percent of the forces engaged. Being an officer did not help. In general, officer casualties in the British and American armies in the rifle battalions that did most of the fighting were around twice as high proportionally as the casualties among enlisted men.
The British, remembering the slaughter of World War I, wanted to fight Germany on the periphery, combined with bombing raids against Germany itself and the encouragement of resistance forces in the occupied countries. Churchill was determined to let the Continentals do their own fighting. The American military opposed Churchill's policy, although not for political reasons, but because they believed that the closing and tightening the ring concept was risky rather than safe, that it would waste lives and material rather than save them. Chief of Staff George Marshall believed that it was very foolish to leave the Red Army to face almost all of the German Army alone. There was a real possibility they would be defeated. Marshall also feared that if U.S. troops did not get involved in combat soon, the "Asia-firsters," with their already impressive political base in the U.S. would be able to switch priorities and force the administration to concentrate on the Japanese.
Thus in early 1942 a rather intense debate developed among the Allies, and within each country, on where and when the Anglo-Americans would first strike the Axis. The Soviet Union was being devastated by the German army and Stalin desperately sought relief through a second front in western Europe. Churchill with his "closing the ring" theory, and desiring to re-establish British political control in the Mediterranean, suggested an invasion of French North Africa. Roosevelt had to decide. The pressures on him, from all sides, were enormous. Roosevelt, aware of Soviet anxiety and eager to bolster Soviet resistance, told the Soviet Foreign minister in May, 1942, that he hoped to launch a second front in Europe that year. The Soviets interpreted Roosevelt's statement as a definite promise for a second front in 1942. Yet the United States was nowhere near full mobilization, it did not have the necessary equipment for a full scale invasion of Europe, and its troops were green. German submarines were sinking enormous numbers of allied ships off the North American coast in the first half of 1942; getting supplies and men to Europe was a difficult task. Any invasion of France would mean heavy casualties, maybe even defeat. Roosevelt chose North Africa. The subsequent failure of the U.S. and Great Britain to strike across the channel in 1942 and 1943 deeply disappointed the Soviets and heightened their suspicions of the western Allies. The issue of a second front began to sow the seeds of the later Cold War.
The November, 1942 North Africa invasion (operation Torch) had far reaching implications. After the defeat of the Germans there, it seemed logical to go into Italy and Sicily beginning in July, 1943. These were impressive gains on the map, but it delayed the invasion of the continent by another year and did not contribute to any significant destruction of German power. It was the Red Army, who in Winston Churchill's phrase, "tore the guts out of the German army." The key battle was Stalingrad. The importance of Stalingrad was not so much strategic as psychological. As at Verdun in 1916, the two sides decided here to make their supreme contest of will. After they were beaten, many Germans for the first time realized that the war was lost.
In the spring of 1942, when operations on the Russian front resumed, the Germans were in a favorable position. They controlled the principal industrial and agrarian regions of the Soviet Union. They had suffered less than a million casualties, while inflicting 4.5 million casualties on the Red Army. They were also entrenched near the Soviet Union's two major cities, Moscow and Leningrad. Hitler decided once more to postpone the capture of Moscow, and to concentrate instead on seizing the Caucasus, where lay the Soviet Union's richest oil deposits. The Germans failed to reach the oil-producing areas, and worst of all, they could not reduce Stalingrad, whose capture Hitler had demanded. The more troops they sent against it, the more troops the Soviets committed to its defense. For Stalin, Stalingrad had a personal significance. The city was named for him because in 1919 he had played an active part in directing its successful defense against the White Army. The fighting was brutal and house to house -- the Soviets lost more men in the battle of Stalingrad than the United States lost in combat during the entire war.
Suddenly, on November 19-20, the Soviets launched a powerful counter attack, breaking through the Hungarian, Rumanian, and Italian units guarding the flanks of the German Sixth Army. The German generals pleaded with Hitler for permission to stage a breakout from the trap while there was still time, but Hitler insisted that the troops hold on to every inch of gained ground. Outnumbered, freezing, so short of food that some of them resorted to cannibalism, the Germans held out for two months. Then, at the end of January, 1943, the Sixth Army surrendered. The Soviets captured 91,000 prisoners, 1,500 tanks, and 60,000 vehicles. To straighten out the front after the loss of the Sixth Army, the German army had to retreat along the entire front, giving up most of the ground conquered the preceding spring. It was, as Winston Churchill cautiously put it in a speech delivered in November, 1942, "not the end, not even the beginning of the end, but possible the end of the beginning."
