- Winston Churchill
- Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt
- Adolf Hitler
- Herbert A. Werner
- Franklin D. Roosevelt
World War II (1939-45) grew out of a quest for power and territory in both Europe and Asia. On the European front, the war was sparked by the land-grabbing maneuvers of German dictator Adolf Hitler and his National Socialist German Workers' Party (or Nazi Party for short). (A dictator is a leader of a government in which absolute—and often unfair and oppressive—power is held by one ruler alone. In Germany's case, that leader was Hitler.)
Germany had been in a state of political and economic turmoil since its devastating loss to opposing forces in World War I (1914-18). In an attempt to restore the nation's former glory and expand German influence across Europe, Hitler launched an invasion of neighboring Poland on September 1, 1939. Great Britain and France responded with a show of solidarity (fellowship or unity), declaring war on Germany two days later. The Germans followed up with an attack on Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, and France in the spring of 1940....
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"Blood, Toil, Tears, and Sweat"
"Be Ye Men of Valour"
"Their Finest Hour"
Excerpts from selected speeches delivered in the spring of 1940 Printed in Blood, Toil, Tears and Sweat: The Speeches of Winston Churchill Published in 1990
After Adolf Hitler was named chancellor (chief officer) of Germany in 1933, the German government stepped up efforts to expand its territory in Europe. An extremely dangerous leader who seemed to have a spellbinding grasp on his followers, Hitler had spent the previous decade building up the National Socialist German Workers' Party (or Nazi Party for short). The Nazis encouraged the growing nationalist movement in Germany—a movement that glorified all things German and demanded blind devotion to the party's beliefs.
British prime minister Neville Chamberlain (the chief officer of the British government) sought to avoid war between Germany and Britain. To appease Hitler, he gave in to his demands to add the German-speaking sections of Czechoslovakia to his territory. As it turned out, this alone did not satisfy the cunning German leader's appetite for power and land. By March 1939 Germany claimed the rest of Czechoslovakia. It became clear that Hitler could not be trusted. Chamberlain resigned his post and...
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Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt
The Atlantic Charter
Issued August 14, 1941. Printed by United Press in the New York Times, August 15, 1941, p.1.
After taking part in World War I (1914-18) the United States adopted a policy of isolationism, vowing to remain neutral (not take sides) in conflicts between foreign countries. But in the mid-1930s, soon after German dictator Adolf Hitler's rise to power in Germany (see Winston Churchill entry in chapter one), it became clear that every nation in the world was a potential target for power-hungry dictators. (A dictator is a leader of a government in which absolute—and often unfair and oppressive—power is held by one ruler alone.) In 1935 Italian dictator Benito Mussolini took steps to broaden his political power by attacking Abyssinia (the eastern African kingdom of Ethiopia). Two years later Japan invaded central China. With the outbreak of war in Europe in 1939, the defense of democracy (government by the people) became a very real concern worldwide.
In the fall of 1940 the U.S. Congress authorized the start of a peacetime draft to enlarge the American armed forces. The draft required men between the ages of twenty and thirty-five to enroll for military training. Meanwhile, American industries geared up for increased production of war supplies. On May 27, 1941, U.S. president Franklin D....
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Excerpt from "Hitler's Order of the Day to the
German Troops on the Eastern Front"
Issued October 2, 1941 Excerpt taken from Associated Press release reprinted in the New York Times, October 10, 1941, p. 2
After Adolf Hitler was named chancellor (chief officer) of Germany in 1933, the German government stepped up efforts to expand its territory in Europe. In March 1938 the German army moved into Austria and united it with Germany. Soon, Hitler began demanding the return of land that Germany had lost after World War I (1914-18). His first target was a German-speaking section of Czechoslovakia, called the Sudetenland. Czechoslovakia didn't have a strong enough military to stand alone against Germany and prevent it from taking the territory. Czechoslovakia's allies, Britain and France, did not want to go to war over the territory, so they agreed to let Germany take over the Sudetenland. Hitler claimed that this would be his last territorial demand in Europe. In reality, he already had plans for conquering all of Europe.
By March 1939 Hitler's army had taken over all of Czechoslovakia. Soon after, Hitler made demands on Poland, specifically the port city of Danzig. Before World War I, Danzig was a German city. After World War I it became a "free city," which meant it didn't...
