In the 1920s
and 1930s, the United States pursued a policy of neutrality and
isolationism. In order to understand the reasons for this policy, we must
examine the lingering impact of World War I.
ISOLATIONIST SENTIMENT AFTER WORLD
The United States had been reluctant to enter World
War 1. Fighting had begun in Europe in 1914, and the United States stayed out of the war until 1917.
Between April 1917, when the United States formally declared war, and Germany’s surrender in November 1918, some
48,000 American soldiers were killed in battle, 2,900 were declared missing in
action, and 56,000 soldiers died of disease. These losses were far less than
those of the European nations, some of which had lost millions of soldiers and
civilians. Nevertheless, the American losses were great enough to cause
Americans to take a close look at the reasons for the entry of the United States into the war and at the nation’s
Isolation and Neutrality
and neutrality are similar foreign policies, but an important difference exists
between them. Isolationism is a national foreign policy of remaining apart from
political or economic entanglements with other countries. Strict isolationists
do not support any type of contact with other countries, including economic
ties or trade activities.
country chooses a policy of neutrality, it deliberately takes no side in a
dispute or controversy. Countries following this path are often referred to as
being nonaligned or non involved. Neutral nations do
not limit their trading activities with other nations, unless a trading
partnership would limit that country’s ability to stay politically noninvolved.
Isolationism in the 1930s
when the United States was trying to recover from the worst
economic depression in its history, Senator Gerald Nye led an investigation
into the reasons the United States entered World War I. The committee
concluded that the United States had gone to war at the
encouragement of financiers and armament makers, eager for profits. As a result
of this investigation, many Americans supported a return to isolationism. They
believed that the country would be secure without worrying about the actions of
the rest of the world.
of the United States to join the League of Nations was reinforced by the Senate’s move
in 1935 to forbid the United States to join the World Court. That same year, Congress also
passed the first of a series of neutrality acts, intended to prevent Americans
from making loans to nations at war. Any sales of goods to such nations were to
be strictly on a “cash and carry” basis. In 1937, President Roosevelt made this
famous quarantine speech, in which he likened the spreading world lawlessness
to a disease. He stated that the United States would attempt to quarantine the
“patients” in order to protect the rest of the community of nations.
LEADING TO WORLD WAR II
The rise of
totalitarian governments in Germany and Italy in the 1930’s the stage for World
The Rise of Totalitarian Governments
totalitarian governments, one political party has complete control over the
government and bans all other parties. Totalitarian governments rely on terror
to suppress individual rights and silence opposition. In other words, totalitarian
governments are the opposite of all that the United States believes in.
In Germany and Italy, totalitarian governments were
established based on the philosophy of fascism. Fascism places the importance
of the nation above all else, and individual rights and freedoms are lost as
everyone works for the benefit of the nation. Nazi Germany (led by Adolf
Hitler) and Fascist Italy (led by Benito Mussolini) were two fascist
governments characterized by extreme nationalism, racism, and militarism (desire
to go to war).
Mussolini provided military assistance to Francisco Franco, a Fascist leader in
Spain who was attempting to overthrow the republican
government there and establish a totalitarian one. The devastating Spanish
civil war that erupted in 1936 would become a “dress rehearsal” for World War
II. The war in Spain was a testing ground for new
weapons and military strategies that would later be used in World War II.
In the United States, opinions about support for the
Spanish civil war were divided. Some Americans traveled to Spain to fight for the republican cause.
The United States government, however, continued to
pursue a policy of neutrality. Congress passed a resolution forbidding the
export of arms to either side in 1937. Franco won the Spanish civil war in
1939, established a fascist government, and remained leader of Spain until his death in 1975.
1938 MUNICH AGREEMENT
agreement, Great Britain and France allowed Germany to annex the Sudetenland, a region of Czechoslovakia with a large German-speaking
population. Hitler convinced the British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain and
the French premier Edouard Daladier
that Germany would make no further territorial
Chamberlain returned to Britain with this agreement, he told the
world that he had achieved “peace for our time.” Six months later, however,
Hitler seized the rest of Czechoslovakia.
