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1 The Collision Of Cultures
2 Britain And Its Colonies
3 Colonial Ways Of Life
4 The Imperial Perspective
5 From Empire To Independence
6 The American Revolution
7 Shaping A Federal Union
8 The Federalist Era
9 The Early Republic
10 Nationalism And Sectionalism
11 The Jacksonian Impulse
12 The Dynamics Of Growth
13 An American Renaissance: Religion, Romanticism, And Reform
14 Manifest Destiny
15 The Old South
16 The Crisis Of Union
17 The War Of The Union
18 Reconstruction: North And South
19 New Frontiers: South And West
20 Big Business And Organized Labor
21 The Emergence Of Urban America
22 Gilded-age Politics And Agrarian Revolt
23 An American Empire
24 The Progressive Era
25 America And The Great War
26 The Modern Temper
27 Republican Resurgence And Decline
28 New Deal America
29 From Isolation To Global War
30 The Second World War
31 The Fair Deal And Containment
32 Through The Picture Window: Society And Culture, 19451960
33 Conflict And Deadlock: The Eisenhower Years
34 New Frontiers: Politics And Social Change In The 1960s
35 Rebellion And Reaction In The 1960s And 1970s
36 A Conservative Insurgency
37 Triumph And Tragedy: America At The Turn Of The Century

The Second World War - Document Overview

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The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, unified Americans as nothing had done before. Men and women rushed to join the armed forces. Eventually over 16.4 million people would serve in the military, including 350,000 women who performed various non-combat roles. To direct this vast military enterprise, Roosevelt formed the Joint Chiefs of Staff, bringing together the leaders of the army, navy, and army air force. In 1942 they and their staff of 35,000 military and civilian personnel moved into the newly opened Pentagon, the largest building in the world.

World War II was the most significant event of the twentieth century. The conflict eventually engulfed five continents, leaving few people untouched and over 50 million dead, most of them civilians. Almost 300,000 Americans would lose their lives in the conflict. This was total war on a nightmarish scale. Whole cities were destroyed, nations dismembered, and societies transformed. Devilish new instruments of destruction were invented—plastic explosives, proximity fuses, rockets, jet airplanes, and atomic weapons—and systematic genocide emerged as an explicit war aim of the Germans and Japanese.

The war also led to an unprecedented expansion of the federal government. The number of civilian government employees more than tripled during the war, from 1.1 million to 3.8 million. And nationwide mobilization created an alliance between the defense industry and the federal government that became known as the military-industrial complex.

While the war raged in Asia and in Europe, its massive requirements served to transform social and economic life at home, changing the way Americans worked and lived. Total war required massive government spending that provided a powerful catalyst for industry and manufacturing. This created 17 million new jobs which, along with military service, led to full employment. The war economy thus pulled the nation out of its prolonged depression and set in motion a massive internal migration. Some 6 million people left farms to take up work in the cities. California, with its plethora of defense plants, was an especially powerful magnet, adding some 2 million residents during the war. Several million whites and blacks left the rural South, lured by jobs in defense plants in the North and West.

Women were aggressively recruited for defense-related jobs. Between 1940 and 1945, 6.3 million women entered the work force, and for the first time in history working women who were married outnumbered those who were single. By 1945 women constituted 37 percent of the work force. African Americans participated in the wartime migration into the service and into new job opportunities. Nearly a million blacks served in the armed forces, but mostly in segregated units usually led by white officers. Millions more found their way into the civilian work force. In the process, they encountered even more obstacles than did women. Prejudice against blacks in the workplace remained rampant. They continued to be the last hired and first fired.

While millions of people were migrating across the country in search of new and better jobs during the war, one group of Americans was being forcibly moved and quarantined. In the aftermath of the attack on Pearl Harbor, anti-Japanese hysteria and racial prejudice ran high, especially on the West Coast. Exaggerated fears of possible Japanese attacks on the mainland and sabotage efforts led Roosevelt to approve an army order in 1942 requiring that some 110,000 Japanese Americans, including 40,000 children, be "relocated" from their homes and "interned" in barbed-wire enclosed prison camps in seven southern and western states.

By the spring of 1945 the war in Europe was essentially over, but fighting in the Pacific persisted. The desperate Japanese launched kamikaze (suicide) air assaults on British and American ships. Such determined—even fanatical—defensive measures gravely concerned Allied strategists as they planned the invasion of Japan for late 1945. They estimated that 35 percent of the allied assault force, some 250,000 men, would be killed or wounded. Some analysts predicted that the figure would be twice that high. This sobering prospect combined with the death of President Roosevelt in April served to dull the celebrations of the German surrender on May 8.

Two months later, the new president, Harry Truman, learned of an alternative way to end the war with Japan. In July an American team of scientists successfully detonated an atomic bomb in the New Mexico desert. A few days later, while meeting with Churchill and Stalin in Germany, Truman issued what has become known as the Potsdam Declaration: if the Japanese did not offer unconditional surrender, they would face "prompt and utter destruction." When Japan rejected the ultimatum, Truman ordered the bomb dropped. On August 29 a B-29 bomber named the Enola Gay took off from the island of Tinian and at 8:16 a.m. dropped a five-ton uranium bomb on the port city of Hiroshima, subjecting the residents to what one called "a hell of unspeakable torments."

More than 80,000 people were killed immediately by the bomb blast. Thousands more died months and years later as a result of radiation poisoning. Four square miles of the city were flattened. Three days later, on August 9, another bomb was dropped on Nagasaki—with similar results. On August 14 Japan surrendered.

On September 2, 1945, the most devastating conflict in world history was over, but it left in its wake power vacuums in Europe and Asia that a rejuvenated Soviet Union and a newly "internationalist" United States sought to fill in order to protect their military, economic, and political interests. Instead of peace resulting from the end of the Second World War, a new and protracted "cold war" between the Soviet Union and the United States came to dominate world affairs.

The changes wrought by World War II led the United States to discard the deeply embedded tradition of isolationism. The destruction of the traditional balance of power in Europe thrust the United States into the lead role on the stage of world affairs. As the New Yorker magazine asked, "If you do not know that your country is now entangled beyond recall with the rest of the world, what do you know?"


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