World War II
World War II was the largest and most violent armed conflict in human history. The Second World War, a protracted, total war fought for unlimited aims, was a global struggle between two powerful coalitions. For six years, the war unleashed atrocities on a scale never before seen, including the annihilation of six million Jews in Nazi death camps. Before it was over, more than 60,000,000 people lost their lives. And the world entered the nuclear age when the United States dropped two atomic bombs on Japan in August 1945.
Three events helped usher in World War Two: Japan overran Manchuria; Italy, under fascist dictator Benito Mussolini, invaded Ethiopia; and - most important -- Adolf Hitler came to power in Germany. He rearmed the country, in violation of a treaty signed after World War One, and soon began to threaten other European nations. Arrayed against these powers were, principally, Britain, France, the Soviet Union and, later, the United States.
The war that is now called the Pacific front of World War II was called in Japan the Great East Asia War, for the liberation of Asia from the European and American colonizers was the proclaimed Goal. In July 1940, Japanese Minister of Foreign Affairs Matsuoka Yosuke stated the Japanese foreign affair policy as "to establish the Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere, with Japan-Manchuria-China line as its core." In September 1940 Japan concluded the Tripartite Pact with Germany and Italy, and the Russo-Japanese Neutiality Pact in 1941.
The slogan The Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere proclaimed the idealism of pan-Asiatic prosperity, but for the Japanese government it was also part of their strategy, entering into alliance with Germany and Italy to break the deadlock situation in the war with China, and to expand toward South East Asia to acquire its rich natural resources in lands where the control of the European colonizing powers had weakened their influence because of the war in Europe. The majority of the Japanese people embraced the idealism of The Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere, and justified their government's policy for the expansion southward.
The United States, which had important political and economic interests in East Asia, was alarmed by these Japanese moves. The US increased military and financial aid to China, embarked on a program of strengthening its military power in the Pacific, and cut off the shipment of oil and other raw materials to Japan. Because Japan was poor in natural resources, its government viewed these steps, especially the embargo on oil as a threat to the nation's survival. Japan's leaders responded by resolving to seize the resource-rich territories of Southeast Asia, even though that move would certainly result in war with the United States.
While Hitler's Germany advanced in Europe, Japan brought on the Greater East Asian War in the Pacific by its expansion in East Asia. A clique of aggressively militaristic officers and politicians gained control of the government during the 1930s. The goal of Japan's leaders was to create an empire that dominated the countries of East Asia and the sea lanes of the Western Pacific. The road to war between Japan and the United States began in the 1930s when differences over China drove the two nations apart. In 1931 Japan conquered Manchuria, which until then had been part of China. Japanese forces invaded China in July 1937, leading to a full-scale war which the Japanese military had neither expected nor desired. The Japanese war with China continued longer than the Japanese had expected, as Japan became mired in the vastness of China.
American strategic planning after WWI was largely conditioned by a popular reaction against war. Most military planning was theoretical, and Great Britain had the power to challenge the US. War Plan Orange was a paper plan to contain the Japanese in the Pacific by harassment and isolation. The U.S. Pacific Fleet in theory could win a war. The role of the Army would be to fight a delaying action until the Navy arrived. Later the Red Plan came into being, the possibility of a war with Great Britain and the need to defend the Panama Canal and the Western Hemisphere. The thinking was that the Northeastern United States was the most important section, thus the Atlantic Fleet should be the stronger.
As a statesman, FDR understood the challenge that Hitler and the Japanese posed to America, and he used every political skill he had to drag a reluctant and recalcitrant public into the war that he believed America would have to fight sooner or later. Just because the United States is a representative government doesn't mean that leaders in both major parties are above scheming, conniving, and lying in order to steer events in a certain direction.
A two-ocean navy was needed more than a strong army. The Joint Planners, as a result of aggressive acts on the part of the Axis Powers, developed the Rainbow Plan which assumed Great Britain, France and the United States would act in consort to stop the Axis Powers. With the increasing tensions in Europe and Asia, during the late 1930s the War and Navy Departments in the United States had developed a series of contingency plans for fighting multiple enemies, known as the "RAINBOW" plans. The final revision, RAINBOW 5, emphasized the role of the Air Corps in frontier air defenses and air power projection. The Rainbow Plan was not a plan of operations, it merely outlined the objectives and missions of American forces in case of war.
The nation rapidly geared itself for mobilization of its people and its entire industrial capacity. Over the nextthree-and-a-half years, war industry achieved staggering production goals — 300,000 aircraft, 5,000 cargo ships, 60,000 landing craft, 86,000 tanks. Women workers, exemplified by “Rosie the Riveter,” played a bigger part in industrial production than ever before. Total strength of the U.S. armed forces at the end of the war was more than 12 million. All the nation’s activities — farming, manufacturing, mining, trade, labor, investment, communications, even education and cultural undertakings — were in some fashion brought under new and enlarged controls.
As a result of Pearl Harbor and the fear of Asian espionage, Americans also committed what was later recognized as an act of intolerance: the internment of Japanese Americans. In February 1942, nearly 120,000 Japanese Americans residing in California were removed from their homes and interned behind barbed wire in 10 wretched temporary camps, later to be moved to “relocation centers” outside isolated Southwestern towns.
Nearly 63 percent of these Japanese Americans were American-born U.S. citizens. A few were Japanese sympathizers, but no evidence of espionage ever surfaced. Others volunteered for the U.S. Army and fought with distinction and valor in two infantry units on the Italian front. Some served as interpreters and translators in the Pacific. In 1983 the U.S. government acknowledged the injustice of internment with limited payments to those Japanese-Americans of that era who were still living.
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