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American Studies
Mr. Mintzes
Unit Outline - World War II
WWI (1914-1918) US enters war in April 1917
Treaty of Versailles (1919) – Wilson gets the League of Nations approved by the Europeans but
not by the US Senate
Great Depression (1930s) – US and world economy in ruins for several years
Rise of Dictators and Aggression in Europe and the Pacific, 1932-1940:
Fascism in Italy
Benito Mussolini takes power, 1922
Fascist Aggression: Italy invades Ethiopia (1935)
Rome-Berlin (German-Italian) Axis formed (1936)
Spanish Civil War (1936-1939)
Francisco Franco – sets up fascist dictatorship in Spain – war is proving ground for German
weapons and tactics
Fascism in Germany
Nazism, National Socialism, National-Sozialistische Deutsche Arbeiters Partei (NSDAP)
Adolf Hitler assumes power – asked to become Chancellor by President, 1933
Nazi Germany starts first concentration camp at Dachau, 1933 – political criminals, Jews, gypsies, etc
Nazi Aggression
1936 - Hitler retakes the Rhineland – no resistance from France and/or England
1938 - the Anschluss: Germany annexes Austria – no resistance
1938 - Munich Pact, British & French meet with Hitler in Munich - grant Sudetenland (in
Czechoslovakia) to Hitler - Neville Chamberlain, appeasement, “Peace in our time”
1939 - Nazi-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact – makes Hitler feel safe from attack from the
Sept. 1, 1939 Hitler invades Poland (beginning of WWII)
“Lightning War” - new kind of war – use of air power, armor,
paratroopers, civilians are targeted –saturation bombing of cities
Emperor Hirohito – viewed as a God by the people – bow towards Tokyo when name is
Hideki Tojo, General and Prime Minister – sets up a dictatorship – stresses militarism
and Japanese warrior code – “Bushido”
Japanese Expansion – East Asia Co-prosperity sphere –
Japan needs raw materials to feed her growing industrial base and her military
1931 - Japan occupies Manchuria 
1933 - Japan leaves League of Nations
1937 - Japan invades China – atrocities committed against Chinese, especially in
1940 - Japan joins Axis powers (Rome-Berlin-Tokyo Axis)
1940 – Japan moves into French Indochina – invades Vietnam
1940-41 - US tries to limit Japanese access to raw materials in Pacific Basin
1941 (Dec. 7) Japan attacks US at Pearl Harbor; US enters WWII
Gradual US involvement in War:
After WWI many Americans supported the “Isolationists” who believed US should stay
out of foreign wars – lost 116,00 men in WWI – don’t make that mistake again
Neutrality Acts of 1935, 1937
– no sale of arms to belligerents (either side)
- no loans or credit to belligerents
- no travel by US citizens on belligerents’ ships
- purchase of non-military goods by belligerents must be paid in cash and transported in
belligerents’ ships – “cash and carry”
FDR and “Quarantine” speech – after Japan invaded China, FDR said that democracies
should quarantine aggressors – not trade with them – isolationists were opposed – felt it
meant US was getting involved and taking sides
Neutrality Act of 1939 (“cash and carry”) – modified old acts – now said that US could
trade with belligerents – even sell war material – but it had to be paid for in cash – no
1941 - Lend-Lease Act – ships for bases – England needed destroyers to protect ships
against German U-boats – US traded 50 WWI vintage destroyers for long term leases on
naval and air bases in North and South America – Congress then went further – allowed
US to lend war materials to Britain
- Lend-Lease effectively ended US neutrality – committed economic aid to allies in
opposition to Germany
- FDR declares US to be “Arsenal of Democracy” pledges to supply allies
The Atlantic Charter (August 1941) – FDR and Winston Churchill meet – set war aims
right of all nations to self-determination, US and GB would not seek territory from war,
disarmament of aggressor nations, permanent system of security in the future (basis for
the UN)
War in Europe:
Sept 1, 1939 – Germany invades Poland – Blitzkrieg – defeats Polish Army in weeks
Warsaw bombed by Germans even though not a military target – starts practice of
bombing cities.
Soviet troops enter Poland from east – USSR and Germany divide Poland between them
1940: Germany invades and conquers Norway, Denmark, Holland, Belgium, and France
- Germans again use Schliefen Plan – sweep through Belgium – trap BEF against the
English Channel – “Miracle of Dunkirk”
- Paris falls to German Army – Hitler makes French sign surrender in same railroad car in
which Germans had signed Armistice in 1918
Churchill: “Battle of France has ended. The Battle of Britain has begun.”
