World War II

"Would You Drop It?"

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It might sound trite, but just as with emotional depression, the best way to climb out of an economic depression is to trust that tomorrow will be better than today. When investors and workers believe that the future will bring something positive, they begin to put their money back into the system.

FDR helped get America out of the depression by giving them hope. His speeches and fireside chats made Americans believe that the country could turn itself around. In Europe, the leaders of some countries were instilling hope in their populaces by blaming foreigners for their countries' woes. A fascist dictator named Mussolini blamed communists and foreigners for Italy's problems. In Germany, a fascist named Hitler placed the blame on Jews, foreigners, and those who opposed German power.

Soon another giant war began raging. America, however, stood back. It would take a direct attack on American soil before the United States joined World War II.

Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini shake hands.

What is a fascist? Fascism is generally a military dictatorship based on strong nationalist sentiment, racism, and the suppression of opposition by using force, such as Hitler's regime. Fascists come to power by exploiting patriotism, racism, and fear. Mussolini invented the term in 1925 and used it proudly.

Benito Mussolini, also called Il Duce ("the leader"), installed himself as Italy's dictator in 1925. Mussolini blamed foreigners for Italy's problems and promised to get Italy's notoriously late trains running on time (he did not). He also built up Italy's military and, in 1935, invaded Ethiopia.

The third famous fascist, Francisco Franco, overthrew the Spanish government in 1936 in the Spanish Civil War. Franco and his fascist rebels won the war largely because of military aid from Germany and Italy.

Adolf Hitler came to power largely by blaming outsiders for the humiliating position in which Germany found itself after the Treaty of Versailles ended World War I. War reparations, the hyperinflation of 1923, and then the international economic depression all fed the fascist rhetoric of blaming outsiders.

Hitler was a failed painter with a weird mustache, but he was extremely skilled at giving rousing, patriotic speeches. His National Socialist (Nazi) Party took power in 1933. Hitler blamed the economic and social problems of Germany on foreigners and Jews (who, he argued, controlled the world's finances). Europe had a long history of anti- Semitism, and Germans (and others) found it easy to blame Jews for their problems.

The original concentration camps were built in Germany in 1933 as a place to keep "undesirables." Jews, Catholics, Gypsies, communists, gay people, the mentally and physically disabled, Polish intellectuals, and others were shipped to these prison camps to work in slave labor.

Actual extermination camps weren't built until 1941.

These death camps would contribute to the murder of at least six million Jews and four million gentiles (mostly Polish gentiles and gypsies) during the Holocaust.

America in the twenties and thirties was isolationist, totally uninterested in another European war that seemed looming. As European nations were arming, America passed a series of Neutrality Acts (1935-37) that prohibited arms sales to warring nations.

These acts were supported by prominent American anti-Semites such as Charles Lindbergh and Henry Ford, who didn't want America selling arms to Britain and France.

Roosevelt was attuned to the country's antiwar sentiment, but after Hitler invaded Czechoslovakia, it became clearer that fascist powers in Europe would soon face off against Britain and France. In the summer of 1939, Roosevelt urged Congress to revise the Neutrality Acts to allow for arms sales to warring nations if they paid in cash. This cash- and-carry policy aided the Allies, without committing the United States to war.

America continued to stay out of the war as Hitler invaded Poland, Denmark, Norway, Belgium, the Netherlands, and France. Hitler rode into Paris in his Mercedes with his one arm extended, happy as a clam on June 23, 1940.

The Nazis then began bombing British cities during the summer-long Battle of Britain.

In 1941, with the Axis powers now in control of most of Europe, German submarines (U-boats) torpedoed two American destroyers, killing more than a hundred Americans. America was then on the brink of joining the war.

The United States had a naval base at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. It was early in the morning on December 7 when two U.S. Army privates saw something strange on their radar screen: dozens of planes appearing out of the Northeast. The men were alarmed and reported the sighting, but they were told that it was probably just a delivery of new B-17 planes; nothing to worry about.

What they actually saw was the first wave of 183 Japanese fighter planes. It was a surprise attack on America, and it was amazingly effective: 19 ships were sunk, 292 aircraft destroyed, and 2,403 Americans killed.

Franklin D. Roosevelt signs the declaration of war against Japan.

This was the event needed to catalyze America into joining the war, the straw that broke the camel's back. On December 8, the day after the strike, Congress declared war on Japan. On December 11, Germany and Italy joined Japan and declared war on the United States.

The United States was now fighting a war in Europe and a war in the Pacific.

