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WORLD WAR II – INTRODUCTION
After seeing the terrible costs of World War I, nobody believed that Germany would want another war. However, the hard conditions that resulted from the terms of the Treaty of Versailles made Germany a fertile environment for radical politicians. The Depression also left many desperate for changes.
In 1933, Adolf Hitler, the German dictator, sought to regain the power that Germany had lost in World War I. Hitler claimed he would crush any country that stood in his way, and he attempted to do so.
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Because Europe did not want another war, they gave in to Hitler’s demands. However, this changed in 1939 when France and England promptly declared war on Germany after Hitler invaded Poland. England was besieged by German bombs, and France was conquered within a year. Germany then invaded Russia in 1940. Most of Europe was under German domination by 1943.
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The images from that domination were horrifying. German policies were brutally enforced by the Nazi secret police. Thousands of people mysteriously disappeared in the middle of the night. Those who were believed to be racially impure and anyone suspected of anti-Nazi beliefs were sent to concentration camps that were built to imprison them. Most of these people died in the concentration camps due to inadequate food and overwork. Millions of Hitler’s enemies were moved from concentration camps to death camps. One of these death camps was Auschwitz, located in Poland. Hitler’s burning desire was to remove all Jews from Europe.
The countries that fought in World War II divided into two alliances. These were the Allied Forces and the Axis Forces. The Allied Forces were made up of the United States, England, China, and Russia, along with another forty-five countries that had joined by the end of the war. The Axis Forces were made up of Germany, Italy and Japan.
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The goal of the Allies was to stop the Axis from taking over the world. The goal of the Axis was to conquer the other countries in Europe and the Pacific and continue to expand throughout the world.
Almost all of the United States industrial production was converted to the production of military weapons and materials. In an effort to win the war, all citizens had to make sacrifices. Gasoline, meat, sugar, and a number of other items were rationed. As a result of this, many historians credit the Allied victory to American production and Russian manpower.
Hitler was ultimately defeated. Millions of soldiers and civilians died in the course of the war. Afterwards, all of Europe needed reconstruction. Roads, factories, communications, and entire cities had been destroyed in the war.
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Ironically, the end of World War II marked the beginning of yet another war, the Cold War. Although the United States and the Soviet Union had fought side by side to defeat Hitler, afterwards they became polar opposites in their political beliefs and ideas of government.
Perhaps the most difficult part of World War II was that once Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, the U.S. naval base in Hawaii, the war was being fought in another distant part of the world at the same time. On December 8, 1941, the U.S., Canada, and Great Britain declared war on Japan. Allied troops became stretched thin in their efforts to cover the vast Pacific Ocean and the many Japanese occupied islands.
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The war continued until August of 1945 when the U.S. dropped the atomic bomb on two parts of Japan and consequently gained their surrender. With Germany’s surrender in May of 1945 and Japan’s surrender in August of the same year, the great conflict was finally over.
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