- England stands alone – Germany wages air offensive against England – bombs air bases
and then cities – “The Blitz” – Americans feel sympathy for England – raise
money - collect first aid supplies – reports from England by Edward R. Murrow
get more American support for joining the war.
Convoys of American ships sail with supplies to England – many sunk by U-boats
June, 1941 – Germany attacks Russia in violation of non-aggression pact
- US sends help to Russians – “Murmansk” convoys – many more ships sunk bringing
tanks, planes and ammunition to Russia
By December, 1941 – Germany/Italy control most of Europe, Russia as far as Moscow,
and much of North Africa almost to Suez Canal
Pearl Harbor Attack
Adm. Yamamoto
Bataan Death March
United States involvement in WWII
Dec. 7, 1941 – Japan attacks Pearl Harbor – HQ of US Pacific Fleet
Surprise attack – US and Japan had been in negotiations to try for a peaceful settlement to
the issues between them. US was waiting for an answer to latest proposal
- Admiral Yamamoto – Supreme Commander – opposed was with US - had been naval
attaché – knew American power – “All we have done is awaken a sleeping giant…”
- debate still rages as to whether US and FDR knew about attack in advance
- reasons: US broke Japanese code – FDR favored aircraft carriers as future of Navy
US Fleet suffers heavy losses – battleships sunk – hundreds of planes destroyed
- fears of Japanese invasion of Hawaii – attacks on west coast of US
Dec 8th – Japanese attack US in Philippines, Guam, Wake Island – attack British in Hong
- Japanese expect US will ask for peace – do not understand US thought process
December 8th: FDR speech to Congress – US declares war – “Day of Infamy”
speech stirs country to action
Japan invades Philippines – defeats US and Filipino forces – captures Manila 12/25/41
US forces retreat to Bataan and Corregidor – hold off vastly superior Japanese forces for
months until May, 1942 – Bataan Death March – prisoners mistreated – Japanese code of
honor prohibits surrender, hence they have no respect for soldiers who surrender rather
than fight to death.
US on Wake Island hold out for weeks against much larger force – message to Japan that
US will not collapse even though war goes badly.
By May/June, 1942 Japan has captured Philippines, much of Indonesia and Indochina,
Hong Kong, Singapore, much of Burma and large sections of China – threatening
US strategy had been to delay – to hold remote outposts as long as possible until war
production and the draft could produce war materials and manpower necessary to begin
“the road back.”
Japan stopped in May, 1942 – Battle of the Coral Sea – invasion force destined for
Australia turned back – first time in history two navies fight a sea battle without the two
fleets ever seeing each other – fought totally by aircraft.
June, 1942: Japanese invasion fleet aimed at Midway and Hawaii stopped and defeated
at Battle of Midway – pride of Japanese fleet sunk – “turning point of war in Pacific”
U.S. Strategy for War:
US must fight a two-front war – one in Europe and the other in the Pacific
Decision made to defeat Germany first and then turn to Japan – major resources
committed to ETO (European Theatre of Operations) – Japan would be held at bay until
both enemies could be fought at same time.
Total War Effort:
Entire production of US switched to war materials – all factories that could produced
armaments, weapons, uniforms, etc.
FDR called for production of 50,000 planes per year – people thought goal was
impossible – by end of war US producing 100,000 per year.
Kaiser Shipyards building new type of merchant ship – Liberty Ship (pre-fabricated)
most were built, from laying the keel to launching, in less than two weeks – fastest was
built in 4 days 15.5 hours – then fitted out for sea within 3 days after launching.
- US built ships faster than U-boats could sink them.
Role of Women – “Rosie the Riveter” with men in the military more women joined the
workforce – increased from 15 million up to 19 million – women did much of the
manufacturing – built many of the planes, tanks, artillery shells, etc.
Many retired workers returned to industrial jobs.
People signed up as air-raid wardens, aircraft spotters. Civil Defense workers, many
others worked to entertain troops
Mobilization: Draft law passed in 1940 – millions were registered for the draft – all
men between 21 and 35 were required to register – men could volunteer with parent’s
permission at 17.
- by 1945 over 12.5 million men were in uniform
- every town in country had people who served in war – or were casualties
Financing the War: Government debt grew as cost of the war effort increased – Gov’t
issued War Bonds – money borrowed from the people at a competitive interest to pay the
cost of the war. Heroes from the front often toured the country on “Bond Drives” to get
people to buy more war bonds.