Hitler was determined to hold out to the last. He counted partly on Allied disagreements (he tried to get a separate peace with the Soviet Union) and partly on new weapons like jet airplanes and the V-1 cruise missile, of which 22,400 were launched (many of which were shot down by Allied aircraft), and beginning in September 1944, the V-2 ballistic missile, of which 1,115 fell on London causing severe damage. As the Allied ground forces advanced, V-1s and V-2s were increasingly fired at Antwerp, with its great harbor. Over 15,000 people were killed and more than 45,000 wounded from these rocket attacks.
On the eastern front the Germans undertook in July, 1943, one more major offensive with 17 armored divisions. In the greatest tank battle in history the Soviets repulsed the attack, and pushed the German army back 200 miles. The best the Germans could hence-forth hope for was simply to hold in the East. The Soviets had twice the manpower, and two to three times the weapons and equipment. Wherever the Germans retreated, they looted that which was movable and dynamited or set on fire what was left, including ancient churches and historic monuments.
On June 6, 1944, D-Day, the allied invasion of France through Normandy occurred. The Allies landed 8 divisions (156,000 men) on the first day, five divisions from the sea, and three airborne divisions from the air. To bring such an army across the Channel required 5,000 ships and 12,000 planes. Although the Germans had 60 divisions, 11 of them armored, facing the Allies, their preparations for the invasion were hampered by disagreements and miscalculations. Because Hitler insisted that the entire coast be defended, the German units were thinly dispersed. Furthermore, the Germans were so certain the Allies would land their main army at Calais that it concentrated there its main force, leaving Normandy relatively unprotected. One week after D-Day the Allies had more troops in France than did the Germans. They also had complete mastery of the air. In late August the Allies took Paris.
After D-Day the Allied air forces concentrated all their resources on the destruction of Germany. Beginning in April 1942 the British, and later the Americans, had begun the "mass bombing" of almost every major city in Germany: 593,000 German civilians were killed, and over 3.3 million homes destroyed. But the cost to the attacking forces were high--46,000 British aircrew were killed, and as much as one third of British military and civilian manpower and industrial resources was devoted to supporting Bomber Command in the latter years of the war.
In some cases the air attacks were huge successes. In July, 1943 in a raid on Hamburg the Allied air forces were able to start a firestorm and kill 40,000 people in about two hours. If they had been able to produce that result every time, bombing would have ended the war in six months. But only once more, at Dresden in 1945, were all the circumstances right to produce a firestorm (135,000 dead). The usual consequences were far less impressive. Over the whole war, the average result of a single British bomber sortie with a seven-man crew was less than three dead Germans--and after an average of 14 missions, the bomber crew themselves would be dead or prisoners. Moreover, since the damage was done piecemeal over a long period of time, German industrial production for military purposes actually managed to continue rising until late 1944. (Hence the appeal of the atomic bomb -- destruction of the enemy was certain, fast, and cheap).
In July, 1944, a group of anti-Hitler conspirators attempted to assassinate the Fuhrer and end the war. Involved in the plot were conservative statesmen and high army officers, who had become convinced that Hitler would bring about the total destruction of Germany. A briefcase containing a powerful bomb was placed at Hitler's headquarters. It exploded, but failed to kill Hitler. The Gestapo quickly rounded up and executed the conspirators.
The Allied advance was halted only once, at the Battle of the Bulge in December, 1944, but the Allies quickly retook the initiative, crossing the Rhine on March 7, 1945 at the Remagen Bridge which the Germans had neglected to destroy. At that time the Soviet Army, with 1,250,000 men, was poised on the Oder River, 35 miles from the eastern suburbs of Berlin. On April 30, 1945, Hitler committed suicide. Earlier that month, Mussolini, seeking to escape to Switzerland, was caught by a band of Italian partisans and shot. On May 7, 1945 Germany surrendered.
Understand the Nazi plan to exterminate the Jews.
