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The United States Of America, Part Seven

This is the story of how the American Republic developed from colonial beginnings in the 16th century, when the first European explorers arrived, until modern times.

 

History of the United States: Continued

THE GREAT DEPRESSION  
In 1929, Hoover's first year as president, the prosperity of the 1920s capsized. Stock prices climbed to unprecedented heights, as investors speculated in the stock market. The speculative binge, in which people bought and sold stocks for higher and higher prices, was fueled by easy credit, which allowed purchasers to buy stock "on margin." If the price of the stock increased, the purchaser made money; if the price fell, the purchaser had to find the money elsewhere to pay off the loan. More and more investors poured money into stocks. Unrestrained buying and selling fed an upward spiral that ended on October 24, 1929, when the stock market collapsed. The great crash shattered the economy. Fortunes vanished in days. Consumers stopped buying, businesses retrenched, banks cut off credit, and a downward spiral began. The Great Depression that began in 1929 would last through the 1930s.

Causes of the Depression  
The stock market crash of 1929 did not cause the Great Depression, but rather signaled its onset. The crash and the depression sprang from the same cause: the weaknesses of the 1920s economy. An unequal distribution of income meant that working people and farmers lacked money to buy durable goods. Crisis prevailed in the agricultural sector, where farmers produced more than they could sell, and prices fell. Easy credit, meanwhile, left a debt burden that remained unpayable.

The crisis also crossed the Atlantic. The economies of European nations collapsed because they were weakened by war debts and by trade imbalances; most spent more on importing goods from the United States than they earned by exporting. European nations amassed debts to the United States that they were unable to repay. The prosperity of the 1920s rested on a weak foundation.

Effects of the Depression  
After the crash, the economy raced downhill. Unemployment, which affected 3 percent of the labor force in 1929, reached 25 percent in 1933. With one out of four Americans out of work, people stopped spending money. Demand for durable goods—housing, cars, appliances—and luxuries declined, and production faltered. By 1932 the gross national product had been cut by almost one-third. By 1933 over 5,000 banks had failed, and more than 85,000 businesses had gone under.


The effects of the Great Depression were devastating. People with jobs had to accept pay cuts, and they were lucky to have work. In cities, the destitute slept in shanties that sprang up in parks or on the outskirts of town, wrapped up in "Hoover blankets" (newspapers) and displaying "Hoover flags" (empty pockets). On the Great Plains, exhausted land combined with drought to ravage farms, destroy crops, and turn agricultural families into migrant workers. An area encompassing parts of Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, and Colorado became known as the Dust Bowl. Family life changed drastically. Marriage and birth rates fell, and divorce rates rose. Unemployed breadwinners grew depressed; housewives struggled to make ends meet; young adults relinquished career plans and took whatever work they could get.

Relief Efforts  
Modest local welfare resources and charities barely made a dent in the misery. In African American communities, unemployment was disproportionately severe. In Chicago in 1931, 43.5 percent of black men and 58.5 percent of black women were out of work, compared with 29.7 percent of white men and 19.14 percent of white women. As jobs vanished in the Southwest, the federal government urged Mexican Americans to return to Mexico; some 300,000 left or were deported.


On some occasions, the depression called up a spirit of unity and cooperation. Families shared their resources with relatives, and voluntary agencies offered what aid they could. Invariably, the experience of living through the depression changed attitudes for life. "There was one major goal in my life," one woman recalled, "and that was never to be poor again."

President Hoover, known as a progressive and humanitarian, responded to the calamity with modest remedies. At first, he proposed voluntary agreements by businesses to maintain production and employment; he also started small public works programs. Hoover feared that if the government handed out welfare to people in need, it would weaken the moral fiber of America.


Hoover finally sponsored a measure to help businesses in the hope that benefits would "trickle down" to others. With his support, Congress created the Reconstruction Finance Corporation in 1932 that gave generous loans to banks, insurance companies, and railroads. But the downward spiral of price decline and job loss continued. Hoover's measures were too few, too limited, and too late.

