Born May 18, 1897
Died September 3, 1991
La Quinta, California
American film director
At the peak of his career as a Hollywood film director, Frank Capra was beloved by the moviegoing public and acclaimed by critics for his films portraying honest, hardworking "little guys" who triumph over seemingly unbeatable obstacles and more powerful and deceitful opponents. Capra's background as a film director made him an ideal choice to produce a series of inspirational documentary films that aimed to help American troops understand why the United States had entered the war.
A strong desire to succeed
Born in Bisaquino, Sicily (an island off the coast of Italy), Capra moved to the United States with his family when he was six years old. They settled in East Los Angeles, California, and his father worked picking oranges. One of seven children, Capra took a variety of jobs to help support his family (and eventually to pay for college), including selling newspapers and playing the...
(The entire section is 2965 words.)
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Born March 18, 1869
Died November 9, 1940
English statesman who was
prime minister from 1937 to 1940
Neville Chamberlain is best known for his failure to fend off war with dictators Benito Mussolini of Italy and Adolf Hitler of Germany. For many years his policy of compromise with these leaders—known as appeasement—was criticized and condemned, but recently some historians have suggested that it actually allowed England time to arm itself for the later conflict. Although those who didn't like Chamberlain's policies called him weak and blind to reality, others have claimed that he was really a man of integrity who had devoted his life to public service.
The son of a politician
The Chamberlain family had been shoemakers in the eighteenth century, and over the next 100 years or so they rose steadily to become businessmen of the upper middle class. Joseph Chamberlain, Neville's father, gave up business to pursue politics, becoming a...
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Born October 31, 1887
Died April 5, 1975
Chinese general and leader of the
Kuomintang or Nationalist Party
As a young man Chiang Kai-Shek fought with the revolutionary leader Sun Yat-Sen, who successfully ended the reign of the Manchus, a minority ethnic group that had controlled the government of China for three hundred years. Even after Chiang had gained great power as head of the Kuomintang or Nationalist Party, he continued to battle—this time against Japanese invaders as well as warlords, rival politicians, and Communists from within his own country. During World War II, Chiang and his wife tried to influence public opinion in the United States to raise money for China's war against Japan. Although they were successful for a while, Chiang was unable to stop the tide of change that swept over China when Communists led by Mao Zedong took power.
Finding a home in the military
Chiang's father, Chiang Su-an, was a village leader and manager of a...
(The entire section is 2317 words.)
Born November 30, 1874
Died January 24, 1965
British statesman, soldier, and writer
One of the greatest British leaders of all time, Winston Churchill became a figure of monumental importance during World War II, when he led his country through some of its darkest days. Churchill's career was long and rich and featured many ups and downs—times when many of his fellow politicians scorned him as well as times when he was considered a hero. Some of his varied accomplishments include helping to establish a welfare system in Britain, preparing the British navy for World War I (1914-18; a war that started as a conflict between Austria-Hungary and Serbia and escalated into a global war involving thirty-two nations), and earning the Nobel Prize for literature. But it is for his role in World War II that he is most remembered and admired. His powerfulspeeches, his two-fingered "V for Victory" wave, his ever-present cigar, and his tenacious refusal to give in to tyranny inspired hope and courage in people around the world.
An aristocratic background
Churchill was the son of an English aristocrat, Lord Randolph Churchill, and a descendant of John...
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Born c. 1906
Died August 9, 1980
Jacqueline Cochran overcame a difficult childhood to achieve many of the goals she set for herself. She was already an experienced, fearless pilot who had set many flying records when the United States entered World War II (December 7, 1941), and she quickly saw a way in which women could help the war effort. Cochran suggested that the U.S. government set up an organization of women pilots to perform various noncombat duties, an experiment that was already working well in Great Britain. Thus the Women's Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs) were born, and Cochran became their director in August 1943. Although the program was canceled in 1944 and its members left with no veterans benefits and little recognition, Cochran and other female pilots had demonstrated both women's eagerness to serve their country and their abilities in the air.
A rough, tough childhood
Cochran celebrated her birthday on May 11 and...
