Exam preparation materials

Chapter 26: World War II: From Neutrality to Hiroshima, 1936–1945



Washington Conference held


Mussolini and Fascist Party gain control of the Italian government


Japan invades Manchuria


United States issues Stimson Doctrine


Hitler appointed chancellor of Germany


Johnson Debt-Default Act passed


Neutrality Act passed


Second Neutrality Act passed  •   Japan sinks Panay


Munich Pact signed  •   Stalin establishes Communist dictatorship in USSR •   Franco comes to power in Spain


More Neutrality Acts passed


USSR attacks Finland  •   Hitler attacks Denmark, Norway, Belgium, and the Netherlands •    Hitler invades France •    FDR elected to third term as president


Lend-Lease Act passed  •   Atlantic Charter written •    First peacetime draft established •    Pearl Harbor attacked by the Japanese


Rommel’s Afrika Korps defeated in Operation Torch


Invasion of Normandy  •   FDR elected to unprecedented fourth term as president


FDR dies  •   V-E day happens in Europe (May 8) •    Atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima (August 6) •    Nagasaki bombed (August 9) •    Japan surrenders (August 14)


Atlantic Charter

Fair Employment Practices Commission

Japanese internment

Manhattan Project



General Rommel

Joseph Stalin

War Production Board


General Francisco Franco

Korematsu v. the United States

George Marshall

Neutrality Acts

Pearl Harbor

Franklin D. Roosevelt

Stimson Doctrine

Washington Conference



Lend-Lease Act

Munich Pact

Admiral Nimitz

A. Phillip Randolph

Rosie the Riveter

Harry Truman

Dwight D. Eisenhower

Adolf Hitler

Douglas A. MacArthur

Benito Mussolini

Operation Torch

Revenue Act

Smith-Connolly Act

V-E Day

“To the Congress of the United States: Yesterday, December 7, 1941—a day which will live in infamy—the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.”

—Franklin D. Roosevelt, War Message, December 8, 1941


Franklin D. Roosevelt delivered the above war message to arouse the American people’s desire to fight for freedom and liberty. “Surprised” by the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the United States was thrust into the world quarrel. The country found itself fighting a two-front war, but the vast oceans to the east and west protected the country from physical damage. The cost in American lives, however, was great.

As a result of World War II, the social fabric of the United States changed. Women and blacks demanded their rightful place in society. The horrors of the Holocaust raised awareness of how prejudice impacts a society. The bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki ushered in the nuclear age, and the United States emerged as a world power. Never again would the United States be removed from world events.


In 1921, the Washington Conference was held to deal with the problems in the Far East. Several important treaties were signed at this conference, including one to protect the territorial integrity of China and to respect each nation’s possessions in the Far East. In addition, the Five Power Pact, signed by the United States, Great Britain, Japan, France, and Italy, attempted to limit the size of fleets and new shipbuilding for military purposes.

However, this spirit of cooperation was short-lived. In 1922, the Fascist Party, under the leadership of Benito Mussolini, gained control of the Italian government. Mussolini dissolved labor unions, abolished opposing parties, and suspended freedom of the press. He wished to create a Roman Empire. In 1934, Italy invaded Ethiopia, which was annexed in 1936.

In 1933, Adolf Hitler was appointed chancellor of Germany by President Paul von Hindenburg. When Hindenburg died, Hitler solidified his power, desiring to make Germany a world power. Representing the ideas of the Nazi Party (Nationalist Socialist German Workers’ Party), Hitler arrested his opponents and enlarged the German army.

In 1934, the United States passed the Johnson Debt-Default Act, which forbade the sale of U.S. securities to any nation that failed to pay its war debts to the United States. This created economic hardship in Germany, opening the way for Hitler to gain power.

In an effort to avert war with Germany, European countries adopted a policy of appeasement. In 1938, the Munich Pact, signed by Great Britain, France, Italy, and Germany, gave the Sudetenland to Germany in exchange for a promise of no further acts of aggression. In March of 1939, Germany invaded Czechoslovakia.