Hoover's reputation suffered further when war veterans marched on Washington to demand that Congress pay the bonuses it owed them (see Bonus March). When legislators refused, much of the Bonus Army dispersed, but a segment camped out near the Capitol and refused to leave. Hoover ordered the army under General Douglas MacArthur to evict the marchers and burn their settlement. This harsh response to veterans injured Hoover in the landmark election of 1932, where he faced Democrat Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Roosevelt was New York's governor and a consummate politician. He defeated Hoover, winning 57 percent of the popular vote; the Democrats also took control of both houses of Congress. Voters gave Roosevelt a mandate for action.

The New Deal  
Roosevelt was a progressive who had been a supporter of Woodrow Wilson. He believed in active government and experimentation. His approach to the Great Depression changed the role of the U.S. government by increasing its power in unprecedented ways.

Roosevelt gathered a "brain trust"—professors, lawyers, business leaders, and social welfare proponents—to advise him, especially on economic issues. He was also influenced by his cabinet, which included Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes, Secretary of State Cordell Hull, Secretary of Agriculture Henry Wallace, and Labor Secretary Frances Perkins, the first woman cabinet member. A final influence on Roosevelt was his wife, Eleanor, whose activist philosophy had been shaped by the women's movement. With Eleanor Roosevelt in the White House, the disadvantaged gained an advocate. Federal officials sought her attention, pressure groups pursued her, journalists followed her, and constituents admired her.

The First New Deal  
Unlike Hoover, Roosevelt took strong steps immediately to battle the depression and stimulate the U.S. economy. When he assumed office in 1933, a banking crisis was in progress. More than 5,000 banks had failed, and many governors had curtailed banking operations. Roosevelt closed the banks, and Congress passed an Emergency Banking Act, which saved banks in sounder financial shape. After the "bank holiday," people gradually regained confidence in banks. The United States also abandoned the gold standard and put more money into circulation.


Next, in what was known as the first Hundred Days, Roosevelt and the Democratic Congress enacted a slew of measures to combat the depression and prevent its recurrence. The measures of 1933 included: the Agricultural Adjustment Act, which paid farmers to curtail their production (later upset by the Supreme Court); the National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA), which established codes of fair competition to regulate industry and guaranteed labor's right to collective bargaining (again, the law was overturned in 1935); and the Public Works Administration, which constructed roads, dams, and public buildings. Other acts of the first Hundred Days created the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, which insured deposits in banks in case banks failed, and the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), which provided electric power to areas of the southeast. The government also set up work camps for the unemployed, refinanced mortgages, provided emergency relief, and regulated the stock market through the Securities and Exchange Commission.


The emergency measures raised employment, but the New Deal evoked angry criticism. On the right, conservative business leaders and politicians assailed New Deal programs. In popular radio sermons, Father Charles Coughlin, once a supporter of Roosevelt, denounced the administration’s policies and revealed nativist, anti-Semitic views. The Supreme Court, appointed mainly by Republicans, was another staunch foe; it struck down many pieces of New Deal legislation, such as the NIRA, farm mortgage relief, and the minimum wage.


On the left, critics believed that Roosevelt had not done enough and endorsed stronger measures. In California, senior citizens rallied behind the Townsend Plan, which urged that everyone over the age of 65 receive $200 a month from the government, provided that each recipient spend the entire amount to boost the economy. The plan's popularity mobilized support for old-age pensions. In Louisiana, Democratic Governor Huey Long campaigned for "soak the rich" tax schemes that would outlaw large incomes and inheritances, and for social programs that would "Share Our Wealth" among all people. The growing Communist Party, finally, urged people to repudiate capitalism and to allow the government to take over the means of production.

The Second New Deal  
In 1935 the New Deal veered left with further efforts to promote social welfare and exert federal control over business enterprise. The Securities and Exchange Commission Act of 1934 enforced honesty in issuing corporate securities. The Wagner Act of 1935 recognized employees' bargaining rights and established a National Labor Relations Board to oversee relations between employers and employees. Finally, the Works Project Administration put unemployed people to work on short-term public projects.

