The American Vision Modern Times © 2010
A World in Flames, 1931-1941
This chapter follows the rise of aggressive governments in Europe and Asia. It also describes how the United States attempted to stay neutral as World War II spread across Europe and into the Pacific.
Section 1 discusses the events following World War I that led to the rise of aggressive and expansionist governments in Europe and Asia. In the aftermath of World War I, economic chaos threatened traditional political systems in many war-torn European countries. In Italy, a Fascist leader promised that a strong government would return the social order. In Russia, a communist leader gathered weak Russian countries and knit them into a powerful Soviet Union. Nazi Party leader Adolf Hitler became dictator of Germany. In Asia, Japanese military leaders took control of a political system that had been weakened by economic stress. These new governments sought to enhance their powers by expanding their empires. As Germany, Italy, and Japan aligned to create the Axis Powers, Americans insisted on isolationism, and Congress passed laws to keep the United States out of war. President Roosevelt favored internationalism, but public opinion forced him to abandon the idea of taking action against aggressor nations.
Section 2 describes the events that led to World War II. As Hitler set out to unite all the German-speaking regions of Europe, European leaders hoped to avoid war by agreeing to Hitler's demands. When Hitler's demands reached into Poland, however, leaders knew that appeasement had failed. A Nazi-Soviet pact strengthened Hitler's resolve, and on September 1, 1939, Germany invaded Poland. On September 3, Britain and France declared war on Germany, and World War II was underway. Unable to withstand the German blitzkrieg, Poland fell to Hitler. As German forces plowed through Europe, countries fell like dominoes into German control. When German troops smashed through French lines, a miraculous evacuation at Dunkirk saved Allied troops. The Allies could not, however, save France from the German siege, and France soon surrendered. A determined Britain was unwilling to give up the fight, even when German bombers blasted London.
Section 3 discusses how the Nazi persecution of Jews escalated into the Holocaust. While Nazis persecuted anyone who opposed them, their loathing for Jews led them to implement horrific anti-Jewish policies. When the Nazis first took power, they systematically stripped German Jews of many of their rights. Nazi persecution of Jews escalated significantly when the murder of a German diplomat spurred Hitler to order a violent anti-Jewish rampage throughout Germany and Austria. The Nazi secret police arrested wealthy Jews and demanded emigration and the surrender of their possessions. While many Jews fled the terror, immigration restrictions in other countries kept millions of Jews trapped in Nazi-dominated Europe. Pressed with the question of what to do with their Jewish population, the Nazis began implementing their "final solution." Jews were rounded up and taken to concentration camps for slave labor and to extermination camps for death in gas chambers.
Section 4 describes how the United States tried to maintain neutrality after World War II began. Although President Roosevelt proclaimed the United States neutral, he took actions to support the Allied fight against Germany. He revised the neutrality laws and worked out a destroyers-for-bases deal with the British. Roosevelt expanded the nation's role in the war by introducing a law that allowed the United States to provide military supplies to Britain. His idea of a hemispheric defense zone authorized the U.S. Navy to protect British cargo ships and shoot Axis vessels. The British Prime Minister and President Roosevelt coordinated Allied strategy and pledged their commitment to democracy in the Atlantic Charter. As Japan moved against European colonies in Southeast Asia, Roosevelt hoped to avert war by applying economic pressure on Japan and sending military supplies to China. These tactics failed, however, and the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on December 7, 1941. The next day, Congress declared war on Japan. A few days later, Germany and Italy both declared war on the United States.