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Davis, Benjamin O. Jr
Born December 12, 1912
United States Air Force general
Overcoming obstacles and achieving great things was a longstanding tradition in the family of Benjamin O. Davis, Jr. His father, Benjamin O. Davis, Sr. was the U.S. Army's first African American general. And even as Davis, Sr. spent the years during World War II advising the U.S. government on race-related matters, his son, Davis, Jr., was leading the Tuskegee Airmen as they showed what black servicemen could achieve. Only the fourth African American to attend the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York, Davis, Jr. endured harsh treatment at the academy and was told he would never realize his dream of becoming a military pilot. He not only became a pilot but led hundreds of other black pilots as they trained at Tuskegee Army Air Field in Alabama and went on to combat duty in Europe. Under Davis's command, the Tuskegee Airmen became a highly skilled, disciplined unit that, among other accomplishments, never lost any of the bombers they escorted. Davis went on to become the first African American air force officer to reach...
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Davis, Benjamin O. Sr
Born May 28, 1877
Died November 26, 1970
The first African American general
in the United States Army
For most of Benjamin Davis's military career, which spanned more than fifty years, the United States armed forces (including the army, navy, marines, and air force) were segregated. Even though African Americans had taken part in every military conflict in American history, it was thought that black and white soldiers should not fight side by side—that, in fact, black soldiers should not fight at all but should perform such jobs as cleaning and cooking meals. In addition, there was little opportunity for African Americans to advance in their military careers. Despite this discrimination, Davis rose slowly through the ranks to become a general. During World War II, he advised military leaders on ways to integrate the forces, and he worked to resolve racial conflicts. Thus he helped to lay a foundation for the changes that would later come, when blacks finally achieved equal status with whites in the military.
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Gaulle, Charles de
Born November 22, 1890
Died November 9, 1970
French general, political leader, and
president of the Fifth Republic
After Adolf Hitler's forces invaded France in 1940, many French people worked to free their country from the Nazis. The head of the resistance movement working from outside France during the World War II, Charles de Gaulle proved a bold and courageous leader. He also led the first French government established after the war, and helped to define France's postwar identity. His critics said that he was arrogant and never willing to compromise, but not even they could deny that he loved his country deeply. In fact, de Gaulle's personal ambitions and his desire for a strong, independent France were closely intertwined; at one point he even said, "Je suis la France" (I am France).
An early dedication to France
De Gaulle was born in the northern town of Lille, located near France's border with...
(The entire section is 3086 words.)
Eisenhower, Dwight D.
Born October 14, 1890
Died March 28, 1969
U.S. Army general and 34th
president of the United States
Unlike two other famous American military leaders of World War II, General Douglas MacArthur and General George Patton (see entries), Dwight D. Eisenhower was an even-tempered, universally liked figure with a talent for getting people to work together. His management ability was really put to the test when, as commander of all Allied forces in Europe, he led an alliance of men from all the different branches of military service and from many different countries to victory over the German army. At the beginning of the war, Eisenhower was only a lieutenant colonel, but by the time it was over he had risen to the rank of five-star general. He overcame his lack of battle experience and with his brilliant strategies and his calm, likable personality won the trust and loyalty both of Allied political and military leaders as well as the men he led. After the war, the American people demonstrated their regard for Eisenhower...
(The entire section is 2621 words.)
Born January 12, 1893
Died October 15, 1946
Nazi political leader and commander of the
Luftwaffe, the German air force; second in
command to Adolf Hitler
In the years leading up to World War II, Hermann Göring achieved a position of great power in Germany because of his relationship with Adolf Hitler (1889-1945; see entry), Germany's dictator from 1933 through 1945. Hitler put Göring in charge of such important matters as the organization of the police force and rebuilding Germany's air power. Although he had held fairly liberal beliefs as a young man, Göring adopted Hitler's views on the superiority of the German people and the need to eliminate their enemies. He played an active role in carrying out the horrors of the Holocaust (the period between 1933 and 1945 when Nazi Germany systematically murdered millions of Jews, Roma, homosexuals, and other innocent people).
Dreams of greatness
Born in Rosenheim, Bavaria (a state in...
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Born April 29, 1901
Died January 7, 1989
124th emperor of Japan
Hirohito's reign as emperor of Japan—the longest of any monarch in modern times—was a period of great turmoil and change. Although he chose as the name for his reign the word "Showa," which means "Enlightened Peace," he ruled during one of the least peaceful periods in history. Hirohito's enemies considered him the head of a brutal, militaristic country and felt that he should be punished as a war criminal for atrocities (extreme cruelty and violence) committed by the Japanese military against Chinese citizens during World War II. But others now argue that Hirohito was powerless to prevent the war with the Allies, that he was not in charge of the military campaigns, and that he personally opposed the war. He was a shy, self-conscious person whose life had been devoted not to governing a country but to playing the mainly symbolic role of emperor.
