ADVANCED PLACEMENT UNITED STATES HISTORY
A Date Which Will Live in Infamy


*Japan’s ruthless invasion of China demanded an American response, but Americans demanded a response short of war.  Instead, in July 1940, the United States placed an embargo on Japan, outlawing the export to Japan of aviation gasoline and most types of machine tools.  In September, the embargo was extended to scrap metal, which Japan (with few natural resources) depended on.  Shortly afterwards, Japan signed the Tripartite Pact with Germany and Italy and occupied French Indo-China.  In 1941, the US cut off sales of all oil to Japan (who bought 80% of its oil from the US).  The British and the Dutch put embargoes on trade with Japan as well, and the Japanese grew desperate.

*Encircled by potential enemies and deprived of natural resources, Japan began developing an ‘Eastern Strategy’ in September, 1941 (although both Japanese and American plans for a war in the Pacific had existed since at least the 1920s).

*The United States had cracked the Japanese secret code, and knew an attack was coming somewhere in the Pacific, but did not know where.  The Philippines seemed the most likely target.

*On December 7th, 1941--a date which will live in infamy--the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.

*By 9.45, 2,400 Americans would be dead and 1,200 more wounded.  Some ships were sunk with men trapped inside who took days to die of starvation.

*Of eight battleships in Pearl Harbor that day, the Arizona sank and remains at the bottom of Pearl Harbor, the Oklahoma capsized (and was later raised and sold for scrap), and six others were badly damaged but later repaired and returned to active service.  Other ships and many airplanes were destroyed, but the most important ships in any modern navy, the aircraft carriers, were not touched because they were out on manœuvres that day.

*Upon learning of the carriers’ survival, Admiral Yamamoto Isoroku felt that his prediction that he could "run wild considerably for the first six months or a year but... [had] utterly no confidence for the second and third years" would probably come true.

*Shortly afterwards, the Japanese ambassador brought a message that was supposed to have been delivered earlier.  It made demands that the US would have been forced to refuse, after which war would have been declared.  Because it got there late, the Japanese were correctly accused of a sneak attack, and the United States Congress declared war on Japan on 8 December, 1941.   Only one person in the entire Congress was opposed:  Jeannette Rankin of Montana.

*On 11 December 1941, Germany and Italy, to help their ally Japan, declared war on the United States.  Over two years after the invasion of Poland, the United States was involved in the Second World War, a war, Roosevelt said, to make the world safe for Democracy.

*The bombing of Pearl Harbor was only the first of several attacks on the United States by the Empire of Japan.  They attacked airbases on Wake Island and on Guam and in the Philippines.  Although the commander of the Philippines, Douglas MacArthur, had heard of the attack on Pearl Harbor, he did not prepare for an attack in the Philippines.  On 12 December, the Japanese landed on Luzon, the main island of the Philippines, and moved towards the capital, Manila.  MacArthur withdrew his troops to the Bataan Peninsula which he hoped would prove more defensible.  In March, at the President’s orders, MacArthur fled to Australia, but he made a promise:  "People of the Philippines, I shall return."

*The Japanese surrounded the American forces, and starvation forced them to surrender.  The Japanese, who followed bushido, the code of the warrior, considered anyone who surrendered a coward, and unworthy of decent treatment.  A good warrior fought to the death, or committed seppuku, also known as hara-kiri, a form of ritual suicide.  The 76,000 Americans and Filipinos who surrendered were forced to march in small groups 60 miles to a railroad junction, where they were sent on to a prisoner of war camp.  Along the way the starving, dehydrated prisoners were guarded constantly and pushed along as fast as, or faster than, they could march.  If any fell down, stopped for water, or acted disrespectfully towards the captors, they would be beheaded on the spot with one of the swords that were part of the Japanese uniform.  Of 76,000 prisoners, 10,000 died on what has come to be called the Bataan Death March.

*Between these invasions and the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Americans were terrified of a Japanese invasion of America.  Lights were shut off at night to foil air attacks. 

*Fearing sabotage and espionage, the US government imprisoned about 110,000 Japanese-Americans, many of them citizens, in internment camps in remote areas away from the coast.  Many had to sell most of their property in a hurry, getting poor prices, and many had their assets frozen.  They stayed in the camps until 1945, except for those of draft age who were citizens:  they served in the US Army in Europe while their families were held in these prison camps.  They formed the 442nd Regiment, which fought in Italy and France, and became the most decorated unit in the war.   