In August of 1939, the USSR, under Joseph Stalin, signed a nonaggression treaty with Germany, clearing the way for Germany to pursue its aggressive policy in Europe. That September, Germany invaded Poland and the war in Europe began, as France and Britain were allied with Poland.

The Spanish Civil War ended in 1939, with General Francisco Franco becoming the dictator of Spain. He sold arms and supplied men to the Germans and Italians. To avoid war, the United States and the other European countries took no action against Franco as he destroyed democracy in Spain and supported Hitler and Mussolini.

By 1940, the USSR had attacked Finland in an effort to use it as a buffer against Hitler. Hitler took Denmark and Norway, followed by the Netherlands and Belgium. In June of 1940, Hitler invaded France, a move that stunned the United States.


The United States, during this period of growing aggression, attempted to remain neutral in a quest to stay out of the European war. With no desire to repeat World War I and a severe economic depression consuming its attention, the United States looked from afar at the events in Europe. With winds of war blowing in Europe, the American people elected FDR to an unprecedented third term as president, believing that, given the circumstances, changing leaders midstream was not wise.

There was a slow movement toward U.S. involvement in World War II from 1933–1941, as evidenced by the following.

The Neutrality Acts (1935 and 1937) forbade U.S. citizens from selling or transporting arms or munitions to, making loans to, or traveling on ships of nations at war. In addition, it established a “cash and carry” system: Any belligerent nations that wished to purchase any goods, other than munitions, from the United States had to carry these goods on their own ships. This provision clearly favored the Allied nations, because Britain’s navy was still a force to be reckoned with in the Atlantic.

The Neutrality Acts of 1939 permitted the purchase of war materials from the United States on a cash and carry basis, again clearly favoring the Allied nations. In addition, it banned American merchant ships from traveling into war zones, as determined by the president.

The Lend-Lease Act (March 1941) made the United States the “arsenal of democracy,” as the president was given the power to “lend, lease, or exchange” war materials with nations whose struggle against aggression was seen as vital to the security of the United States. By July 1941, FDR permitted convoys to escort lend-lease ships; by November, merchant ships were permitted to be armed.

In the Atlantic Charter (August 1941), the United States and Great Britain agreed on the following:

•  Neither the United States nor Great Britain was seeking to gain new territory as a result of the war.

•  There should be no territorial changes without the agreement of the people being governed.

•  People have the right to choose their own form of government.

•  Nazi tyranny must be destroyed.

•  Freedom of the seas must be preserved.

•  There was a need for greater disarmament.

Congress, after much debate, adopted the first peacetime draft (September 1941). Men between the ages of 21 and 35 were required to serve in the military for one year.

Clearly, the United States was moving toward involvement in this struggle. Its citizens, however, were still reluctant to abandon isolationism.

The Japanese, in the meantime, had seized the Chinese province of Manchuria in 1931, changing its name to Manchukuo. The League of Nations condemned this action. The United States, in the Stimson Doctrine of 1932, condemned Japan’s actions, noted that these actions violated existing treaties, and imposed sanctions against the Japanese, which were ignored by other countries. In 1937, the Panay, a U.S. gunboat, was sunk by Japan on a river in China. The Japanese apologized and paid an indemnity to the United States. However, on December 7, 1941, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, and the United States finally entered the war.


Several steps were taken to mobilize the United States for war:

•  The War Production Board was established to convert the country’s production from peacetime to wartime.

•  The War Food Administration was established to handle the food supply for troops and civilians.

•  The War Manpower Commission was established, along with the Office of Scientific Research and Development.

•  The Office of Price Administration was an important agency established to control prices.

•  The Revenue Act of 1942 increased the income tax. By 1944, a standard payroll deduction had been established.

