In order to understand the reasons the US was embroiled in WWII, Some history needs to be summarized. This is by no means a through explication of the entire subject, simply a brief overview of some of the timing and larger motivations of the nations involved for the purpose of providing the reader with some background.
Adolf Hitler became the leader of the Nazi Party in in 1921. In 1923 he engineered and participated in an attempt to overthrow the government in the German state of Bavaria. He was seriously wounded in the failed effort. He attempted escape, was caught, arrested and tried in a sensational media-of-the-day frenzy with several other Nazi Party officials. The trial lasted twenty-four days and reporters from all over the world filed news stories about the proceedings on a daily basis. A sympathetic Judge granted Hitler a nearly unlimited opportunity to speak from the witness stand in his own defense. Though his attempt to seize power failed the wall-to-wall media coverage of his trial allowed him to gain something almost as valuable as the successful overthrow would have been. The international media coverage allowed his views to be disseminated across much of the globe.
Hitler and his co-defendants were found guilty of treason and though he was sentenced to five years, he served only eight months in a very comfortable jail with every possible concession to his comfort including almost unlimited visitors, comfortable home-like furnishings, his preferred food, and most importantly time to write. During his confinement he wrote “Mein Kampf” which eventually sold thousands of copies as he later rose to power.1 Hitler was released in late 1924.
The Nazi party and Hitler (although we don’t know if his “belief” was simply political expedience or not) believed a right-wing conspiracy theory that promulgated idea that Germany did not lose WWI on the Battlefield, but rather was betrayed by internal forces – the German Navy and the outbreak of the German Revolution in Berlin – effectively causing “defeat snatched from the jaws of victory”. They believed Germany’s military could have won WWI if they’d just fought on. Those that signed the Armistice in 1919 were called the November Criminals in right-wing circles – including by the Nazi party propagandists. The German Revolution of 1918-1919 which replaced the Constitutional Monarchy of Wilhelm II with the resulting Weimar Republic – a parliamentary republic – was seen as the proof that the German people had been stabbed in the back and betrayed in what amounted to a power grab that forced the German people to pay over 33Million German Marks of reparations under the Versailles Treaty. The reparations were so onerous Germany defaulted several times.2,3
The Nazi party had 130,000 members in 1928. By 1931 membership was 800,000. In the July 1932 election the Nazi party won control of the German Parliament, the Reichstag, with 37.3% of the vote and held a majority of the Parliamentary seats. The November 1932 election resulted in a very close division of power between Nazi, Communist, and Socialist Democrats. The Communists and Nazis formed a political alliance and on Jan 30, 1933, Hitler was sworn in as Chancellor as head of the Nazi party.4 The German Parliament building burned down in Feb, 1933, and Nazis blamed a Communist for it claiming it was an act of arson.5 In response to the Communists with whom his party had so recently had an alliance, on March 23, 1933 Parliament granted Chancellor Hitler the “temporary” power to act with plenary powers (without parliamentary consent or constitutional limitation).
Although the Parliament continued, and Paul von Hindenburg remained President, Chancellor Hitler immediately began dismantling the powers of the individual states within Germany and then formally outlawed all non-Nazi parties on July 14, 1933.
Hindenburg remained President but with his death in August 1934, Hitler seized dictatorial power combining the position of President and Chancellor using his plenary powers, and on the same day President Hindenburg died, all soldiers in the German Army took the Hitler Oath swearing unconditional loyalty to Adolf Hitler.6
It took less than 3 years for Hitler to consolidate power through the Nazi Party from the July 1932 election when they won the majority in the Reichstag to seizing sole power of the entire German government and military.
By 1938, Hitler was seizing territory in Europe starting with Austria and in 1939 he invaded Czechoslovakia and Poland shortly thereafter. WWII began when Britain and France declared War on Germany Sept 3, 1939, with hostilities breaking out between the three countries almost immediately with the Battle of the Atlantic.
By late 1939, Jews were moved into Ghettos for the ease of removing them permanently from German territory at a later date. Germany invaded the USSR in June 1941 and sent out killing units to simply shoot all Jews in Russia each unit could find. By the fall of 1941, Germany implemented mobile gas vans. They locked Jews into the vans and killed them by pumping the carbon monoxide from the exhaust into the cargo space.
By July 1941, the so-called Final Solution was authorized when it became clear that shooting or gassing in a truck was not nearly effective enough to get rid of Jews as quickly as the Germans wanted.7
In the summer of 1941 British Intelligence learned of the systematic killing of Jews in Lithuania, Latvia and Ukraine from intercepted radio transmissions. The Soviets knew it by then, too. By August 1941 Churchill informed the British public what was being done to the Jews in a radio address. American journalists confirmed the policy in the spring of 1942. On December 13, 1942 Edward R. Murrow said on his radio show, “What is happening is this. Millions of human beings, most of them Jews, are being gathered up with ruthless efficiency and murdered. The phrase ‘concentration camps’ is obsolete, as out of date as economic sanctions or non-recognition. It is now possible only to speak of extermination camps.” Four days later the US, Britain, and Soviet governments issued a joint statement confirming the mass killing of Jews in Nazi-held territory.8
While all this was going on, Japan was planning to expand it’s own territory in the Pacific and Southeast Asia. In a pre-emptive strike on December 7, 1941 the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor intending to – ineffectively with hindsight – destroy the Pacific Fleet and prevent the United States from coming to the aid of the countries Japan invaded the very next day, December 8, 1941 (Malaya, Hong Kong, Philippines, Guam, Wake Isl, Midway Isl).9
On the day Japan was invading the countries it had designs to acquire, December 8, 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt delivered a speech to the Joint Session of Congress, which began, “Yesterday, December 7, 1941 – a date that will live in infamy – the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.”7 Within an hour, Congress passed a formal Declaration of War with Japan. 10
Three days later, Germany declared war on the US on December 11, 1941. The US countered with its own declaration of war with German later the same day embroiling itself in a two-front war in Europe and the Pacific. 11
- The Trial of Adolf Hitler: The Beer Hall Putsch and the Rise of Nazi Germany, by David King