*Several Japanese-Americans challenged the legality of this, and several cases went to the Supreme Court, which upheld the constitutionality of internment based on national ancestry (and partly based on the Alien Enemies Act of 1798).  Two such cases were Hirabayashi v. United States (1943) and Korematsu v. United States (1944), which are significant because they justified an expansion of government’s powers in wartime, and the precedent they set in that area is still considered legally valid.

*In 1988 the US government paid each survivor $20,000 tax-free and apologised for the internment of Japanese Americans.

*America was not the only victim of Japanese aggression.  In December, the Japanese attacked British and Dutch colonies throughout Asia.

*On Christmas Day, 1941, the Japanese captured Hong Kong.

*On 8 December, the Japanese invaded British Malaya, and by 31 January had captured the whole Malay Peninsula and were ready to invade Singapore.

*In February 1942, Japan captured Singapore in the largest surrender of British forces in history (80,000 British and colonial troops were taken prisoner, many of whom died, as about 27% of POWs in Japanese camps did).  Many Indian soldiers captured in Singapore joined the Japanese army, convinced that they could win India’s independence as part of the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere.  Many Indians did not join, though (and were often treated brutally as punishment), and India as a whole rejected Japan’s offer of help in a revolt against Britain in hopes that India could gain its independence peacefully and honourably after the War.

*On 19 February, the Japanese bombed Darwin on Australia’s Northern Territory.  Although it did little militarily significant damage, it had a powerful psychological effect, and Australia even devised a plan to evacuate all its people to South-eastern Australia and just defend Sydney and Melbourne if Japan invaded.

*In January, Japan invaded Burma (with the help of the Thai Army), and by May the British had retreated to the Indian border.

*In February, Japan invaded the Dutch East Indies.  By March the Japanese controlled most of the East Indies aside from Southeastern New Guinea.  At first, they were supported by local Indonesian nationalists seeking independence under the leadership of Sukarno and others.  However, when they saw that the Japanese were even more oppressive than the Dutch, some nationalists revolted against them as well.  This nationalist movement would keep the Dutch from holding onto the East Indies even after they reclaimed them at the end of World War II.

*At the Battle of the Java Sea in February 1942 the Imperial Japanese Navy destroyed the main Allied fleet in the Southwest Pacific. 

*In April 1942 the Allies began to re-group and better co-ordinate their commands.  General Douglas MacArthur and Admiral Chester Nimitz were given command of all Allied forces in the Pacific. 

*On 18 April, 1942, 16 bombers from the US Army Air Corps under the command of Jimmy Doolittle bombed Tokyo.  Although the damage was minimal and all the planes were shot down, the Doolittle Raid provided a great boost to American morale.

*In May the Allies learned through their codebreakers that the Japanese planned to attack Port Moresby in New Guinea (which would create a base for attacks on Australia) and rushed to defend it.  The resulting Battle of the Coral Sea was the first time the Imperial Japanese Navy was stopped.

*Although the Japanese lost more men, the Allies lost more ships.  However, the Japanese advance was stopped and they failed to capture Port Moresby and Australia was saved. 

*The Battle of the Coral Sea was a turning point in naval warfare:  it was the first battle in which the opposing fleets never sighted one another—all the fighting was done by warplanes attacking the enemy’s ships.

*To try to slow down America and force the US out of the war, Japan attacked the US Naval Air Station on Midway Atoll on 4 June, 1942.  Had this succeeded, Japan would then have moved on to invade Guam, Samoa, and Hawaii in hopes of forcing America out of the war.

*Instead, the Battle of Midway was the turning point in the war in the Pacific.  Again warned by American and British codebreakers, the Allies were ready and even prepared an ambush.  American warplanes surprised the Japanese while they were refuelling their own planes on the carrier decks.  This meant all the planes were in the open, unable to move, and tied to fuel pumps.  The Japanese lost four heavy carriers, over 300 planes, and most of their best pilots and were not able to train new ones with the same skills quickly enough.  America lost one aircraft carrier and about 100 planes.

*The Battle of Midway ended on 7 June, 1942, exactly six months after the attack on Pearl Harbour.  The Japanese had run wild for six months, and would henceforth be on the defensive.

--Victory at Sea #4:  Midway is East

*After the attack on Pearl Harbor, the spirit of isolationism vanished, and Americans pulled together to defeat the Axis.  Just as Americans mobilised on the Home Front during the Great War, they did so as well during the Second World War, but on an even larger scale.