New Dealers also enacted a series of measures to regulate utilities, to increase taxes on corporations and citizens with high incomes, and to empower the Federal Reserve Board to regulate the economy. Finally, the administration proposed the Social Security Act of 1935, which established a system of unemployment insurance, old-age pensions, and federal grants to the states to aid the aged, the handicapped, and families with dependent children. Largely an insurance program, Social Security was the keystone of welfare policy for decades to come.

In the election of 1936, Roosevelt defeated his Republican opponent, Alf Landon, in a landslide and carried every state but Maine and Vermont. The election confirmed that many Americans accepted and supported the New Deal. It also showed that the constituency of the Democratic Party had changed. The vast Democratic majority reflected an amalgam of groups called the New Deal coalition, which included organized labor, farmers, new immigrants, city dwellers, African Americans (who switched their allegiance from the party of Lincoln), and finally, white Southern Democrats.

At the start of Roosevelt’s second term in 1937, some progress had been made against the depression; the gross output of goods and services reached their 1929 level. But there were difficulties in store for the New Deal. Republicans resented the administration's efforts to control the economy. Unemployment was still high, and per capita income was less than in 1929. The economy plunged again in the so-called Roosevelt recession of 1937, caused by reduced government spending and the new social security taxes. To battle the recession and to stimulate the economy, Roosevelt initiated a spending program. In 1938 New Dealers passed a Second Agricultural Adjustment Act to replace the first one that the Supreme Court had overturned, and the Wagner Housing Act, which funded construction of low-cost housing.

Meanwhile, the president battled the Supreme Court, which had upset several New Deal measures and was ready to dismantle more. Roosevelt attacked indirectly; he asked Congress for power to appoint an additional justice for each sitting justice over the age of 70. The proposal threatened the Court's conservative majority. In a blow to Roosevelt, Congress rejected the so-called court-packing bill. But the Supreme Court changed its stance and began to approve some New Deal measures, such as the minimum wage in 1937.

During Roosevelt’s second term, the labor movement made gains. Industrial unionism (unions that welcomed all the workers in an industry) now challenged the older brand of craft unionism (skilled workers in a particular trade), represented by the American Federation of Labor (AFL). In 1936 John L. Lewis, head of the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA), left the AFL to organize a labor federation based on industrial unionism. He founded the Committee for Industrial Organizations, later known as the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO). Industrial unionism spurred a major sit-down strike in the auto industry in 1937. Next, violence erupted at a steelworkers' strike in Chicago, where police killed ten pickets. The auto and steel industries, however, agreed to bargain collectively with workers, and these labor victories led to a surge in union membership.

Finally, in 1938 Congress passed another landmark law, the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). It established federal standards for maximum hours and minimum wages for workers in industries involved in interstate commerce. At first the law affected only a minority of workers, but gradually Congress extended it so that by 1970 it covered most employees. In the 1930s, however, many New Deal measures, such as labor laws, had a limited impact. African Americans, for instance, failed to benefit from FLSA because they were engaged mainly in nonindustrial jobs, such as agricultural or domestic work, which were not covered by the law. New Deal relief programs also sometimes discriminated by race.

The New Deal never ended the Great Depression, which continued until United States entry into World War II, revived the economy. As late as 1940, 15 percent of the labor force was unemployed. Nor did the New Deal redistribute wealth or challenge capitalism. But in the short run, the New Deal averted disaster and alleviated misery, and its long-term effects were profound.

One long-term effect was an activist state that extended the powers of government in unprecedented ways, particularly in the economy. The state now moderated wild swings of the business cycle, stood between the citizen and sudden destitution, and recognized a level of subsistence beneath which citizens should not fall.

The New Deal also realigned political loyalties. A major legacy was the Democratic coalition, the diverse groups of voters including African Americans, union members, farmers, and immigrants who backed Roosevelt and continued to vote Democratic.

The New Deal's most important legacy was a new political philosophy, liberalism, to which many Americans remained attached for decades to come. By the end of the 1930s, World War II had broken out in Europe, and the country began to shift its focus from domestic reform to foreign policy and defense.

