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Should we go to war? Few Americans wanted to enter World War II. But how could the U.S. do nothing when Europe's freedom was at stake?

In 1940, the U.S. faced a difficult decision. Germany, led by dictator Adolf Hitler, had invaded and conquered most of northern Europe. World War II had begun in September 1939, when Germany invaded Poland. Country after country fell to the Germans. Unless Great Britain Great Britain, officially United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, constitutional monarchy (2005 est. pop. 60,441,000), 94,226 sq mi (244,044 sq km), on the British Isles, off W Europe. The country is often referred to simply as Britain.  got help, it looked as though it would be the next country to fall. What should the United States United States, officially United States of America, republic (2005 est. pop. 295,734,000), 3,539,227 sq mi (9,166,598 sq km), North America. The United States is the world's third largest country in population and the fourth largest country in area.  do?

America was coming out of a devastating dev·as·tate  
tr.v. dev·as·tat·ed, dev·as·tat·ing, dev·as·tates
1. To lay waste; destroy.

2. To overwhelm; confound; stun: was devastated by the rude remark.
 economic depression. More than 20 years before, 116,516 U.S. troops had died in Europe fighting World War I. Few Americans wanted to plunge into another world war. But could the U.S. abandon Britain, its longtime friend?

In Britain, a strong leader rallied his people. On June 4, 1940, Prime Minister Winston Churchill boldly addressed a worldwide radio audience. "We shall defend our island no matter what the cost may be," he vowed. "We shall fight on the beaches We shall fight on the beaches is a common title given to a speech delivered by Sir Winston Churchill to the House of Commons of the British Parliament on 4 June 1940. The speech was given shortly after he took over as Prime Minister on 10 May, in the first year of World War II. , on the landing grounds, in the fields, in the streets, and in the hills. We shall never surrender!"

Germany unleashed a blitz (intense campaign) of air attacks on Britain. German planes outnumbered British planes by four to one.

By January 1941, things still looked bad for Britain. What should America do? Franklin D. Roosevelt had just won re-election to an unprecedented third term as U.S. President. In the campaign, he had promised that American soldiers would not be sent into foreign wars. But Roosevelt felt compelled to go to Britain's defense.

January 6, 1941 *:

Washington, the U.S. Congress President Franklin D. Roosevelt asked Congress to pass what would be called the Lend-Lease Act Lend-Lease Act

provision of American materiel to beleaguered Allies in WWII. [Am. Hist.: Van Doren, 480]

See : Aid, Governmental
. That law would allow the President to lend or lease [rent] guns, tanks, planes, and ships to any nation that the President thought needed help. That country, every American knew, was Great Britain.

"Such aid is not an act of war," the President said. "When the dictators are ready to make war upon us, they will not wait for an act of war on our part. They didn't wait for Norway or Belgium or the Netherlands to commit an act of war."

January 25, 1941: London, the East End Bomb craters pockmarked pock·mark  
1. A pitlike scar left on the skin by smallpox or another eruptive disease.

2. A small pit on a surface: The gophers left the lawn covered with pockmarks.

 the streets. Cardboard and old newspapers covered the shattered windows of the old buildings in this neighborhood of the poor. The winter's wind whipped through holes in bomb-torn houses to leave icicles on bathroom faucets. Hitler's blitz had killed more than 20,000 women and children, and injured more than 40,000.

Opinion polls showed that most Americans favored giving help to Britain--but did not want to send U.S. troops to fight. Yet some Americans volunteered.

February 16, 1941: New Orleans New Orleans (ôr`lēənz –lənz, ôrlēnz`), city (2006 pop. 187,525), coextensive with Orleans parish, SE La., between the Mississippi River and Lake Pontchartrain, 107 mi (172 km) by water from the river mouth; founded , Louisiana, a recruiting center Mrs. L.M. Joffrion, of nearby Donaldsville, came to the center with her three oldest sons: Leonard, 20; Ray, 18; and Olin, 17. They were being sworn into the U.S. Army Air Corps. Her husband, now dead, had fought in France during World War I.

