Basic Training‎ > ‎

WWII History

This section serves as a brief overview. It is by no means comprehensive, if it were, it would be a tome. If you want something a bit more detailed, short of reading a whole library's worth of books and records, go to wikipedia.

An aside about Wikipedia: Some folks claim it's inaccurate as hell and can't be trusted. Perhaps in some articles, perhaps not in others. Here's a tip: Trust but verify. 

Causes of the War (for the US)
Whew, where to start on this one? How about we start at a clear beginning and work backwards in time? Yes? Good.

Pearl Harbor, December 7th, 1941. The Japanese combined fleet hits the US Pacific fleet. The rest is history, as they say. However, what lead up to this day? First off, the Japanese planned the attack, this was not something done on a whim. One of the main elements that was included in this calculation was the ABCD (American, British, Chinese, and Dutch) embargo against Japan. Japan wasn't receiving nearly enough oil that it needed to sustain itself. Either take what it needs to supplement the losses, or lie down and die (lose China, Manchuria, Korea, the islands it holds, everything it's gained since the turn of the century). 

Well, why the embargo? Well, the Japanese army was doing nasty things in China. Rape, murder, pillaging, executions, etc.. Great horrors. Of which, the US populace did not like and the ABCD nations in general. Japan, was encroaching on ABCD holdings (especially China) in the Pacific. The Japanese army had been in China for several years and Manchuria for over a decade. They had held the Korean peninsula since 1910, when it was annexed.

Well wait, back up... Why all the expansion? Japan is an island nation (for those who are geographically challenged). More or less, Japan is devoid of resources. Japan was turned into an industrialized nation starting in the late 1800s (after the American Civil War). America forced Japan to become an 'open nation' (they previously banned all foreigners up until the US thrust open its doors - at gunpoint). So, Japan was becoming industrialized, civilized, and Westernized. Like many nations at that time. The US, France, Spain, Germany, England, etc. the Japanese wanted to create its own empire (after some goading by the United States & England). Not only to secure more resources, but additional labor force, and territory to grow. Additionally, when the Great Depression hit, to help make up for the tremendous losses they suffered economically (the US was the largest silk importer before the depression, Japan provided said silk).

Wait, did I say goading by the Americans and British? Yes, so that China could be opened up to colonization and that Japan act as a 'buffer' to the Russians (who were expanding in the area). So, in sum, did I just say that the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor is the, somewhat direct/indirect cause of US actions half a century earlier?

Makes you wonder...

Joe Public
The average middle school textbook chapter on WWII history, from what I have personally seen, covers at least the following (too often in about 8 pages, with pictures). Most members of the public have an understanding of these things indented below. Added in (italicized) are other important events and vocabulary words that frequently are skipped or missed.

More will be added at a later date.
Pre-War Years:
-Rise of Nazism in Germany
-Japanese Aggression in East Asia
-Japanese invade Manchuria in 1931, ten years before Pearl Harbor and two before Hitler's rise!
-US lend-lease to Soviets and the British

The Winter War: November 1939 - March 1940
-Soveit Union invades Finland
-Finnish army, using skis and troops trained specifically for winter warfare hold back the Soviet Army (superior numbers in manpower, artillery, aircraft, tanks)
-Served as a lesson in winter warfare for the rest of the world

US Places Embargo on Imperial Japan in mid-1941
-Cuts off 70%-80% of oil supply
-Japan considers this an act of "economic war"
-Japan decides to attack in order to ensure survival.

Germany wages Blitzkrieg:
-The "lightening war" takes the world by surprise
-France surrenders, Britain pushed out of mainland Europe
-Germany begins bombing of Britain

Pearl Harbor: December 7, 1941
-The Japanese naval and air attack on the US Pacific Fleet in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.
-The US entry into the war.
-US holdings of Guam, Philippines, Midway also attacked
-Singapore, Malaya, Hong Kong also attacked

Germany declares war on US
-Shortly after Pearl Harbor
-Beings sinking ships off of US coastline, using city lights to silhouette supply ships

Japanese Invade Aleutian Islands:
-Japanese take Attu and Kiska from US forces
-Japanese attack ports on western coastline

North Africa:
-The first "D-Day" in Europe for the US occurs in North Africa
-The Germans decimate the Americans at Kasserine Pass
-Germans have been fighting the British for some time and are losing

Sicily & Italy:
-Allies storm through Sicily and land in the boot of Italy
-Landings at Salerno a horrible failure.
-Landings at Anzio a horrible failure.
-Fighting in the mountains against well entrenched German forces were a horrible failure.
-10th Mountain changed this all, of course. 