A privileged but lonely childhood
Born at Aoynama Palace in...
(The entire section is 2361 words.)
Born April 20, 1889
Died April 30, 1945
Dictator of Nazi Germany from 1934 to 1945
Adolf Hitler was the dictator or absolute ruler of Germany from 1934 to 1945 and leader of the National Socialist German Workers' Party, known as the Nazi Party. He took advantage of Germany's economic hardships and the bitterness of its citizens after World War I to attract followers, eventually taking complete control of the country. Hitler had a deep hatred of Jews and he used the idea of "racial purity" to justify harsh measures—and eventually mass murder—against them as well as other groups he called "enemies of the state." Hitler's skills as a persuasive speaker and his willingness to use violence to get what he wanted led to a twelve-year reign and sparked a war that led to the deaths of some fifty million people.
Dreams of becoming an artist
Born in Braunau, a small Austrian town close to the German border, Hitler was the son of Alois Hitler, a customs...
(The entire section is 3925 words.)
Hobby, Oveta Culp
Born January 5, 1905
Died August 1995
Director of the Women's Army Corps (WAC) and
first secretary of the Department of Health,
Education, and Welfare
Women have played a role in every war in American history, usually as nurses or in other supportive positions. World War II marked the first time, however, that women other than nurses served within the ranks of the U.S. Army. The original purpose of the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC), which later became the Women's Army Corps, was to "free men for combat" by having women perform many of the military's noncombat duties. But it also allowed women to demonstrate their loyalty to their country while showing that they could perform as well as men did in the same positions. Oveta Culp Hobby had already achieved much in her life by the time she became the WAC's first director, and she went on to manage the agency with dedication and energy.
A busy and talented young woman
Born in Killeen, Texas,...
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Born May 20, 1907
St. Radegund, Austria
Died August 9, 1943
Austrian farmer and conscientious
objector during World War II
During Adolf Hitler's reign as leader of Germany, those who lived in countries ruled by the Nazi Party (the National Socialist German Workers' Party) were subjected to an iron rule. Refusing to follow Nazi orders brought swift, brutal punishment and often death. Few people had the courage to resist. Yet Franz Jaggerstatter, an Austrian farmer with a wife and three young daughters, did show such courage—even when everyone around him said he should go along with the Nazis. He refused to enter military service because he believed it would violate his religious beliefs, knowing very well that his refusal would lead to his execution. Since his death, Jaggerstatter has become a strong role model for other conscientious objectors (those who refuse to fight and kill others on religious or moral grounds).
A lively young man
Jaggerstatter was born in the rural town of St. Radegund, located along the banks of the Salzach River in northern Austria (and only about an hour's drive from Braunau, Hitler's birthplace). His mother, Rosalia, worked as a maid when she became pregnant with Franz; her baby's father,...
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Korematsu, Fred T.
Japanese American working as a welder
at the beginning of World War II
Between 1941 and 1944, approximately 120,000 Japanese Americans were forced to leave their homes and move into internment camps. At the time, the U.S. government said that it feared these people might spy for Japan or otherwise threaten the safety of Americans. Yet many people believe the real reason was racism. After all, the United States was also at war with Italy and Germany, but Italian Americans and German Americans were left alone.
Of the 120,000 people forced to move, Fred Korematsu is one of a few Japanese Americans who challenged the evacuation order in court, charging that it went against the U.S. Constitution. Although he did not set out to become a hero, he played an important role in an episode that proved how the freedoms Americans often take for granted must always be protected.
Born and raised in the USA...
(The entire section is 2095 words.)
Born January 26, 1880
Little Rock, Arkansas
Died April 5, 1964
American general; commanded the Allied forces in
the Southwest Pacific and served as civilian
administrator of occupied Japan
One of the most memorable figures of the World War II period, Douglas MacArthur was a colorful character and an excellent self-promoter whose image frequently appeared in newspapers and newsreels (news films, often shown before movies). He was always seen wearing sunglasses and smoking an oversized corncob pipe, looking fearless as he commanded the Allied forces in the Pacific. He was known as a complicated person who could be charming and modest or vain and arrogant, and he often clashed with his superiors. In fact, President Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882-1945; see entry) once called MacArthur one of the "two most dangerous men in America" (the other was Louisiana senator Huey Long, another colorful character). However, his theatrics should not cloud MacArthur's real accomplishments, especially his campaign to liberate the Philippines from Japanese control and his...
