Like the First World War, Americans tried to stay on the sidelines during World War II. Fighting had broken out in both China and Europe in the 1930s as the United States was still recovering from the Great Depression and people and politicians did not feel that it was in the nation’s best interest to join in another war.

Was this a good idea? World War II was significantly different from the war 20 years before. Most notably, by the time fighting had begun in the 1930s it was clear that the primary driver of the conflict in Europe, Adolf Hitler, was not interested in merely territorial gain. He was deeply anti-Semitic and had already implemented the Holocaust – the systematic destruction of the Jewish people in Europe. In World War I, there was no equivalent. Hatred and atrocities against the Chinese and Koreans by invading Japanese armies were equally appalling. If the United States were to join this new war, it would not be just to protect the borders of friends, but to prevent the destruction of entire groups of people.

Yet, the United States stayed on the sidelines. It is true that before the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 that drew the nation into the fighting, Americans were providing the material of war – ships, aircraft, bombs – to our allies, making a gun and taking it up yourself in a foreign land are very different things.

Should the United States have joined the war sooner? Was it foolish to try to stay out of a war against nations bent on expansion and wholesale annihilation of people? Like a student who sits down to study early instead of cramming before a test, shouldn’t the United States have joined the fighting early in order to prevent the spread of the conflict?

Or, did American neutrality make it possible to rebuild our strength and prepare for the fight? Were we right to wait until we were attacked before rolling up our sleeves and making war?

What do you think? Was America right to try to stay out of World War II?


At the dawn of the 1930s, foreign policy was not a burning issue for the average American. The stock market had crashed and each passing month brought greater and greater hardships. American involvement with Europe had brought war in 1917 and unpaid debt throughout the 1920s. Having grown weary with the course of world events, citizens were convinced the most important issues to be tackled were domestic.

While there were some who favored active engagement in Europe during the 1920s and 1930s, most Americans, including many prominent politicians, were leery of getting too involved in European affairs or accepting commitments to other nations that might restrict America’s ability to act independently, keeping with the isolationist tradition. Although the United States continued to intervene in the affairs of countries in the Western Hemisphere during this period, the general mood in America was to avoid becoming involved in any crises that might lead the nation into another global conflict.

American leaders had opportunities to engage with the world more actively during the two decades between the world wars, but usually chose not to. One possibility for international economic cooperation failed at the London Conference of 1933. Leaders of European nations hoped to increase trade and stabilize international currencies by tying all currencies to a gold standard. Roosevelt sent a message to the conference refusing any attempt to tie the American dollar to a gold standard while he needed flexibility to bring the nation out of the Depression. The conference dissolved with European delegates miffed at the lack of cooperation by the United States.

Roosevelt did realize that the Hawley-Smoot Tariff that had led to a global rise in tariffs was hurting both the United States and the world as a whole and ended it.

While isolationists feared European and Asian problems, they developed a strong sense of Pan-Americanism. In the face of overseas adversity, strong hemispheric solidarity was attractive. To foster better relations with the nations of Latin America, Roosevelt declared a bold new Good Neighbor Policy. Marines stationed in Central America and the Caribbean were withdrawn. The Roosevelt Corollary, which former president Theodore Roosevelt had proclaimed in 1904 asserting the right of the United States to intervene in Latin American affairs, was renounced.

Despite its largely noninterventionist foreign policy, the United States did nevertheless take steps to try to lessen the chances of war and cut its defense spending at the same time. President Warren G. Harding’s administration participated in the Washington Naval Conference of 1921 and 1922, which reduced the size of the navies of the nine signatory nations. In addition, the Four Power Treaty, signed by the United States, Great Britain, France, and Japan in 1921, committed the signatories to abstaining from making any territorial expansion in Asia. In 1928, the United States and fourteen other nations signed the Kellogg-Briand Pact, declaring war an international crime. Despite hopes that such agreements would lead to a more peaceful world they failed because none of them committed any of the nations to take action in the event of treaty violations.

