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The Road to Pearl Harbor

50. The Road to Pearl Harbor

The Attack on the USS Nevada, Robert Taylor
Japanese bombers fire on the USS Nevada at Pearl Harbor. The surprise attack of December 7, 1941, left President Roosevelt with no choice but to enter World War II.

Storm clouds were darkening around the world. While Americans struggled to make ends meet during the Great Depression, fascism swept Italy and Germany. Elsewhere, militarists consolidated their hold on the Japanese government. Soon fears of fascist domination were realized as nations fell, hapless victims to new aggressive leaders. Remembering the scars caused by World War I, Americans hoped against hope to remain aloof from the increasingly dangerous world.

Japan struck first, plunging into Chinese Manchuria. Next Italy struck at Ethiopia. Germany, under the leadership of Adolf Hitler, was the greatest fear. The industrial potential of Germany was awesome, and the power of the German army to inflict great damage was all too fresh in the minds of Europeans and Americans alike. Like dominoes, the nations surrounding Germany began to fall. First Austria was annexed, then Czechoslovakia. As Hitler set his sights on Poland, the world braced itself for another great conflict.

Hitler announces acquisition of Austria, 1938
Economic hard times around the globe led to the rise of fascist leaders like Adolf Hitler. Here, Hitler receives the salute of the Reichstag upon announcing the annexation of Austria.

Meanwhile, Americans clung to their time-tested philosophy of isolationism. A series of Neutrality Acts sought to avoid the entrapments that plunged the nation into World War I. Poll after poll showed an unwillingness to become diplomatically involved in international disputes. Isolationist clubs spread across the land.

Yet when Great Britain became the last bastion of freedom standing against a Nazi-controlled Europe, Americans reluctantly began to act. Led by President Roosevelt, the United States used its industrial might to become the arsenal of democracy for the Allied war effort.

In the end, it was Japan who provoked the United States into war. The United States was the only nation standing against Japanese domination of the entire Pacific Rim. When economic sanctions against Japan produced a diplomatic stalemate, Japan launched a ruthless surprise attack against American naval bases at Pearl Harbor. Faced with an assault on its own forces, the United States finally entered the Second World War.

On the Web
Abe Lincoln Battalion pin
The American volunteer group that fought to defend the Spanish Republic from fascism during the Spanish Civil War dubbed themselves the "Abraham Lincoln Battalion."
Pearl Harbor
We interrupt this program to bring you a special news bulletin. The Japanese have attacked Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, by air, President Roosevelt has just announced.
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