World War II

World War II


Turmoil, Tears, and Triumph 

Timeline of Important Events

The Treaty of Versailles and Wilson’s Fourteen Points  
Review the rise of totalitarianism in Europe following World War I.  (Standard, 2.1.1;  2.8.2) 

In 1919, Lloyd George of England, Orlando of Italy, Clemenceau of France and Woodrow Wilson from the US met to discuss how Germany was to be made to pay for the damage world war one had caused.

Treaty of Versailles

In 1919, Lloyd George of England, Orlando of Italy, Clemenceau of France and Woodrow Wilson from the US met to discuss how Germany was to be made to pay for the damage world war one had caused.

  • Woodrow Wilson (USA) wanted a treaty based on his 14-point plan which he believed would bring peace to Europe.
  • Georges Clemenceau (France) wanted revenge. He wanted to be sure that Germany could never start another war again.
  • Lloyd George (England) personally agreed with Wilson but knew that the British public agreed with Clemenceau. He tried to find a compromise between Wilson and Clemenceau.
  • Germany had been expecting a treaty based on Wilson’s 14 points and were not happy with the terms of the Treaty of Versailles. However, they had no choice but to sign the document.

The main terms of the Treaty of Versailles were:

  • War Guilt Clause – Germany should accept the blame for starting World War One
  • Reparations – Germany had to pay 6,600 million pounds for the damage caused by the war
  • Disarmament – Germany was only allowed to have a small army and six naval ships. No tanks, no airforce and no submarines were allowed. The Rhineland area was to be de-militarised.
  • Territorial Clauses – Land was taken away from Germany and given to other countries. Anschluss (union with Austria) was forbidden.

The German people were very unhappy about the treaty and thought that it was too harsh. Germany could not afford to pay the money and during the 1920s the people in Germany were very poor. There were not many jobs and the price of food and basic goods was high. People were dissatisfied with the government and voted to power a man who promised to rip up the Treaty of Versailles. His name was Adolf Hitler.

Adolf Hitler became Chancellor of Germany in January 1933. Almost immediately he began secretly building up Germany’s army and weapons. In 1934 he increased the size of the army, began building warships and created a German air force. Compulsory military service was also introduced.Although Britain and France were aware of Hitler’s actions, they were also concerned about the rise of Communism and believed that a stronger Germany might help to prevent the spread of Communism to the West.

In 1936 Hitler ordered German troops to enter the Rhineland. At this point the German army was not very strong and could have been easily defeated. Yet neither France nor Britain was prepared to start another war. Hitler also made two important alliances during 1936. The first was called the Rome-Berlin Axis Pact and allied Hitler’s Germany with Mussolini’s Italy. The second was called the Anti-Comitern Pact and allied Germany with Japan.

Hitler’s next step was to begin taking back the land that had been taken away from Germany. In March 1938, German troops marched into Austria. The Austrian leader was forced to hold a vote asking the people whether they wanted to be part of Germany.The results of the vote were fixed and showed that 99% of Austrian people wanted Anschluss (union with Germany). The Austrian leader asked Britain, France and Italy for aid. Hitler promised that Anschluss was the end of his expansionist aims and not wanting to risk war, the other countries did nothing.

Hitler did not keep his word and six months later demanded that the Sudetenland region of Czechoslovakia be handed over to Germany.  Neville Chamberlain, Prime Minister of Britain, met with Hitler three times during September 1938 to try to reach an agreement that would prevent war. The Munich Agreement stated that Hitler could have the Sudetenland region of Czechoslovakia provided that he promised not to invade the rest of Czechoslovakia.

Hitler was not a man of his word and in March 1939 invaded the rest of Czechoslovakia. Despite calls for help from the Czechoslovak government, neither Britain nor France was prepared to take military action against Hitler. However, some action was now necessary and believing that Poland would be Hitler’s next target, both Britain and France promised that they would take military action against Hitler if he invaded Poland. Chamberlain believed that, faced with the prospect of war against Britain and France, Hitler would stop his aggression. Chamberlain was wrong. German troops invaded Poland on 1st September 1939.

