World War II

World War II

D-Day, 1944

            World War II is the single greatest war in the history of the world.  Spanning four continents and three oceans, involving every major power, and dozens of smaller ones, World War II truly was a world war.  Few events could be listed that even come close to changing the way the world both looks and operates as much as this conflict did.  During this conflict great advances were made technologically.  Geographic changes also occurred, as decolonization was a major result of this war.  Furthermore, it saw the rise of two new superpowers, which eclipsed all the old guard of Europe; the United States and the Soviet Union.  All this change from one cataclysmic conflict, and the world has never been the same.

The world was completely destabilized after World War I.  Two massive empires whose rule stretched back for centuries had come to a sudden end.  Numerous small states were now forming, and Germany, the dominant political and industrial power of Central Europe, was on its knees.  Following quickly on the heels of this major war was the Great Depression, which caused financial crisis in Europe and the United States, further adding to the destabilization.  It is with this backdrop that Hitler came to power in Germany, promising the suffering German people relief and eventual prosperity under a new socialist government.  After gaining power, Hitler made bold moves, rebuilding German heavy industry and the military, particularly the air force, all of which were directly prohibited by the Versailles Accords.  When no response or reprimand was given by the victorious powers, he went a step further and reoccupied the Rhineland.  The apathetic victorious powers just looked on.  Hitler continued to take step after step, first Austria, then Czechoslovakia’s Sudetenland, and then finally, the joint invasion of Poland with Russia.

b-17 flying fortress

When Poland was invaded, Britain and France were forced to declare war on Germany.  Both had treaties with Poland.  Germany had gone too far.  The war had begun.  With characteristic planning and proficiency, the Germans executed the most textbook example of blitzkrieg tactics in its invasion and subjugation of France, hurling the British Expeditionary Force back across the channel.

It was to this dark and ominous backdrop that America entered the stage of World War II.  America entered in December 1941.  The British were contained in their island fortress and under siege from the Luftwaffe and the German navy.  The British Forces in North Africa were hard pressed by “the Desert Fox,” Erwin Rommel, and France was under Germany’s thumb, ruled by the puppet Vichy government.  Russia was suffering greatly as Operation Barbarossa was advancing swiftly into the heart of the Soviet Union’s most productive territory.

America’s entrance into World War II, at such a bleak time for the Allies, serves only to magnify the change that such action was able to achieve.  At the beginning of the war, America was actively opposed to entering the war.  The last thing America wanted to do was to save Europe from itself again. This isolationism may have had a great deal to do with the fact that at the opening of the war, the Great Depression still held the American economy in its grip.  The last thing Americans wanted to do was fix Europe’s problems when there were still problems that needed fixing here.  All this changed, however, on December 7, 1941, when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.

The day that lives in infamy was the day America woke up to the reality of the war.  Eventually, it would come to America.  The question was whether we would wait, or whether we would confront it.  Congress’s declaration of war on Japan, and the subsequent declaration of war on America by Germany, officially involved America in World War II and created the industrial base necessary to win the war for the Allies.

America’s effect on World War II was multifaceted.  Among the most obvious is the fact that once mobilized, American industry was unmatched worldwide.  The amount of war material produced in U.S. factories literally buried the Axis powers. America became the “arsenal of democracy”.  America also provided enormous amounts of manpower to the allied effort in Europe, and conducted the war in the Pacific theater almost single handedly.  This fresh blood was necessary in a war weary Europe, already two and a half years into the hostilities and not yet fully recovered from the Great War.  In addition to this, American entrance into the war was a boost for Allied morale and to any German general contemplating the consequences, a significant blow to the chances of Germany being able to successfully win the war.  In this way, even barring all the material and manpower considerations, having an ally that was not being forced back onto itself, as Russia was, and was not surrounded by prowling submarines and being pushed back in Africa, as the British were, significantly improved the Allies’ will to continue fighting.  It gave them hope of relief.

iwo_jima

In conclusion, America’s entrance to World War II was hugely significant, and had a direct impact on turning the war in the Allies’ favor.  While America’s entrance was late, as seems to be its want, the affect it had was still decisive and important.  World War II not only changed the world, but it changed America.  It made America the preeminent power in the world and forced Americans to realize that they could not hide away.  It was their turn to lead.

Wyatt Fairlead

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