The “Good War”
In This Chapter
Turning points: victory in North Africa and at Midway
Collapse of Germany
Use of the atomic bomb against Japan
When America had entered World War I, it rushed to mobilize forces for a European war. Now, even as Europe was being overrun by Nazi Germany, Japan had struck directly at United States territory (Hawaii did not become a state until 1959). Preparations for war were even more urgent in 1941. than they had been in 1917, and the blow at Pearl Harbor was just one of many Japanese assaults. Japanese forces attacked Wake Island and Guam (both U.S. possessions), British Malaya, Singapore, the Dutch East Indies, Burma, Thailand, and the Philippines (at the time a U.S. commonwealth territory). The U.S. garrison on Guam was overwhelmed and surrendered. On Wake Island, Marines repelled a first Japanese attack but yielded to a second. Britain’s crown colony of Hong Kong collapsed, soon followed by Singapore (another British possession), and then the Dutch East Indies. Burma likewise fell, despite the efforts of Claire L. Chennault (1890-1958), a former U.S. Army Air Service officer and now air adviser to China’s premier Chiang Kai-Shek. Chennault led his famous Flying Tigers—a small force of U.S.-made Curtiss P-40 fighter planes—in crippling action against the enemy’s aircraft.
For the United States, as for the rest of the formerly “free” world, the opening years of World War II were humiliating, dismal, and terrifying.