Between 1933 and 1939, Europeans watched as Adolf Hitler rebuilt Germany into a great military power. For Hitler, military power was an absolute prerequisite for the creation of a German racial empire that would dominate Europe and the world for generations to come. During that same period, the nation of Japan fell under the influence of military leaders who conspired with right-wing forces to push a program of expansion at the expense of China and the Soviet Union as well as territories in Southeast Asia. The ambitions of Germany in Europe and those of Japan in Asia led to a global conflict that became the most devastating war in human history.

The Axis nations, Germany, Italy, and Japan, proved victorious during the first two years of the war, which began after the German invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939. By 1942, the war had begun to turn in favor of the Allies, an alliance of Great Britain, the Soviet Union, and the United States. The Japanese advance was ended at the naval battles of the Coral Sea and Midway in 1942. In February 1943 the Soviets won the Battle of Stalingrad and began a push westward. By mid-1943 Germany and Italy were driven out of North Africa; in June 1944 Rome fell to the Allies, and an Allied invasion force landed in Normandy in France. After the Soviets linked up with British and American forces in April 1945, Hitler committed suicide, and the war in Europe came to an end. After atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945, the war in Asia also ended.

During its domination of Europe, the Nazi empire brought death and destruction to many, especially Jews, minorities, and others that the Nazis considered racially inferior peoples. The Japanese New Order in Asia, while claiming to promote a policy of  Asia for the Asians, also brought economic exploitation, severe hardships, and often death for the subject peoples under Japanese control. All sides bombed civilian populations, thus making World War II as devastating for civilians as for front-line soldiers.

If Hitler had been successful, the Nazi New Order, built on authoritarianism, racial extermination, and the brutal oppression of peoples, would have meant a triumph of barbarism and the end of freedom and equality, which, however imperfectly realized, had become important ideals in Western civilization.

The Nazis lost, but only after tremendous sacrifices and costs. Much of European civilization lay in ruins, and the old Europe had disappeared forever. Europeans, who been accustomed to dominating the world at the beginning of the twentieth century, now watched helplessly at mid-century as the two new superpowers created by the two world wars took control of their destinies. Even before the last battles had been fought, the United States and the Soviet Union had arrived at different visions of the postwar European world. No sooner had the war ended than their differences gave rise to a new and potentially even more devastating conflict known as the Cold War.

  1. Explain the context in which global conflict developed in the 20th century.
    1. Total war and political instability in the first half of the 20th century gave way to a polarized state order during the Cold War and eventually to efforts at transnational union.
    2. Demographic changes, economic growth, total war, disruptions of traditional social patterns, and competing definitions of freedom and justice altered the experiences of everyday life.
      1. The 20th century was characterized by large-scale suffering brought on by warfare and genocide, but also by tremendous improvements in the standard of living.
  2. Explain how technology and innovation affected the course of World War II and the 20th century.
    1. Germany s Blitzkrieg warfare in Europe, combined with Japan s attacks in Asia and the Pacific, brought the Axis powers early victories.
      • Illustrative Examples of Blitzkrieg: Polish campaign of 1939, Operation Barbarossa, Surrender of France
    2. American and British industrial, scientific, and technological power, cooperative military efforts under the strong leadership of individuals such as Winston Churchill, the resistance of civilians, and the all-out military commitment of the USSR contributed critically to the Allied victories.
    3. Military technologies made possible industrialized warfare, genocide, nuclear proliferation, and the risk of global nuclear war.
  3. Explain how and why cultural and national identities were affected by war and the rise of fascist/totalitarian powers in the period from 1914 to the present.
    1. Fueled by racism and anti-Semitism, Nazi Germany – with the cooperation of some of the other Axis powers and collaborationist governments – sought to establish a  new racial order in Europe, which culminated with the Holocaust.
      • Illustrative Examples of Nazi establishment of a new racial order: Nuremberg Laws, Wannsee Conference, Auschwitz and other death camps
    2. World War II decimated a generation of Russian and German men; virtually destroyed European Jewry; resulted in the murder of millions in other groups targeted by the Nazis including Roma, homosexuals, people with disabilities, and others; forced large-scale migrations; and undermined prewar class hierarchies.

Reading 1: Pages 832-840

Prelude to War (1933-1939):
     The Role of Hitler
     The  Diplomatic Revolution (1933-1936)
     The Path to War in Europe (1937-1939)
     The Path to War in Asia

Reading 2: Pages 840-848

The Course of World War II:
     Victory and Stalemate
     The War in Asia
     The Turning Point of the War (1942-1943)
     The Last Years of the War

Reading 3: Pages 848-855

The New Order:
     The Nazi Empire
     Resistance Movements
     The Holocaust
     The New Order in Asia

Reading 4: Pages 855-861

The Home Front:
     The Mobilization of Peoples
     Front-Line Civilians: The Bombing of Cities

Reading 5: Pages 861-865

Aftermath of the War:
     The Costs of World War II
     The Allied War Conferences
     Emergence of the Cold War