Primary Source: Photograph

Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler, the fascist dictators of Italy and Germany led Europe into the carnage of World War II.


While the United States focused on domestic issues, economic depression and political instability were growing in Europe. During the 1920s, the international financial system was propped up largely by American loans to foreign countries. The crash of 1929, when the stock market plummeted, set in motion a series of financial chain reactions that contributed significantly to a global downward economic spiral. Around the world, industrialized economies faced significant problems of economic depression and worker unemployment.

Many European countries had been suffering even before the Great Depression began. A postwar recession and the continuation of wartime inflation had hurt many economies, as did a decrease in agricultural prices, which made it harder for farmers to buy manufactured goods or pay off loans to banks. While the United States was fortunate to have Franklin Roosevelt, in other nations less democratic-minded leaders emerged.

Benito Mussolini capitalized on the frustrations of the Italian people who felt betrayed by the Versailles Treaty. In 1919, Mussolini created the Fasci Italiani di Combattimento (Italian Combat Squadron). The organization’s main tenets of Fascism called for a totalitarian form of government and a heightened focus on national unity, militarism, social Darwinism, and loyalty to the state. With the support of major Italian industrialists and the king, who saw Fascism as a bulwark against growing Socialist and Communist movements, Mussolini became prime minister in 1922. Between 1925 and 1927, Mussolini transformed the nation into a single party state and removed all restrictions on his power.

In Germany, a similar pattern led to the rise of the totalitarian National Socialist Party. Political fragmentation through the 1920s accentuated the severe economic problems facing the country. As a result, the German Communist Party began to grow in strength, frightening many wealthy and middle-class Germans. In addition, the terms of the Treaty of Versailles had given rise to a deep-seated resentment. It was in such an environment that Adolf Hitler’s Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei (National Socialist German Workers’ Party), or Nazi Party for short, was born.

The Nazis gained numerous followers during the Great Depression, which had hurt Germany tremendously. By 1932, nearly 30% of the German labor force was unemployed. Not surprisingly, the political mood was angry and sullen. Hitler, a World War I veteran, promised to return Germany to greatness. By the beginning of 1933, the Nazis had become the largest party in the German legislature. Germany’s president, Paul von Hindenburg, at the urging of large industrialists who feared a Communist uprising, appointed Hitler to the position of chancellor in January 1933. In the elections that took place in early March 1933, the Nazis gained the political power to pass a law that gave Hitler the power to make all laws for the next four years. Hitler thus effectively became the dictator of Germany. Hitler’s popularity sometimes is perplexing for Americans, but it is important to remember that in a time when Germans were suffering, he offered a solution. Unlike President Roosevelt who famously said the “only thing we have to fear, is fear itself,” Hitler led his people to believe that the source of their problems were outsiders – the Allies that had imposed the harsh conditions of the Treaty of Versailles and Jews who he claimed were manipulating the world’s economy.

After gaining power, Hitler and his followers worked to make their party and its leader synonymous with Germany itself. This characteristic of Fascism meant that citizens pledged allegiance to Hitler, rather than their nation. Even Germany’s boy scouts became the Hitler Youth.

Hitler began to rebuild German military might. In 1936, in accordance with his promise to restore German greatness, Hitler dispatched military units into the Rhineland, on the border with France. In March 1938, claiming that he sought only to reunite ethnic Germans within the borders of one country, Hitler invaded Austria. These actions were clear violations of the Treaty of Versailles and should have brought about military action against Germany. Hitler, however, shrewdly understood that there were many things he could do in violation of the treaty that his enemies would tolerate. After all, France, Britain and the United States were all dealing with economic depressions. No one wanted another war.

Primary Source: Photograph

British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlin holding up a copy of the Munich Agreement in his famous speech proclaiming that he had achieved “peace in our time.”

