America in the Second World War

51. America in the Second World War

WWII propaganda poster
The fear of an Axis victory drove production levels to new heights during World War II. To help motivate American workers the U.S. Government commissioned posters such as this.

For the second time in the 20th century, the United States became involved in a devastating world conflict.

The mobilization effort of the government in World War II eclipsed even that of World War I. With major operations in both the Atlantic and Pacific theaters, American industries literally fueled two wars simultaneously. The social and economic consequences were profound. The Great Migration of African Americans from the rural South to the industrial North was accelerated. New opportunities opened for women. Americans finally enjoyed a standard of living higher than the pre-Depression years.

But the war effort also had a darker side. Civil liberties were compromised, particularly for the 110,000 Japanese Americans who were forcibly uprooted from their West Coast homes to be sent to remote relocation camps.

Atomic cloud
An atomic blast produces a distinctive "mushroom cloud." Developed by a top-secret U.S. government program dubbed the "Manhattan Project," the atomic bomb proved to be the weapon that ended World War II.

In both Europe and Asia, the Axis powers had established a firm foothold prior to American entry into the conflict. Slowly, but surely the Allies closed the ring on Nazi Germany after turning points at El Alamein and Stalingrad. Once Italy quit the Axis and the Allies landed successfully at Normandy, it was only a matter of time before the Nazi machine was smashed. Similar failures marked the early war in the Pacific, as the Japanese captured the Philippines. But once Japanese offensive capabilities were damaged at Midway, the United States "island hopped" its way to the Japanese mainland.

"Remember Pearl Harbor"
Shortly after America's entry into World War II, the patriotic song "Remember Pearl Harbor" hit the airwaves, urging America to "go on to victory."

New technologies emerged during the war as well. Radar helped the British locate incoming German planes, and sonar made submarine detection much more feasible. German V-1 and V-2 rockets ushered in a new age of long-range warfare. But no weapon compared in destructive capacity to the atomic bomb, developed after a massive, secret research project spearheaded by the United States government.

World War II was fought over differences left unresolved after World War I. Over 400,000 Americans perished in the four years of involvement, an American death rate second only to the Civil War. Twelve million victims perished from Nazi atrocities in the Holocaust. The deaths of twenty million Russians created a defensive Soviet mindset that spilled into the postwar era. After all the blood and sacrifice, the Axis powers were defeated, but the Grand Alliance that emerged victorious did not last long. Soon the world was involved in a 45-year struggle that claimed millions of additional lives — the Cold War.

On the Web
Voices from the A-Bomb Blast
My God ... what have we done?"
-Robert Lewis, co-pilot of the Enola Gay, immediately after witnessing the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, Japan.
Yellow Star of David
Beginning in late 1939, the German government required that all Jewish citizens wear bright yellow badges identifying them as Jews. This first step of the Holocaust ultimately led to the murder of 12,000,000 people, including Jews, homosexuals, persons with disabilities, blacks and many others.

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