Failure of Appeasement

Appeasement means giving in to someone provided their demands are seen as reasonable. During the 1930s, many politicians in both Britain and France came to see that the terms of the Treaty of Versailles had placed restrictions on Germany that were unfair. Hitler’s actions were seen as understandable and justifiable.When Germany began re-arming in 1934, many politicians felt that Germany had a right to re-arm in order to protect herself. It was also argued that a stronger Germany would prevent the spread of Communism to the west.

In 1936, Hitler argued that because France had signed a new treaty with Russia, Germany was under threat from both countries and it was essential to German security that troops were stationed in the Rhineland. France was not strong enough to fight Germany without British help and Britain was not prepared to go to war at this point. Furthermore, many believed that since the Rhineland was a part of Germany it was reasonable that German troops should be stationed there.

In May 1937, Neville Chamberlain became Prime Minister of Britain. He believed that the Treaty of Versailles had treated Germany badly and that there were a number of issues associated with the Treaty that needed to be put right. He felt that giving in to Hitler’s demands would prevent another war.  This policy, adopted by Chamberlain’s government became known as the policy of Appeasement.

Hands clasped in friendship, Adolf Hitler and England’s Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, are shown in this historic pose at Munich on Sept. 30, 1938.

The most notable example of appeasement was the Munich Agreement of September 1938. The Munich Agreement, signed by the leaders of Germany, Britain, France and Italy, agreed that the Sudetenland would be returned to Germany and that no further territorial claims would be made by Germany. The Czech government was not invited to the conference and protested about the loss of the Sudetenland. They felt that they had been betrayed by both Britain and France with whom alliances had been made. However, the Munich Agreement was generally viewed as a triumph and an excellent example of securing peace through negotiation rather than war.  When Hitler invaded the rest of Czechoslovakia in March 1939, he broke the terms of the Munich Agreement. Although it was realized that the policy of appeasement had failed, Chamberlain was still not prepared to take the country to war over “..a quarrel in a far-away country between people of whom we know nothing.” Instead, he made a guarantee to come to Poland’s aid if Hitler invaded Poland.


Lesson:  Woodrow Wilson’s Fourteen Points 

Additional Resources:   Cause and Effect:  The Outbreak of the War   Examine the Causes of World War II 

The Holocaust (Standard 2.8.5) Describe how racism and intolerance contributed to the Holocaust.  

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The National Holocaust Museum’s Student Learning Page 

U.S. Enters the War 

Essential Question:  Does President Roosevelt’s declaration of war against the Empire of Japan convince you that America’s entry into World War II was justified according to just war theory?  (2.1.5)

US Foreign Policy Prior to Entering WW2

“No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people in their righteous might will win through to absolute victory.”
— President Franklin D. Roosevelt, December 8, 1941

Just Cause Theory 

The Attack on Pearl Harbor 

Roosevelt’s Day of Infamy Speech     

Major Battles  (Standard 2.1.3 and 5; 2.8.3 and 4)

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Combat and War 

The experience of combat is perhaps the ultimate test for human beings. No other human activity creates such heightened emotions. No other human activity is so potentially final in its results. Humans have an often paradoxical relationship with combat and war; sometimes it is revered and other times despised. We use its euphemisms in describing athletic events (check out the headlines on any sports page). We see it glorified in our literature and condemned in our political speeches. In this activity, students will explore the testimonies of several different people who experienced combat, some of whom suffered physical or psychological injuries in the process.  This lesson, provided by PBS, reminds us of the high cost of war.  THE WAR:  A Ken Burns Documentary

Activity:  Letters from the Front

Activity:  Here Lie Three Americans, The Death of Captain Wascow

Take the point of view of either a journalist, soldier, or commander involved in one of the major battles of World War II that we studied, and write a historical narrative in which you tell the story of the event.  This is not an essay, it is a story.  