The Allies chose to concentrate on Europe before attacking Japan. With Operation Torch, U.S. troops under General Dwight D. Eisenhower invaded North Africa, forcing a Vichy (German-controlled) France surrender in 1942. In 1943 Allied troops invaded Italy and began pushing the Nazi lines back toward Germany.

On June 6,1944, D-Day, the Allies launched the largest sea-to-land invasion force in history. In the middle of the night, thousands of boats landed on French beaches and pushed the Germans back into France after days of bloody battles. It would be more than a year before Germany surrendered, though German ranks were then growing thin thanks to Russian forces attacking from the east.

On April 30, 1945, while Russian bombs fell on Berlin, Hitler descended into a bunker with his mistress, Eva Braun, to get married. He then poisoned her and killed himself. Germany surrendered a week later.

In the Pacific Theater of World War II, the Japanese had conquered hundreds of small islands from New Guinea up to parts of mainland China. They controlled 10 percent of the Earth's surface. The U.S. Navy attacked the Japanese, island-hopping toward Japan from the Central Pacific, while the Army moved from island to island in the south.

FDR's funeral procession.

The Constitution didn't limit the number of terms a president could hold office. By stepping aside after two terms, George Washington had set a precedent that every other president followed. That is, until FDR. FDR was elected to a fourth term in 1944, but he died of cerebral hemorrhage the following April, just weeks before Hitler killed himself. Harry S. Truman was sowrn in has president on April 12. IN 1951 the states ratified the Twenty-Second Amendment to the Constitution, which limits the president to two elected terms.

Truman inherited some major decisions. Though the war in Europe was nearly finished, the war with Japan wasn't over yet. The United States had pushed the Japanese out of the Philippines, but an attack on Japan itself was still looming.

A Japanese student militia training in Chiba Prefecture in Japan.

U.S. generals told Truman that an assault on Japan could cost the United States between half a million and a million casualties. General MacArthur estimated that the Japanese would continue guerilla-style resistance for ten years. Some reports indicated that the Japanese were arming civilians with sharpened bamboo spears, in addition to their six million devoted troops. Though losing the war; the Japanese resolutely refused to surrender.

The Japanese had continually surprised Americans with a fighting style they inherited from the Samurai tradition: soldiers and civilians alike would rather die than be taken hostage. They had also launched 2,800 kamikaze attacks, in which small planes stuffed with bombs tried to smash into ships.

In 1939 Albert Einstein had written a letter to Roosevelt stating his hypothesis that a new type of bomb could be built based on a nuclear chain reaction. Roosevelt created the Manhattan Project to build this atomic bomb. Two days after Truman became president, he was told the top-secret information: the United States was developing an atomic bomb that had the destructive power of 20,000 tons of TNT. A test in July in the New Mexico desert was successful.

Having defeated the Germans in Eastern Europe, Joseph Stalin was now eyeing Japan, trying to decide whether to declare war. Some accounts state that Truman already knew that Russia was going to enter the war and that dropping the atomic bombs was unnecessary. Others argue that Truman didn't know about Russia's intentions. Others believe that Truman dropped the bombs to show off U.S. power to the Russians, who were already emerging as rivals on the world stage.

When is killing justified? At time of war? When are wars justified? When is it okay to kill someone?

Truman did drop the bomb. In fact, he ordered two bombs to be dropped. On August 6, 1945, an American plane dropped the first bomb over Hiroshima, killing more than 70,000 people and injuring just as many. Three days later, America dropped another atomic bomb on Nagasaki, killing 40,000 and injuring 60,000 people. The same day, Stalin declared war on Japan and invaded Manchuria. The Japanese surrendered on August 11. We know Truman dropped the bomb. What would you do?
Main Allied Powers
U.S. (after Pearl Harbor)

Main Axis Powers

"We have discovered the most terrible bomb in the history of the world. It may be the fire destruction prophesied in the Euphrates valley Ersa, after Noah and his fabulous Ark. Anyway we 'think' we have found a way to cause the disintegration of the atom bomb. This weapon is to be used against Japan between now and August 10th. I have told the Sec. of War, Mr. Stimson, to use it so that military objectives and soldiers and sailors are the target and not women and children. Even if the Japs are savages, ruthless, merciless and fanatic, we as the leaders of the world for the common welfare cannot drop this terrible bomb on the old Capital or the new . . .

The target will be a purely military one . . . It is certainly a good thing for the world that Hitler's crowd or Stalin's did not discover this atomic bomb. It seems to be the most terrible thing ever discovered, but it can be made to be the most useful."

-Harry Truman, from his diaries

1. Why do you think the decision to use atomic weapons was so difficult?

2. According to the song, what were the advantages and disadvantages of using the atomic bomb?

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