At a conference in Munich later that year, Great Britain’s prime minister, Neville Chamberlain, and France’s prime minister, Édouard Daladier, agreed to the partial dismemberment of Czechoslovakia and the occupation of the Sudetenland, a region with a sizable German population. This Munich Pact offered a policy of appeasement, in the hope that Hitler’s expansionist desires could be bought off without war. Chamberlain famously returned home to claim that the Munich Pact meant “peace in our time.” He was wrong. Not long after the agreement, Germany occupied the rest of Czechoslovakia as well. Today, Chamberlain and the idea of appeasement are remembered as examples of the failure of hoping for the best when dealing with dictators bent on expansion.

In the Soviet Union, Premier Joseph Stalin, observing Hitler’s actions and listening to his public pronouncements, realized that Poland, part of which had once belonged to Germany and was home to people of German ancestry, was most likely next. Although fiercely opposed to Hitler, Stalin, sobered by the French and British betrayal of Czechoslovakia and unprepared for a major war, decided the best way to protect the Soviet Union, and gain additional territory, was to come to some accommodation with the German dictator. In August 1939, Germany and the Soviet Union signed a secret treaty and agreed to divide Poland between them and not make war upon one another.


Militaristic politicians also took control of Japan in the 1930s. The Japanese had worked assiduously for decades to modernize, build their strength, and become a prosperous, respected nation. The sentiment in Japan was decidedly pro-capitalist, and the Japanese militarists were fiercely supportive of a capitalist economy. They viewed with great concern the rise of Communism in the Soviet Union and in particular China, where the issue was fueling a civil war, and feared that the Soviet Union would make inroads in Asia by assisting China’s Communists. In 1936, Japan and Germany signed the Anti-Comintern Pact, pledging mutual assistance in defending themselves against the Comintern, the international agency created by the Soviet Union to promote worldwide Communist revolution. In 1937, Italy joined the pact, essentially creating the foundation of what became the military alliance of the Axis Powers.

Like its European allies, Japan was intent upon creating an empire for itself. In 1931, it created a new nation in the northern area of China called Manchuria. The Japanese called it Manchukuo. Although the League of Nations formally protested Japan’s seizure of Chinese territory, it did nothing else. As was the case with Hitler’s expansion in Europe, the British, French and other League members had no desire to go to war with Japan to protect a corner of China. The official American response was the Stimson Doctrine, which refused to recognize any territory illegally occupied by Japan. It was the first step in a series of moves the Americans made to show their displeasure with Japanese expansion and which eventually pushed the Japanese government to attack the United States.

In 1937, a clash between Japanese and Chinese troops, known as the Marco Polo Bridge Incident, led to a full-scale invasion of China by the Japanese. Although the conflict led to a temporary halt to the civil war between China’s nationalists and communists, the better equipped and organized Japanese armies swept southward capturing most of China’s coastal cities. The advance of the Japanese was accompanied by some of the worst atrocities in human history, including in the city of Nanjing where Japanese soldiers systematically raped Chinese women and massacred hundreds of thousands of civilians. Public sentiment in the United States turned against Japan. Members of Protestant churches that were involved in missionary work in China were particularly outraged, as were Chinese Americans.

Japan was not only interested in territorial expansion in China. They had taken Taiwan in 1895, Korea in 1918, and by due to a resolution of the League of Nations, controlled the islands of Micronesia as well.

Secondary Source: Map

This map shows the extent of Japan’s territorial expansion before and during World War II. Japan also took control of the islands of Micronesia.


President Franklin Roosevelt was aware of the challenges facing the targets of Nazi aggression in Europe and Japanese aggression in Asia. Although he hoped to offer American support, isolationist sentiment was difficult to overcome. One leader of the America First Committee that promoted isolationism was the famous aviator Charles Lindbergh. Another was Senator Gerald Nye of North Dakota. Nye claimed that the United States had been tricked into participating in World War I by a group of industrialists and bankers who sought to gain from the country’s participation in the war. The United States, Nye urged, should not be drawn again into an international dispute over matters that did not concern it. Whether because they feared for the lives of American young men, or because they shared some of Hitler’s anti-Semitic ideas, the America First Committee was an important political force in the United States and many in congress shared their views.

