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America in a World at War


The United States entered World War II unified in spirit to defeat the Axis powers but militarily unprepared to accomplish this goal. A corporate–government partnership solved most of the production and labor problems in rapid order. Concerns of balanced federal budgets were suddenly irrelevant and public spending soared. As a result, not only was a refurbished American army able to make a creditable contribution to the fighting as early as 1942, but the surging American output of war materials also finally spelled an end to the generation-long Great Depression. As would be expected, a world at war brought great changes to American society. The war brought the return of wages and consumerism to many people. Plenty of jobs allowed labor unions to grow quickly. The status and activities of women and minorities were deeply affected. There were shifts toward equality and there were blatant abuses of civil rights. Overall, however, there was the unifying effort for victory.

The Roosevelt administration made a critical decision early on that the defeat of Germany took precedence over the defeat of Japan. But much to the dismay of the Soviet Union, which was locked in a desperate battle against the Nazis on the eastern front, an Allied invasion of Europe was put off in favor of campaigns in Africa and then Italy. The Soviets’ bitterness would haunt the United States in the postwar period. Gradually, the Soviets won the offensive in the east. The United States and Britain, aided immensely by a series of stunning technological achievements in intelligence gathering and enhanced strategic capabilities, turned the tide on the western front. The final key to victory was the Allied invasion of France on June 6, 1944. Less than a year after the D-Day invasion, Hitler was dead and the war in Europe was over.

Although somewhat less a focus, the war in the Pacific turned in favor of the United States even more rapidly but at a very high cost. Seven months after Pearl Harbor, American forces had stopped the Japanese advance and, in the Battle of Midway, had sunk the Japanese carrier fleet. After this, the American strategy for victory involved leaps from island to island that drew progressively closer to mainland Japan. These battles saw determined U.S. forces meet ferocious Japanese resistance. The casualties were staggering. Meanwhile, American planes pulverized Japanese cities with conventional bombs and the devastating firebombing of Tokyo in anticipation of an eventual invasion of the islands. Those forces were being readied when the new atomic bombs obliterated large sections of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Atomic weapons brought an end to World War II but also began a new and troubling chapter in world history.


A thorough study of Chapter 28 should enable the student to understand:

1. The American military strategy and contributions to Allied victory in the Pacific and in North Africa and Europe

2. The key areas and uses of new technology developed by the Allies and the role it played in the war effort

3. The efforts of the federal government to mobilize the nation’s economy for war production

4. The effects of American participation in the war on the Great Depression and on New Deal reforms

5. An assessment of the changes that American participation in the war brought for women as well as for racial minorities

6. The moral versus strategic arguments regarding the United States’ decisions toward Japanese Americans, European Jews, and the nation of Japan during World War II

7. The effects of World War II on American society both during and after the war

1. That the vast productive capacity and technological superiority of the United States was the key to the defeat of the Axis powers

2. That the war had a profound effect on the American homefront

3. How three major western offensives combined with an ongoing Russian effort to defeat Germany

4. How sea power contained the Japanese, and how Allied forces moved toward an invasion of Japan until the atomic bomb ended the war in the Pacific


1. How did World War II increase the role of government in American society and in the nation’s economy? Why did entry into World War II quickly end the Great Depression when years of New Deal programs could not do so?

2. Identify and explain the overall Allied strategy and the key battles that shifted the momentum of the war in the direction of the Allies in both the Pacific and in Europe in 1942 and 1943.

3. Why was the United States so unified during this war? What were the differences between World Wars I and II on this issue? Why did these differences exist? What challenges to conformity and tradition arose during each war? What forces worked to retain traditional values and practices during World War II?

4. How did the American government respond to the information it received in 1942 on the Holocaust? Why did it act as it did? What other options were open? Why were they not taken? What actions should have been taken and why?

5. Discuss the political, social, and economic advances and/or setbacks suffered by American laborers, women, and minorities during World War II.

6. Describe the military action in Europe from mid-1943 to 1945 that resulted in an Allied victory. What differences were there among the Americans, British, and Soviets on matters of wartime strategy and political/military goals?

7. Discuss the key technological developments by the Allies in intelligence, sea warfare, and air warfare. Pick the single technological advance that you believe made the greatest difference in bringing an Allied victory.

8. Describe the military action in the Pacific from mid-1943 to 1945 that resulted in an Allied victory. Was the Europe-first strategy a good one in retrospect?

9. Why did President Truman decide to drop atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki? What other options did he have?

10. What caused ongoing tension between the United States and the Soviet Union during World War II? How important was the eastern front to the outcome of the war in Europe? Why did the United States not provide a second front in Europe earlier than D-Day? What were the consequences of that decision? Were the origins of the Cold War buried in the wartime tensions between the two countries?


1. Note the farthest extent of Japanese expansion (August 1942).

2. Trace the American island-hopping offensive against the Japanese and identify the major battles.

3. On maps of Europe and North Africa, identify the countries during World War II and the major cities in each. Also locate the Suez Canal, Sicily, the English Channel, Normandy, and Vichy, France.