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Marshall, George C.
Born December 31, 1880
Died October 16, 1959
American general and army chief
of staff from 1939 to 1945
In describing the role that General George Marshall played in World War II, British prime minister Winston Churchill (1874-1975; see entry) called him "the true organizer of victory." Although he was neither as flashy nor as famous as military leaders like George Patton (1885-1945; see entry) and Douglas MacArthur (1880-1964; see entry), some historians compare Marshall favorably to the first U.S. president, George Washington. Like Washington, Marshall was a rare combination of soldier and statesman who believed strongly that in a democracy the military must be under civilian control. He also resembled Washington in his intelligence, integrity, quiet self-confidence, and moral authority. Marshall was a great organizer and a perceptive judge of people, qualities that served him well in his job as army chief of staff. He led the buildup of a very small, underequipped U.S. Army into a mighty fighting force....
(The entire section is 3057 words.)
Born November 17, 1887
Died March 24, 1976
British field marshal
Considered by some historians the greatest British general of all time, Bernard Montgomery was the best known and most successful officer to lead British troops during World War II. He transformed the demoralized 8th Army into a skilled fighting machine that defeated German field marshal Erwin Rommel's (1891-1944; see entry) fierce Afrika Korps in the North African desert. Although he was a hero to many people, he was also a controversial figure; it is said that he possessed a difficult personality—his bluntness, egotism, and stubborn streak often got him into trouble with his military colleagues. Whatever Montgomery's reputation with fellow officers, his careful planning and desire to minimize casualties (dead and wounded) made him popular with the soldiers who served under him.
Launching a military career
Montgomery was the fourth of nine children born to a clergyman and his wife. His...
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Born July 29, 1883
Died April 28, 1945
Fascist dictator of Italy from 1922 to 1943
During his two decades as dictator of Italy, Benito Mussolini created a regime still remembered for stripping its citizens of most rights and freedom and for violently punishing those who resisted his government. Although Mussolini's power (as well as his life) came to an end in the middle of World War II, he played a major role in the conflict through his alliance with Adolf Hitler (1889-1945; the leader of Germany from 1934-1945; see entry). Hitler modeled parts of his own dictatorship after Mussolini's, and the two leaders formed what they termed an "Axis" to oppose the Allied forces (the major Allied powers were Great Britain, the United States, and the Soviet Union).
A rebellious young man
At the time of Mussolini's birth, most people in Italy were poor. The country had only recently been joined together from many different independent states into one country ruled by...
(The entire section is 2367 words.)
Approximately 400 young Navajo men were
recruited from their reservation (which
includes parts of Arizona, New Mexico, and
Utah) to join the U.S. Marine Corps and become
"Code Talkers." The Navajo Code Talkers
developed a code based on the Navajo
language that was never deciphered and
that played an important role in
Some of World War II's most important and toughest battles took place in the islands of the western Pacific Ocean. Fighting the Japanese for control of the region, the Allies had to contend not only with a strong, determined enemy but also with dense jungle terrain. Secure communications by radio and telephone were crucial to the success of both planning and fighting battles. But the Japanese were good at cracking codes—they seemed to quickly decipher every one the Allies came up with. It wasn't until a World War I veteran suggested that members of the Navajo nation (a Native American people who live in the American Southwest) become "Code Talkers"that the U.S. Marines found a truly unbreakable...
(The entire section is 2433 words.)
Oppenheimer, J. Robert
Born April 22, 1904
New York, New York
Died February 18, 1967
Princeton, New Jersey
J. Robert Oppenheimer's brilliant research in the field of quantum mechanics (the study of the energy of atomic particles) led to his selection as the director of the weapons laboratory at Los Alamos, New Mexico. There, scientists from all over the world worked secretly to develop a powerful atomic bomb that, it was hoped, would end World War II. Oppenheimer was known not only for the important role he played in the Manhattan Project, but also for his work as a researcher and teacher. After the war, he advised the government on how best to use nuclear energy and weapons.
A bright and curious boy
Oppenheimer was born into a wealthy, cultured family. His father, Julius Oppenheimer, had emigrated from Germany as a young man and had built a successful textile importing company. His mother, Ella Friedman, was a painter who loved art and music. The family lived in a large apartment...