Leaders (Standard 1.8.7)

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Top 10 Generals of World War II

Leaders of European Theater

Code Talkers  (1.8.5)

Code Talkers 

Tuskegee Airmen


Blacks in the Military and the Civil Rights Movement 

History Channel segment 

The Tuskegee Airmen 

Battleship Down!  The Sinking of the U.S.S. Indianapolis 

The Home Front

The Four Freedoms (1.8.7)

FDR’s Four Freedoms Speech

Franklin Roosevelt was elected president for an unprecedented third term in 1940 because at the time the world faced unprecedented danger, instability, and uncertainty. Much of Europe had fallen to the advancing German Army and Great Britain was barely holding its own. A great number of Americans remained committed to isolationism and the belief that the United States should continue to stay out of the war, but President Roosevelt understood Britain’s need for American support and attempted to convince the American people of the gravity of the situation. 

In his Annual Message to Congress (State of the Union Address) on January 6, 1941, Franklin Roosevelt presented his reasons for American involvement, making the case for continued aid to Great Britain and greater production of war industries at home. In helping Britain, President Roosevelt stated, the United States was fighting for the universal freedoms that all people possessed.

The ideas enunciated in the Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms were the foundational principles that evolved into the Atlantic Charter declared by Winston Churchill and FDR in August 1941; the United Nations Declaration of January 1, 1942; President Roosevelt’s vision for an international organization that became the United Nations after his death; and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the United Nations in 1948 through the work of Eleanor Roosevelt.

Eleanor Roosevelt and Japanese Internment 

History Channel segment 

“Undo the Mistake of Internment”

World War 2 Curriculum Guide

Japanese Internment (1.8.4; 2.1.1 and 4;)

Executive Order 9066

Over 127,000 United States citizens were imprisoned during World War II. Their crime? Being of Japanese ancestry.

Despite the lack of any concrete evidence, Japanese Americans were suspected of remaining loyal to their ancestral land. ANTI-JAPANESE PARANOIA increased because of a large Japanese presence on the West Coast. In the event of a Japanese invasion of the American mainland, Japanese Americans were feared as a security risk. Succumbing to bad advice and popular opinion, President Roosevelt signed an executive order in February 1942 ordering the RELOCATION of all Americans of Japanese ancestry to CONCENTRATION CAMPS in the interior of the United States.Evacuation orders were posted in JAPANESE-AMERICAN communities giving instructions on how to comply with the executive order. Many families sold their homes, their stores, and most of their assets. They could not be certain their homes and livelihoods would still be there upon their return. Because of the mad rush to sell, properties and inventories were often sold at a fraction of their true value.

Until the camps were completed, many of the evacuees were held in temporary centers, such as stables at local racetracks. Almost two-thirds of the interns were NISEI, or JapaneseAmericans born in the United States. It made no difference that many had never even been to Japan. Even Japanese-American veterans of World War I were forced to leave their homes.  Ten camps were finally completed in remote areas of seven western states. Housing was spartan, consisting mainly of tarpaper barracks. Families dined together at communal mess halls, and children were expected to attend school. Adults had the option of working for a salary of $5 per day. The United States government hoped that the interns could make the camps self-sufficient by farming to produce food. But cultivation on arid soil was quite a challenge.

Evacuees elected representatives to meet with government officials to air grievances, often to little avail. Recreational activities were organized to pass the time. Some of the interns actually volunteered to fight in one of two all-Nisei army regiments and went on to distinguish themselves in battle. On the whole, however, life in the relocation centers was not easy. The camps were often too cold in the winter and too hot in the summer. The food was mass produced army-style grub. And the interns knew that if they tried to flee, armed sentries who stood watch around the clock, would shoot them.

Fred Korematsu decided to test the government relocation action in the courts. He found little sympathy there. In KOREMATSU VS. THE UNITED STATES, the Supreme Court justified the executive order as a wartime necessity. When the order was repealed, many found they could not return to their hometowns. Hostility against Japanese Americans remained high across the West Coast into the postwar years as many villages displayed signs demanding that the evacuees never return. As a result, the interns scattered across the country.

In 1988, Congress attempted to apologize for the action by awarding each surviving intern $20,000. While the American concentration camps never reached the levels of Nazi death camps as far as atrocities are concerned, they remain a dark mark on the nation’s record of respecting civil liberties and cultural differences.

