by Kenneth T. Jackson

World War II was the central event of the twentieth century. It involved all six major continents, all three of the great oceans on the planet, scores of countries, and billions of people. It caused 57 million deaths and unimaginable human suffering. It brought about the redrawing of national boundaries in Europe and Asia, forced the relocation of many ethnic groups, made millions of families homeless, and led to the virtual annihilation of the Jewish population of Europe. By the time it was over in 1945, Tokyo, Berlin, Hamburg, Leningrad, Stalingrad, Warsaw, Hiroshima, Dresden, Dusseldorf, Nagasaki, Osaka, Manila, Cologne, and dozens of other great cities had been obliterated. And population centers that had mostly avoided the worst of the death and destruction continued to see poverty and hunger linger for years after the surrender documents had been signed. Meanwhile, the prisoners and the wounded, making their way back to wives, sweethearts, parents, and children, often after an absence of many years, would carry the cost of the conflict with them for the rest of their lives.More »

Featured Primary Sources

Sidney Diamond to Estelle Spero, ca. April 1942 (Gilder Lehrman Collection)

A soldier’s reasons for enlisting, 1942

Creator: Sidney Diamond Curriculum Subjects: Grade Levels: 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13+
Starve the Squander Bug, a World War II poster, 1943 (GLC09524)

A World War II poster: “Starve the Squander Bug,” 1943

Creator: Theodor Geisel Curriculum Subjects: Art, Government and Civics, World History Grade Levels: 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9
“Be a Cadet Nurse,” United States Public Health Service, 1944. (GLC09520.04)

Cadet Nurse Corps, 1943

Creator: US Public Health Service Curriculum Subjects: Grade Levels:
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Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II

Speaker(s): John W. Dower Duration: 1 hour 11 minutes 28 seconds

Freedom from Fear: The American People in Depression and War, 1929–1945

Speaker(s): David M. Kennedy Duration: 54 minutes 11 seconds

Introduction to Supreme Court Controversies throughout History

Speaker(s): Larry Kramer Duration: 18 minutes 59 seconds
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