Background to World War II
World War II was the most violent and bloody war in the history of the world. In this war, which lasted from 1939 to 1945, over fifty million people were killed and an additional seventy-five million were wounded during this titanic conflict. This number not only includes soldiers but also civilians, who died from food shortages, cold winter, bombing raids on their home cities, and in the case of the Jews and other ethnic groups, were actively hunted out in the German dictator Adolf Hitler in his campaign of genocide.
World War II was spawned after Adolf Hitler, to the protest and threat of the British and American governments, invaded its peaceful neighbor Poland using a new technique of fast-paced and ferocious warfare known as a blitzkrieg. Within a year Hitler had successfully conquered Norway, Denmark, Poland, Hungary, Romania, the Netherlands, Belgium, and even France.
Hitler had also made allies. Hitler signed the Rome-Berlin Axis alliance with fellow Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini, in power since 1922. Later, in 1940, he forged the Tripartite Pact with Emperor Hirohito of Japan and Mussolini again. He also signed a Non-Aggression Pact with Communist Russian dictator Josef Stalin.
However, greedy for power and riding on a stream of steady and overwhelming victories, Hitler broke the non-aggression pact with Stalin and he began to invade Russia in the same style as Napoleon in 1815.
Hitler was not the only active partner in the advent of World War II. Emperor Hirohito was also becoming more aggressive in the Pacific Theater, making skirmishes with China and Burma. Ultimately, it was the Japanese who brought America into World War II.
America enters World War II
Due to instability caused by the Great depression still haunting the country and unwillingness to generate unnecessary loss of life, FDR was very reluctant to enter World War II from its inception. Instead, he showed his support to the British government by creating the Lend-Lease program. This program was the simple lending and leasing of American-produced fighter planes, ships, tanks, and vehicles to the British government for indefinite use.
Just because he did not want to engage in war did not mean that he did not prepare. On the pretense of the Lend-Lease program FDR quietly increased defense spending and bolstered the US military. Although the US was not fierce in its preparation, nevertheless it was more ready than any of the other European powers before the onslaught of Hitler's army.
The main threat for America was Japan. In its recent aggression campaign towards all countries in the Pacific Rim Japan had inevitably come into conflict with United States imperial holdings. During late 1941 much time was spent with the Japanese envoys in heated diplomatic talks; during this time the United States broke the Japanese Diplomatic Code and began to intercept Japanese transmissions to its diplomats in Washington. The information was not good. After a last-minute modus vivendi failed to change the grim situation, negotiations broke off. The United states prepared to be attacked, not wanting to land the first blow.
On December 6, 1941 in the evening, all of the United States Navy in the Pacific Theater were on full alert. Expecting an attack on the outer islands and not upon Hawaii, Pearl Harbor was comparatively relaxed.
The next morning, the Japanese attacked pearl Harbor, killing 3,341 men and sinking 18 ships. 144 planes were destroyed when the airfields were bombed. Within less than a few hours, the United States had declared war on Japan, and by means of Japan's Tripartite Pact, war on Germany.
The Big Three
Finally, the inevitable had happened, and America had entered the war. A short time before Stalin had been betrayed by Hitler and was also now bedding with the allies. The three countries, Britain, America, and Russia were now all fighting together against Japan, Germany, and Italy. The "Big Three" were formed.
FDR's Wartime Programs
In response to these interesting twists of fate, FDR implemented a massive wartime program to turn the United States industrial might from peacetime goods to wartime production and also meet the needs of his people.
The first of FDR's goals was to build as many implements of war as possible. Congress granted FDR special wartime powers to accomplish this end. He responded to this by commandeering over 70 percent of American manufacturing industry to produce his ends. This however was not terribly objectionable to the factory owners because they were being paid handsomely for the use of their facilities. In the spirit of the New Deal FDR did try to give many o f the contracting jobs to small businessmen. However, as the need for quickness in production was critical, very few of the small businesses were given primary contracting jobs, rather, most were hired indirectly by the government as subcontractors to the large corporations.
This obvious accelerant to American industry was carefully tempered by Roosevelt. Being a responsible leader and a wise economic strategist, Roosevelt saw that increased money flow due to defense spending and food and durable goods shortages caused by Army commandeering could easily lead to an inflationary and falsely confident situation much like that of 1929, so he responded with the first of his many wartime programs, the Office of Price Adjustment, or the OPA.
The job of this organization was to control and place caps on the prices which retailers might charge for goods, even those which were rationed. The goal of this price adjustment, although viewed as being "thoroughly un-American" by his Republican and Southern Democrat detractors, was to keep the cost of living in line with wages. This program was just one of several designed to do this.
FDR utilized another major weapon against inflation: Taxes. The benefit of these were twofold. First of all, they raised money for defense programs. Second of all, high taxes kill consumer confidence and also reduce the amount of money flowing around which might cause inflation.
Around this time, FDR implemented another aspect of his wartime program: the War Production Board, the WPB, which was to see that American industry would meet the production quotas set by the Department of Defense and the Lend-Lease Program. The Board had the power to commandeer industry and to give out contracts. The WPB helped to enable FDR to turn the country from a pacifistic industry to the most powerful war machine this world has ever known.
Despite his best efforts, he still came under fire. When he began to ration goods, this was met with incredible unpopularity because the citizens of the United States were enjoying the first steady flow of prosperity and food since 1929, and were naturally unenthusiastic.
These were just a few of his wartime programs. They were met with much success. America was becoming more and more powerful militarily and the United States was ready to enter the European Theater.
The War in Europe
By 1942, Hitler's initial wave of blitzkrieg attacks against its European neighbors were over. Hitler was experiencing fighting on only two fronts: deep into Russia and in the air over Southern England. Although he continued to wreak havoc with the enemy, his effectiveness was dropping dramatically from the nearly unstoppable juggernaut of war into just another army.
The turning point for Hitler came in the winter of 1942 and early 1943. He suffered two main defeats. The first, and more dramatic was the German defeat at Stalingrad. He had besieged the city for a very long time, starving its inhabitants. However, Russian defenders finally defeated and routed the Germans in the cold Russian winter. This was Hitler's first main battlefield defeat and marked the slow implosion of the Nazi empire. This was the first time Hitler hit a wall he could not penetrate.
On the other front of the Third Reich was the gradual scaling-back and cessation of German bombing over England. Hitler's offensive, although withering, was being withstood very well by the Allies. Despite the fact that a large part of London and the surrounding environs were completely obliterated, the Allied defenses refused to weaken. Eventually the cost expanded over the benefit and, around the beginning of 1943, the offensive scaled back and eventually halted. Hitler was losing his grip.
Meanwhile, the Allies fought through North Africa and encroached on Mussolini's holdings. By 1944 all of Africa was liberated and the Allies were focusing on an invasion of Italy.
In mid 1944, the Allies launched the famous D-Day assault on the beaches of Normandy. Shortly after that the Allies' assault on Italy brought the fall of Mussolini. The noose was tightening around the throat of Hitler's plans.
In early 1945, it was basically a race to see who would hit Berlin first. The Allies were in the process of dividing up the projected spoils of war when FDR died.