Great Britain and France had resorted to the policy of
appeasement, which means to agree to the demands of a potential enemy in order
to keep the peace. Hitler demonstrated by his action that he could not be
permanently appeased, and the world learned a costly lesson.
the United States was officially committed to a
policy of neutrality, President Roosevelt soon found a way around the
Neutrality Acts to provide aid, including warships to Great Britain. In 1941, Roosevelt convinced Congress to pass the Lend
Lease Act, which allowed the United States to sell or lend war materials to
“any country whose defense the President deems vital to the defense of the United States.” Roosevelt intended to keep the United States out of the war, but he said that
the nation would become the “arsenal of democracy,” supplying arms to those who
were fighting for freedom.
JAPAN’S ATTACK ON PEARL HARBOR
States did lot enter World War II until 1941. President Franklin D. Roosevelt
lad promised that the United States would not fight in a war in which
the country was not directly involved. However, on December 7,
Japanese war planes attacked the U.S. Navy fleet at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Roosevelt called the attack a day that would
“live in infamy,” a day that Americans would never forget. This surprise attack
shattered the American belief that the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans would safely isolate the United States from fighting in Europe and Asia. The attack on Pearl Harbor fueled American nationalism and
patriotism. Suddenly the war was no longer oceans away. The day after the
attack, Congress agreed to President Roosevelt’s request to declare war on Japan.
II IN REVIEW
II began in 1939, when German forces invaded Poland. The United States entered the war two years later,
after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. War in Europe ended in May 1945, and fighting in the Pacific ended on August
when the Japanese surrender brought World War II to a conclusion.
pitted 26 nations united together as the Allies against eight Axis Powers. The
major powers among the Allies were Great Britain, the Soviet Union, and the United States. Germany, Italy, and Japan were the major Axis nations.
Leaders of the major powers are listed on the next page.
II was fought primarily in two major regions: Europe and North Africa, and in the Pacific.
war, leaders of the Allied nations met in a series of conferences to discuss
wartime strategies and plans for the postwar world. Key meetings are described
CHARTER MEETING, 1941
and Churchill met on battleships in the North Atlantic to agree on certain principles for
building a lasting peace and establishing free governments in the world. The
document containing these agreements was called the Atlantic Charter.
Roosevelt met with Churchill to plan “victory
on all fronts.” They used the term “unconditional surrender” to describe the
Churchill, and Chiang Kai-shek of China planned the Normandy invasion.
CONFERENCE, 1943 Roosevelt and Churchill met with Stalin to discuss war
strategy and plans for the postwar world.
Churchill, and Stalin outlined the division of postwar Germany into spheres of influence and
planned for the trials of war criminals. The Soviet Union promised to enter the war against Japan.
leaders (with Truman now replacing Roosevelt) warned Japan to surrender to prevent utter
effort to bring the war to a speedy conclusion and to prevent I further
destruction and loss of life, Allied leaders decided
to embark on an atomic research project.
THE MANHATTAN PROJECT
spring of 1943, a group of scientists from the United States, Canada, Britain, and other European
began work on the top-secret atomic research program mown as the Manhattan
Project. The research was done primarily at Los Alamos, New Mexico, under the direction of Dr. Robert
Oppenheimer. Many of the scientists involved in the projects were refugees from
Hitler’s Germany. By July 1945, the first atomic
bomb was tested in New Mexico. The success of this project left
the United States in the position of determining the
ultimate use of the weapon.
BOMBINGS OF HIROSHIMA AND NAGASAKI
after the first atomic test, Allied leaders warned Japan to surrender or face “prompt and
utter destruction.” Since no surrender occurred, President Truman made the
decision to drop atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The bombs killed more than 100.000
Japanese instantly, and thousands more died later from radiation sickness. For
a time after World War II, the United States held a monopoly on atomic weapons.
The world had entered the atomic age.
SURRENDERS Within days of the devastating bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan formally surrendered, and World War
II came to an end. Following Japan’s surrender, the United States occupied Japan under the leadership of General
Douglas MacArthur. A new constitutional monarchy went
into effect introducing democratic reforms to Japan. Emperor Hirohito
retained his throne, but only as a figurehead.
Hitler rose to power in Germany he did so by finding a scapegoat,
someone to blame for Germany’s problems after World War I. By
appealing to anti-Semitism, feelings of hatred against Jewish people, Hitler
encouraged the Germans to turn viciously on all Jewish citizens.
his rise to power, Hitler had seized Jewish property, homes, and businesses and
barred Jews from many jobs. At the Wannsee Conference
of 1942, the Nazis set as a primary goal the total extermination. Or genocide of all Jews under their domination. This effort
was to be kept secret from the German people and from the rest of the world.