•  In 1943, the Smith-Connolly Act was passed, authorizing the government to seize any plant or mine that was idled by a strike that would affect the war effort. It expired in 1947.

•  The Office of War Mobilization was established to monitor the industrial production of the nation.

Over 6 million women were brought into the workforce. “Rosie the Riveter” was a common sight. Many women also served in the armed forces, although they were not subject to the draft.

There was a great African American migration, as blacks sought jobs in the war plants. In 1941, A. Philip Randolph, head of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, threatened to march on Washington to demand equal opportunity for blacks in war jobs and in the armed forces. FDR issued an executive order prohibiting discrimination based on race. The Fair Employment Practices Commission was established, and organizations such as the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) andCORE (Congress of Racial Equality) increased their membership.

Mexican workers crossed the borders to work in American plants, and many Native Americans left the reservations to aid in the war effort. Over 25,000 of them served in the armed forces.

Japanese Americans, on the other hand, suffered great discrimination, as evidenced in California with the establishment of Japanese internment camps. Fearful that the Japanese in America would spy for Japan, U.S. officials seized their property and forced them into holding areas. In the case of Korematsu v. the United States (1944), the Supreme Court upheld the government’s right to do such things to the Japanese Americans because of the extraordinary times. Those who were interned would not receive any compensation until 1988.


U.S. forces were led by George Marshall, chief of staff of the U.S. army, and General Dwight D. Eisenhower, commander of the European front. General Bernard Montgomery led the British efforts in Europe.

In 1942, the Soviets defeated the German army at Stalingrad. In North Africa, Operation Torch saw the defeat of German General Rommel’s Afrika Korps, leading the Axis powers to lose control of Africa and the Mediterranean. In Italy, Mussolini was arrested by the king of Italy, only to be rescued by the Germans. Mussolini was eventually killed by the Italian underground in 1945.

Perhaps the biggest Allied effort was the invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944—D-Day. It was the largest amphibious operation in history. By September 1944, France, Belgium, and other areas of Europe had been freed from German control. The Germans were defeated at the bitter Battle of the Bulge on the Belgian border and were soon in full retreat.

In 1944, Franklin Roosevelt, in failing health, won a fourth term as president of the United States. On April 12, 1945, Roosevelt died suddenly of a cerebral hemorrhage, and Vice President Harry S. Truman assumed the presidency.

The end of the war in Europe came when the Allied troops moved east across Europe, while the Soviets moved westward toward Berlin. In April 1945, these troops met on the Elbe River. Crushed on both sides, Hitler committed suicide, and on May 7, 1945, Nazi Germany surrendered to General Eisenhower. On May 8, 1945, V-E Day (“Victory in Europe”) was celebrated as the European war ended.


The Pacific was a cause of great concern, as Japan had expanded its control over Hong Kong, French Indochina, Malaysia, Burma, Thailand, the Dutch East Indies, Guam, and Wake Island. In addition, General Douglas MacArthur, commander of the American forces in the Pacific, had been forced from the Philippine Islands.

In 1942, the United States bombed Tokyo and halted an attempt by the Japanese to seize Australia. The Japanese, in addition, suffered a heavy defeat at Midway Island.

Under an island-by-island plan to defeat the Japanese, U.S. forces won at Guadalcanal, providing them with a valuable air base. Admiral Nimitz, leading the American fleet, along with MacArthur on land, defeated the Japanese on the Solomon, Gilbert, and Marshall Islands. The Japanese suffered a crushing defeat in the Battle of the Philippine Sea and used kamikaze (suicide) pilots in the Battle of Leyte Gulf.

Despite Japan’s heavy losses, the leadership in Japan was reluctant to surrender. When Truman became president, he was informed of the U.S. government’s secret Manhattan Project, which had designed an atomic bomb. On August 6, 1945, the United States dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, resulting in nearly 130,000 casualties and the leveling of 90 percent of the city. On August 8, 1945, the Soviets entered the war against Japan. The following day, with no response from Japan, a second bomb was dropped on Nagasaki, killing or wounding over 75,000 people. Japan surrendered on August 14, 1945, after the Allies agreed to allow the Japanese Emperor Hirohito to remain on the throne as a nominal emperor. The war in the Pacific was over.


