The United States in World War II: "The Proper Application of Overwhelming Force"

Wreckage of USS Arizona, Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, December 7, 1941
Photo caption

Wreckage of USS Arizona, Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, December 7, 1941

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.

Guiding Questions

How did the Allies manage to turn back the Japanese offensive of 1941-42?

How did the United States contribute to the turning of the tide against the Axis Powers in Europe in World War II?

How did the Allies manage to defeat and occupy Germany in 1944 and 1945?


How did the Allies manage to defeat Japan?

Learning Objectives

Articulate the various strategies developed by Anglo-American military planners, as well as the reasons behind them.

Evaluate the strategies used, in terms of how successful they were in meeting their objectives.

Discuss anti-Japanese sentiment in the United States, and how it affected the way the Pacific War was fought.

Explain the magnitude of the U-Boat threat in the Atlantic in 1942 and early 1943, and how it was overcome.

Assess the effectiveness of the strategic bombing campaign against German cities.

Explain the reasons behind the dropping of the atomic bombs, and why the use of these weapons was controversial.

Articulate the reasons behind the Japanese surrender, and the role the atomic bomb played in that decision.

Identify on a map locations of importance to the war, both in Europe and the Pacific.

Identify the most important military engagements and explain their significance.