"When they were babies," she told a Times-Picayune [newspaper] reporter, "I kept hoping I wasn't bringing them up to fight. But, well, it looks like I am. I think the best way of staying out of war is by being fully prepared. I'm not in favor of fighting a war on foreign soil, but if that becomes necessary, it's something that has to be done."

February 24, 1941: Washington, the U.S. Senate Nevada's Pat McCarran Patrick Anthony McCarran (August 8, 1876 – September 28, 1954) was a Democratic United States Senator from Nevada from 1933 until 1954, and was noted for his strong anti-Communist stance.  rose to speak against Lend-Lease. "If this bill is passed," said the Senator, "every boy who goes into the Army next month will be going for good. He may think he's going for a year--that's the happy promise--but he's going out to die."

Congress passed the Lend-Lease bill on March II, 1941, and President Roosevelt signed it into law the same day. Soon, U.S. auto plants were producing tanks and planes instead of cars. As more men went into battle, women took their places on factory assembly lines.

Meanwhile, Japan threatened to join Germany in the war.

June 18,1941: Tokyo Imperial Navy Headquarters Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto was being quizzed [by Japan's military leaders] about his plan to attack America's Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor Pearl Harbor, land-locked harbor, on the southern coast of Oahu island, Hawaii, W of Honolulu; one of the largest and best natural harbors in the E Pacific Ocean. In the vicinity are many U.S. military installations, including the chief U.S. . "How can you sail undetected some 5,000 miles from Japan to Pearl Harbor with more than 30 battleships The list of battleships includes all battleships since 1859, listed alphabetically. The list also contains battlecruisers which share most of the characteristics of a battleship or have otherwise been referred to as battleships. , cruisers, and aircraft carriers, plus their fuel tankers ... ?" a staff officer asked. "You will surely be seen during a voyage of almost three weeks."

"We will go north, where the sea is stormy and has little traffic in December," Yamamoto said calmly. "The American planes based at Pearl Harbor can only spot us when we will be about a hundred miles away--too late to stop our carriers from launching their planes."

In Europe, Hitler's troops had scored stunning victories, from France to Greece. Russian leader Joseph Stalin feared that his country would be next. On June 22, his fears came true when Hitler sent 3 million troops racing toward Moscow, the Soviet capital.

U.S. leaders worried that the nation might have to fight a war both in Europe and in Asia. Japan occupied much of eastern China, and had invaded neighboring French Indochina French Indochina: see Indochina.
French Indochina

Former name (until 1950) for the eastern part of mainland Southeast Asia. The region now comprises the countries of Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam.
 (Southeast Asia Southeast Asia, region of Asia (1990 est. pop. 442,500,000), c.1,740,000 sq mi (4,506,600 sq km), bounded roughly by the Indian subcontinent on the west, China on the north, and the Pacific Ocean on the east. ) in July 1941. Japan had no oil of its own and purchased 70 percent of its supplies from the U.S. But on July 26, President Roosevelt made it illegal for any U.S. company to sell oil to Japan.

August 9-12, 1941: Placentia Bay Placentia Bay, c.100 mi (160 km) long and up to 80 mi (129 km) wide, SE Newfoundland, N.L., Canada. There are many fishing settlements and canneries along the shore. Placentia, established by the French in 1662, is the largest town on the bay. , Newfoundland, Canada President Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Churchill secretly met for the first time. Churchill spoke openly about what he wanted most: the United States shooting at Hitler. He told Harry Hopkins, one of Roosevelt's closest aides, "I would rather have a declaration of war now and no supplies for six months than double the supplies you are sending us but no declaration of war."

Roosevelt frowned when he heard that. He told Hopkins that most Americans wanted England to win--but not at the cost of even one American soldier's life.