Roosevelt’s willingness to accede to the demands of the noninterventionists led him even to refuse assistance to those fleeing Nazi Germany. Although Roosevelt was aware of Nazi persecution of the Jews, he did little to aid them. In a symbolic act of support, he withdrew the American ambassador to Germany in 1938. He did not press for a relaxation of immigration quotas that would have allowed more refugees to enter the country, however. In 1939, he refused to support a bill that would have admitted 20,000 Jewish refugee children to the United States. Again in 1939, when German refugees aboard the ship SS St. Louis, most of them Jews, were refused permission to land in Cuba and turned to the United States for help, the State Department informed them that immigration quotas for Germany had already been filled. Once again, Roosevelt did not intervene, because he feared the power of anti-Semitic nativists in Congress. His failure to stand up to them is one of the dark marks on Roosevelt’s legacy.

To ensure that the United States did not get drawn into another war, Congress passed a series of Neutrality Acts in the second half of the 1930s. The Neutrality Act of 1935 banned the sale of armaments to warring nations. The following year, another Neutrality Act prohibited loaning money to belligerent countries. The last piece of legislation, the Neutrality Act of 1937, forbade the transportation of weapons or passengers to belligerent nations on board American ships and also prohibited American citizens from traveling on board the ships of nations at war.

Roosevelt, however, found ways to help America’s future allies without violating the Neutrality Acts. Since Japan had not formally declared war on China, a state of belligerency did not technically exist. Therefore, under the terms of the Neutrality Acts, America was not prevented from transporting goods to China. In 1940, the president of China, Chiang Kai-shek, was able to prevail upon Roosevelt to ship 100 fighter planes to China and to allow American volunteers, who technically became members of the Chinese Air Force, to fly them.

Roosevelt would be even more creative in finding ways to help the British.


In 1938, the agreement reached at the Munich Conference failed to satisfy Hitler. In May of the next year, Germany and Italy formalized their military alliance with the Pact of Steel. On September 1, 1939, Hitler unleashed his newly rebuilt and modernized army against neighboring Poland. Using a new strategy called Blitzkrieg, or “lightning war,” the Germanys combined swift, surprise attacks combining infantry, tanks, and aircraft to quickly overwhelm the enemy.

Britain and France now knew that the agreement at Munich had been a failure, that Hitler could not be trusted and that his territorial demands were insatiable. On September 3, 1939, they declared war on Germany, and the European phase of World War II had began. Responding to the German invasion of Poland, Roosevelt worked with Congress to alter the Neutrality Laws to permit a policy of Cash and Carry in munitions for Britain and France. The legislation, passed and signed by Roosevelt in November 1939, permitted belligerents to purchase war materiel if they could pay cash for it and arrange for its transportation on board their own ships.

In the spring of 1940, the German armies and air force overwhelmed France, Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands. In just six weeks, Paris had fallen. The French, who had spent the preceding 20 years preparing to fight the trench warfare of World War I all over again, were entirely unprepared for Hitler’s nimble, mobile, rapidly moving war machine.

In the Far East, Japan took advantage of France’s surrender to Germany to occupy French Indochina, including the areas that would later become Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. In response, beginning with the Export Control Act in July 1940, the United States began to embargo the shipment of various materials to Japan, starting first with aviation gasoline and machine tools, and proceeding to scrap iron and steel.


Following the surrender of France, the Battle of Britain began. Great Britain had the advantage of being an island nation. To conquer his last enemy in Europe, Hitler would have to mount an amphibious invasion, which would prove costly and difficult. Instead, or at least in preparation for such an invasion, the German air force commenced the Blitz, a continuous bombing campaign against British cities, factories, and military installations. Hitler believed he could force the British to sign a peace agreement and end the war, leaving him in charge of mainland Europe.