AMERICA AND WORLD WAR II  
The roots of World War II can be found in the debris of World War I, which left legacies of anger and hardship. After World War I, the Treaty of Versailles imposed large reparations on Germany. The reparations and wartime destruction caused severe economic problems in postwar Germany. Other European nations grappled with war debts, hunger, homelessness, and fear of economic collapse. Under these circumstances, totalitarianism spread.


From 1922 to 1953 dictator Joseph Stalin controlled the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), which was formed after the Russian Revolution of 1917. The USSR became a police state that suppressed opponents and deprived citizens of rights. Elsewhere, militarism and expansionism gained ground. In the 1930s the Japanese military won influence, and Japan began to expand its territory. In 1931 Japan attacked the Chinese province of Manchuria. Condemned by the League of Nations for its attack, Japan quit the league. Italy turned to fascism, a strong centralized government headed by a powerful dictator and rooted in nationalism. Fascist leader Benito Mussolini seized power in Italy in 1922.


In Germany, the Nazi Party, led by Adolf Hitler, came to power (see National Socialism). Hitler believed that Aryans were a master race destined for world rule. He sought to form a great German empire—one that gave the German people, in his words, "the land and the soil to which they are entitled on this earth." Global depression in the 1930s helped bring the Nazis to power. In 1932, with six million Germans out of work, the Nazis won more votes than any other party, and in 1933, just as Roosevelt took office, Hitler became the German prime minister. Like Japan, Germany quit the League of Nations.

Germany soon revealed its expansionist goals. In 1933 Hitler began to build up the German military, in violation of the Treaty of Versailles. In 1936 he sent troops into the Rhineland, a demilitarized region in western Germany. The same year, Hitler and Mussolini signed an alliance, the Rome-Berlin Axis Pact. In 1940 the alliance was extended to include Japan. The three nations—Germany, Italy, and Japan—became the Axis Powers. The start of World War II was near.

Isolationism vs. Internationalism  
Most Americans of the 1930s recoiled from involvement in the European conflict; they favored U.S. isolationism, and many supported pacifism. Some believed that "merchants of death" (bankers and arms dealers) had lured the United States into World War I. The Roosevelt administration, too, tried to maintain friendly foreign relations. Roosevelt recognized the USSR in 1933 and set up a Good Neighbor Policy with Latin America. No state, the United States said, had the right to intervene in the affairs of another. Roosevelt also made progress toward lower tariffs and free trade. In 1935 and 1936, Congress passed a group of neutrality acts to keep the United States out of Europe's troubles. The first two acts banned arms sales or loans to nations at war. The third act, a response to the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), extended the ban to nations split by civil war.


But as conflict spread abroad, Americans discarded their neutral stance. Many opposed fascist forces in the civil war in Spain. There, democratic armies fell to dictator Francisco Franco, who was supported by Hitler and Mussolini. Japan launched a new attack on China in July 1937 to obtain more Chinese territory. It quickly overran northern China. Hitler marched through Europe. Germany in 1938 annexed Austria and then seized Czechoslovakia without resistance. In August 1939 Hitler and Stalin signed a nonaggression pact. On September 1, 1939, Hitler invaded Poland, which led England and France to declare war on Germany. Americans increasingly doubted that the United States could avoid becoming involved.


In September 1939 Roosevelt called Congress into special session to revise the neutrality acts. The president offered a plan known as cash-and-carry, which permitted Americans to sell munitions to nations able to pay for them in cash and able to carry them away in their own ships. Isolationists objected, but Congress passed the Neutrality Act of 1939, which legitimized cash-and-carry and allowed Britain and France to buy American arms. The war in Europe, meanwhile, grew more dire for the Allies. In June 1940 Germany conquered France, and British troops that had been in France retreated across the English Channel. Then German bombers began to pound Britain.


