Unit XI: World War II, 1920-1945
Time Period: Approximately 4-6 weeks
TEXT reference: pp. 770-787; 788-808, 818-827; 809-817
Constitutional Rights Foundation, “Compensating the Victims of War,” Spring 2003, pp. 9-12
___________________________, “Mussolini and the Rise of Fascism,” Fall 2010, pp. 5-8
___________________________, “Wartime and the Bill of Rights: The Korematsu Case,” Summer 2002,
John Elson, with Daniel S. Levy, “Did F.D.R. Do Enough?,” Time magazine, April 18, 1984
John Gunther, “The Man Who Would Rule The World” from Inside Europe, 1938
Jim Impoco, “What the Emperor Knew: New Evidence about Hirohito’s role in Pearl Harbor attack,”
U.S. News and World Report, November 26, 1990
Walter Isaacson, “Why Did We Drop The Bomb?”, Time magazine, August 19, 1985
David M. Kennedy, “FDR and Hitler: A Study in Contrasts,” in History Now, The Gilder Lehrman
Institute of American History, 2007
David A. Multer, “America After Pearl Harbor,” Unpublished
Kathleen O’Brien, “Marking A Solemn Day In Peace,” in the Newark Star-Ledger, Septmber 5, 2002,
Presidio of San Francisco, California, “Instructions To All Persons Of Japanese Ancestry,” Civilian Exclu-
sion Order No. 33, May 3, 1942
Allan M. Winkler, “The World War II Home Front,” from History Now, The Gilder Lehrman Institute
of American History, 2007
World War II was the deadliest war ever. Conservative scholarly estimates place the death toll at between
62 and 78 million people, of whom nearly 62 percent were civilians. Military death figures included battle
deaths [KIA], personnel missing in action [MIA], as well as fatalities due to accidents, disease, and deaths of
prisoners of war [POW] in captivity. Civilian deaths included those killed by strategic bombing, Nazi persecu-
tion, Japanese war crimes [including 4 to 12 millions who died of famine in a half dozen countries occupied
by the Japanese military], population “transfers” in the Soviet Union, Allied war crimes, and deaths due to
disease. The distinction between military and civilian deaths caused by warfare and collateral damage was not
always clear cut, as if that truly mattered to the loved ones of the dead.
Why did it happen? Here, scholars are in agreement as to three root causes: The Bolshevik Revolution of
1917, the Treaty of Versailles of 1919, and the Great Depression, which was not merely an American cala-
mity but a financial plague upon the WHOLE industrial world.
The Bolshevik Revolution turned Russia inward where, despite its tremendous physical size and population,
it ceased to be a factor in controlling aggression in either Eastern Europe or Asia. American recognition of
the Soviet government late in 1933 sought to break down Russian isolation; the gambit was mostly a failure.
Western democracies fearing the contamination of communism in their economies acted to further isolate the
Soviets, ultimately pushing them into a “Non-Aggression Pact” with Nazi Germany, their sworn enemy.
The Treaty of Versailles left neither the victors nor the vanquished of World War I satisfied with the
outcome. America refused to join its own international vehicle for peace, the League of Nations. The failure
of Italy at Versailles to acquire more Austro-Hungarian territory along the Mediterranean led to the collapse
of a constitutional monarchy under a fascist assault. At Versailles, Germany received full blame for the
War and reparation demands it could never pay. An experiment with German democracy at Weimar was
stillborn, leaving many citizens anxious for the future and willing to support any fringe party willing to assure
them that everything was going to be fine. The new Soviet Union was politically ostracized. Japan sought
inclusion in the Treaty of a clause recognizing the principle of racial equality, and was rebuffed by the
white western political leaders who controlled the peace conference. Nonplussed, Japan decided to establish
its hegemony in the Pacific without Anglo-European approval.
Many nations responded to the Great Depression with enhanced protective trade barriers. Imperial Japan
depended upon trade with its neighbors to acquire necessary resources for its industrial infrastructure. When that trade evaporated, Japan justified the invasion of its Asian neighbors as necessary for its economic survival. Nazi
Germany and Fascist Italy pursued military-industrial expansion as an antidote to high unemployment and eco-
nomic stagnation. That Germany was forbidden this course of action by the Treaty of Versailles was ignored
Rather than risk precipitating another war, Britain and France practiced appeasement with Germany and Italy,
wishing that this policy would keep them safe. Americans chose to ignore evil abroad to confront hunger and
want through the New Deal.