The British, under the leadership of Prime Minister Winston Churchill had other ideas. For more than three months, a small collection of British fighter pilots guided their planes into the sky each day to meet the incoming German bombers and bravely defended their homeland. Below, the citizens of Great Britain operated anti-aircraft guns, hid in subway stations, covered their windows to make it harder for the German bombers to find their targets in the dark, and waited for help from America. What saved the British, in addition to their own air force, was that they had discovered the power of radar, and knew where and when the Germans were attacking.

Primary Source: Photograph

British children sit next to the ruins of their home that had been destroyed during the Blitz.

As the battle raged in the skies over Great Britain throughout the summer and autumn of 1940, Roosevelt became increasingly concerned over England’s ability to hold out against the German juggernaut.

In March 1941, concerns over Britain’s ability to defend itself also influenced Congress to authorize a policy of Lend Lease, a practice by which the United States could sell, lease, or transfer armaments to any nation deemed important to the defense of the United States. Roosevelt publicly mused that if a neighbor’s house is on fire, nobody sells him a hose to put it out. Common sense dictated that the hose is lent to the neighbor and returned when the fire is extinguished. The United States could simply lend Great Britain the materials it would need to fight the war. When the war was over, they would be returned. The Congress hotly argued over the proposal. Senator Robert Taft retorted, “Lending war equipment is a good deal like lending chewing gum. You don’t want it back.” In the end, Congress approved the proposal, effectively ended the policy of nonintervention and dissolved America’s pretense of being a neutral nation. The program ran from 1941 to 1945, and distributed some $45 billion worth of weaponry and supplies to Britain, the Soviet Union, China, and other allies.


In August 1941, Roosevelt met with the British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, off the coast of Newfoundland, Canada. At this meeting, the two leaders drafted the Atlantic Charter, the blueprint of Anglo-American cooperation during World War II. The charter stated that the United States and Britain sought no territory from the conflict. It proclaimed that citizens of all countries should be given the right of self-determination, self-government should be restored in places where it had been eliminated, and trade barriers should be lowered. Further, the charter mandated freedom of the seas, renounced the use of force to settle international disputes, and called for postwar disarmament. The Atlantic Charter stood as an alternative to the Fascist, hate-filled, conquering ideals of the Axis. It told the world what the United States and the United Kingdom would be fighting for, not just whom they would be fighting against.

President Roosevelt went on to further define the meaning of the war in his Four Freedoms Speech, saying “The first is freedom of speech and expression — everywhere in the world. The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way — everywhere in the world. The third is freedom from want, which, translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants — everywhere in the world. The fourth is freedom from fear, which, translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor — anywhere in the world.”


By the second half of 1941, Japan was feeling the pressure of the American embargo. As it could no longer buy strategic material from the United States, the Japanese were determined to obtain a sufficient supply of oil by taking control of the Dutch East Indies, another European colony which is now the nation of Indonesia. However, they realized that such an action might increase the possibility of American intervention, since the Philippines, still American territory, lay on the direct route that oil tankers would have to take to reach Japan from Indonesia. Japanese leaders thus attempted to secure a diplomatic solution by negotiating with the United States while also authorizing the navy to plan for war. The Japanese government also decided that if no peaceful resolution could be reached by the end of November 1941, then they would have to go to war with the United States.

The American final counterproposal to various offers by Japan was for the Japanese to completely withdraw, without any conditions, from China and enter into nonaggression pacts with all the Pacific powers. Japanese leaders understood that their smaller nations would probably lose a prolonged war with the United States, but felt that the American proposal was unacceptable. For Japan, pulling out of China was equivalent to being blackmailed by the United States.

Japan’s only hope, Hideki Tojo, the former army general turned Prime Minister believed, was to launch a surprise attack on the Americans that would demonstrate Japan’s capabilities, destroy America’s ability to fight back, and demoralize the American public. If such an attack could be made, Roosevelt would have no choice but to sign a neutrality agreement and let the Japanese have their way in Asia. It was a dangerous gamble.

Primary Source: Photograph

The battleship USS West Virginia burning during the attack on Pearl Harbor.

