Modern history

Conclusion: The Impact of World War II

Like Woodrow Wilson before World War I, Franklin Roosevelt initially charted a course of neutrality before the United States entered World War II. Yet Roosevelt believed that the rise of European dictatorships and their expansionist pursuits throughout the world threatened American national security. He saw signs of trouble early, but responding to antiwar sentiment from lawmakers and the American public, he maneuvered carefully to keep the nation from going to war. Like President Lincoln preceding the Confederate bombardment of Fort Sumter, Roosevelt waited for a blatant enemy attack before declaring war. The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 provided that justification.

On the domestic front, World War II accomplished what Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal could not. Prosperity and nearly full employment returned only after the nation’s factories began supplying the Allies and the United States joined in the fight against the Axis powers. Mobilization for war also completed what the New Deal had begun: the tremendous growth and centralization of power in the federal government. Washington, D.C., became the chief source of authority to which Americans looked for solutions to problems concerning economic security and financial development. Most people looked to the future with optimism following sixteen years of depression and war.

The federal government showed that it would use its authority to expand equal rights for African Americans. The war swung national power against racial discrimination, and various civil rights victories during the war served as precursors to the civil rights movement of subsequent decades. The war also heightened Mexican Americans’ consciousness of oppression and led them to organize for civil rights. In neither case, however, did the war erase white prejudice.

At the same time, the federal government did not hesitate to trample on the civil liberties of Japanese Americans. The president succumbed to wartime antagonism against Japanese immigrants and their children. However, the same did not happen to the white descendants of the other Axis nations. Yet like white and black Americans, the Nisei displayed their patriotism by distinguishing themselves as soldiers on the battlefields of Europe.

The war brought women into the workforce as never before, providing a measure of independence and distancing them from their traditional roles as wives and mothers. Nevertheless, the government and private employers made it clear that they expected most female workers to give up their jobs to returning servicemen and to become homemakers once the war ended.

Finally, the war thrust the United States onto the world stage as one of the world’s two major superpowers alongside the Soviet Union. This position posed new challenges. In sole possession of the atomic bomb, the most powerful weapon on the planet, and fortified by a robust economy, the United States filled the international power vacuum created by the weakening and eventual collapse of the European colonial empires. The fragile alliance that had held together the United States and the Soviet Union shattered soon after the end of World War II. The Atomic Age, which J. Robert Oppenheimer helped usher in with a powerful weapon of mass destruction, and the government oppression that Korematsu endured in the name of national security did not disappear. Rather, they expanded in new directions and shaped the lives of all Americans for decades to come.

Chapter Review


Identify and explain the significance of each term below.

Neutrality Acts (p. 594)

America First Committee (p. 596)

Lend-Lease Act (p. 596)

Atlantic Charter (p. 597)

second front (p. 598)

D Day (p. 600)

Yalta Agreement (p. 602)

Manhattan Project (p. 602)

Enola Gay (p. 603)

military-industrial complex (p. 604)

War Production Board (p. 606)

National War Labor Board (p. 608)

Fair Employment Practice Committee (FEPC) (p. 610)

zoot suit riots (p. 612)

internment (p. 613)


Answer the focus questions from each section of the chapter.

1. How did American public opinion shape Roosevelt's foreign policy in the years preceding U.S. entry into World War II?

2. What events in Europe and the Pacific ultimately brought the United States into World War II?

3. How did the Allies win the war in Europe and in the Pacific?

4. How did tensions among the Allies shape both their military strategy and their postwar plans?

5. How did the war accelerate the trend that began during the New Deal toward increased government participation in the economy?

6. How did the war affect life on the home front for the average American?

7. What new challenges and opportunities did the war present to minority groups?

8. Why were Japanese Americans singled out as a particular threat to national security?



• United States extends diplomatic recognition to the Soviet Union


• Adolf Hitler becomes chancellor of Germany


• Neutrality Acts passed


• Germany annexes the Sudetenland


• Germany occupies Czechoslovakia


• Germany and Soviet Union invade Poland; World War II begins


• Battle of Britain begins


• Japan, Germany, and Italy sign Tripartite Pact


• Lend-Lease Act passed


• Fair Employment Practice Committee (FEPC) created


• Roosevelt and Churchill sign Atlantic Charter

December 7, 1941

• Japan attacks U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor

December 11, 1941

• Germany and Italy declare war on the United States


• Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) established

• War Production Board and National War Labor Board formed

• Roosevelt approves Manhattan Project

• Roosevelt issues order that leads to internment of Japanese Americans


• Zoot suit riots

• Race riots in Detroit and more than 240 cities

June 6, 1944

• D Day invasion begins


• Final U.S. offensive against Japan, with victories at Iwo Jima and Okinawa

February 1945

• Yalta Conference

May 1945

• Germany surrenders

July 1945

• First successful atomic bomb test

August 1945

• U.S. drops atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki

September 1945

• Japan formally surrenders

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