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The Second World War is one of the most renowned wars in the history of humankind. It is considered the largest and most destructive war that involved almost all parts of the world from 1939 to 1945. It is estimated that about 3% of the global population (around 80 million people) died from the war. In addition, nearly 670,000 Americans were wounded during the war, and another 420,000 Americans were killed (Barr & Podolsky, 2020). While the war impacted many Americans, such impacts were initially unexpected since the United States attempted to avoid going to war. However, the United States was prompted to go to war following the attack on Pearl Harbor. The Pearl Harbor attack was a turning point of the second world war as it resulted in the United States’ entry into the war, which significantly assisted in the Axis Powers’ defeat, leading to the war’s end.
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The Pearl Harbor Attack and the US Entry Into the World War
The beginning of the first world war was much simpler than the second in that there was a conflict between the five most powerful European powers. However, the second world war began with conflicts between China and Japan in 1937 and a war between three major European powers, including Germany, France, and Britain. Italy joined the battle in June 1940, and Russia in June 1941. The United States had avoided directly joining the war until the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor (Mawdsley, 2019). Finally, the US joined the war in December 1941.
Pearl Harbor is a US naval base station near Honolulu, Hawaii. In 1941, the US disliked Japan’s belligerent attitude toward China. Japan had consistently been trying to expand into Chinese territory to solve its economic and demographic challenges, resulting in Japan’s declaration of war on China and atrocities such as the Nanking Massacre. The US responded to Japan through trade embargoes and economic sanctions, which made Japan more determined to stand its ground and less willing to negotiate with the United States. To make the US yield to Japanese demands, Japan decided to attack the Pearl Harbor naval base. The American intelligence officials were confident that Japanese attacks would occur in the nearby European colonies such as Singapore or the Dutch East Indies (History, 2022). Therefore, the attack on Pearl Harbor was unexpected since it was much closer to home, and the facility was relatively undefended.
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The attack occurred on the morning of December 7, 1941, with the Japanese having the simple plan of destroying the American fleet to ensure that Americans could not fight against Japanese forces. Japan launched the attack from aircraft carriers that attacked in two waves. Except for Japanese submarines, naval vessels were not in direct conflict during the battle (Moore, 2020). History (2022) explains that less than two hours following the attack’s onset, the attack was over, and all American battleships at the location had sustained significant damage, with several deaths. The following day, the president sought to go to war with Japan. On December 8, Congress approved President Roosevelt’s declaration of war, and the US entered the second world war.
United States Influence on the Second World War
The United States’ entry into the second world war significantly impacted the war. History (2022) explains that Japan’s allies Italy and Germany declared war on the US, and the US reciprocated the declaration of war on the European powers. The United States had provided military aid to its allies, such as Great Britain and the Soviet Union, including a Lend Lease that would provide supplies required to fight Germany without insisting on getting immediate payments. The United States’ entrance into the second world war meant that the country had to use its resources in fighting the war. Barr and Podolsky (2020) explain that there was a significant revolution in the US economy from the civilians at home that contributed their money to the government, assisted in the manufacture and proliferation of weapons, and volunteered to go to war. Medicine was also given significant focus within the country to assist injured allies. New technologies were delivered and used unprecedentedly among the US and its allies.
By the time the US joined the second world war, much damage had already been done to its allies. For instance, Klein (2020) explains that Germany had swept across France, Belgium, and the Netherlands and had even taken Nazi troops to Moscow. However, the allies managed to turn the tide in their favor through several battles, such as the Battle of the Bulge, Germany’s last gasp after being beaten by American troops, and the firebombing of Dresden and other German cities by American and British aircraft. These led to Germany’s surrender. Likewise, Italy surrendered after the Western Allies invaded Sicily and Southern Italy.
Despite the Allied victory in Europe, American forces made a slow, steady push toward Japan in battles such as the Battle of Midway, which Americans won, and the battles of Okinawa and Iwo Jima. Following President Roosevelt’s demise, President Harry Truman ascended to the presidency and authorized the use of recently tested atomic bombs in Japan. The aim was to bring a swift end to the war. The manufacturing city of Hiroshima was bombed by the Enola Gray atomic bomb, which immediately killed about 80,000 people. The US then detonated a more powerful atomic bomb in Nagasaki that killed about 35,000 people immediately and another 50,000 afterward (Klein, 2020). The Soviet Union declared war on Japan, and Japan surrendered shortly after.
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The Pearl Harbor attack was a turning point in the Second World War. It resulted in the United States’ entry into the war, which significantly assisted in the Axis Powers’ defeat, leading to the end of the war. Before the United States joined the war, it provided military aid to its allies, including lending leases that would allow the allies to pay the US after extended periods. Nevertheless, Germany had swept across France, Belgium, and the Netherlands and had even taken Nazi troops to Moscow. The US entry into the war resulted in an overturning of events, with victory experienced in Europe through help from a directly involved US. The US also used atomic bombs in Japan’s Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which brought a swift end to the war. Had Japan not attacked Pearl Harbor, the Axis powers (Japan, Germany, and Italy) might have won the war.
- Barr, J., & Podolsky, S. H. (2020). A national medical response to the crisis—the legacy of World War II. New England Journal of Medicine, 383(7), 613-615.
- History. (2022, December 6). Pearl Harbor. https://www.history.com/topics/world-war-ii/pearl-harbor
- Klein, C. (2020, August 11). How did World War II end? History. https://www.history.com/news/world-war-ii-end-events
- Mawdsley, E. (2019, September). America and WW2: when, how, and why did the US get involved, and why they didn’t enter sooner. History Extra. https://www.historyextra.com/period/second-world-war/why-when-how-america-entered-ww2-pearl-harbor-roosevelt/
- Moore, R. (2020). Taming the Tiger—Japanese Air Commander Mitsuo Fuchida’s Map of the December 7, 1941 Attack on Pearl Harbor. Imago Mundi, 72(2), 192-197.