World War II

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President Roosevelt asked General George Marshall, "How shall we fight this war?" The General replied, "Germany first, Japan second." Compare and contrast General Marshall's recommendation with that of the typical American on December 9, 1941.

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There is much more “contrast” than “compare” in the answer to this question.  Marshall’s attitude was very different from that of most Americans in the days after the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Americans simply did not hate Nazi Germany enough to go to war in the time before Pearl Harbor.  There was widespread anti-Semitism even in America and it was not yet clear that Hitler was actually killing Jews rather than simply denying them rights.  The average American did not feel that German domination of Europe would harm them in any important way.  For these reasons, there was no war fever in the US with regard to Nazi Germany.

After December 7th, there was war fever against Japan.  Americans were outraged by the attack on Pearl Harbor.  They wanted badly to take revenge on Japan for that attack.  Marshall, by contrast, was looking at broader issues of strategy.  He felt that German domination of Europe was a greater danger than Japanese domination of the Western Pacific.  For this reason, he supported a “Europe first” approach.  Roosevelt, too, supported this approach.  However, because there was so much anti-Japanese passion, the US fought on both fronts from the beginning.   

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