World War II officially began in September, 1939 when Britain and France declared war on Germany after it invaded Poland. For the next two years, the people of Europe endured hardship and destruction as the Na-zi regime bulldozed its way through one country after another. The United States joined the war in December, 1941, after Japanese bombers destroyed ships and planes, killing more than 2,000 people. The war lasted another three long years. Almost every region of the earth, from the Pacific Islands to Africa to South America was involved.
- British prime minister, Winston Churchill, and President Roosevelt’s plan was to first, build up weapons, planes, and military force necessary to enter Europe and defeat Hitler. Then they would turn their attention to defeating the Japanese.
- President Roosevelt asked the American people – each man, woman, and child – to make sacrifices to win the war. Americans knew that they were fighting for the freedom of people in Europe and throughout the world.
- Americans rose to the challenge. 16 million men joined the military. Business owners transformed automobile, toy, and even tissue factories to make weapons, bombs, tanks, landing crafts, and airplanes. Over 800,000 women went to work. Many of them worked in factories. Some joined the Red Cross as nurses; others flew planes or worked as truck drivers and radio operators. Everywhere, Americans were determined to do their part.
- During this time, Americans were asked to save and donate materials that could be used for the war. Kitchen oil, for example, was used to make bombs. People collected newspapers, tin cans, and rubber. Food was scarce. Americans skimped on things like butter, sugar, and meat and grew food in gardens.
- In other countries, people showed tremendous bravery and goodness. In many countries in Europe, people hid resistance fighters or Jewish families in their homes at great danger to themselves. If they were caught by the Na-zis, they would be killed or sent to a concentration camp.
- Russian soldiers fought valiantly to defend their country from the Germans, eventually forcing Germany west and reclaiming their lands.
- In 1942, the Allied forces were ready to install their plan to defeat Hitler. In February, fighter plans began bombing German cities. Troops landed in Italy and Mussolini’s own government overthrew him.
- German forces had taken over most of North Africa. In 1942, British and American troops led by Marshal Bernard Montgomery and Dwight D. Eisenhower arrived. In May, 1943, the Axis force in North Africa surrendered.
- Sacrifice: to give up something, usually for something greater
- Skimp: to do without or cut back
- Reclaim: get back
Questions and Answers
Question: Did all Americans feel part of the team effort needed to win the war?
Answer: Unfortunately, no. Many African-Americans left the South during the war to get jobs in the north. They had more opportunities than ever before. Still, they were often discriminated against. African-Americans had to use different bathrooms than whites, for example, and couldn’t eat in public restaurants. Japanese Americans were thought to be potential spies. Thousands of Japanese families were forced to leave their homes and live in internment camps for the duration of the war. They were often mistreated and persecuted by others because they were Japanese.
Visit PBS to learn more about what it would be like to be a child in a Japanese internment camp.
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Tobin, Declan. (2020). Facts About World War II for Kids - The Long Days. American History for Kids. Retrieved from https://www.americanhistoryforkids.com/long-days-world-war-ii/