At 7:48 in the morning on Sunday, December 7, 1941, the Japanese attacked the American Pacific fleet at anchor in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. They launched two waves of attacks from six aircraft carriers that had snuck into the Central Pacific without being detected. The attacks brought some 353 fighters, bombers, and torpedo bombers down on the unprepared fleet. The Japanese hit all eight battleships in the harbor and sank four of them. They also damaged several cruisers and destroyers. On the ground, nearly two hundred aircraft were destroyed, and 2,400 servicemen were killed. Another 1,100 were wounded. Japanese losses were minimal. In the end, however, the battle failed to achieve its primary objective. In time, the workers in Pearl Harbor repaired many of the damaged ships, and the United States did not sue for peace.

The attack on Pearl Harbor was just the first in a string of offences against American and British strongholds. Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore, Guam, Wake Island, and the Philippines all soon fell to the Japanese.

Whatever reluctance to engage in conflict the American people had had before December 7, 1941, evaporated. Americans’ incredulity that Japan would take such a radical step quickly turned to a fiery anger, especially as the attack took place while Japanese diplomats in Washington were still negotiating a possible settlement. President Roosevelt, referring to the day of the attack as “a date which will live in infamy,” asked Congress for a declaration of war, which it delivered to Japan on December 8. On December 11, Germany and Italy declared war on the United States in accordance with their alliance with Japan. Against its wishes, the United States had become part of the European conflict.


Perhaps Americans should not have been surprised to be attacked by the Japanese at Pearl Harbor. We had certainly boxed them into an impossible diplomatic situation. There was no way for the military leaders in Tokyo to accept American demands and save face.

In addition, we were actively supplying China and Britain with the weapons of war. In some ways, it seems foolish not to think the Japanese would not already have considered us enemies.

In that way, the United States had already joined a war before the shooting began. However, throughout the turbulent 1930s, Americans had hoped to avoid getting directly involved in another global conflict. Congress had passed a series of neutrality acts, and only reluctantly agreed to Roosevelt’s request for approval of the Lend Lease Act.

Was neutrality and cautious preparation the right course? Should the United States have decided to engage the Axis first instead of waiting to be attacked?

What do you think? Was the United States right to try to stay out of the war?



BIG IDEA: America tried to maintain its isolation from a growing war in Europe and Asia in the late 1930s. At first, the United States tried to use economic pressure to limit Japanese expansion and provided material support to Great Britain’s fight against Nazi Germany, but Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor brought America into the conflict as a full combatant.

During the two decades that followed World War I, the United States maintained an attitude of isolationism. The nation had refused to join the League of Nations. As Europe was collapsing into turmoil with communism arising in the Soviet Union and Fascism in Spain, Italy and Germany, most Americans were happy to be far away and uninvolved.

The United States was not entirely isolationist.  We cultivated better relationships with the nations of Latin America through Roosevelt’s Good Neighbor Policy and tried to limit the size of the world’s navies by participating in the Washington Naval Conference.  However, organizations like the America First Committee had widespread public support and isolationism was popular.

Fascism, a system of government in which the leader and the nation become synonymous, was established by Mussolini in Italy and then by Hitler in more populous and economically powerful Germany. Hitler used anti-Semitism as a tool manipulate public opinion, gain support, win elections, and eventually take total control.

European leaders tried to appease Hitler by offering him control over some territories in exchange for promises of peace, but it did not work. After signing a secret peace deal with Joseph Stalin of the Soviet Union, Hitler invaded Poland in 1939, and then France. By 1940, only the United Kingdom was still holding out against Hitler.

Most Americans did not like the Nazis but wanted to remain neutral. To support the United Kingdom, President Roosevelt implemented Cash and Carry and Lend Lease programs to supply war materials to the British without declaring war. During this time, Roosevelt met with Winston Churchill of the United Kingdom to conclude the Atlantic Charter, which described how their two nations promised to offer a democratic alternative to Fascism. Roosevelt expressed his goals as Four Freedoms.