Island Hopping:
-US tactic to combat the Japanese in the Pacific
-Taking some islands (with airfields or refueling facilities) and ignoring others
-Marching towards the Japanese mainland

D-Day: June 6, 1944
-Allies invade fortress Europe by landing on the beaches of Normandy, France
-The cliffs at Normandy that were stormed by the Rangers, were initially slotted to be taken by 10th Mountain.
-There were many airborne divisions, but only one mountain division.

The Eastern Front:
-The Soviet Union carried more than their weight during the war.
-Germans broke non-aggression treaty they held with the USSR
-Germans defeated by poor planning (weather, logistics, strategy) and overwhelming numbers
-Fighting was brutal, entirely different than the style of war fought in the West

VE Day - May 8, 1945:
-German forces in Italy had surrendered days before.
-Pockets of Germans were surrendering days before VE Day.
-Germans were fleeing westward in order to be captured by Americans and British

-Hitler and many senior Nazi leaders commit suicide or are captured
-Germany surrenders!

Atomic Bombings: August 6 & 9, 1945
-Hiroshima and Nagasaki respectively
-Little Boy and Fat Man
-Tokyo (capital) was not targeted since it already had been firebombed and destroyed

Invasion of Japan
-Plans were being made many months in advance for the invasion of the Japanese mainland.
-10th Mountain would have landed on the southernmost end of the island.
-One million US casualties and the extermination of the Japanese people were expected. 

Soviet Union enters the war against Japan
-Soviets break the non-aggression treaty they have with Japan.
-Japan had lost many times against the USSR already

VJ Day: August 15, 1945
-Japan Surrenders!
-The war is over!
-Emperor remains as head of state, but must declare himself not a living god.
-Emperor not tried for war crimes. Many generals are. Japanese military experimented on Chinese, used biological weapons, committed atrocities against civilians. Millions died.

Intro into the Post-War Years & the Cold War:
-Division of Germany into East & West, division of Berlin (located inside East Germany) into East and West.
-Berlin Airlift, The Berlin Wall, BRD and DDR (Federal Republic of Germany and German Democratic Republic [which one is communist?])
-Communism - the evil Soviets
-Containment - combat communism by containing it as much as possible.
-Germany and Japan are the powerhouse nations they are now because the Allies sunk billions of dollars into them after the war to assist in rebuilding. This was dubbed the Marshall Plan (after the Secretary of State George Marshall).
-Division of Korean Peninsula by USSR and United States (split at 38th parallel [Japanese and Russians did this many years before also]), effectively creating North & South Korea
-The Atomic Age - Cobalt-Thorium G anybody? 

It is your 'job' as a reenactor to fill in the gaps, give it flavor, and make the events personal. History goes beyond names, dates, and locations. History is people, their experiences, beliefs, hopes, dreams, struggles, values, ideas, and ideals. Talking about how GIs lived, what they ate, what they used, what kept them alive, the importance of mail call brings the vague and distant thing called "WWII" back into the here and now. Being able to talk about WWII is one thing, being able to portray it, act it out, is another.

Why study WWII History? What makes it important? What impact does it have today?
WWII defined how our world looks today. The Allies poured billions into the rebuilding of Germany and Japan, both presently are the world's #3 and #4 economies. China exists as a communist nation because of WWII (WWII for Japan, and China, began in 1931) and Japan's occupation of the country. North & South Korea are the way they are due to Japan's actions during the war and the post-war handling of them. Russia turned from possible enemy to ally to competitor to finally our enemy immediately after the war, defining nearly 50 years of world history. WWII defined an entire generation, the Greatest Generation, and propelled the United States (the only country left largely untouched) as the world's super power.  America flexed its industrial muscles, produced, and exported goods around the world, the global economy was born. Left unrivaled so long and treated as the 'center of the world' America could be said to have become 'lax' over the past few decades, something, some will say, we're paying for now. 

Technological innovations like penicillin, radar, jet propulsion, napalm, the atomic bomb, nylon, Radio Frequency Identification (RFID - think iPass), and the superhighway all have their roots within WWII and formed the world we knew after it. Imagine if Eisenhower did not bring back the idea of a superhighway system to the United States? Where would we be without jet propulsion (rockets! No moon landing or space program). Without the medical advances people would not be living as long, dying younger, higher infant mortality rate. Imagine a world without nuclear weapons (more war? less fear? more fear?).
Subpages (1): Facts At A Glance