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Herbert A. Werner
Excerpt from Iron Coffins: A Personal Account of the GermanU-Boat Battles of World War II
First published in 1969; reprinted in 1998
Germany's invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939, marked the beginning of World War II (1939-45). Great Britain and France had promised to protect Poland if it were attacked and declared war on Germany two days later. On that same day the British passenger ship Athenia, traveling westward across the Atlantic Ocean toward Canada, was sunk by a German submarine. The attack had come without warning. Over one hundred of the ocean liner's thirteen hundred passengers perished. The Battle of the Atlantic—a deadly, six-year-long campaign—had begun.
Great Britain (England, Scotland, and Wales) is surrounded by water: the Atlantic Ocean to the west and north, the North Sea to the east, and the English Channel to the south. Throughout World War II, Great Britain relied on the Atlantic waterways as paths for receiving much-needed food, fuel, manpower, military supplies, and equipment to fight the Germans. German forces sought to cut off these supply lines.
U-boats (German submarines) were the key to Germany's early dominance in the Battle of the Atlantic: they could launch both surface and underwater attacks. (The U-boat takes its name from the word...
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Franklin D. Roosevelt
"A Date Which Will Live in Infamy"
War message delivered to U.S. Congress December 8, 1941
In the years leading up to World War II (1939-45), the government of Japan was run by its military leaders. These men sought to expand Japan's power on the eastern Asian mainland, forming an enormous empire in Asia.
Japanese forces had been fighting in China since July 1937 and by 1940 had taken over much of Southeast Asia. Japan's next targets were the island groups in the southwest Pacific ocean. Alarmed by the Japanese government's quest to dominate Asia, the United States took steps to restrict—but not totally ban—trade with Japan and demanded the nation withdraw its troops from China and French Indochina (now Vietnam). Although the U.S.-imposed trade restrictions interfered with their manufacture of war materials, the Japanese did not buckle under the economic pressure. Japan's military steadfastly refused to remove troops from occupied areas. As a result, U.S. president Franklin D. Roosevelt took more definitive action in the summer of 1941, cutting off all U.S. trade with Japan—including oil, which was vital to fuel the Japanese war effort. Shortly thereafter, the governments of Great Britain and the Netherlands did the same.
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The American Home Front
- Catherine "Renee" Young Pike
- Jerry Stanley
America's accomplishments during World War II were fueled largely by the collective efforts of ordinary citizens on the home front. After declaring war on Japan, and then on Germany, in December of 1941, the United States assembled and trained the largest military force in its history. As most of the nation's men joined the ranks of the armed forces, American women stepped into the jobs "the boys" had left vacant on the home front.
Wartime production pulled the American economy out of a twelve-year slump known as the Great Depression (1929-1939). The Great Depression was a period of severe economic decline. Many factories and banks closed; many people lost their jobs. Large numbers of people were homeless and had no way to get food. As World War II heated up in Europe, the economic situation in the United States began to improve. But after the United States actually entered the war in December 1941, unemployment plummeted as more and more manufacturing jobs were created. Factories churned out planes, tanks, ships, jeeps, weapons, and other war materials in record numbers. Money to cover the incredibly high cost of the war was raised through the sale of war bonds, through added taxes, and through mandatory conservation...
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Catherine "Renee" Young Pike
Excerpt from Since You Went Away: World War II Letters from American Women on the Home Front
Edited by Judy Barrett Litoff and David C. Smith Published in 1991
Those Americans who were not fighting on the front lines during World War II worked on a different front—the home front, which fueled the entire war effort. The decade before the war had been a particularly bleak one for most Americans. The Great Depression, a period of severe economic slowdown, began in the United States in 1929. By 1932 approximately twelve million Americans were unemployed. But the nation's entry into World War II in December of 1941 brought a swift end to nearly twelve years of hardship and deprivation. High unemployment in the United States disappeared as government office positions and manufacturing jobs opened up in record numbers.
U.S. president Franklin D. Roosevelt has been credited with inspiring the nation to reach phenomenal wartime production goals. "To change a whole nation from a basis of peace time production of implements of peace to a basis of war time production of implements of war is no easy task," noted Roosevelt in his January 6, 1941 message to Congress. According to Russell Freedman in Franklin Delano Roosevelt, "As late as 1940, the United States was so poorly prepared for
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Excerpt from I Am an American: A True Story of Japanese Internment
Published in 1994
When the American naval base at Pearl Harbor was bombed by Japanese fighter planes on December 7, 1941 (see Franklin D. Roosevelt entry for more information about Pearl Harbor), approximately 125,000 Japanese Americans resided in the United States. Japan's surprise attack on U.S. forces plunged the United States into World War II (1939-45). Within a few months, more than 115,000 Japanese Americans—two-thirds of them born in the United States—were forced to leave their West Coast homes. (At the time, about ninety-five percent of the Japanese in the States lived in the coastal states of Washington, Oregon, and California.)