(The entire section is 3038 words.)
Patton, George S.
Born November 11, 1885
Died December 21, 1945
Recognized as one of the greatest wartime generals of all time, George S. Patton was a colorful figure remembered as much for his vulgar language and ivory-handled pistol as for his battlefield brilliance. Those who knew Patton well understood that he hid the softer, refined side of his nature under the bluster and swagger he felt were necessary to a soldier's image. Patton's aggressive style of fighting and his ability to inspire soldiers to perform beyond expectations contributed greatly to the Allied victory over Germany. In fact, he was the Allied general most admired and feared by the Germans.
A privileged childhood
Born into a wealthy family in California, Patton was descended from a long line of soldiers and achievers, and he always felt that their spirits were watching and judging what he did. One of his ancestors had fought for the rebel hero, Bonnie Prince Charlie, who...
(The entire section is 3017 words.)
Born August 3, 1900
Died April 18, 1945
Ie Shima, Japan
Even before World War II made him famous around the world, Ernie Pyle had attracted a strong following in the United States with his newspaper columns focused on the lives of ordinary Americans. His talent for showing readers the remarkable aspects of life served him well when he went overseas to record the experiences of American troops. He earned their respect by living just as they did, and he gained million of readers with his descriptive writings about the war. Later critics complained that Pyle and other World War II correspondents whitewashed the realities of the war, never fully revealing its shocking brutalities. But Pyle's admirers claim that in fact he helped Americans to survive the war and to give it more meaning and purpose. When people called World War II the "Good War" (meaning the war that was justified andworth fighting) as they would for generations to come, they were referring to the war Pyle had shown them. According to his biographer, James Tobin, he was "America's eyewitness to the...
(The entire section is 3862 words.)
Born June 11, 1880
Died May 18, 1973
American politician, feminist, and pacifist
The first woman in U.S. history to serve in Congress, Jeannette Rankin was elected at a time when most American women were not even allowed to vote. Throughout her life she was a strong advocate for women's rights, leading the campaigns for women's suffrage (the right to vote) as well as for social reforms to help working and poor people. Rankin was also a strict pacifist (someone who does not believe in using violence to solve disputes), and this belief damaged her political career when she voted against U.S. entry into both World War I and World War II. In fact, Rankin ignored the overwhelming tide of public opinion to become the only member of Congress to vote "no" on President Franklin D. Roosevelt's (1882-1945; see entry) resolution to enter World War II. An energetic, relentless fighter for causes she believed in, even if they were unpopular, Rankin voted her conscience despite the consequences.
(The entire section is 2279 words.)
Born November 15, 1891
Died October 14, 1944
near Herrlingen, Germany
German field marshal known as the "Desert Fox"
Erwin Rommel is known for leading Germany's Afrika Korps to victory in the deserts of North Africa. His ability to keep the enemy off balance, using surprise attacks and quick movements, earned him the nickname "Desert Fox." He was admired by friends and enemies alike; for example, British prime minister Winston Churchill told the House of Commons (England's legislative body) that Rommel was "a very daring and skillful opponent and, may I say across the havoc of war, a great general." By the end of World War II, Rommel had fallen out of favor with Germany's leader, Adolf Hitler (1889-1945; see entry), when he told him that Germany could not defeat the Allies (Great Britain, the United States, the Soviet Union, and the other countries fighting against Germany, Italy, and Japan.)
An impressive young soldier
Rommel was the second of four children born to...
(The entire section is 2824 words.)
Roosevelt, Franklin D.
Born January 30, 1882
Hyde Park, New York
Died April 12, 1945
Warm Springs, Georgia
32nd president of the United States (1932-1945)
Considered one of America's greatest leaders, Franklin D. Roosevelt was the only president to be elected to four terms in office. Both beloved and controversial, he took charge at a turbulent time in American history. The Great Depression (1929-39) caused widespread suffering as many people lost their jobs, homes, and businesses and some people wondered whether the United States could survive as a democracy. Roosevelt's solution was a set of programs and reforms he called the "New Deal," many of which have survived to the present day. Not all of them were successful, but Roosevelt's energy and optimism gave many Americans the strength they needed to carry on. In the same determined way, he led his country through World War II and helped its citizens to feel that the sacrifices made and many lives lost were not in vain.