June 6, 1944
December 1944
April 1945
May 8, 1945
D-Day Invasion of Normandy, France
Battle of the Bulge
Allied troops meet at Elbe River, Germany
V-E Day, end of war in Europe
The Pacific:
“Island Hopping,” Leapfrogging
1942 Battle of Midway
1944-45 Leyte, Iwo Jima, Okinawa
August 6, 1945
US drops an atomic bomb on Hiroshima
August 9, 1945
US drops an atomic bomb on Nagasaki
August 15, 1945
V-J Day, end of war in the Pacific
September 2, 1945 Japan formally surrenders
Post-war occupation and rebuilding of Japan
Wartime Diplomacy
Atlantic Charter, 1941
Yalta Conference, 1945: FDR, Churchill and Stalin
Occupation Zones
Potsdam, 1945: Truman, Churchill and Stalin
The Human Dimension of the War
“Arsenal of democracy”
Women: WACs, Rosie the Riveter; employment, child care, choice.
Mobilization: the draft
Financing the War: war bonds, Hollywood goes to war
Art and culture
Swing music
“Degenerate art” (Entartete Kunst)
African Americans: foundations for civil rights movements of 50s and 60s
Integration of the Armed Forces under Truman
Discrimination and inequalities persist
Northern cities, employment in factories, voting blocs, two-front fight
Japanese Americans: hardship and economic losses
Nisei – Americans citizens born in US, of Japanese descent
Executive Order 9066
Internment camps: Tule Lake, Manzanar
Korematsu v. United States, 1944
Japanese Americans in armed forces in Europe, intelligence in Pacific
Inflation and strikes
Taft-Hartley Act, 1947
The GI Bill; education, homes
Truman’s Fair Deal
Baby Boom
Election of 1948; “Dewey Defeats Truman”
Truman and Civil Rights
Additional Terms and People
The Manhattan Project
Franklin Delano Roosevelt
Harry Truman
Dwight D. Eisenhower
Douglas MacArthur
Winston Churchill
Charles de Gaulle
Joseph Stalin
Guiding Questions
To what extent did the isolationist policies of the 1930s reflect a desire to avoid a
repeat of the conditions that had drawn the US into WWI?
How might dissatisfaction with the outcome of WWI have contributed to the rise of
dictatorships in Germany and Italy?
How might economic depression have contributed to the rise of dictatorships in Germany and Italy?
What is the relationship between fascism and totalitarianism?
In what ways was the US “involved” in WWII before the Pearl Harbor attack and
the Congressional declaration of war in 1941?
How did the Lend-Lease policy lead to greater US involvement in the war?
How did advances in aviation technology contribute to changes in American isolationist sentiments?
Discuss present-day American attitudes towards isolationism and world involvement.
Do you consider present-day military dictators, like Saddam Hussein, as similar to Hitler?
Guiding Questions, cont.
List the three major Allied Powers and the three major Axis Powers.
What role did the US play in the development of the war in the Pacific? In Europe?
How did the leadership and decision-making structure of the combatant nations influence
the outcome of the war?
- To what extent did the totalitarian governments of the Axis Powers
undermine their ability to make effective decisions and win the war?
- To what extent did the “democratic” leadership of the United States, England
and France contribute to Allied success?
How did the need to wage “total war” alter the nature of American society?
Compare and contrast the domestic policies of the US during WWII with those during WWI.
Compare and contrast the role of the US in WWI and WWII in terms of
a. the arsenal of democracy
b. US military leadership and strategy
c. Role of the president in planning for peace
d. Economic, social and political issues after the wars
(inflation, strikes, Presidential policies, political control of Congress, ways of dealing with
Communist threats, immigration policies, opportunities for veterans).
What limits were placed on American civil liberties during WWII?
What social and moral issues arise when considering US domestic and foreign policy during
WWII? Consider:
Rights of Japanese Americans
Integration of African Americans
US reactions to the Nazi Holocaust
Morality of nuclear warfare (Should the US have dropped the atomic bomb?)
Treatment of war criminals
What role did the US play in securing the peace after WWII?
The Nazi Holocaust was an example of genocide. What are some more current examples?
The Nuremberg trials established the concept of “crimes against humanity.”
What are some more current examples of crimes against humanity?
What were the justifications or motives for dropping an atomic bomb on Japan?
Why was an atomic bomb dropped on Japan, but not Germany?
Why were two bombs dropped?
How did Japan and Germany go from being the enemies of the U.S. to friends?
How did Japan and Germany become economic powerhouses? Why do we drive
Japanese and German cars?
What role did the Soviet Union play in the situations asked about in this section above?
How might the experiences of African Americans during WWII have contributed to the
rise of the civil rights movement during the 1950s?
How did Truman enhance the civil rights of African Americans? Why did he use
executive power rather than Congressional legislation?
How did the agreements made at Yalta set the stage for the Cold War?
How did the specific events that closed World War II set the stage for the Cold War?