In Asia, Japan had been expanding into China. The United States opposed this expansion, especially after Japanese troops committed war crimes against Chinese civilians. In response, the United States instituted an embargo on war material to Japan. Under pressure to find an alternative source for oil, rubber, and other raw materials, the Japanese military command decided to attack the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia), British and French Indochina (now Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Malaysia and Singapore), and the Philippines, which was an American territory.

In order to prevent the United States from entering the war, Japanese commanders decided to destroy the entire American fleet in one surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. Although the strike on December 7, 1941 was a tactical success, it was a strategic failure. The United States entered the war rather than suing for peace.



Benito Mussolini: Fascist leader of Italy during the 1930s and World War II.

Adolf Hitler: Fascist Nazi leader of Germany during the 1930s and World War II.

Nazi Party: Hitler’s political party. Their full name was the National Socialist German Workers’ Party.

Joseph Stalin: Second leader of the Soviet Union from 1922-1953.

Axis Powers: The alliance of Nazi Germany, Mussolini’s Italy, and Japan during World War II.

America First Committee: Group that included many prominent Americans in the 1930s which advocated for isolationism.

Chiang Kai-shek: Leader of the Chinese during World War II. He led the nationalists against the communists in China’s civil war.

Winston Churchill: Prime Minister of the United Kingdom during World War II.

Hideki Tojo: Army general and prime minister of Japan during World War II.


Isolationism: A policy of not being involved in international affairs or joining in treaties with other nations.

Fascism: Government system in which one person maintains total control and that leader and the country are synonymous. Thus, citizens declare loyalty to the leader, rather than the nation.

Appeasement: Attempting to avoid a conflict by giving someone what they want.

Blitzkrieg: German for “lightning war.” It described the German battlefield tactics which included the combined use of infantry, tanks, and aircraft.


A date which will live in infamy: Famous line from President Franklin Roosevelt’s war message to Congress the day after the attack on Pearl Harbor.


Manchuria: The northeastern corner of China. It was administered by Japan in the 1930s as a puppet state.

French Indochina: French colony in Southeast Asia that included the modern nations of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.


Washington Naval Conference: Meeting of nine world powers in 1921 and 1922 in which they agreed to limit the size of their navies.

Marco Polo Bridge Incident: Fight between Japanese and Chinese troops in 1937 that led to open war in China.

Rape of Nanjin: War crime in which Japanese troops raped, tortured and murdered thousands of civilians after capturing the city of Nanjin, China in 1937-38.

Battle of Britain: Air war between Germany and Great Britain in 1940. Hitler tried to force the British to sue for peace by bombing cities.

Attack on Pearl Harbor: December 7, 1941. The event that propelled the United States into World War II.


Good Neighbor Policy: President Franklin Roosevelt’s foreign policy during the 1930s with regards to Latin America. He withdrew the military and renounced intervention, reversing Theodore Roosevelt’s corollary to the Monroe Doctrine.

Munich Pact: Agreement between Hitler and the United Kingdom in 1938. Hitler promised not to invade his neighbors in exchange for British Prime Minister Chamberlain’s agreement to let Hitler control the Sudetenland. Chamberlain believed the agreement would preserve peace. It actually convinced Hitler that the British would not stop his expansionist plans.

Stimson Doctrine: American policy toward Japanese expansion in China in the 1930s. The United States refused to recognize the legality of the Japanese occupation.

Neutrality Acts: Set of laws passed by Congress in the second half of the 1930s that prohibited President Roosevelt from actively supporting any side during World War II.

Cash and Carry: American policy in which the United Kingdom could purchase war materials so long as they paid in full and transported the materials on British ships. It was a first step toward joining the war.

Lend Lease: American policy starting in early 1941 to provide war material to the United Kingdom. Under the policy, the British did not have to pay for what they needed up front, thus ending the Cash and Carry policy.

Atlantic Charter: Agreement between President Franklin Roosevelt and Prime Minister Winston Churchill of the United Kingdom in August 1941 before the United States joined World War II. It outlined the Anglo-American war goals of preserving democracy and self-determination.

Study on Quizlet