Hitler’s plan to eliminate the Jews was known to the Nazis as d the Final
of Concentration Camps
1930s, the Nazis began to build concentration camps to isolate Jews and other
groups from society and provide slave labor for Industry. As Hitler’s conquest
of Europe continued, the camps became
factories of death.
six million Jews were killed in the camps as were another four million
people—dissenters, Gypsies, homosexuals, the menially and physically
handicapped, Protestant ministers, and Catholic priests. Today, concentration
camp names such as Auschwitz, Treblinka, and Dachau stand as memorials to the
incredible human suffering and death of this time, a period now called the
The United States and other nations failed to take
strong action to rescue Jews from Nazi Germany before World War II. In 1939,
Louis, a passenger ship carrying more than 900 Jewish refugees, left Europe for Cuba, but when they arrived, most of the
refugees were denied permission to land there. The refugees were also denied
permission to enter the United States, and the ship was forced to return
to Europe. Most of the ship’s passengers
eventually were killed in the Holocaust.
broke out, the Allies still failed to speak out forcefully against the
treatment of Jews or to make direct attempts to stop the genocide. Only toward
the end of the war did the United States create the War Refugee Board to
provide aid for Holocaust survivors.
chapter to the Holocaust occurred in Nuremberg, Germany, in 1945 and 1946. At that time an
international military court tried 24 high-level Nazi for atrocities committed
during World War II. By finding former Nazis guilty of “crimes against
humanity,” a precedent was established that soldiers, officers, and national
leaders could be held responsibilities for such brutal actions. Escaped Nazis
who were found alter the end of the war-even decades later-were also brought to
trial for war-related crimes.
most infamous Nazis who were tried and convicted was Adolf Eichmann.
He was captured in Argentina in 1960 and tried in Israel for the torture and deaths of
millions of Jews. Eichmann was convicted of crimes
against humanity and was hanged in 1962. Klaus Barbie, known as the “Butcher of
Lyon” (France), was also apprehended and tried in 1987 for his wartime
brutality to Jews.
trials also occurred in Japan. These trials led to the execution
of former premier Tojo and six other war leaders.
About 4,000 other Japanese war criminals were also convicted and received less
PATRIOTISM DURING WORLD WAR II
After the United States entered the war, the nation moved
to full-scale wartime production and mobilization of the armed forces.
Americans allied behind the war effort.
exception of the attack on Pearl Harbor and battles on several Pacific islands, World War II was not
fought on American soil. Nonetheless, Americans were constantly preparing for
attack. America’s coastal areas and large cities
held blackout drills. Americans were encouraged to support the war effort by
rationing food, gasoline, and other necessities and luxuries. Government
campaigns encouraged Americans to have “meatless Tuesdays,” and many Americans
planted “victory gardens” of their own to increase the food supply. Hollywood entertainers made special
presentations to encourage citizens to buy war bonds to help the government
finance the war.
The Role of
II brought dramatic changes to the lives of American women in the military and
in the civilian workforce.
By the end
of the war, more than 200,000 women had joined the military services. Although
women served in separate units from men, such as the Women’s Army Corps (WAC),
women performed a variety of vital military duties. They operated radios and
repaired planes and vehicles. They also were assigned, along with men, to
of men joined the military, new employment opportunities opened up to women.
Women who had been employed before the war eagerly applied for better-paying
jobs, and many women who had worked inside the home now entered the paid
took jobs that had once been open to men only. More than five million women
eventually worked in factories devoted to wartime production although their pay
never came close to equaling men’s pay of the time. One song about a woman
named Rosie the Riveter became popular during the war years because it captured
the sense of duty and patriotism felt by millions of women. The term “Rosie the
Riveter” became a slang term for all women who worked in wartime factories.
of so many women into the paid workforce during World War II marked the
beginning of a long-term trend, as women continued to enter the workforce in
greater numbers throughout the rest of the century. New issues became
important. For example, child care became an important issue during the war
years, and it remains an important one today.
experiences of African Americans during the war years provided the foundation
of the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s.
million African American men and women served in the military during World War
II. Military units were segregated, and initially, African American soldiers
were limited to c support roles. As the war went on, these soldiers soon saw
combat, where many distinguished themselves.