Americans of Japanese ancestry were easy targets of discrimination because of their distinctive Asian features. "We looked like the enemy," noted Japanese American author Yoshiko Uchida in her book The Invisible Thread. In no time Japanese Americans were being treated like the enemy—the so-called "Japs" who had brought the war so close to America's shores. (The disparaging term "Jap" was used widely during World War II to refer to Japanese soldiers.)
Fear and racism sparked a wave of hysteria that overwhelmed the nation in the wake of the Pearl Harbor attack....
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The Human Cost
- Ruth Minsky Sender
- Harry S. Truman
- Rodney Barker
- Ernie Pyle
- World War II Nurses
German leader Adolf Hitler was a staunch anti-Semite—he harbored an intense hatred for Jewish people. He and his Nazi Party (pronounced "NOHT-see"; taken from the full German name of the National Socialist German Workers' Party) blamed Germany's post-World War I (after 1918) political and economic woes on the Jews. After becoming chancellor (supreme leader) of Germany in 1933, Hitler instituted a ruthless campaign of terror against the Jews of Europe. As Germany invaded neighboring countries and became enmeshed in World War II (1939-45), the Nazis made plans for the "Final Solution" to what they called the "Jewish problem." The Final Solution was to completely eliminate European Jews through mass extermination. This murderous crusade is now referred to as the Holocaust.
The Nazi-engineered Holocaust resulted in the deaths of six million Jewish men, women, and children. The Cage, a powerful autobiographical account by Holocaust survivor Ruth Minsky Sender, gives voice to the...
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Ruth Minsky Sender
Excerpt from The Cage
Published in 1986
Germany was in a state of political and economic chaos at the end of World War I (1914-18). (See Winston Churchill entry in chapter one for more information on Germany before World War II.) Future German leader Adolf Hitler (1889-1945) spent much of the 1920s building up the Nazi Party (pronounced "NOHT-see"; taken from the full German name of the National Socialist German Workers' Party) to restore order and glory to the German nation. The Nazis organized a strong nationalistic movement in Germany—a movement that glorified all things German—and demanded blind devotion to their party's teachings.
After becoming the leader of Germany in 1933, Hitler launched a frightening campaign of suppression built on fear and hatred. Hitler was an ardent anti-Semite, meaning he held a deep-seated hatred for Jewish people. He blamed the Jews for the depressed economy in Germany and the nation's stunning defeat in World War I. The Holocaust was the Nazi campaign to persecute—and eventually eliminate—all Jews from Europe.
Although Hitler's wrath was directed primarily against the Jews of Europe, he also targeted his political adversaries (socalled "enemies of the state"), Roma (often called Gypsies), homosexuals, Poles (including Polish Jews and Catholics),...
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Harry S. Truman: Excerpt of Comments on the Manhattan Project
Excerpt of Truman's comments on the Manhattan Project fromMemoirs by Harry S. Truman Volume 1: Year of Decisions
Published in 1955
In the late 1930s Austrian and German physicists (scientists who study matter and forces) made major breakthroughs in the field of nuclear energy, the energy released during nuclear reactions. The term "nuclear" refers to the nucleus, or core, of an atom. Atoms, the building blocks of all elements, are held together by incredibly powerful forces.
Nuclear energy research in the early World War II era centered on experiments with uranium atoms. Firing just one neutron (an uncharged particle found within the nucleus of most atoms) at the nucleus of a uranium atom caused the release of three new neutrons and a large amount of energy. Physicists believed that bombarding a larger sample of uranium with neutrons would trigger a powerful chain reaction: an enormous release of energy would accompany the splitting of the uranium atoms. It wasn't long before scientists in Germany and the United States were thinking about how they could harness this overwhelming burst of energy in a military weapon.