*On 16 January, 1942, the War Production Board was created to manage the nation's manufacturing output, which was turned entirely toward the war effort.  Unemployment vanished almost overnight.  Although many of the New Deal's make-work programs were cancelled by the conservative Congressmen elected later that year, they were no longer needed, as all Americans now had a job to do.

*All industries were now turned towards war production.  Civilian automobile and aircraft factories began producing warplanes, tanks, and ships.  Henry J. Kaiser specialised in producing Liberty ships, mass produced vessels made of pre-fabricated parts that could be assembled in 40 days, instead of 200--he once fully constructed one in 14 days as a publicity stunt, another was launched just 4 days and 15 hours and 29 minutes after her keel was laid (although some finishing touches remained to be completed).

*To keep these factories running, particularly after the Japanese conquest of Malaya and the East Indies cut off most shipments of natural rubber, gasoline rationing was instituted, not as much to save gasoline as to keep tires from wearing out.  Furthermore, the United States built 51 synthetic rubber plants, reducing dependence on foreign rubber.

*Farmers once again prospered, and new machines, better strains of seed, and improved fertilisers made them more productive than ever.  However, to feed American and Allied soldiers, food was rationed throughout the US.  Shoppers could only buy food or gasoline if they turned in a coupon from a ration book (obtained from the local school), although some shopkeepers sold extra food on the black market.

*Among the rarest foods were sugar, fruit, and coffee.  Metal good were almost impossible to buy, as it was all used in war materials, as was rubber.  Scrap metal drives were held, asking all citizens to recycle any metal they had lying around.  Nylon stockings, invented in 1939, vanished because nylon was used in making parachutes.

*Rationing was necessary in part because people had money to spend at last.  Full employment initially led to inflation early in 1942, until the Office of Price Administration froze prices on 90% of goods sold in the United States and also put controls on rent.

*Workers were in such demand that wages soared as companies tried to attract workers from the limited labour pool (although workers in vital war industries were often exempt from the draft).  However, the War Labor Board put limits on wages and attempted to regulate labour disputes. 

*Although unions had promised not to strike in any way that would hurt the war effort, a few did anyway when their wages were capped, until the Smith-Connally Act was passed in June, 1943 allowing the government to seize and run any factory that was shut down by labour disputes and made strikes against government-run industries a criminal offence.  Under this act, the government took over the coal mines (where the United Mine Workers had repeatedly shut down production) and, temporarily, the railroads.

*One way businessmen got around the wage limits was by offering other benefits, such as health insurance and pensions, which were not limited by the War Labor Board.  This allowed working class Americans to truly join the middle class and be very prosperous after the war.

*Another way industry dealt with a shortage of workingmen was by employing women.  More than six million American women, at least half of whom had never worked outside the home before, entered the labour force.  This was seen as both practical and patriotic, and whereas most women who took jobs during WWI returned to their homes afterwards, many who worked during WWII stayed in the workforce.  The government had to set up over 3,000 day-care centres to take care of working women's children during the war.

*Other women served their country by doing non-combat duty in the military as WAACs (Women's Army Auxiliary Corps), WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service), and WASPs (Women Airforce Service Pilots) or as nurses.

*In some ways, the wartime economy was a cruel twist of fate:  during the Depression, there had been plenty of things to buy and no money to buy it with; during WWII there was plenty of money but little to buy. Even if food and gasoline were rationed and most manufacturing was turned toward producing war materiel, Americans were able to put their extra cash towards something.  To fund the war, which cost twice as much as all previous American wars combined, the government again sold War Bonds, which Americans bought both as an expression of patriotism and as a sound investment, which paid off after the War with a long period of prosperity even better than that of the 1920s.

*War bonds could not fund the entire war, and the income tax was vastly expanded to include four times the number of people it had tapped before the war, and in 1944 and 1945 the highest tax bracket paid 94% of all annual income above $200,000.

*Most Americans felt that such sacrifices were worth it.  Even Americans who had opposed the war before it came now supported it—the America First Committee dissolved itself on 10 December, and Charles Lindbergh volunteered to train pilots for the US Army Air Corps, but was turned down.  However, he got a job as a civilian technical advisor and ended up helping make many warplanes and their crews more efficient and actually flew in about 50 combat missions as a civilian--he once even shot down a Japanese plane.

