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World War II
The Beginning of WWII
The US Enters the War
Germany Declares War on the United States
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The Beginning of World War II
German soldiers force aside the border gate with Poland.

Early in the morning of September 1, 1939, the German army attacked Poland. Two days later Britain and France declared war on Germany. This meant the beginning of war in Europe.

More than 15 million people lost their lives during the First World War. Seven million of these were innocent civilians. The peace treaty between Germany and its opponents was signed at Versailles (France) in 1919. It is known as the Treaty of Versailles. The treaty required that Germany accept full responsibility for causing the war. For years afterwards, many Germans felt humiliated by the heavy demands which the treaty placed upon their country. The winners of The First World War had decided to punish Germany in the treaty. Germany had to pay reparations, it was not allowed to have an army or navy, it had to give up its colonies, and certain pieces of land that belonged to Germany were given to surrounding countries. The government also had to agree to respect the independence of Austria, its neighbor to the South.

When the Nazi government came into power, it rejected the contents of the Treaty of Versailles. Germany demanded its land back and quickly built a large and modern army to give its demands some teeth. Suddenly, within a few years, war loomed on the horizon again.

The attempt to avoid war

The German Rhineland, which had been occupied by France since 1918, was occupied by German troops in 1936. It became clear that the Nazi government was willing to use violence to accomplish its objectives. In March 1938, Austria voluntarily became part of Germany. This is called The Anschluss ("Unification"). Part of Czechoslovakia was occupied in 1939. Other countries did not dare to take action against this, because they knew it would lead to a full war with perhaps again millions of victims. But when Poland was invaded by the German army in September 1939, England and France decided to declare war on Germany. Canada declared war a week later on September 10. For the moment, the US government decided to stay out of the war. The majority of Americans agreed with this decision since this was "someone else's war.”

In the Pacific, Japan had started its own war to gain territory and dominate Asia. It was an ally of the West during the First World War but it had become increasingly anti-Western. On July 7, 1937, Japan launched a major attack against China and this conflict soon became part of the larger World War. The United States was concerned about these developments as well, but took no immediate action.

The US enters the War

The United States was not openly involved in the War, but it took steps to oppose Japan and Germany. It tried to supply the nations that were fighting against these two powers. But the US government wanted to stay out of the deadly conflict. As the German army continued its conquest of Europe, it also gained control of the seas. US supply ships in international waters were threatened and on occasion attacked.

The tense and fragile peace all changed when Japanese warplanes attacked Pearl Harbor (Hawaii) on December 7, 1941. The largest US naval base in the Pacific was badly damaged. At the same time, Japan also attacked US air bases in the Philippines. The next day, President Franklin D. Roosevelt declared war on Japan.

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This day in history
Today: 11 December 2018
Then: 11 December 1941

Germany and Italy declare war on the United States; the U.S. respond in kind.

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