4. Note the farthest extent of Axis conquest.

5. Trace the Allied advance against the Axis in North Africa, Italy, and the western and eastern fronts. Identify the major battles.


1. What two broad offensives were planned to turn the Japanese tide? How successful were they?

2. Why did Winston Churchill desire a North African offensive? Why did Roosevelt agree?

3. How did developments on the Russian front affect British–American decisions in the Mediterranean region?

4. To what extent did the Sicilian and Italian campaigns succeed in their objectives? Why do some military historians regard the invasion of Italy as a strategic mistake?

5. Where did the war in Europe begin? What areas did Germany attack after the so-called phony war?

6. What challenges were posed by the cross-Channel invasion, and how did the Allies prepare for them? How successful was the invasion when it finally came?

7. Why was the submarine so crucial to the German war effort? How did the Allies overcome the threat?

8. Why was the Soviet Union so concerned about the British–American decision to launch North African and Italian campaigns before an invasion across the English Channel?

9. What were the Soviets doing while the British–American forces were liberating Paris and driving toward the heart of Germany? Why was the taking of Berlin so controversial?


These questions are based on the preceding map exercises. They are designed to test students’ knowledge of the geography of the area discussed in this chapter and of its historical development. Careful reading of the text will help students answer these questions.

1. Why did the United States decide to concentrate on Germany first in the two-front war? Was this decision wise? Why was it not entirely popular?

2. Describe the relationship between the United States and the Soviet Union that emerged during the 1930s and World War II. What seeds for future discord were planted despite the concerted effort against Germany and later Japan?

3. What geopolitical forces drew the United States into World War II? How did the American attitude toward the world change as a result of the war?

4. Compare the Allied European advance in World War II with that in World War I (see Chapter 23 of the text). Why did France and Russia suffer the most in both wars?


Gar Alperovitz, The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb and the Architecture of an American Myth (1995)

Stephen Ambrose, D-Day: June 6, 1944 (1994)

Karen Anderson, Wartime Women: Sex Roles, Family Relations, and the Status of Women During World War II (1981)

John Morton Blum, V Was for Victory: Politics and American Culture During World War II (1976)

Alan Brinkley, The End of Reform: New Deal Liberalism in Recession and War (1995)

Roger Daniels, Prisoners Without Trial: Japanese Americans in World War II (1993)

John W. Dower, War Without Mercy: Race and Power in the Pacific War (1986)

Lewis A. Erenberg and Susan E. Hirsch, The War in American Culture: Society and Consciousness During World War II (1996)

Doris Kearns Goodwin, No Ordinary Time: Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt: The Home Front in World War II (1994)

Susan Hartmann, The Homefront and Beyond: American Women in the 1940s (1982)

John Hersey, Hiroshima (1946)

Margaret Hoyle, A World in Flames (1970)

Geoffry Perret, There’s a War to Be Won: The United States Army in World War II (1991)

Richard Steele, Propaganda in an Open Society (1985)

David S. Wyman, The Abandonment of the Jews: America and the Holocaust, 1941-1945 (1984)

Neil Wynn, The Afro-American and the Second World War (1976)
For Internet resources, practice questions, references to additional books and films, and more, see this book’s Online Learning Center at


These questions are designed to help students bring together ideas from several chapters and see how the chapters relate to one another. Some questions will also help students explore how changes in the landscape and in geopolitical conditions are significant to understanding American history.

1. Were the 1920s a real return to normalcy or was the decade a forward-looking period of modernism? What ongoing forces of change since the late nineteenth century helped spur a conservative reaction within the country during this period?

2. Did the causes of the Great Depression lie in the economy of the 1920s, or did they lie more in the fundamental nature of American capitalist-industrialist society as it had developed since the Civil War? In other words, could either business or government have taken actions in the late nineteenth century that could have prevented the Great Depression?

3. To what extent can the origins of World War II be traced to the nature of the World War I peace? Why was the United States so hesitant about entering both world wars?

4. To what extent did the Great Depression and World War II combine to increase the role of government in American society and the nation’s economy? What were the benefits and the costs of this increased role?

5. How had the status of working-class and middle-class women changed between 1920 and 1945?

6. What dominant forces of social and cultural conformity operated on the American people from 1920 to 1945? What challenges to conformism and tradition arose? Why did traditional values and practices prevail for the most part?

7. What mechanical, technological, and scientific developments of the 1920s were applied to waging war in the 1940s?

8. What changes in the geographic patterns of American politics occurred from 1920 through the 1930s? To what extent were these changes the product of demographics and to what extent were they the result of the policies of Franklin Roosevelt and the New Deal?

9. What caused the Dust Bowl? How was the environmental problem intertwined with economic changes and troubles?

Brinkley 5e, IM, Ch 28 | of

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