World War II

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1. How did the Allied forces win the war in Europe?

2. What were the major events leading up to the outbreak of war in Europe and in Asia?

3. What effect did the Second World War have on American society?

4. How did the United States gain the upper hand in the Pacific sphere?

5. What efforts did the Allies make to shape the postwar world?

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1. European victory was accomplished through the size of the Soviet force, American military might, Germany's flawed strategy of a two-front assault, and allied aerial bombardment. Although suffering brutal casualties throughout the war, the Soviet Union was able to withstand the advance of the German army, which wasn't anticipated by Hitler. Moreover, Hitler underestimated the might of the Soviets and was caught in a two-front conflict in the east with the Soviets and the west with the rest of the Allied forces. As the Allies advanced closer to Germany, aerial bombardments increased and crushed what little resources they had left.

2. In Europe, the invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939, is generally considered the start of the war. Britain and France immediately declared war. Germany had been expanding into territories they felt were inherently German. Although the United States remained "neutral" for the beginning of the war, it helped the Allied effort with the Lend-Lease agreement, which provided American resources to the Allies.

The Asian front began with the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941. This event forced the United States to "officially" enter the war. Japan's aggression in Asia had been going on for a while at that point, with invasions in China and multiple brutal attacks on Chinese villages.

3. The war had a unifying effect on American society. Nearly all aspects of the American economy pitched in with the war effort. Businesses began to create materials for the war in areas they'd never worked with before. Women entered the workforce in unprecedented numbers as the men went overseas. This changed the dynamic of the American workforce totally. Rosie the Riveter became a staple image of American society in the attempt to recruit women to the workforce. It worked, and female workforce participation rose nearly ten percent.

4. The turning point in the Pacific theater was the Battle of Midway. Up until that point, Japan had control of the various islands in the Pacific. Japan also overestimated their destruction of the American naval fleet. Midway saw mass casualties and damage to the Japanese Navy, while the United States remained intact. The United States was then able to continue "island hopping" until they reached mainland Japan.

5. The Allied forces, led by Churchill, FDR, and Stalin, met to shape the post-war world in Europe and Asia. One specific event was the creation of the United Nations. This was in an attempt to create stable peace in the world by strengthening treaties and agreements with countries as well as ensuring aggressive behaviors like those of Germany and Japan would be stopped much earlier. Economically, the Marshall Plan, named for General George C. Marshall, was intended to help rebuild the devastated European economy. The United States gave around fifteen billion dollars in aid.

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I will answer questions # 1 and 4 here because they are related to one another.  In general, the Allies won the war in both theaters largely because they had more industrial capacity and larger populations.  They also won because of geographical advantages.  Finally, they were helped by mistakes made by their opponents.

The major way in which the Allies won the war was by having more resources both in terms of people and in terms of natural resources.  The Allied side (in Europe) included both the United States and the Soviet Union.  This meant that the Allies had two countries with very large populations.  Both (but particularly the US) had large industrial bases that could be used to make weapons and other things needed for the war.  In the Pacific, the US was largely on its own, but it was only fighting Japan, which had a much smaller population and industrial base than the US did.

Particularly in Europe, the Allies had a geographical advantage.  The biggest advantage (in both wars) was that no enemy could have much of a chance of touching the mainland US.  This meant that American industries could operate unmolested, cranking out huge amounts of materiel.  In Europe, the Allies also had the advantage of having Britain and the Soviet Union.  Britain, by virtue of being an island and by virtue of its air and sea power, could not be invaded.  It therefore was able to hold out and to serve as a staging point for Allied forces as they bombed and then invaded Europe.  The Soviet Union was so big that it could simply place its industries in areas that Axis bombers could not reach.  The USSR’s size also helped to absorb the German invasion as the Soviets traded space for time.

The Axis also helped the Allies by making a number of mistakes.  The Italian invasion of North Africa, for example, caused the Germans to have to expend resources because the Italians failed.  The Germans made a huge mistake by invading the Soviet Union.  The Japanese might have been able to avoid defeat if they had accepted their gains of 1941 and not tried for more.  When they tried to take Midway, they had a serious defeat inflicted on them.

Thus, there were a variety of reasons why the Allies were able to win this war.

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