On the continent of Europe Hitler was supreme and he began to construct his "New Order." In late 1941 Jews in German-held territories were herded into walled ghettoes and required to wear the Star of David. After the attack on the Soviet Union the Nazi leaders decided to commence the physical annihilation of the 11 million European Jews. Special detachments of the SS began to round up Jews for "evacuation." The victims were merely told they were being shipped to points east, where they would be relocated and employed. The shipment was done in cattle cars, into which the Jews were herded without food or water. Many died in transit. Upon reaching the concentration camp they were immediately divided into two parts. One group, consisting of able-bodied men and women, was sent to production centers to perform heavy labor on substandard food rations. The intention was literally to work them to death. When they collapsed they were returned to the extermination camp for slaughter. The other group, that judged unsuited for work--it included all children and elderly--was sent directly to the gas chambers. To lull suspicion these chambers were disguised as shower rooms. The victims were told to undress and wash. As soon as they had filled the purported shower room and the guards bolted the doors, poison gas was injected. For 15 or 20 minutes the condemned would choke amid inhuman struggles and shrieks. Once silence descended, the doors were unlocked and detachments of prisoners removed the corpses to search them for hidden valuables and to remove gold tooth fillings. Finally, the remains were cremated. The operation was carried out with such efficiency that at Auschwitz alone 10,000 persons could be disposed of without a trace each day.
On Soviet territory the Nazis did not bother to establish extermination camps. There, detachments of the SS rounded up the Jewish inhabitants in towns and villages, herded them into a nearby ravine or forest, and mowed them down with machine guns. Outside large cities giant pits were dug; the victims, lined up at the edge and shot, fell directly into their mass graves. In Kiev alone over 30,000 Jews were massacred in such a manner in a single day.
Between 1941 and 1945 the Germans killed an estimated 6 million Jews, a quarter of them children. This crime has no precedent in human history. Never before had a whole ethnic or racial group been condemned to die, for no reason and without possibility of reprieve. Little was done to rescue those destined to die, and in the U.S. and Great Britain there was even a tendency to discount news of the massacres which was leaking out of occupied Europe. There were only a few honorable exceptions to the prevailing indifference. The Danes ferried most Danish Jews to neutral Sweden. In Hungary, Prime Minister Horthy refused to condone deportation proceedings and his tactics saved the lives of some 200,000 Jews; another 200,000 perished in 1944, after the Germans occupied Hungary. The Bulgarians and the Italians resisted to the end German pressures to hand over their Jews to the SS.
About 50,000 persons directly participated in the Jewish slaughters. After the war only a fraction of these were ever brought to trial, and only some 500 executed. As the Cold War developed the United States wanted a strong and friendly West Germany to help it in its struggle with the Soviet Union and the ex-Nazis were allowed to quietly slip back into civilian life.
Understand the war against Japan, 1942-1945.
Immediately after their attack on Pearl Harbor the Japanese were very successful. By the spring of 1942 the Japanese controlled an enormous empire with a diameter of some 5,000 miles, a population of 450 million, and a self-supporting economy.
Having achieved their immediate objectives, the Japanese were anxious to assure the maximum security for their empire. There predicament was not unlike that which had confronted Hitler after the fall of France: they too had to keep moving and expanding while the odds were in their favor. They now decided to seize control of the eastern Pacific so as to deprive the U.S. of naval bases, an to sever its sea route to Australia (which along with New Zealand could then be conquered). In May, 1942 a Japanese fleet including four of their six large, modern aircraft carriers set sail for Midway Island. The mission of this task force was to lure what was left of the U.S. Pacific Fleet into combat, destroy it, and occupy the Aleutians and Midway.
The Americans had a much smaller fleet, but the U.S. had broken the Japanese naval codes and they knew the Japanese dispositions and intentions. In the first week of June the two fleets clashed in the vicinity of Midway in one of the decisive naval battles in history. American pilots won a striking victory, sinking all four of the Japanese carriers. The U.S. lost one carrier, but it had four remaining and 13 under construction, whereas Japan lagged hopelessly in the naval construction race. (During the whole Pacific War, Japan commissioned 14 carriers of all types, the U.S. 104). At Midway Japan lost air and naval superiority in the Pacific.
In August 1942 American marines attacked Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands. Badly hampered by the policy of "Europe first"--only 15 percent of Allied resources were going to fight the war in the Pacific in early 1943--the Americans and the Australians nevertheless began "island hopping" toward Japan. Japanese forces were on the defensive. Because of disputes between the army (under General Douglas MacArthur) and the navy (under Admiral Chester Nimitz) a two pronged attack was aimed at the Japanese Islands. The army went the southern route and the navy went the northern route. The southern islands could have been bypassed but MacArthur's pledge of "I shall return" to the Philippines created too much political pressure to be ignored. The two axes of advance did assist each other by making it increasingly difficult for the Japanese, with their shrinking resources, to block either one with a concentration of forces which could only be attained by opening an enormous gap for the other axes to push through.
