World War II was a global conflict that began at the close of the 1930s in Europe, lasted for nearly six years and expanded to include Great Britain, Japan the United States. Before the war finally ended, the world saw the results of the rise of fascism in Europe, the Holocaust that claimed more than 6 million Jewish lives and the first-ever deployment of atomic weapons.
How Did World War II Start?
World War II officially began when the German army, led by Adolf Hitler, marched into Poland with the purpose of annexing the country for Germany in 1939. The year before, Germany had signed the Treaty of Munich, assuring Britain, France and Italy that he had no ambitions to acquire land in Europe beyond a portion of Czechoslovakia, which was granted to him in the treaty. Upon his invasion of Poland, France and Britain immediately declared war on Germany.
World War II Facts
Hitler's aim was total German domination. He believed that the German people were genetically superior to other races or ethnic groups and needed land to expand their population. His campaign to rid Germany of Jews, Romany and the disabled culminated in the Holocaust.
More than 6 million Jews were killed in the Holocaust, decimating the global population.
A turning point in the war was the Battle of Stalingrad in 1942 when the Russians won their first decisive victory against the German army.
Later in 1942, British and American armies began to close in on German forces at their territories in Northwest Africa, reclaiming the area.
The United States avoided involvement during the first three years of World War II until 1941 when the Japanese air force bombed Pearl Harbor. The United States joined the Allies in fighting in Europe and Japan, ultimately dropping the devastating atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki that led to the Japanese surrender.
At the Battle of Midway in June of 1942, the United States defeated the Japanese army, beating the Japanese back considerably in the process.
When World War II finally ended, the death toll was estimated at somewhere around 70 million people. The Jewish population had been decimated and the survivors found themselves wanderers in a continent that was still largely anti-Semitic and dangerous.
While Europe and the United Kingdom faced unprecedented economic loss after World War II, the American economy was actually boosted by the war. The country was propelled out of the Great Depression and into a period of economic prosperity.
On the other end of the spectrum, much of Europe's economy had been utterly destroyed and the morale of the nations devastated. Following the Potsdam Conference, Russia was given control of parts of Germany at Stalin's behest, which ultimately led to The Cold War.
Why Did the United States Enter the War?
Before the attack on Pearl Harbor, the United States's involvement in World War II had been limited to supplying arms to Great Britain. In 1941, when Hitler invaded Russia under Operation Barbarossa, the United States offered a similar package of aid to the USSR. However, six months later, the Japanese attacked the American army base of Pearl Harbor in the Hawaiian islands, killing more than 2,000 men and damaging warships and munitions irretrievably. In response, both Great Britain and the United States declared war on Japan, effectively joining the Allies already fighting against Germany and Italy.