In June 1940 the United States started supplying Britain with "all aid short of war" to help the British defend themselves against Germany. Roosevelt asked Congress for more funds for national defense. Congress complied and began the first American peacetime military draft, the Selective Training and Service Act, under which more than 16 million men were registered. After the 1940 election, Roosevelt urged that the United States become "the great arsenal of democracy." In 1941 he and British prime minister Winston Churchill announced the Atlantic Charter, which set forth Allied goals for World War II and the postwar period. The two nations pledged to respect "the right of all peoples to choose the form of government under which they will live" and promised a free world without war "after the final destruction of Nazi tyranny." Isolationists criticized each move towards war; however, the United States was still not actually at war.


In 1941 the conflict worsened. Despite the nonaggression pact, German armies moved through the Baltics and into Russia. Meanwhile, as Japan continued to invade areas in Asia, U.S. relations with Japan crumbled. On December 7, 1941, Japan attacked a U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. The next day it attacked the main American base in the Philippines. In response, the United States declared war on Japan, though not on Germany; Hitler acted first and declared war on the United States. The United States committed itself to fighting the Axis powers as an ally of Britain and France.

The Nation at War  
Even before Pearl Harbor, the American government had begun to mobilize for war. After the attack, the United States focused its attention on the war effort. World War II greatly increased the power of the federal government, which mushroomed in size and power. The federal budget skyrocketed, and the number of federal civilian employees tripled. The war also made the United States a military and economic world power.

The armed forces expanded as volunteers and draftees enrolled, growing to almost 12 million men and 260,000 women by 1945. Roosevelt formed the Joint Chiefs of Staff, a military advisory group, to manage the huge military effort. New federal agencies multiplied. The Office of Strategic Services gathered intelligence and conducted espionage, the War Production Board distributed manufacturing contracts and curtailed manufacture of civilian goods, and the War Manpower Commission supervised war industry, agriculture, and the military. Other wartime agencies resolved disputes between workers and management; battled inflation, set price controls, and imposed rations on scarce items; turned out propaganda; and oversaw broadcasting and publishing.

As the United States moved to a wartime economy, the depression ended, and the U.S. economy came to life. Industry swiftly shifted to war production, automakers began turning out tanks and planes, and the United States became the world's largest weapons manufacturer. New industries emerged, such as synthetic rubber, which compensated for the loss of rubber supplies when Japan seized the Dutch East Indies and Malaya. The war economy brought new opportunities. Americans experienced virtually full employment, longer work weeks, and (despite wage controls) higher earnings. Unions gained members and negotiated unprecedented benefits. Farmers prospered, too. Crop prices rose, production increased, and farm income tripled.

Labor scarcity drew women into the war economy. During the depression, the federal government had urged women to cede jobs to male breadwinners. However, when the war began, it sought women to work in war production. More than six million women entered the work force in wartime; women's share of the labor force leaped from 25 percent in 1940 to 35 percent in 1945. Three-quarters of the new women workers were married, a majority were over 35, and over a third had children under 14. Many women held untraditional jobs in the well-paid blue collar sector—in shipyards and in airplane plants, as welders and crane operators. Women found new options in civilian vocations and professions, too. Despite women’s gains in the workplace, many people retained traditional convictions that women should not work outside the home. Government propaganda promoted women's war work as only a temporary response to an emergency.

Members of minorities who had been out of jobs in the 1930s also found work in the war economy. Hundreds of thousands of African Americans migrated from the South to Northern industrial cities to work in war industries. More than one million black people served in the armed forces in segregated units; the government ended its policy of excluding blacks from combat.

As Northern black urban populations grew, racial violence sometimes erupted, as in the Detroit race riots of June 1943. African Americans linked the battle against Nazis abroad with the fight for racial justice at home. Membership in the NAACP increased tenfold, and another civil rights organization, the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), began in 1942. Early in 1941, labor leader A. Philip Randolph met with Roosevelt administration officials to demand equal employment for blacks in industries working under federal government defense contracts. Randolph threatened to lead 100,000 African Americans in a march on Washington, D.C., to protest job discrimination. In response, Roosevelt issued a directive banning racial discrimination in federal hiring practices and established the Fair Employment Practices Commission. Like African Americans, Mexican Americans and Native Americans had more job opportunities.

