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World Wars and Depression Review for AP World History (page 3)

By — McGraw-Hill Professional
Updated on Mar 4, 2011

The Opposing Sides

Two opposing sides arose, with the major powers including:

  • The Axis Powers—Germany, Italy, and Japan.
  • The Allied Powers—Great Britain, France, and the Soviet Union.

The Course of War

World War II was fought in two theaters: the Pacific and the European, which included the Middle East and Africa. In an effort to control the oil reserves of Southeast Asia, Japan seized Indochina from France and attacked Malaysia and Burma. When the United States imposed an embargo against Japan as a result of these actions, Japan retaliated by attacking the U.S. fleet anchored at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on December 7, 1941. The Japanese attack brought the United States and its greater industrial power into the war on the side of the Allied powers.

The early years of the war showcased Axis strength. In 1941, the tide began to turn in favor of the Allies when Hitler undertook an unsuccessful winter invasion of Russia and the United States entered the war. When Hitler was forced to withdraw his forces from Russia in 1942, Soviet armies began their advance through Eastern Europe and into Germany. After deposing Mussolini, Allied forces pushed into France and met in Germany in April 1945. Hitler's subsequent suicide was followed by Allied victory in Europe in May 1945.

After victory in Europe, the Soviet Union assisted in the Allied effort against Japan. After the U.S. use of atomic bombs against the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Japanese surrendered in August 1945, ending World War II.

The Cost of the War

World War II took a devastating toll in human life, killing about 35 million people, including about 20 million in the Soviet Union. The Holocaust, Hitler's elimination of European Jews in gas chambers, took the lives of 6 million. Other groups such as Gypsies, Slavs, political prisoners, and Jehovah's Witnesses were also sent to extermination camps during the Holocaust. More than 300,000 were killed by the Japanese offensive in China, most of them in the city of Nanking. The fire bombings of Japanese cities and of the German city of Dresden added tens of thousands to the death toll. Nearly 80,000 were killed in Hiroshima, and tens of thousands were killed in Nagasaki.

Designing the Peace

World War II peace settlements began before the war had ended:

  • In 1943, at the Tehran Conference, the Allied powers decided to focus on the liberation of France, allowing the Soviet Union to move through the nations of Eastern Europe as it advanced toward France. The Soviet Union, therefore, gained ground and influence in Eastern Europe.
  • In 1945, at the Yalta Conference, the Soviet Union agreed to join the war against Japan in exchange for territory in Manchuria and the northern island of Japan. The Yalta Conference also provided for the division of Germany into four zones of occupation after the war.
  • In 1945, the Potsdam Conference gave the Soviets control of eastern Poland, with Poland receiving part of eastern Germany. It made the final arrangements for the division of Germany and also divided Austria.

After the war had ended:

  • The United States occupied Japan.
  • Korea was divided into U.S. and Soviet occupation zones.
  • China regained most of its territory, but fighting between Nationalist and Communist forces resumed.
  • Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia became Soviet provinces.
  • Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Bulgaria, and Romania were occupied by the Soviet Union.
  • Colonies renewed their independence efforts.
  • European world dominance ended.
  • A new international peace organization, the United Nations, was created in 1945, with the United States among its key members.
  • International dominance remained in the hands of two superpowers—the United States and the Soviet Union.

Rapid Review

The forces of nationalism, imperialism, and militarism combined with entangling defense alliances produced the first global war of the twentieth century. Postwar peace settlements created new nations without consideration of ethnic differences within those nations. The Treaty of Versailles left Germany economically and militarily devastated and humiliated by the war guilt clause. The costs of war ruined regional economies and world trade, creating a depression that reached most regions of the world. Out of the despair of the Great Depression arose new political institutions, including fascism in Germany and Italy and military rule in Japan. The world found itself at war for the second time in the twentieth century. Millions died in the Holocaust, while the atomic age was launched with the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The lessons of war created an attempt at a new world order that included a stronger international organization, the United Nations.

Review questions for this study guide can be found at:

World Wars and Depression Review Questions for AP World History

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