The German and Japanese occupations of neighboring countries led to a brutal war that took millions of lives. Both countries were defeated, but not before the Nazis had killed millions of people in pursuit of Aryan domination of Europe.
Section 1 Paths to War
Aggressive moves by Germany and Japan set the stage for World War II. Adolf Hitler began a massive military buildup and instituted a draft in violation of the Treaty of Versailles. The German annexation of Austria alarmed France but did not shake Great Britain's policy of appeasement. Mussolini became a German ally. Appeasement of Germany peaked at a conference in Munich where Hitler claimed he sought only one final territory, the Czech Sudetenland. This soon proved false. When Hitler signed a nonaggression pact with Stalin and invaded Poland, Britain and France declared war on Germany. Japanese expansion into Manchuria and northern China brought condemnation from the League of Nations. While still at war with China, Japan launched a surprise attack on U.S. and European colonies in Southeast Asia.
Section 2 The Course of World War II
German forces swept through northern Europe early in the war and set up the Vichy government in France. German air attacks on Great Britain resulted in fierce British retaliation. In the east, harsh weather and a resolute Soviet Union defeated an invading German army. The Japanese conquered the Pacific but miscalculated when they attacked the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor. The United States surprised Japan by abandoning its neutrality and entering the war to retake the Pacific. By the end of 1943, the tide had turned against Germany, Italy, and Japan. After the invasion of Normandy, the Allies liberated Paris and defeated Germany. U.S. President Harry Truman, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and Soviet Premier Josef Stalin met at Potsdam, Germany, to plan the post-war world. The war in Asia continued until the United States dropped atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, causing massive casualties and bringing Japan's surrender.
Section 3 The New Order and the Holocaust
To further their war effort and Hitler's plans for Aryan expansion, the Nazis forced millions of people to resettle as forced laborers. No aspect of the Nazi New Order was more terrifying than the deliberate attempt to exterminate the Jews. As part of the Nazis' Final Solution, Jews were locked into cramped, unsanitary ghettos or forced to dig their own mass graves before being killed. When this proved too slow for the Nazis, they transported Europe's Jews to death camps where they were worked to death or sent to die in gas chambers. The Nazis killed between five and six million Jews and nine to ten million non-Jews. In Asia, Japan showed little respect for the conquered peoples in its effort to secure industrial markets and raw materials. Japanese treatment of prisoners of war was equally harsh. Japan professed a commitment to ending Western colonialism, but the brutality of the Japanese convinced many Asians to resist Japanese occupation.
Section 4 The Home Front and the Aftermath of the War
World War II reached almost every area of the world, and mobilization for war brought widespread suffering and even starvation. The war caused 20 million civilian deaths. The United States, which did not fight the war on its own territory, sent its forces to fight and produced much of the military equipment for the Allies. Segregation in the U.S. military led African Americans to demand civil rights. Racism and suspicion led to the war-time detention of more than 100,000 Japanese Americans. The bombing of cities by the Allied and Axis powers cost thousands of lives, but probably did nothing to weaken the morale of either side. After the war, ideological conflict between the West and the Soviet Union resulted in the Cold War. The Cold War centered around the status of Soviet-dominated Eastern Europe.