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World War II (WWII) took place from 1939-1945. Participated in by 61 countries, the War would be the bloodiest in the world’s history, as well as the first in which citizens were targeted and became casualties. During WWII, the world was split into the Allied and Axis powers. Great Britain, Russia, the United States and France were members of the Allied powers, which the Axis powers (then the U.S.S.R.) included Germany, Italy and Japan. Prior to the end of the war, Russia joined the Allied powers and helped to end the war by invading Germany.
In 1939 the world had barely begun to emerge from the stock market crash of 1929 and the ensuing depression. Unemployed and unsatisfied, citizens around the world looked to government leaders for change. As a result, fanatic - and sometimes tyrannical - governments assumed power in several countries throughout Europe. Adolf Hitler (1889-1945), the leader of the Nazi party, became Chancellor of Germany in 1933. After rising to power, Hitler steadily removed German citizen’s rights, especially those of Jewish citizens.
Officially, the war began when Germany invaded Poland on September 1, 1938. On that date, Britain and France declared war against Germany. The invasion of Poland was due to many factors, including foreign power attempts to appease German aggression and avoid another war. Hitler’s decision to invade Poland was based on his desire to acquire more land for German people and eradicate Jews from the area. Prior to invading Poland, Germany annexed Austria, joining the two, previously separated, countries military powers.
Swiftly, the Hitler-led Germany army acquired most of the European continent. His main opponents were Russia and Britain, both of which refused to fall despite his food embargos that starved their citizens and nightly barrage of bombings. Staunch British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Her Royal Highness Queen Elizabeth supported their citizens through the nightly destruction of London. The city never fell into Nazi hands.
At first, the U.S. remained neutral, refusing to enter into the fighting or provide troops or supplies to either side. On December 7, 1941, Japanese aircraft destroyed the U.S. Naval Base, Pearl Harbor. On December 11, 1941, the U.S. Congress officially declared war, to which Germany and Italy responded that same day by declaring war on the U.S. American soldiers did not land on mainland Europe until January 6, 1942, when they arrived in Britain. It was not until a year and a half later, on June 6, 1944, that Allied troops landed in France and pushed German soldiers out of the foreign, occupied French territory. With Russia pressing in from the east and unified Allied soldiers from the west, Germany eventually found itself in the grasp of a war machine it initiated but could not defeat. Adolf Hitler committed suicide on April 30, 1945; one week later the country surrendered to invading troops.
While the European Campaign was well underway, the Pacific Campaign against the Japanese did not begin until January 9, 1945. Led by General MacArthur, American and other Allied troops began a tactic of “island hopping”, by which they resumed control of the Pacific Islands from Japan individually. An extremely loyal population, Japan refused to surrender until the U.S. dropped atomic bombs on two main cities, Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
WWII had an enormous sociological impact on the world. Hitler’s campaign against Jewish individuals led to more than six million of their deaths in his concentration camps; moreover, Hitler murdered another six million individuals he believed unworthy, such as gypsies and the mentally handicapped. Statistics report that Axis war casualties totaled 8.2 million, including 1.6 civilians. Allied casualties are listed as approximately 39 million, with 25 million being civilians. Worldwide, WWII caused 48 million casualties.
WWII, however, also had a major geographical impact. At the end of the war, Germany was split into two countries, East and West, with Russia and the Allied forces occupying and managing each half, respectively. Germany would not be reunited until 1990 at the falling of the Berlin wall, the barrier erected by the Russians to divide the country. For years Japan was occupied by American and other Allied forces. Japan would remain occupied until April of 1952.
This information is an extremely general overview of the War. In reality, WWII was a slow moving, quite deadly battle fought in foreign countries and neighbor’s back yards. Hitler’s extermination of so much of the Jewish population is referred to as the “Holocaust”, and today is recognized and remembered through the National Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C. If you are interested in learning more about WWII, including the battle campaigns, political leaders and other pertinent information, visit the sites below.
World War II
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