World War II

"No human account ever could describe . . .

...the hardship, the sacrifice, the misery the men of this division alone experienced. No one who finished this retreat still alive will ever forget this Gathsename [place of suffering], because each village, each road, even each bush seared into his brain the memories of terrible hours, insufferable misery, of cowardice, despair and destruction."

— Anonymous Nazi Schutzstaffel staff officer

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World War II

— from the series America in the 20th Century

World War II serves as an indelible chapter in history, a time when America defended democracy against tyranny and reshaped its own identity in the process. It underscores the enduring commitment to freedom and the pursuit of a more inclusive society as core American values.

World War II demands a meticulous study for several compelling reasons. While not the bloodiest conflict in American history, it cemented the nation's position as a global powerhouse and triggered social changes that laid the groundwork for reform agendas throughout the 20th century. America's role in World War II was pivotal, defending democracy against totalitarian aggression and fostering a newfound cosmopolitanism as troops returned home.

This war acted as a catalyst for profound social and cultural transformations. It brought Americans from diverse backgrounds together, forging a shared national identity and a vision of a collective future. Simultaneously, on the homefront, public education and mass media promoted nationalism and cultural blending. However, students should also examine the wartime denial of civil liberties to interned Japanese Americans and the irony of racial minorities fighting for democratic principles abroad while still facing discrimination at home and within the military.

A thorough study should encompass the war's progression, the dissolution of the Grand Alliance, and its repercussions on the postwar era. Additionally, students should evaluate the war's social impact on the homefront, including internal migration to war production hubs, the significant influx of women into traditionally male roles, and the endeavors of African Americans and others to secure desegregation in the armed forces and combat discriminatory hiring practices.

World War II pilot, Elizabeth L. Gardner

Video Chapters

World War II is the sixth volume in the award-winning video series America in the 20th Century. The program provides a comprehensive overview of the global conflict—its causes, conduct, and aftermath. It traces the roots of the war from the failed peace after World War I and follows the events to their conclusion in 1945.

World War II is presented in nine video chapters. Preview them here or log in to the members-only Streaming Room™ to access the complete videos. Not a member? It's easy to subscribe now.

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