For all Americans, war changed the quality of life. World War II inspired hard work, cooperation, and patriotism. Citizens bought war bonds, saved scrap metal, and planted victory gardens. They coped with rationing and housing shortages. The war also caused population movement. Americans flocked to states with military bases and defense plants; six million migrants left for cities, many on the West Coast where the defense industry was concentrated. School enrollment sank as teenagers took jobs or joined the armed services. People became more concerned about family life, especially about working mothers, juvenile delinquency, and unruly teenagers.

The United States began to receive reports of the Holocaust—the Nazi effort to exterminate all of Europe’s Jews—in 1942, and the State Department recognized Hitler’s genocide by the end of that year. However, the U.S. government gave precedence to other war matters and did not found a War Refugee Board until 1944. The board aided in the rescue and relocation of surviving Nazi victims, but its effort was too weak and too late to help Europe's Jews; approximately two-thirds of the Jewish population in Europe was murdered during the war.

In the United States, civil liberties were casualties of the war. In February 1942 the president authorized the evacuation of all Japanese from the West Coast. The U.S. government interned around 120,000 Japanese Americans, two-thirds of them native-born U.S. citizens, in relocation centers run by the War Relocation Authority. The internment policy reflected anti-Japanese sentiment on the West Coast that was rooted in economic rivalry, racial prejudice, and fear of Japanese sabotage after Pearl Harbor. (The policy affected only the mainland United States, not Hawaii, where more than 150,000 residents of Japanese descent lived and where the United States imposed martial law for almost three years.) Forced to sell their land and homes, the West Coast internees ended up behind barbed wire in remote western areas. In 1944 the Supreme Court ruled that the evacuation and internment were constitutional in Korematsu v. United States. By then, however, the government had started to release the internees. In 1988 Congress apologized and voted to pay $20,000 compensation to each of 60,000 surviving internees.

Global War  
Ever since 1941, when Roosevelt and Churchill issued the Atlantic Charter outlining war goals, the president had considered the war's conclusion. At wartime conferences, Allied leaders looked ahead to the war's end. In January 1943, for instance Britain and the United States met at Casablanca, Morocco, and agreed not to lay down arms until certain conditions were met: Germany, Italy, and Japan had to surrender unconditionally, give up all conquered territory, and renounce the ideologies that spurred aggression. At subsequent meetings, the Allied leaders reiterated this pledge and also considered postwar occupation plans and divisions of territory. However, the Western powers and the USSR did not trust one another and disagreed on the postwar future of nations on the Soviet border.

In 1944 the war in the European theater reached a climax. On the eastern front, Soviet armies had pushed Germany out of the USSR. A turning point had come in early 1943 at Stalingrad, where about 200,000 German troops surrendered to Soviet troops. The USSR then moved into Poland and the Balkans, and pushed the Allies to open a second front in Western Europe. The Allied armies, under General Dwight D. Eisenhower, prepared a huge invasion of western France. On June 6, 1944, known as D-Day, thousands of vessels and aircraft carrying British and American troops crossed the English Channel and landed on the Normandy coast of France.

Allied armies, led by General George S. Patton, smashed through German lines and started for Paris. Another Allied army invaded southern France and pressed northward. On August 25, 1944, the Allied forces liberated Paris after four years of Nazi rule. The Germans continued to fight in eastern France. Hitler launched a last, desperate offensive, the Battle of the Bulge, in December 1944. The offensive failed, and German armies were forced to retreat. Allied armies entered Germany in March 1945, while the Soviets moved toward Berlin from the east. Germany surrendered on May 8, 1945. The war in Europe was over.

The treacherous Pacific war—a great land, air, and sea battle—continued. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, Japan conquered the Philippines, Malaya, the Dutch East Indies, and Burma. Troops from the United States, Britain, Australia, and New Zealand tried to stop the Japanese advance, which reached its peak in the spring of 1942. The turning point of the Pacific war came in June 1942, at the Battle of Midway. The American victory at Midway ended the Japanese navy's hope of controlling the Pacific. The United States then began a long counteroffensive and recaptured Pacific islands that the Japanese had occupied. In October 1944 the United States finally smashed the Japanese fleet in the Battle of Leyte Gulf in the Philippines.