October 31, 1941: Aboard the USS USS
1. United States Senate

2. United States ship

USS abbr (= United States Ship) → Namensteil von Schiffen der Kriegsmarine
 destroyer Reuben James
For U.S. Navy ships named Reuben James, see USS Reuben James.
Reuben James (c.1776–3 December 1838) was a Boatswain's Mate of the United States Navy, famous for his heroism in the Barbary Wars.
 between Iceland and Ireland Twenty-year-old U.S. sailor Leonidas Dickerson had just written to his aunt in Danville, Virginia Danville is an independent city in Virginia, bounded by Pittsylvania County, Virginia and Caswell County, North Carolina. The Bureau of Economic Analysis combines the city of Danville with Pittsylvania county for statistical purposes under the Danville, Virginia Metropolitan , to tell her what life was like guarding convoys of cargo ships [from German submarines]. By a secret order from the U.S. President, American warships now guarded convoys to Britain almost all the way across the Atlantic Ocean Across the Atlantic Ocean is the twenty-eighth episode[1] of Mobile Suit Gundam. Plot summary
Amuro and Sayla manage to reduce their time in docking the Gundam and the G-Fighter to fifteen seconds.

"We have gotten two [German] subs, maybe more," Dickerson told his aunt.

Dickerson never saw the sub that sent a torpedo snaking though the ocean on this dark night. It blew up in the belly of the Reuben James. With red and yellow flames licking from its middle, the destroyer nosed downward to the ocean floor, carrying a hundred enlisted men and officers, Dickerson among them. The first American First American may refer to:
  • First American (comics), A superhero from America's Best Comics
  • First American, a division of the now-defunction Bank of Credit and Commerce International.
 fighters had died in World War II.

December 7, 1941, 7:53 a.m.: 5,000 feet over Oahu, Hawaii Japanese Commander Mitsuo Fuchida Mitsuo Fuchida (December 3, 1902 - May 30, 1976) was a Captain[1] in the Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service and a pilot before and during World War II. He is perhaps best known for leading the first air wave attacks on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.  looked from his plane to see eight U.S. battleships lined up in a row, shining like long pieces of silver.... Fuchida radioed [to] the second wave of Japanese bombers that the daring scheme had caught the Americans literally asleep. He radioed the triumphant code words: Tora! Tora! Tora!

The surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, killed 2,388 people and wounded 2,000. It destroyed or damaged 21 U.S. ships and more than 300 planes.

In a stirring speech, President Roosevelt called December 7 "a date which will live in infamy Notoriety; condition of being known as possessing a shameful or disgraceful reputation; loss of character or good reputation.

At Common Law, infamy was an individual's legal status that resulted from having been convicted of a particularly reprehensible crime, rendering him
." He asked Congress to declare war against Japan. With that, the U.S. joined Britain and other Allies in fighting the Axis powers Axis Powers

Coalition headed by Germany, Italy, and Japan that opposed the Allied Powers in World War II. The alliance originated in a series of agreements between Germany and Italy, followed in 1936 by the Rome-Berlin Axis declaration and the German-Japanese Anti-Comintern
, led by Germany, Italy, and Japan. It was the deadliest war in human history.

World War II

WWII World War Two
 Time Line

September 1, 1939

Poland: German tanks enter Poland in ablitzkrieg (lightning-fast invasion), starting World War II.


July 6, 1940

Berlin: Adolf Hitler, dictator of Germany, returns to Berlin after the German army conquered Paris, France.


September 1940

London: Children sit next to the remains of their home after another night of German bombings.


August 27, 1941

London: Prime Minister Winston Churchill encourages the British with his famous "V for victory" sign.


December 7, 1941

Pearl Harbor: Japanese planes attack the U.S. naval base A naval base primarily for support of the forces afloat, contiguous to a port or anchorage, consisting of activities or facilities for which the Navy has operating responsibilities, together with interior lines of communications and the minimum surrounding area necessary for local  at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, sinking ships and killing thousands of people.


