USM Open Source History Text: The World at War: World History 1914-1945

WWII: Introduction

While the First World War might have more or less bequeathed to us the world map, the Second World War, more than any other “event” in modern times, has imprinted itself on the consciousness of the world. Moral choices, usually reserved for individuals, became tests of whole nations. Nazi Germany carried out what would be called the first genocide in history, murdering six million Jews. Stalin mercilessly continued to send his own people to die in the Gulags just as the Nazi war machine was annihilating millions of Russians on the front. An estimated 20 million Russians failed to see the end of the war and the Russian Red Army taking Berlin block by bloody block. Even the democracies faced hard moral choice. The British and Americans took to fire-bombing German cities, killing hundreds of thousands of civilians in a mass effort to demoralize the German population. The United States government, under pressure from xenophobic elements in society, rounded up and interned thousands of Japanese Americans. At the end of the war, in an attempt to crush Japanese will and to signal its global power the United States dropped the only two atomic bombs ever used in the history of warfare. Hundreds of thousands of Japanese civilians perished either immediately or in the weeks following the atomic attacks.

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