After learning that the Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbor, thus ensuring that the United States would enter World War II, Prime Minister Winston Churchill breathed a sigh of relief. "Hitler's fate was sealed," he would later recall. "Mussolini's fate was sealed. As for the Japanese, they would be ground to powder. All the rest was merely the proper application of overwhelming force."
Churchill's sentiment was easy to understand. In terms of raw materials and industrial capacity the United States alone was far superior to Germany, Italy, and Japan combined. Now that America had joined Great Britain and the Soviet Union in the fight against the Axis, victory seemed assured.
Yet it was neither raw materials nor industrial capacity alone that was able to overcome the Axis Powers. No doubt the Allies had tremendous advantages in terms of technology and productive capacity, but ultimately World War II was won by members of the armed forces—real, flesh-and-blood men (and sometimes women) who risked death and dismemberment in the name of freedom. They fought everywhere from the steppes of Russia to the jungles of Southeast Asia, from the icy waters of the North Atlantic to the sun-drenched deserts of North Africa. And after nearly four long years they achieved victory.
In this unit, students will examine the role that the United States played in bringing about this victory. They will learn about the strategies that were developed, and how they played out in reality. They will become familiar with the two major theaters of the war—Pacific and European—and how developments in one affected the course of the fighting in the other. Finally, they will learn how the various military campaigns—on land and sea, and in the air—all contributed to the war's successful conclusion.
Review each lesson plan. Locate and bookmark suggested materials and links from EDSITEment-reviewed websites. Download and print out selected documents and duplicate copies as necessary for student viewing. Alternatively, excerpted versions of these documents are available as part of the downloadable PDF, such as this one for Lesson Plan One (see sidebar under "Additional Student/Teacher Resources" for full list of files).
Download the blackline masters for each lesson, available as a PDFs, such as this one for Lesson Plan One. This file contains excerpted versions of the documents used in the first and second activities, as well as questions for students to answer. Print out and make an appropriate number of copies of the handouts you plan to use in class.
Perhaps most importantly, you should become familiar with the interactive maps which accompany this unit, and which show the locations of important events in both the European and Pacific theaters:
Clicking on these locations will bring up pop-ups that include a paragraph or two of basic information about what happened there, as well as links to pages with more in-depth coverage, plus relevant campaign maps, photographs, and/or personal accounts by those who were there.
If your students lack experience in dealing with primary sources, you might use one or more preliminary exercises to help them develop these skills. The Learning Page at the American Memory Project of the Library of Congress includes a set of such activities. Another useful resource is the Digital Classroom of the National Archives, which features a set of Document Analysis Worksheets. Finally, History Matters offers pages on "Making Sense of Maps" and "Making Sense of Oral History" which give helpful advice to teachers in getting their students to use such sources effectively.