The war demanded greater and greater sacrifices from the Japanese people. American fire-bomb raids brought terrible suffering to the already under-nourished and disease-prone urban population. An incendiary raid on Tokyo, March 10, 1945 killed over 100,000 people. Cities across the country were laid waste by American bombers.
At the time of Germany's capitulation, American troops, having seized Iwo Jima and Okinawa, were at Japan's doorstep. The Allied command overestimated the Japanese willingness and capacity to fight. It was thought, on the basis of the experience gained in reducing Japanese-held islands where the Japanese fought to the death, that an invasion and occupation of Japan would cost a million casualties.
In the summer of 1944 Japanese leadership began organizing suicide formations on a large scale. At a time when Japanese pilots received inadequate training and flew inferior planes against better trained and more experienced American pilots in superior airplanes, and when the massing of anti-aircraft fire from large concentrations of Allied warships made possible the throwing up a huge volume of fire, battle sorties by Japanese planes were ever more likely to end in their being shot down without having either brought down any American planes or damaging any Allied warship. With suicide missions not many more Japanese planes would be lost, but it was assumed that there would at least be something to show for the sacrifice. By the end of the Okinawa campaign there had been 2,550 kamikaze missions of which 475 had secured hits or damaging near misses. The Japanese held back over 5,000 planes to meet the forthcoming invasion of the home islands.
In fact, however, the Japanese in the spring of 1945 were desperately seeking a way out of the war, and were putting out in vain a succession of peace feelers. One of these, sent through the Soviet Union (then still at peace with Japan), Stalin never even forwarded to Washington. This miscalculation of Japanese power helps explain Allied political and military strategy in defeating Japan. At the Tehran and Yalta conferences between the "big three" powers, Stalin had promised that he would come into the war against Japan three months after the defeat of Germany (he needed that time to rest his troops and move them from the western front to the east). At Yalta Stalin asked for and obtained from Roosevelt and Churchill Soviet possession of the Kuriles and southern Sakhalin, a naval base at Port Arthur in Manchuria, joint ownership and management with China of the Manchurian railways, and recognition of Outer Mongolia as a Soviet-controlled area (China also claimed the area). FDR, without consulting China, promised to obtain Chiang Kai-shek's acceptance of these terms. The terms were kept secret from China.
It was clear that the Soviet Union would enter the war when its interests made it desirable. The question, therefore, was not if the Soviet Union should enter the war but when and under what circumstances. Certainly Yalta gave the Soviets nothing they would not have taken anyhow, except possibly the Kuriles. Yalta in that sense was an attempt to ensure that the Soviet Union came into the war at a time most advantageous to the Americans, and to limit its subsequent expansion.
President Roosevelt died on April 12, 1945, at Warm Springs, Georgia from a stroke, six months after his election to a fourth term, and vice president Harry S. Truman became president of the U.S.. FDR had woefully neglected to keep Truman informed of his diplomacy and the development of the atomic bomb. The U.S. government began the Manhattan Project to develop an atomic bomb in June, 1942 after warnings from refugee scientists that they suspected Germany was working to develop an atomic bomb. In July, 1945 the first atomic bomb was detonated in the New Mexico desert. On August 6, 1945 the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, and 87,500 people were killed in less than five minutes by a single aircraft carrying a single bomb. On August 9, another atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki and another 39,000 humans died. Between these two atomic raids the Soviet Union declared war on Japan, occupying virtually without resistance Manchuria and Korea. At this point the Emperor personally intervened to express his will that the Japanese surrender. On August 15 he broadcast an Imperial decree enjoining the Japanese people to bear the unbearable and to surrender with decorum. The broadcast was met with an emotional combination of relief and anguish: the war was over, but Japan was to be occupied by enemy soldiers for the first time in its history.