*The government made sure people knew how important the war was through the Office of War Information, which produced a constant stream of propaganda, through posters, magazine and newspaper stories, music, radio, and film, as even the entertainment industry was drafted into service.  Film and radio stars and directors were given jobs in the military or in the Bureau of Motion Pictures (part of the OWI) to promote the war effort and to record it for posterity.

*The Office of War Information supported women in the workforce by creating the character of 'Rosie the Riveter.'  Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Bugs Bunny, Popeye the Sailor, and all the other cartoon characters of the day were put in uniform to defeat the Axis and promote the life of a soldier or the value of helping the war effort at home.  Musicians wrote and performed music glorifying soldiers and the cause they were fighting for.  Entire radio series and movies promoted the war effort either outright or simply through the telling of patriotic stories. 

*The movie Sergeant York was created to whip up patriotic spirit.  York himself volunteered to return to the army and lead all the Southern volunteers and draftees who could not pass the army's literacy tests (but he was turned down).

*Among the longest-lasting of the OWI's creations is the Voice of America, which is still the official broadcasting service of the United States, promoting a positive view of America through radio programmes around the world.  During WWII it broadcast news and encouragement into Axis-occupied territories, and after the War it broadcast American news and entertainment into the otherwise carefully controlled airwaves of communist countries.

*The OWI also included the Psychological Warfare Branch which attempted the demoralise America's enemies by broadcasting news and dropping leaflets from planes telling about America's economic productivity and military successes.  They produced other things as well, like sewing kits that included a pincushion shaped like Hitler.

*The government also began to make spying more organised through the Office of Strategic Services.  They infiltrated foreign societies and industry, helped supply and train foreign groups fighting against the Axis, and carried information through enemy lines.  The OSS would later develop into the CIA.

*Despite American enthusiasm to spread liberty to the world, intolerance remained in America.  Japanese on the west coast were interned, of course, but other races also faced problems.

*In the military, African-Americans still served in separate units.  When given the chance, they often performed very bravely and effectively, most famously the Tuskegee Airmen (also known as the Red Tails), but many were not given the opportunity by white officers who preferred to use them for manual labour.

*In civilian life, the Great Migration continued, but the continued influx of black workers to Northern cities was not always welcome, and in 1943 a race riot in Detroit killed 25 blacks and 9 whites.

*To assist American farmers, the bracero program was developed to bring Mexican workers into the US to work on western farms.  However, as Mexicans and Mexican-Americans moved into cities to find work, they were not always welcome.

*The most famous instance of racial violence against Hispanics was a series of Zoot Suit Riots of 1943.  The Zoot Suits that gave the riots their names were distinctive baggy suits favoured by some young Mexican-Americans, and were associated with a culture of violence and wild living in the poor parts of many southwestern cities.  Worse, they were unpatriotic suits, because the government had ordered to clothing manufacturers cut back on the amount of cloth used in clothing in order to save it for the war effort.

*On 3 June, 1943, a group of American sailors on leave in Los Angeles ran into a group of young Mexican in Zoot Suits and got in a fight.  When word got back to the fleet, other sailors got in taxis and began to seek out Hispanics in Zoot Suits to beat up.  When they could, they stripped off their Zoot Suits and made bonfires of them.  Similar riots spread to other cities. 

*Initially the media blamed the riots on Mexicans, but other people, including Eleanor Roosevelt, said it simply showed a larger problem caused by the poor conditions that poverty and prejudice forced many Mexican-Americans to live in.

*On the other hand, Latinos served in the US military in large numbers, particularly as a percentage of their portion of the US population.  They did not typically serve in segregated units, although the 65th Infantry Regiment raised in Puerto Rico was made up almost entirely of Latinos and some units recruited in the Southwest had many Latino members.

*American Indians also served in World War II, particularly as it was one way for young men from cultures that had traditionally valued warfare to earn honor as warriors. 

*Joseph Medicine Crow, of the Crow nation, became the last of his tribe to earn the title of War Chief as, during World War II, he performed the required four feats of ultimate bravery and fearlessness. The first feat is to touch an enemy without killing them, the second is taking an enemy’s weapon, the third is leading a successful war party, and the fourth is stealing an enemy’s horse, all of which he did while fighting the Nazis.

*Despite some social and other problems, the Home Front and its amazing productivity allowed America to truly be the Arsenal of Democracy that Franklin Roosevelt had hoped she could be, and did supply the Allies with what they needed to win the war.

This page last updated 11 November, 2020.
Powered by
          Hot Air