Serious research on atomic weapon development began in the United States in late 1941, around the time of Japan's
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Excerpt from The Hiroshima Maidens: A Story of Courage, Compassion, and Survival
Published in 1985
In May 1945 the war in Europe came to a close, thus freeing up American, British, and Soviet forces, collectively known as the Allies, for the battle against Japan. At that time, naval blockades were already strangling Japanese ports. In addition, the United States had captured key islands in the Pacific and established air bases on them. (See Eugene B. Sledge entry in chapter four for more information about the war in the Pacific.) Air assaults were launched from these bases throughout the spring of 1945, crushing the Japanese military and crippling key cities on the home islands (the chain of four islands making up the heart of Japan). An invasion of the main island—first of Kyushu (pronounced "key-OO-shoe"), then northward to the capital city of Tokyo on Honshu—was tentatively scheduled for late 1945 and early 1946, but the Allies knew that the steadfast Japanese would fight harder than ever to defend the home islands.
According to military estimates, about five hundred thousand American soldiers would be lost in the invasion. U.S. president Harry S. Truman had repeatedly called for the "unconditional surrender" of Japan, but the Japanese simply
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"Notes from a Battered Country"
"The Death of Captain Waskow"
"I Thought It Was the End"
"Waiting for Tomorrow"
"On Victory in Europe"
Excerpts from Ernie's War: The Best of Ernie Pyle's World War II Dispatches Written by Ernie Pyle between 1943 and 1945Collected and published in book form, 1986
The battles of World War II (1939-45) spread beyond Europe and Asia to the continent of Africa when Italian forces invaded the northeast African country of Egypt in September of 1940. The northern tip of Africa is separated from Italy by the Mediterranean Sea and Italy wanted to expand its territory into North Africa. Italy's ally Germany landed troops in North Africa in February, 1941. By 1942 the northwest African regions of Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia had been invaded by German and Italian—or Axis—forces.
In late 1942 and early 1943 the Allied powers (the Allied troops fighting in this region were from Great Britain, the Dominion of Canada, and the United States) succeeded in pushing the German and Italian troops out of northern Africa. (The term "Dominion" refers to the self-governing nations of the British Commonwealth, namely Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and...
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World War II Nurses
Excerpt from No Time for Fear: Voices of American Military Nurses in World War II
Edited by Diane Burke Fessler Published in 1996
During World War II (1939-45) nearly sixty thousand American nurses served in the Army Nurse Corps (ANC). Whether stationed in Europe or in the Pacific, they risked their lives daily, working on or near the front lines; on land, sea, and air transport vehicles; and in field hospitals.
As caretakers of wounded soldiers fresh from the battlefield, wartime nurses dealt with every sort of injury imaginable—from gaping chest wounds and massive hemorrhages to amputations and severe burns. One of the most difficult aspects of their job, though, was helping soldiers handle the psychological damage brought on by brutal combat experiences. Brave World War II nurses, doctors, and medics (enlisted men who served as orderlies) remained strong in the face of death. Although vulnerable to attack by enemy forces, they shunned the danger and set aside their own fears to stay with the patients who needed them.
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- Veterans of D-Day
- Stephen E. Ambrose
- E. B. Sledge
- Harry S. Truman
The World War II invasion of Europe by British and American forces took place in mid-1944. The Allies (those nations fighting against the Germans during World War II) sought to free the German-occupied countries of Europe from German leader Adolf Hitler's grasp. Allied troops landed on the beaches of Normandy, France, on June 6, 1944—D-Day. Voices of D-Day: The Story of the Allied Invasion Told by Those Who Were There, edited by Ronald J. Drez, is a collection of survivors' accounts of the Normandy landing.
From Normandy, the Allies began their march eastward through France and Belgium toward Germany. In December 1944 the Germans launched a counterattack in the Ardennes Forest of southeastern Belgium, entangling Allied forces in a costly conflict known as the Battle of the Bulge. (The battle was so-named because the advancing German army created a "bulge" in the American line of defense.) Excerpts from Citizen Soldiers: The U.S. Army from the Normandy Beaches to the Bulge to the Surrender of Germany, edited by Stephen Ambrose, reveal...
