America from WWI to WWII

War and Revolution:  America Reengages the World 1914-1920

The delayed decision of the United States to enter the First World War is a turning point in American History.  It also followed a period of direct intervention in challenging or holding in check the Mexican Revolution by the Wilson administration.  In this period we find a series of domestic labor strikes and aggressive crackdowns by armed militias occurred at Ludlow Massacre in Colorado and at Bisbee, New Mexico. The victorious war effort in Europe was particularly bloody and resulted in heavy losses for those American troops who were sent to the front in 1918.  While the selections in this reader do not include documents on this phase, we shall use Alan Dawley’s Changing the World:  American Progressives in War and Revolution (2003) as a synthesis of the complex array of issues that were manifested in Wilson’s New Freedom initiatives, and his League of Nations proposals following the war.  While Wilson’s proposal for joining the League of Nations was rejected by an organized conservative countermovement at home, Wilson’s decision to occupy Haiti in 1915 also caused embarrassment for him at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919.  Students interested in the League of Nations will profit from studying documents that have become available from the League of Nations archives now stored at the United Nations in Geneva, or at http://www.indiana.edu/~league/sites_documents.htm; or http://www.unog.ch/library/archives/faq.htm.  In the aftermath of the withdrawal of US troops from Europe, Wilson engaged in an aggressive anti-communist tactics that included the landing of marines at Vladisvostock in Russia to support a counter-revolution against the Bolsheviks.  This period also witnessed the suppression of radical labor movements in 1919 in Seattle, Everett and in Centralia.  This was a harbinger of a trend to suppress and protect against the Red Scare, that saw the arrest, trial and execution of the anarchist bombers Sacco and Vanzetti, and the imprisonment of the Socialist Presidential candidate Eugene Debs.

World War II and the Cold War:  America and the World of Global Conflict

As with the First World War, the entry of America into World War II was reluctant but ultimately transformative of the outcome of the war.  The war also had profound domestic consequences.  Much of the modern infrastructure of the Western states was built and developed as a consequence of the war and its immediate aftermath.  For women at home the war transformed daily life as millions entered new trades or were relocated.  Young men of military age became military migrant workers and were uprooted to serve overseas.  Many of those who returned relocated in new states often at long distances from their former homes.

The Second World War is also a war between empires over resources.  From the 1930s Japanese, British, French, American overseas empires were in regional conflict, and continental empire expansion waged by Germany, and to a lesser extent Italy, that came into direct conflict with the Soviet Union’s empire in East Europe and Asia.

Empire is a dangerous concept and manifestation of power for it racializes or denigrates those who are on its borders or regions it conquers and occupies.  We know from the history of the 20th century that the ideology of sustaining empire relies upon racist assumptions of identity and difference and these are used by totalitarian or authoritarian states in acts of genocide and mass killing of civilian populations in an effort to depopulate areas that are desirable for recolonization by the conquering nation.

The Holocaust, Genocide, and other War Crimes against Civilians

Further research into the devastation of civilian lives prior to and during World War II reveal staggering numbers and the horrific costs of total war.  The ideologies of empire and racism that promulgated world war were directed against minorities and civilian populations in states and regions that were targets of acquisition.

Several sources on the impact of these wars may be appreciated.

On the destruction of cities during World War II, including Tokyo, Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Manila, Dresden, among many others, see:

  1. Hermann Knell, To Destroy a City: Strategic Bombing and Its Human Consequences in World War II (2003)
  2. The Fire: The Bombing of Germany, 1940-1945 by Jörg Friedrich and Allison Brown (2006)
  3. Firestorm: The Bombing of Dresden, 1945 by Paul Addison (2006)

In 1945, General Eisenhower ordered the filming of the devastation uncovered at the death camps run by the Nazis that led to the deaths of millions of Jews, Gypsies and dissidents.  This film is viewable at the Internet Archive link here.  This film should be required viewing may be used against any and all holocaust deniers.

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