The Origins of War: Europe, Asia, and the United States

A timeline shows important events of the era. In 1941, Lend Lease begins, and Japanese planes bomb the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii; a photograph of the explosion of the USS Shaw after the Pearl Harbor attack is shown. In 1942, the Fair Employment Practices Committee is instituted, the U.S. Navy defeats Japan at Midway, and the United States begins internment of Japanese Americans; a photograph of Japanese Americans lining up in front of posters detailing their internment orders is shown. In 1943, Winston Churchill, Franklin Roosevelt, and Joseph Stalin meet in Tehran, and U.S. troops invade Italy; a photograph of U.S. troops in Sicily is shown. In 1944, Allied forces land in France for the D-day invasion; a photograph of U.S. troops approaching the beach at Normandy in a military landing craft is shown. In 1945, the Battles of Iwo Jima and Okinawa are fought, Churchill, Roosevelt, and Stalin meet at Yalta, the United States drops atomic bombs on Japan, and World War II ends; photographs of an atomic bomb’s mushroom cloud and Churchill, Roosevelt, and Stalin at Yalta are shown.

The years between the First and Second World Wars were politically and economically tumultuous for the United States and especially for the world. The Russian Revolution of 1917, Germany’s defeat in World War I, and the subsequent Treaty of Versailles had broken up the Austro-Hungarian, German, and Russian empires and significantly redrew the map of Europe. President Woodrow Wilson had wished to make World War I the “war to end all wars” and hoped that his new paradigm of “collective security” in international relations, as actualized through the League of Nations, would limit power struggles among the nations of the world. However, during the next two decades, America’s attention turned away from global politics and toward its own needs. At the same time, much of the world was dealing with economic and political crises, and different types of totalitarian regimes began to take hold in Europe. In Asia, an ascendant Japan began to expand its borders. Although the United States remained focused on the economic challenges of the Great Depression as World War II approached, ultimately it became clear that American involvement in the fight against Nazi Germany and Japan was in the nation’s interest.