of Japanese Americans faced hardship and economic losses after the attack on Pearl Harbor.
from Japan began arriving in the United States shortly after the Civil War. These
immigrants settled mainly on the west coast of the United States. By 1941, thousands of Americans of
Japanese descent, called Nisei, had been born in the United States and were
American citizens. Thousands of them had never been to Japan, and many had no desire to go
RELOCATION AUTHORITY (WRA)
Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, many Americans feared that Japanese Americans presented a
threat to national security. Anti-Japanese sentiment grew, and in 1942
President Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066, establishing military zones
for the imprisonment of Japanese Americans. More than 100,000 people of
Japanese descent were forced to leave their homes and move to WRA camps,
hastily constructed military-style barracks ringed with barbed wire and guarded
by troops. This discrimination was focused entirely on Japanese Americans; no
such action was taken against citizens or residents of German or Italian descent.
V. UNITED STATES In the 1944 landmark case Korematsu
v. United States, the Supreme Court upheld the
forced evacuation as a reasonable wartime emergency measure. However, no acts
of Japanese-American sabotage or treason were ever identified, and thousands of
Nisei fought honorably in the war. Almost 50 years after World War II, the United States government admitted that the
wartime relocation program had been unjust. In 1988.
Congress voted to pay $20,000 to each of the approximately 60,000 surviving
Americans who had been interned. The first payments were made in 1990, and the
government also issued a formal apology.
injustices endured by Japanese Americans, thousands proved their loyalty by serving
in the U.S. I armed forces, primarily in Europe. The 442nd Regimental
Combat Team, made up entirely of Japanese Americans, won more medals for
bravery than any other unit of its size in the war.
war, American factories, geared up for wartime production, had helped the
nation recover from the Great Depression. Now the challenge was to convert from
a wartime to a peacetime society. The United States underwent a period of
demobilization, or the movement from a military to a civilian status. The United States armed forces reduced from 12
million members to 1.5 million. Factories that had made planes and tanks now
began producing consumer goods. It also meant ensuring that the nation would
not slip back into depression.
Truman’s administration, legislation was passed to deal with different issues
raised by demobilization.
as the GI Bill of Rights, his act authorized billions of dollars to pay for
veteran benefits, such as college education, medical treatment, unemployment
insurance, and home and business loans. The GI Bill made it possible for more people to attend college and
buy homes than ever before.
ACT OF 1946
made full employment the national goal and set up a Council of Economic
Advisors to guide the President on economic matters.
AN END TO
legislation had put controls on the prices of most goods. In 1946, the
government moved to end most such controls. However, the end of controls
coupled with a tax cut caused a rapid increase in inflation. For example, food
prices soared 25 percent in just two years.
wages could not keep up with inflation after the war. Major strikes were held
as unions pushed for higher wages. Anti-union feelings grew and led Congress to
pass the Taft-Hartley Act over Truman’s veto. The act
80-day “cooling-off’ period through which the president could delay a strike
that threatened national welfare
closed shop, under which workers had to belong to a union before being hired
states to pass “right-to-work laws,” which said workers could take jobs and not
have to join a union
union contributions to political campaigns
union leaders to swear they were not communists
moved to help the nation meet postwar international concerns. The National
Security Act of 1947 created the National Military Establishment, which later
became the Department of Defense. The act also created the Central Intelligence
Agency to oversee intelligence gathering activities. As commander in chief,
Truman also issued an executive order banning discrimination in the armed
to problems caused by converting to a peacetime economy, the nation also had to
cope with the largest population explosion in its history. The economic
hardships of the Great Depression that had encouraged smaller families were
gone. Families grew larger once more. This “baby boom” brought with it the
expansion of many public services, especially schools. You will learn more
about the long-term effects of the baby boom in the next unit.
Election of 1948
had become dissatisfied with Truman’s presidency because of inflation, strikes,
Truman’s actions on civil rights, and the developing cold war. Polls predicted
that the Republican candidate Governor Thomas Dewey of New York, would defeat Truman easily in the
1948 presidential election. Yet Truman pulled off one of the greatest upsets in
American political history by winning reelection. He then attempted to build on
this victory by proposing a program called the Fair Deal that aimed to extend
reforms started under FDR’s New Deal.