Scientifically the atomic bomb was an advance into unknown territory, but militarily it was seen simply as a more cost-effective and efficient way of attaining a goal that was already a central part of strategy: a means of producing the results achieved at Hamburg and Dresden cheaply and reliably every time the weapon was used. Even at the time, the $2 billion cost of the Manhattan Project was dwarfed by the cost of trying to destroy cities the hard way, using conventional bombs. And there was no moral question in most people's mind about the ethics of using weapons of mass destruction against defenseless cities; that question had effectively been settled by the first Zeppelin raid of World War I. The week before the atomic bombings more than 100,000 Japanese had been killed in conventional air raids. With predicitons that America might suffer as many as a half a million casualties in an invasion of Japan, atomic weapons were seen as a cheap and easy way to end the war -- and in the process pay the Japanese back for their attack on Pearl Harbor. Atomic weapons were also seen by some decision makers in the American government as a way of ending the war quickly before the Soviet Union could gain too much territory in Asia.
The grim balance of World War II was 60 million dead. Europe, China, Japan and the Soviet Union lay in rubble, many of their great cities leveled to the ground. World War II destroyed Europe's wealth and influence. After the war, for the next 50 years, two "super powers"--the United States and the Soviet Union--would have a "Cold War" with each other to see who would dominate the Earth.
Understand the domestic policy of the United States during World War II.
The U.S. had begun to mobilize even prior to World War II. By December 1941, more than 1.5 million men were in uniform. By the end of the war, 15 million Americans were in the armed forces. World War II was the most expensive war the U.S. has ever fought. It cost $560 billion and the national debt rose from $48 billion in 1941 to $247 billion in 1945 (the cost of World War I was $66 billion; the cost of Vietnam War was $121.5 billion). Although many Americans did not like to admit it, World War II was an economic blessing. For the first time since the early 1930s, jobs were available. Real wages rose 50 percent during the war and prices rose only moderately. Businessmen, who's image had been tarnished by the Great Depression, were now essential for victory. Many of them became $1 a year men working for the government insuring that their corporations benefitted from wartime government expenditures.
The size of the federal government grew rapidly, from 1.1 million civilian employees in 1940 to 3.3 million in 1945. Inevitably there was waste, inefficiency, and corruption, but by 1943 the system was rolling along in high gear. In 1944 alone, 96,000 airplanes were built by Americans. Henry J. Kaiser perfected an assembly line for producing simple freighters, the so-called Liberty ships. By 1943, Kaiser shipyards were building one a day -- a total of 10 million tons of shipping were constructed during the war.
During the war, the government encouraged women to move into jobs previously held by men. Even though the women were paid less than men for doing the same work this was the beginning of the trend of women moving into the labor market. After the war, the government was worried about jobs for the returning veterans and women were encouraged to return to their homes.
The armed forces and American society remained segregated. But the shortage of labor created opportunities for blacks. Blacks moved out of the South. By 1950, approximately one-third of America's black population lived outside the South. This migration created a national racial problem. Racial tensions mounted, especially over access to housing and public facilities in the swollen industrial areas of the large cities. During the summer of 1943, the emotions exploded from coast to coast in series of violent racial encounters. The worst of the riots occurred in Detroit, a primary center of war production, where 500,000 newcomers, including 60,000 blacks, had been squeezed in since 1940. In June 1943, a fight between teenage whites and blacks ignited two days of fighting and widespread looting. Twenty-five blacks and nine whites were killed, hundreds wounded, and millions of dollars of property lost.
Unlike World War I there was no significant opposition to the war -- Pearl Harbor had united the nation. Because disloyalty was rare, there were no volunteer super-patriotic leagues, no high powered propaganda campaigns, and no war madness. The government did impose censorship, but it was restrained and based primarily on military security requirements. The one great blot on Roosevelt's otherwise good civil liberties record during the war was the detention and forced removal of Japanese-Americans from the West coast to internment camps in the interior.
In a matter of weeks 112,000 people of Japanese decent were imprisoned; of these 71,000 were American citizens. In many cases, the internees lost their property (in all, $350 million was lost). In Korematsu v. United States (1944) the Supreme Court upheld the evacuation on the ground that military leaders are justified in taking extreme measures against persons on account of race to protect national security, even though the situation was not serious enough to justify imposition of martial law. Not one act of treason was ever proven during the war against a person of Japanese ancestry living in America, and 17,000 Hawaiian Nisei (American-born Japanese) and several thousand more from the mainland fought against the Germans in Europe with great distinction. In 1988 Congress formally apologized to the internees and paid each survivor $20,000.
Go on to XIII. Cold War
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