History Channel First Person Narrative 

War Relocation Authority Camps in Arizona   (1.8.4)
We know we’re punished — though we’ve committed no crime. These words were written by a Japanese American while detained in an Arizona internment camp during World War II. This site from the University of Arizona describes and shows vivid images of what life was like behind the wires for many thousands. Includes President Roosevelt’s Executive Order #9066, which gave the military full control over thousands of Americans.

Japanese Internment Documentary Project 

War Production (1.8.3-4, 7)

Before World War II, the United States took an isolationist posture in world affairs. The population was far more concerned about its own economic well-being than it was with the political upheaval in Europe and Japan’s imperialistic activities in Asia. Stories of Japanese and German military activity had been in the news since the mid-1930s, but for most Americans these seemed to be very distant events. America’s military preparedness was not that of a nation expecting to go to war. Powerful isolationist factions, combined with a strong pacifist movement and a rejection of the League of Nations, kept the United States from having any resemblance to its militaristic counterparts in Europe and Asia. In 1939, the United States Army ranked 39th in the world, possessing a cavalry force of 50,000 and using horses to pull the artillery.

The U.S. government began to understand the threat level imposed by the Axis powers, and in November 1939 altered previous neutrality legislation to permit the shipment of war supplies to China and Europe on a cash-and-carry basis. In 1941, Congress passed the Lend-Lease Act, which actually placed the United States in a quasi-war between its merchant fleet and Hitler’s submarines. But the American public was only semiconscious of these events, and in no way were the country’s cities, small towns and agricultural regions ready for war. The “sleeping giant” wouldn’t awaken until Sunday morning, December 7, 1941. Once awakened, America began turning out war production at every level of its industry and agriculture. 

Lesson from PBS’ The War:  A Ken Burns Documentary:  On the Home Front  and War Bonds   article.  

Axis Powers Surrender

VE and VJ Days   (Standard 1.8.6d)

After the War  

Political and Economic Forces (Standard 2.8.6-7)

Europe and Eastern Asia had been destroyed by the war, and territories that had been occupied by Germany and Japan during the war needed to be returned and original national boundaries re-established.  The world had to be put right again, so the difficult work of redefining and rebuilding began.  

  • Germany was split in two by the Berlin Wall where the eastern part, as well as many countries in Eastern Europe such as Poland, Romania, Bulgaria, Albania, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia, were controlled by communist USSR and the western part by Allies.  Europe needed money to finance the reconstruction of roads, bridges, buildings that were destroyed in by bombing.  So, the United States offered aid in the form of the Marshall Plan to help Europe recover.  This article, “Rebuilding the World After the War”, by The Guardian gives a nice overview of the work of reconstruction.  

The Marshall Plan 

History Channel videos on Eisenhower and Marshall Plan 

Post-War Europe: the Berlin Airlift & the Marshall Plan – Video & Lesson Transcript |

  • After Japan’s defeat, the United States led the Allies in the occupation and rehabilitation of the Japanese state. Between 1945 and 1952, the U.S. occupying forces, led by General Douglas A. MacArthur, enacted widespread military, political, economic, and social reforms. Japan became an independent nation again in 1952.  This article by the Office of the Historian, “Occupation and Reconstruction of Japan” provides an overview of the task of rebuilding.  
  • Like Germany, Korea was split in two with the north controlled by USSR and the south by Allies until free elections by the Korean people could reunite the country.  This never happened because the USSR reneged on this agreement and it is still split today. 
  • In China, a civil war between the communists and nationalists that had started prior to World War II continued.  The communists won and the nationalists fled to Taiwan.   This article talks about the division in the far east after the war. 

Punishment, Prevention, and New Alliances (Standard 2.8.8)

Also, many leaders of Axis powers were brought to trial for crimes against humanity.  Perpetrators of the Holocaust and leaders who sanctioned torture of war prisoners were accused of violating rules of the Geneva convention and were subsequently executed for their actions. 

The United Nations was formed in order to prevent another war.  Over fifty nations ultimately joined, but the “Big Five” (China, France, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, and the United States) remained the most powerful.  

Europe split between the eastern and western blocks.  The communist eastern block was controlled the the Soviet Union, forming an alliance under the Warsaw Pact.  The western block was united under the NATO alliance.  This configuration set the stage for the Cold War.  

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