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World War II, The Good War

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World War II marked a key turning point in world history as nations around the world were affected by the outcomes of the war for many years even after the war. Nevertheless, the "good war thesis" suggests that World War II was a just war. An analysis of the bigger picture comprising of the Great Depression leading up to the war, the war itself, and the postwar American development is crucial to the answer of whether the war was a good war.

The United States had been stuck in the Great Depression since 1929 up to the war. This economic collapse took a toll on the society; many faced hunger, homelessness, and nutritional disorders. The biggest problem was unemployment. In 1933, one in three workers was unemployed and the economy was in dire need of government spending. (p. 676). Worse still, the financial collapse had triggered a global depression that affected the world's economy. President Roosevelt managed to help America survive the financial collapse but it would take more than the New Deal to end the depression. Nevertheless, by the late 1930s, America's financial system was more stable compared to that of the other industrialized nations. (p. 697)

During the global depression, dictators, specifically Adolf Hitler, Emperor Hirohito, and Benito Mussolini, rose to power to spread totalitarianism across the world. The United States was initially divided on its involvement in the war but the attack on Pearl Harbor ended that debate. The United States entered the war against the Axis nations.

The United States entered the war to stop the spread of Nazism and expose its horrible scheme of racial superiority to the world. The Allies' goals were made clear in General Dwight Eisenhower's message to the troops fighting on D-Day stating that they will "bring about the destruction of the German war machine [and] the elimination of Nazi tyranny over the oppressed peoples of Europe." [1] In achieving this goal, the United States played an important role in liberating the Death camps in Europe. At these camps, American GIs witnessed firsthand the horror of Nazi brutalities. A picture taken at a concentration camp at Buchenwald shows Senator Alben Barkley looking sadly at the dead naked bodies staked up. The malnourished bodies and badly bruised heads showed that they had been tortured. [2] News and pictures that were taken exposed the evidence of Nazi atrocities to the world. In the end, the United States managed to stop the spread of the "super race disease" and the Allied victory meant that democracy too, had won. [3] 

While the United States fought for democracy across the world, African Americans still faced discrimination. As in the movie Liberators, African Americans had to fight to serve their own country. [4] Even when infantrymen were desperately needed, African Americans were only given menial chores. Finally, when they were allowed to serve in combat positions, they served in segregated armies. Nevertheless, the war gave African Americans a chance to show the world, especially Americans, that they were good, loyal fighters. One was Dorie Miller. When the USS West Virginia was attacked on Pearl Harbor, he left his kitchen job, picked up a weapon and fired attacks at the Japanese planes. [5] Despite segregation, African American GIs like Dorie Miller proved to be great combat and pilot fighters.

However, the analysis of World War II would not be complete without a discussion of the war repercussions. This brutal war took the lives of fifty to sixty million soldiers and civilians. [6] Combat morale dropped as the war proceeded because soldiers were tired and hungry from sleepless nights and fighting. To exacerbate the situation, armies lost their comrades and it seemed that "death had become a kind of epidemic." [7] Apart from that were the bombings of cities. These were hardships that Americans did not have to endure but rather hardships that the United States imposed on its enemies. In each bombing attack in Japan, incendiary bombs destroyed wooden homes and killed tens of thousands of civilians. The physical destruction from the war left major cities in Asia and Europe in ruins, while the United States was left almost untouched. Thus, the United States was in a better position after the war compared to the other nations.

On the homefront, the power of the federal government grew immensely to coordinate the war production. Through his fireside chats, President Roosevelt urged Americans to contribute towards the war effort and told them that they could not afford to discriminate against women or African Americans in their employment practices. [8] Consequently, many women entered the workplace for the first time. However, the total war also restricted some civil liberties at home, especially for Japanese Americans. As many as 120,000 Japanese Americans were put into internment camps without due process for the fear that they "might engage in spying and sabotage in support of the enemy." [9] Regardless, admitting that the internment was a national mistake, President Gerald Ford offered a proclamation in 1976 as an official apology including reparations payment to internment survivors. [10] Amidst this proclamation, the civil rights movement and act were already underway.

The necessity of the total war offered the first real chance for mobility for African Americans and women at home and abroad. However, after the war, women lost their jobs and African Americans still faced segregation. This led to the civil rights movement which began after the war as "the majority of [the] Negro soldiers [returned] home convinced that whatever betterment of their lot is achieved must come largely through their own efforts" as stated by Walter White. [11] Beyond social mobility, the war gave African Americans the chance to serve their country and women the chance to experience working life. Therefore, the war provided African Americans and women a strong foundation for the fight for their civil rights.

World War II also brought economic recovery to the United States at home and abroad far beyond what the New Deal could bring. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, the unemployment rate fell to 7% and was lower than 4% in the postwar years. [12] It was a time of prosperity for the United States. Through the GI bill, returning GIs were able to attend college and purchase homes with low mortgages. Many started their own families, leading to the baby boom era. The American postwar prosperity was also expanded by foreign demand for American exports. As the other nations rebuilt from the destruction of the war, the needs of these nations could only be met by the United States, the nation that was left untouched by war-related destructions. [13] Not surprisingly, the United States became the most victorious and ready for economic development in the postwar years.

On the political spectrum, however, the United States and the Soviet Union soon entered an arms race known as the Cold War. Americans feared the break out of a nuclear war as the threat of communism around the world intensified. The conflict between the two nations became the precursor to the Korean War in 1950, the Vietnam War in 1965, and the other global revolutions in Asia, Africa, and the Mediterranean.

In conclusion, World War II, assessed in a larger picture, was indeed a just war. It put the American economy back on its feet and gave impetus to the civil rights movement that took place in the postwar years. Most importantly, the spread of Nazism ended while democracy prevailed. The United Nations was created to prevent another world war; although wars still took place, the impact and scale of these wars were in no way as large compared to World War II. In these senses, the United States fought for a good reason and the Allied victory set the United States for years of prosperity.


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