Justified or not, the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki dramatically ended the Second World War. Much of territorial Europe had been destroyed, the horrors of the Holocaust were revealed, and Japan was in shambles. The Soviet Union and the United States emerged as the two world powers, and the clash of these two giants lay ahead as peace negotiations took place. A war of political philosophy and territorial control was about to take place under the threat of atomic annihilation. The Cold War had already begun.


•  Appeasement: The policy practiced by the European nations prior to World War II wherein they made concessions to aggressive nations—particularly, Hitler’s Germany—in hopes of satisfying the demands of that nation and ending further aggression

•  Isolationism: The belief that the United States should not be involved in world affairs

•  Nonaggression treaty: A treaty in which the parties agree not to attack each other unless attacked first


1.   The Washington Conference, held in 1921, resulted in

(A)    an undermining of the authority of the United Nations.

(B)    treaties of disarmament among Great Britain, Japan, and the United States.

(C)    an end to Japanese aggression in China.

(D)    the development of the Stimson Doctrine.

(E)    the rise of Mussolini in Italy.

2.   The United States demonstrated its support for the Allies before it entered World War II by

(A)    the announcement of the Stimson Doctrine.

(B)    its reaction to the sinking of the Panay by Japan.

(C)    the adoption of the policy of Lend-Lease.

(D)    its participation in the League of Nations.

(E)    its participation in the Washington Conference in 1921.

3.   All of the following were principles outlined in the Atlantic Charter by FDR and Winston Churchill EXCEPT

(A)    freedom of the seas.

(B)    self-determination.

(C)    disarmament.

(D)    the destruction of Nazi tyranny.

(E)    territorial aggrandizement by Great Britain and the United States.

4.   Which of the following was a result of the Munich Pact of 1938?

(A)    The rise of Franco in Spain

(B)    The nonaggression treaty signed between the USSR and Germany in 1939

(C)    The German invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1939

(D)    V-E Day

(E)    The Atlantic Charter


1.    B

The Washington Conference resulted in treaties reaffirming the Open Door Policy in China and disarmament among the participating nations. The United States, Japan, Great Britain, France, and Italy agreed to limit their fleets and shipbuilding for military use. The United Nations was not established until after World War II. The Japanese violated the treaties of the Washington Conference when it invaded Manchuria in 1931. The Stimson Doctrine was a response by the U.S. government to the attack by Japan on Manchuria in 1931. Mussolini came to power in 1922 but not as a result of the Washington Conference.

2.    C

The United States had clearly chosen sides with the passage of the Lend-Lease Act in 1941. The Stimson Doctrine was the U.S. response to the Japanese invasion of Manchuria. The attack on the Panay resulted in the Japanese paying an indemnity to the United States. The U.S. Senate rejected the Treaty of Versailles, which ended World War I. It also rejected any U.S. participation in the League of Nations. The United States did participate in the Washington Conference in 1921, but this was long before the problems with Hitler arose.

3.    E

Great Britain and the United States clearly stated that they wished no territorial aggrandizement as a result of the war; that is, they were not seeking new territory. Choices (A), (B), (C), and (D) were all stated principles of the Atlantic Charter.

4.    C

The Munich Pact gave Hitler the Sudetenland, an area in the western part of Czechoslovakia. In less than six months, Hitler had taken all of Czechoslovakia. Franco came to power in Spain in 1939 at the end of the Spanish Civil War. A nonaggression treaty was signed by the USSR and Germany after Stalin came to power. The war in Europe did not end (V-E Day) until 1945. The Atlantic Charter resulted from a meeting between Winston Churchill and FDR in 1941.

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