World War II was, in fact, TWO wars, fought in different parts of the world, with different nation participants,
beginning and ending at different times, by different means. “World War II in the European theatre,” notes historian Douglas Brinkley, “was a case of massive armies arrayed against an unambiguous evil. The Pacific war was mainly fought by isolated groups of men and was overlaid by a sense that our foes were fundamentally different from us.” In that sense, the war in the Pacific bears a closer relation to the complex war on terrorism America is waging now. It didn’t matter that the Axis Powers each lacked sufficient natural resources, especially petroleum, to carry out their plans; if the democratic West didn’t respond, the Axis would win. For a time, Britain stood alone in both theatres of war. America, as a self-proclaimed “Arsenal of Democracy” with a cornucopia of economic, industrial, and military assets, provided a necessary margin for victory and, without overstatement, saved the world.
1. What were the root causes for the outbreak of World War II?
2. What role did geography play in the development of military strategies and weaponry in
World War II?
3. To what extent was the subject of “race” the dominant factor in the strategy and conduct of the War
by MOST of the major Nation participants?
4. How should one characterize the participation of Women, African-Americans, and Asian-Americans,
among others, in the American war effort despite the racism and sexism inherent in American society?
5. Do the policies regarding Japanese internment, and that of other minority groups, represent the denial
of Constitutional and human rights?
6. How did media coverage of the War affect American support for participation in the War?
7. Was the response of the United States, and of other nations, to the human carnage of the Holocaust
appropriate in the conduct of the War, or lacking in alacrity and compassion?
8. What was the immediate impact of the War upon Post-War American foreign and domestic policies?
Corresponding proficiencies from the New Jersey Core Curriculum Standards for Social Studies, adopted
September 2009, appear in brackets.
1. Students will be able to identify examples for and explain why the Bolshevik Revolution, the Treaty of Ver-
sailles, and the Great Depression were the root causes for the outbreak of World War II.
[ 6.1.12.A.11.a, 6.1.12.A.11.b ]
2. Students will be able to understand the role played by geography in the development of weaponry and
military strategy in World War II.
[ 6.1.12.B.11.a ]
3. Students will be able to consider and evaluate the role played by “race” in the conduct of World War II.
[ 6.1.12.A.11.c, 6.1.12.A.11.e, 6.1.12.D.11.c, 6.1.12.D.11.d ]
4. Students will be able to defend or refute the appropriateness of Executive Order #9066 and the Japanese-
American relocation and interment.
[ 6.1.12.A.11.c ]
5. Students will be able to compare and contrast media coverage of World War II with that of current conflicts
in Iraq and Afghanistan.
[ 6.1.12.D.11.c ]
6. Students will be able to evaluate President Truman’s decision to deploy the atomic bomb against Japan.
[ 6.1.12.A.11.d ]
7. Students will be able to identify and list at least THREE  ways in which participation in World War II
directly influenced Post-War American foreign and domestic policies.
[ 6.1.12.C.11.a, 6.1.12.D.11.e ]
Methods of Instruction
1. Examine the impact of the Bolshevik Revolution, the Treaty of Versailles, and the Great Depression on
the rise of the Nazi Party, and of the Italian Fascist Party, the ascending friction between Imperial Japan
and the United States, American diplomatic recognition of the Soviet Union, Italy’s War with Ethiopia,
Japan’s War with China, the Munich Pact, and the Spanish Civil War, among other examples.
2. Listen to the broadcasts of Edward R. Murrow and President Roosevelt to explain, in part, the shift in
American popular opinion from non-involvement in the European Theatre to support for the Allied
3. Create a chart illustrating World War II as two separate conflicts in European and Pacific Theatres.
4. Examine American-Japanese relations, from 1853-1941, to understand why Japan attacked the United
States at Pearl Harbor, the ONLY reason why America entered the War, and why that attack was, in the
long run, a failed strategy.
5. Examine the rationale for the “Final Solution” of the Nazis for the eradication of Europe’s Jews and
evaluate the issue of culpability for the degree to which the Nazi regime was successful.
6. Measure the impact of American participation in World War II upon the “Home Front” in regard to
the economy, scarcity, opportunities for Women and other minorities in the prosecution of the War,
the American family, and accepted public morality, among other factors.
7. Conduct a scored discussion to evaluate the decision of President Truman to deploy the atomic bomb
Methods of Assessment
1. Map analysis of the Map of Europe between the World Wars
2. In-Class Essays, without notes or rough draft, evaluating the relocation of Japanese-Americans and the
decision of President Truman to deploy the atomic bomb
3. Qualified and successful completion of all Homework and/or Classwork assignments
4. Class participation in all activities and discussion
5. Tests and Quizzes with a variety of question techniques including, but not limited to: short answer,
multiple choice, matching, and X-questions
6. Scored discussion examining the rationale and propriety for President Truman’s decision to deploy the
atomic bomb against Japan
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