December 8, 1941

Washington, D.C.: President Roosevelt asks Congress to declare a state of war with Japan.


December 8, 1941

U.S. Recruiting Stations: Across the nation, young Americans wait in line to enlist for military service.



Rosie the Riveter Rosie the Riveter

popular WWII song romanticizing women workers. [Am. Hist.: Flexner, 395]

See : Mannishness
: As young men go off to war, women take their places on factory assembly lines.


Think About It

1. Why did the U.S. support Britain in the war?

2. What finally made the U.S, send troops to fight in World War II?


Students should understand

* Why Americans were reluctant to enter World War II, and what factors contributed to the U.S. eventually entering the conflict.


Historians trace the causes of World War II The immediate Causes of World War II are generally to be the German invasion of Poland, and expansionism on the part of the Empire of Japan, culminating in attacks on several countries in December 1941, especially one against Pearl Harbor, a United States naval base.  (1939-1945) to resentments left unsolved by the division of territory after World War I (1914-1918). Nationalism in Germany, Italy, and Japan also contributed greatly to those countries' aggressions.


CAUSE AND EFFECT: Why were Americans reluctant to become involved in World War II? What changed their minds? (They were reluctant because the U.S. was coming out of a severe economic depression and many American troops had lost their lives fighting in World War I, more than 20 years before. They changed their minds when Japan bombed the U.S. base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.)

FORMING SUPPORTED OPINIONS: Would the U.S. have entered World War II if Japan had not bombed Pearl Harbor? Explain. (Answers will vary. A no reason might be that the U.S. was too far from the fighting to be affected; a yes reason might cite strong ties between the U.S. and Britain.)


LOOKING AT LEADERS: Give students time to research the lives of Franklin D. Roosevelt and Adolf Hitler. Have them list three key facts about each leader (e.g., what his childhood was like, how he came to power, and how he governed his people). Then ask: Did what you learned help you understand the role each leader played in World War II? Explain.



* Global connections/Civic ideals and practices: How political ties to Europe and an attack on U.S. territory swung Americans' opinions and the U.S. military into World War II.



* Ambrose, Stephen E., The Good Fight: How World War II Was Won (Simon & Schuster Simon & Schuster

U.S. publishing company. It was founded in 1924 by Richard L. Simon (1899–1960) and M. Lincoln Schuster (1897–1970), whose initial project, the original crossword-puzzle book, was a best-seller.
, 2001). Grades 6-12.

* Panchyk, Richard, World War II for Kids: A History With 21 Activities (Chicago Review Press, 2002). Grades 5-7.


* Children of World War II

* See & Hear Veterans' Stories

* Use a word from this list to correctly complete each sentence.

Winston Churchill, a declaration of war, Great Britain, Adolf Hitler, Italy, Japan, the Lend-Lease Act, Poland, Russia, ships at Pearl Harbor, Joseph Stalin, a U.S. destroyer in the Atlantic Ocean Atlantic Ocean [Lat.,=of Atlas], second largest ocean (c.31,800,000 sq mi/82,362,000 sq km; c.36,000,000 sq mi/93,240,000 sq km with marginal seas). Physical Geography
Extent and Seas

11. World War II began in 1939, when Germany invaded--

12. The blitz was part of Germany's effort to invade--

13. To help Great Britain, early in 1941 President Franklin D. Roosevelt asked Congress to pass--

14. The first U.S. fighters to die in World War II were on--

15. The U.S. entered World War II the day after Japan dropped bombs on

11. Poland

12. Great Britain

13. the Lend-Lease Act

14. a U.S. destroyer in the Atlantic Ocean

15. ships at Pearl Harbor
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Gregory Miller (Member):  3/30/2009 3:38 PM
thanks for the article it really saved me from a 0 on a DBQ essay
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Publication:Junior Scholastic
Date:Apr 24, 2006
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