A child of privilege
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Born December 21, 1879
Gori, Georgia, Russia
Died March 5, 1953
Dictator of the Soviet Union from 1928 to 1953
Joseph Stalin became the leader of the Soviet Union after the death of Vladimir Lenin, who had led the revolution that removed the Russian czar (an all-powerful, hereditary ruler like a king) from power and put the Communist Party in charge of the country in 1917. Under Stalin, the Soviet Union became one of the world's major powers, but his was a reign of terror as millions of people who displeased Stalin in various ways were executed or sent to labor camps called "gulags." During World War II, Stalin rallied the Russian people to defeat the Germans and they did so, but at a terrible cost—about twenty-five million Russians lost their lives in the war.
A boy called "Soso"
Stalin was born Iosef (Joseph) Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili in Gori, in the country of Georgia, which was then part of Russia's empire in western Asia. He was the only one of four children in his...
(The entire section is 3527 words.)
Born October 12, 1891
Breslau, Germany (now Wroclaw, Poland)
Died August 9, 1942
German Jew who converted to Catholicism
and became a nun
On October 11, 1998, Edith Stein became the first Jewish person in modern times to achieve sainthood. The Roman Catholic Church gave her this honor because, they said, she had done so much to promote understanding between Christians and Jews and because she had died a martyr (someone who dies rather than renounce his or her religion) for both her heritage and her faith. A respected thinker and writer on philosophical issues and an atheist (person who does not believe in God) as a young woman, Stein converted to the Catholic religion when she was thirty years old. Twelve years later, she entered a convent as a nun. In 1942 she was executed at the Nazi concentration camp at Auschwitz, Poland. Stein's sainthood caused a controversy because many Jews felt that she had died not because of her Catholicism, but because she had been born a Jew. They feared that her canonization (being made a saint) would deflect attention away from...
(The entire section is 2027 words.)
Born July 9, 1893
Lancaster, New York
Died January 30, 1961
Dorothy Thompson was one of the world's most famous reporters in the 1920s and 1930s, and one of the first women to reach the top of the journalism field. She wrote newspaper and magazine articles and made radio broadcasts, informing her audience about world events and some of the most important issues of the time—especially the rise of dictators (absolute rulers) like Germany's Adolf Hitler (1889-1945; see entry) and Italy's Benito Mussolini (1883-1945; see entry). Thompson helped people understand the causes and events of World War II, and hers was one of the earliest and strongest voices raised against Nazism, the brutal German political system that led to the deaths of millions of people.
A childhood both happy and sad
Thompson was born in Lancaster, a rural town in upstate (northern) New York. Her parents, Peter (a Methodist minister) and Margaret Thompson, were both kind and compassionate people. The family, which included two other children besides Dorothy, was poor but they shared what they had with those in greater need. Thompson was a bright, sassy child who loved...
(The entire section is 2701 words.)
Born December 30, 1884
Died December 23, 1948
Japanese military and political leader
In the years leading up to World War II, Japan began to aggressively expand its empire into nearby Asian countries, especially China. This expansion concerned the leaders other nations, and they began to view Tojo, the Japanese prime minister and the leading symbol of the country's militarism. Tojo was seen as an all-powerful dictator similar to Germany's Adolf Hitler (1889-1945; see entry) or Italy's Benito Mussolini (1883-1945; see entries). Although Tojo played a major role in Japan's wartime affairs, his power and ambitions were actually not as great as Hitler's or Mussolini's. He has been described as an uncomplicated, hardworking man intensely dedicated to his profession. His fatal error was in not realizing that the United States and its allies could win a long-term, large-scale war.
The Kamisori (razor)
Tojo was born into a family known for producing many samurais...
(The entire section is 1611 words.)
Truman, Harry S.
Born May 8, 1884
Died December 26, 1972
Kansas City, Missouri
33rd president of the United States
Harry S. Truman is remembered as one of few American presidents who had a real knowledge of and feeling for the ordinary citizens of his country. Known as an honest, hardworking man with a lot of common sense, he was serving as vice president when, in April of 1945, President Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882-1945; see entry) died in office. Truman took over the presidency at a crucial time, with World War II almost over and Americans feeling both euphoric about the Allied victory and anxious about the economy and other issues. Over the next seven years, Truman would make some difficult decisions—especially the one that led to dropping two atomic bombs on Japan—and lead the United States through important changes in foreign and domestic policy.
A Missouri boyhood
Truman was born in a small farming town located about 120 miles south of Kansas City, Missouri. His father was...
(The entire section is 3536 words.)