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Veterans of D-Day
Excerpt from Voices of D-Day: The Story of the Allied Invasion Told By Those Who Were There
Edited by Ronald J. Drez Published in 1994
The Allied invasion of the beach in Normandy remains the largest and most difficult wartime invasion ever planned. (In World War II [1939-1945] the leading Allied Powers were all of the countries fighting against Germany, Italy, and Japan, led by the United States, Great Britain, and the Soviet Union.) France was heavily fortified (protected by mines and artillery) by the German military, and it had to be conquered before the Allies could advance into Germany. The beaches of Normandy, on France's northwestern coast, were chosen as the site for an amphibious (a combined land, sea, and air force) invasion of the European continent by British and American forces.
German forces in France were led by Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, known as the "Desert Fox" for his clever moves in North Africa earlier in the war. Under his command, German tank divisions in Africa had dealt the British one defeat after another. But by 1944 the Germans were feeling the effects of Allied air assaults on their factories, airfields, and oil refineries. The Royal Air Force (RAF) and U.S. Air Force crippled the Luftwaffe (German air force) prior to the invasion at Normandy, thus leaving the Germans more vulnerable to an...
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Stephen E. Ambrose
Excerpt from Citizen Soldiers: The U.S. Army from the Normandy Beaches to the Bulge to the Surrender of Germany
Published in 1997
The Allies broke out of Normandy, France, on July 25, 1944. The Allied forces in France were made up of soldiers from Britain, Canada, France, and the United States. Their goal was to fight their way through France and Belgium and into Germany, eventually forcing the surrender of the German forces occupying most of Europe.
Allied forces made great strides throughout the summer of 1944. The French capital, Paris, was liberated from Germany's control on August 25. By December, the Allied advance on Germany was stopped in its tracks because supplies of gas, food, and ammunition were running short. The German army launched a counterattack against the Allies on December 16, 1944. More than 250,000 heavily armed German troops gathered to repel the Allies and capture the Belgian city of Antwerp; it was through this port city that Allied forces received their supplies.
The Germans directed their line of attack through the dense woods of the Ardennes Forest (pronounced "ar-DENN") in southeastern Belgium. The Ardennes was a weak spot in the American line, left largely unprotected by ground troops. Using blitzkrieg (pronounced "BLITS-kreeg," meaning "lightning war" in...
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E. B. Sledge
Excerpt from With the Old Breed at Peleliu and Okinawa
First published in 1981
On September 15, 1944, U.S. Marines invaded Peleliu (pronounced "PELL-eh-loo" or "PEH-lell-you"), one of the Palau Islands in the western Pacific Ocean. The Palau Islands campaign was viewed originally as a crucial stepping-stone in the liberation of the Philippines from Japan. (See box on Douglas MacArthur on p. 218-219.) The entire area was heavily defended by Japanese troops.
Peleliu was only 6 miles long and 2 miles wide, but its rugged terrain and unbearably hot climate made for a slow and miserable battle. Approximately twenty-eight thousand Americans—a combined force of marine and army divisions—participated in the brutal, bloody struggle for the island. More than eleven hundred marines were killed or wounded on the first day of fighting alone.
U.S. forces captured the island of Peleliu on October 21, 1944. The casualties suffered on both sides were staggering. When the fighting was all over, more than sixty-five hundred marines and thirty-two hundred army soldiers were dead or wounded. About eleven thousand Japanese soldiers were killed.
Things to remember while reading excerpts from With the Old Breed at Peleliu and Okinawa:...
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Harry S. Truman: Statements on the Surrender of Germany and the Surrender of Japan
Statements on the Surrender of Germany and the Surrender of Japan
Transcribed and published in the New York Times, May 9, 1945 and September 2, 1945 Both speeches reprinted in Memoirs by Harry S. Truman,Volume 1: Year of Decisions, 1955
Franklin D. Roosevelt, who was president of the United States through most of the war, died on April 12, 1945 and vice president Harry S. Truman took office. At the time, Germany was quickly retreating from Allied forces on both the western and eastern fronts. The Allies on the western front consisted of troops from the United States, Great Britain, France, and Canada. After the Normandy invasion the Allies made their way across France and Belgium, pushing the Germans eastward. (See the Veterans of D-Day and Stephen E. Ambrose entries in chapter four for more information on the Normandy invasion and the Battle of Normandy.)
On the eastern front the armies of the Soviet Union were pushing the Germans westward. Germany and the Soviet Union had been fighting for control of Soviet territory since June 1941, when Germany invaded its former ally. (See Adolf Hitler entry in chapter one for more information on the German invasion of the Soviet Union.) Germany was being squeezed between the Allied forces on the two fronts and being pushed back into its own territory. By the...
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