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World War II

War Comes to the United States

Though determined to maintain its neutrality, the United States was gradually drawn closer to the war by the force of events. To save Britain from collapse the Congress voted lend-lease aid early in 1941. In Aug., 1941, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt met Churchill on the high seas, and together they formulated the Atlantic Charter as a general statement of democratic aims. To establish bases to protect its shipping from attacks by German submarines, the United States occupied (Apr., 1941) Greenland and later shared in the occupation of Iceland; despite repeated warnings, the attacks continued. Relations with Germany became increasingly strained, and the aggressive acts of Japan in China, Indochina, and Thailand provoked protests from the United States.

Efforts to reach a peaceful settlement were ended on Dec. 7, 1941, when Japan without warning attacked Pearl Harbor, the Philippines, and Malaya. War was declared (Dec. 8) on Japan by the United States, the Commonwealth of Nations (except Ireland), and the Netherlands. Within a few days Germany and Italy declared war on the United States.

The first phase of the war in the Pacific was disastrous for the Allies. Japan swiftly conquered the Philippines (where strong resistance ended at Corregidor), Malaya, Burma (Myanmar), Netherlands East Indies (Indonesia), and many Pacific islands; destroyed an Allied fleet in the Java Sea; and reached, by mid-1942, its furthest points of advance in the Aleutian Islands and New Guinea.

Australia became the chief Allied base for the countermoves against Japan, directed by Gen. Douglas MacArthur, Admiral Nimitz, and Admiral Halsey. The first Allied naval successes against Japan were scored in the battles of the Coral Sea and Midway, where U.S. bombers knocked out the major part of Japan's carrier fleet and forced Japan into retreat. Midway was the first decisive blow against the Axis by Allied forces. On land the Allies took the offensive in New Guinea and landed (Aug. 7, 1942) on Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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