World War II  
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Bibliographical Essay

World War II caused greater destruction than any other war in history. The war took the lives of about 17 million soldiers and an even greater number of civilians, who died as a result of bombings, starvation, and deliberate campaigns of mass murder. The war also ushered in the atomic age and was quickly followed by the collapse of the wartime alliance between the United States and the Soviet Union and the beginning of the Cold War.

World War I created the conditions that led to World War II. The peace settlement ending the war, which stripped the Central Powers of territory and arms and required them to pay reparations, left lasting bitterness in Germany, Austria, Bulgaria, Hungary, and Turkey. The peace treaty also disappointed two of the victors, Italy and Japan. In addition, the war severely disrupted Europe's economies and helped set the stage for the Great Depression of the 1930s.

General histories of the war, which examine the war's origins, military history, and consequences, include John Keegan, The Second World War (1989); C.L. Sulzberger and Stephen E. Ambrose, American Heritage New History of World War II (1997); and Gerhard L. Weinberg, A World at Arms: A Global History of World War II (1994). Valuable reference works include I.C.B. Dear and M.R.D. Foot, eds., The Oxford Companion to the Second World War (1995); John Ellis, World War II: A Statistical Survey (1993); and John Keegan, ed., The Times Atlas to the Second World War (1989). To understand the war's outcome, see Richared Overy, Why the Allies Won (1995).

The most thorough and balanced recent history of the American role in World War II is David M. Kennedy, Freedom from Fear: The American People in Depression and War, 1929-1945 (1999), which examines the causes of U.S. involvement in the conflict, wartime diplomacy, military strategy, and the war's economic and social implications.

The question of how Japan was able to carry out its successful surprise attack on Pearl Harbor is thoroughly examined in Gordon W. Prange, At Dawn We Slept: The Untold Story of Pearl Harbor (1982). The war's European theater is discussed in Stephen L. McFarland and Wesley Phillips Newton, To Command the Sky: The Battle for Air Superiority Over German, 1942-1944 (1991); Nathan Miller, War at Sea: A Naval History of World War II (1995); and James Polmar and T.B. Allen, World War II (1996). Soldiers' wartime experiences are examined in Gerald F. Linderman, The World Within War: America's Combat Experience in World War II (1997). On the Pacific War, see John Dower, War Without Mercy: Race and Power in the Pacific War (1986), Akira Iriye, Power and Culture: The Japanese-American War, 1941-1945 (1981), and Ronald Spector, Eagle Against the Sun (1985)

World War II transformed the American homefront. It jump-started the economy; ended Depression-era unemployment, relocated Americans in unprecedented numbers, and permanently altered the status of women, adolescents, and racial minorities in American life. The war's impact on the homefront is analyzed in William L. O'Neill, A Democracy at War: America's Fight at Home and Abroad in World War II (1993). Oral histories from the war years can be found in Studs Terkel, The Good War (1984).

World War II had a dramatic impact on women's lives. The most visible change involved the appearance of large numbers of women in uniform, as more than 250,000 women joined the WACs, the Army Nurses Corps, the WAVES, and the Navy Nurses Corps. The war also challenged the conventional image of female behavior, as "Rosie the Riveter" became the popular symbol of women who worked in defense industries. Wartime transformations in women's lives are examined in Susan M. Hartmann, The Homefront and Beyond: Women in the 1940s (1982) and D'Ann Campbell, Women at War with America: Private Lives in a Patriotic Era (1984).

World War II affected children and adolescents no less than women. In fact, the word "teenager" first appeared during the war. William M. Tuttle, Jr., Daddy's Gone to War: The Second World War in the Lives of America's Children (1993) traces the changes in young peoples' lives.

During World War II, African Americans waged battles on two fronts. They helped the country win the war overseas and pressed for equal rights at home. This dual struggle for victory against fascism and discrimination, known as the "Double V" campaign, is examined in Neil Wynn, The Afro-American and the Second World War (1976).

The internment of 112,000 mainland Japanese Americans, one of the most shameful chapters in American history, is examined in Peter Irons, Justice at War: The Story of the Japanese Internment Cases (1983). A 1942 government report on the Pearl Harbor attack, written by Supreme Court Justice Owen J. Roberts, which claimed without supporting evidence that the Japanese had received support from some Japanese Americans, helped to create a climate of opinion that led to internment.

World War II marked the dawn of the atomic age. The development of nuclear weapons is thoroughly examined in Richard Rhodes, The Making of the Atomic Bomb (1986). The decision to drop two atomic bombs on Japan remains one of the most controversial decisions in military history. Martin Sherwin, A World Destroyed: The Atomic Bomb and the Grand Alliance (1975) analyzes the factors that went into this decision.


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