American History – World War II
World War II was arguably the most violent and the mightiest conflict in the American History and the whole world. The consequences of the conflict were damaged property, displacement, economic depression, and, most importantly, loss of millions of lives all around the globe. Although the exact numbers cannot be ascertained, Winkler (2014) estimates that the number of missing and killed people between 1939 and 1945 was over 55 million. Citizens of over fifty countries took part in the war, but the consequences of the war were felt worldwide. Some of the main areas where the War took place included the Atlantic Ocean, North America, Europe, and North America.
After the First World War, not only the United States but also the whole world hoped to avoid another massive conflict. Thus, the Congress attempted to prevent the American people from participation by passing Neutrality Acts valid between 1939 and 1945. However, Americans could not remain neutral, and thus the Neutrality Acts were manipulated to allow the country to support its Allies. This essay looks into the events surrounding the World War II, it’s beginning, and consequences, as well as the reasons why it remains one of the most significant events, not only in the history of the United States but the whole world.
How the World War II Began
Historians never agreed on the date when the Second World War began. While some people believe that the war began after Germans invaded Poland, others think that it erupted when the Japanese invaded Manchuria. However, many agree with Cooke and Halliwell (2001) that the World War II officially began on the day when Germany invaded Poland and six other countries including Belgium, Denmark, Norway, Luxembourg, Netherlands, and France. The German troops went on conquering Greece and Yugoslavia. The Japanese desire to take over the Far East fuelled the invasion of Pearl Harbor. These events led to the grand entry of the United States into the war and, by the beginning of 1942, most countries across the world participated in the most violent war in the world’s history. The consequences of the Second World War were drastic. It led to the downfall of Western Europe as the world’s center of power, new territorial divisions, rise of the Soviet Union and, ultimately, to the beginning of the Cold War.
The Causes of World War II
According to Bauer (2000), one of the fundamental causes of the World War II was the economic struggle because countries like Japan, Italy, and Germany felt they were disadvantaged in competing with other developed countries such as the United States, France, Netherlands, Belgium, and the Great Britain. Additionally, they estimated to have less control over people, markets, and resources such as raw materials, which is possibly one of the major reasons why Japan, Germany, and Italy formed an alliance. After the war spread in Europe in 1939, Americans were considering whether to participate in the war. The majority of the United States populace belonged to the isolationist faction who believed Allies would win anyway and thus the country should avoid involvement. On the other hand, the interventionists expected the country to do everything possible to help the Allies. The United States shifted its position after Canada declared war against Germany, and went from neutrality to preparedness by beginning to expand its forces and building defense plans.
By 1939, The United States had only 174,000 soldiers in the Army, 126,400 in the Navy, 26,000 people in the Army Air Force, 19,700 Marines, and 10,000 members of the Coast Guard (Bauer, 2000). However, towards the end of World War II in 1945, the number of people deployed in the United States Army was over eleven million of which six million were soldiers, three million people was in the Navy, two million in the Army Air Force, four hundred thousand in the Marine forces, and one-hundred and seventy members of the Coast Guard. The main factories in the United States quickly started with the production of war materials while firms, which previously manufactured vacuum cleaners, turned into machine gun production firms. By 1943, over two million women began working in war industries, aircraft, and shipyards. The country swiftly organized a system of civil defense to protect the nation against attacks.
Additionally, the urgent need for war materials caused an acute shortage all around the world, especially of consumers’ goods. As a result, most governments, including the United States, initiated rationing consumption. Furthermore, the United States government imposed heavy taxes on the luxury commodities such as cosmetics and jewelry as well as controlling the consumption of other products like sugar, meat, coffee, butter, oil, shoes, and fats (Bauer, 2000). The Congress also allowed the president to freeze wages, salaries, and prices towards the end of 1942.
The Rise of Axis and Allied Powers
Among the countries that fought for the Allied powers in the World War II were Great Britain, France, United States, China, the Soviet Union and forty five other countries that mobilized over sixty million people, while Germany and its six allies were on the other side of the conflict, with over 30 million people at war (Stone, 2001). After Germany, Italy, and Japan signed the Tripartite Pact, the members formally took the name Axis. Although virtually all North American nations fought the Axis, only a few such as the US, Mexico, Canada, and Brazil provided actual military support. The United States and Great Britain worked out the modalities of war concentrating their efforts on Germany, which, followed by Japan, was considered the greatest enemy. The Allies fought with the aim of establishing democracy, stabilizing Europe, and preserving their countries. The goal of Germany, on the other hand, was to occupy eastern and southern territories to build a strong empire. Its second goal was to overrun France and to use it to force Great Britain to enter into a peace agreement. The German troops would then conquer the Soviet Union and execute Hitler’s plan of seizing Europe. As Stone (2001) points out, Japan wanted to defeat the United States’ forces at Pearl Harbor to overtake Malaysia, Philippines, and Thailand. Japan also intended to conquer China and ultimately unite the countries of East Asia. However, Japan did not intend to invade the mainland of the United States’ territory.
The Consequences of World War II
During the Second World War, the massive war production not only was the factor behind the victory of the Allied powers but it also ended the Great Depression, which had hit the whole world. In the United States, the high unemployment rate was cut in half as American factories started manufacturing goods to support the war. New technological advancements and production artillery, combined with a significantly larger number of people fighting in the conflict, greatly contributed to the victory of the Allies (Ross, 2006). Thus, discoveries and inventions played a big role in shortening the duration of the Second World War. In particular, the United States had a special agency for Scientific Research and development whose major role was to mobilize scientific resources. One of the most significant discoveries was the atomic bomb that practically ended the war and changed the way in which other countries perceived the United States. Additionally, scientists were able to produce volumes of penicillin, which played a crucial role in saving people’s lives during the conflict.
The consequences of the conflict could be seen in the new territorial divisions and in the distribution of power on the Asian and European continents. The defeat of Germany and Japan meant that they gave up their dominance in Europe and Asia respectively. The Soviet Union replaced Germany as the European’s most powerful country and intended to replace Japan. Ross (2006) reveals that the World War II left China, Great Britain, and France financially depleted, due to which the United States and the Soviet Union emerged as the most powerful forces worldwide. In 1944, the European governments joined hands and created an international postwar organization called the United Nations. The main goal of the organization, which had fifty-one member states at its founding, was to prevent another conflict. Between 1945 and 1949, France, Great Britain, Soviet Union, and the United States conducted trials against hundreds of war criminals including individuals and organizations such as Gestapo and the SS for organizing and executing war in Europe.
The Second World War remains the biggest conflict in the history of humankind. Therefore, the whole world suffered from the magnitude of the conflict. The World War II is believed to be the most expensive war in the American History costing billions of dollars. Additionally, it increased the national debt of the country, which rose from around 42 billion dollars in the 1940s to over 269 billion dollars by the end of the 1946 (Ross, 2006). According to estimation, the United States spent tenfold as much as it had spent in all previous wars together.
Bauer, E. (2000). The history of World War II. New York: Barnes & Noble.
Cooke, T., & Halliwell, S. (2001). The new Grolier encyclopedia of World War II. Danbury, Conn: Grolier Educational Corp.
Ross, S. (2006). Causes and consequences of World War II. Austin, Tex: Raintree Steck-Vaughn.
Stone, T. L. (2001). The Great Depression and World War II. Austin: Raintree Steck-Vaughn Publishers.
Winkler, A. M. (2014). Home Front U.S.A: America during World War II. Hoboken: Wiley.