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8.4 Conclusion

The United States greeted the news of Japan’s surrender with celebration. Millions of military personnel still stationed in the United States were instantly reunited with family, and those overseas were soon released from duty or at least given temporary furloughs to return home. Truman declared a two-day holiday, and every American city held ticker-tape parades. San Francisco merchants gave free ice cream to soldiers in uniform, then merchant marines and other dockworkers, and eventually to anyone walking by. Jewelers sold every engagement ring they had in stock, and a photographer in Times Square captured a sailor and nurse in a spontaneous embrace, an image forever associated with this day of jubilation. And in a small apartment in Brooklyn, a mother sat quietly clutching a tear-stained telegram from the War Department, informing her that her son would not be coming home.

Similar scenes occurred more than 400,000 times throughout the war as American mothers learned that their sons and daughters had been killed in defense of their country. An additional 700,000 Americans were wounded in a war that killed an estimated 60 million people, the majority of whom were civilians. The death and destruction of the war was contrasted against the victory of democracy over the forces of Fascism. Whether democracy and freedom would spread throughout Europe and Asia, however, was still yet to be seen. For many Americans, the same question about the ultimate triumph of democracy and freedom applied equally to their own nation.

Review and Critical Thinking

  1. In what ways might Stalingrad be one of the major turning points of World War II? Why might so few Americans know about the Battle of Stalingrad and the Eastern Front compared with the Normandy Invasion and other battles on the Western Front?
  2. How were the Allies able to successfully invade German-occupied France with so few casualties compared to the major battles of the Eastern Front? What factors account for the difference in casualties between the British, French, and Americans and the Soviets?
  3. Evaluate America’s response to the Holocaust. How might the United States have done more to lessen the severity of the Holocaust? Would diverting troops to liberate concentration camps have saved lives or merely prolonged the war?
  4. Compare the fighting that occurred during the battles of Iwo Jima and Okinawa to those of the Western Front between Germany and the United States and Britain. Why did the United States use atomic weapons against Japan? Did race affect this decision?
  5. Given the atrocities committed against many US troops captured in the Philippines by Japanese soldiers, some Americans called for Japanese POWs to be treated with equal brutality. Had the US military followed that advice, how might the war have been more difficult for US marines in the Pacific?