But Japan refused to surrender. The United States wanted to end the war with unconditional surrender from Japan. It also wanted to avoid more battles like those in Iwo Jima and Okinawa, where U.S. casualties had been heavy. These factors spurred U.S. plans to use the atomic bomb.

The United States in late 1941 established a secret program, which came to be known as the Manhattan Project, to develop an atomic bomb, a powerful explosive nuclear weapon. The aim of the project, directed by physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer, was to build an atom bomb before Germany did. After Roosevelt’s death in April 1945, Harry S. Truman became president and inherited the bomb-development program. At this point, the new weapon had two purposes. First, it could be used to force Japan to surrender. Second, possession of the bomb would enable the United States, and not the USSR, to control postwar policy.

Should the United States use the bomb to finally end the war with Japan? What were American options in 1945? One option was to invade Japan, which Truman believed would cost half a million American lives. Some historians have since estimated the likely loss of life at 25,000 to 46,000, though these figures probably cover just the first stage of a projected November invasion. A second option was not to demand unconditional surrender but to negotiate with Japan. A third alternative was to let a Soviet invasion end the war against Japan, which would have diminished U.S. influence in postwar policy. Scientists who developed the bomb debated what to do with it. Some found it wrong to drop the bomb without warning and supported a demonstration explosion to convince Japan to surrender. In Oppenheimer's view, this course of action was too uncertain and risky; only the shock of using the bomb on a Japanese city would force Japan to surrender. President Truman agreed.

On August 6, 1945, the United States dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima. In minutes, half of the city vanished. According to U.S. estimates, 60,000 to 70,000 people were killed or missing as a result of the bomb. Deadly radiation reached over 100,000. On August 8, the USSR declared war on Japan. On August 9, the United States dropped an even more powerful bomb on Nagasaki. According to U.S. estimates, 40,000 people were killed or never found as a result of the second bomb. On September 2, the Japanese government, which had seemed ready to fight to the death, surrendered unconditionally.

Should the United States have used the bomb? Critics of the decision decry the loss of life. They contend that any of the alternatives was preferable. Others assert that only the bomb, used in the way that it was, could have ended the war. Above all, they argue, it saved countless American lives. American GIs, who had been shipped halfway around the world to invade Japan after Germany surrendered, were elated. The bomb also precluded a Soviet invasion of Japan and gave the United States the upper hand in the postwar world. "Let there be no mistake about it," Truman later wrote. "I regarded the bomb as a military weapon and never had any doubt that it should be used."

Effects of the War  
After World War II ended, the use of the atomic bomb changed the world in many ways. Nuclear power led to a four-decades-long arms race between the United States and the USSR, and nuclear annihilation continues to threaten the world today. At the same time, nuclear power enabled scientists to develop new sources of energy.

During the war, other technological and medical advances were developed that saved lives and improved living standards in the decades ahead. Penicillin, a "miracle drug" first used to treat allied casualties, was used at home to defeat disease, reduce infant deaths, and extend life expectancy. DDT, a colorless chemical pesticide, destroyed harmful insects and prevented typhus and malaria. New fuel mixtures extended the range of warplanes and later of civilian planes; jet propulsion planes transformed transoceanic flights and were in commercial use by the late 1950s. Other facets of technology developed during World War II included radar, semiconductors, freeze-dried food, infrared technologies, and synthetic materials.

World War II ended Nazi barbarism and vanquished totalitarian power that threatened to conquer the globe. The cost of the war was immense. Allied military and civilian losses were 44 million; those of the Axis, 11 million. The United States lost almost 300,000 people in battle deaths, which was far less than the toll in Europe and Asia. At home, the war quenched isolationism, ended the depression, provided unprecedented social and economic mobility, fostered national unity, and vastly expanded the federal government. The U.S. government spent more than $300 billion on the war effort, which generated jobs and prosperity and renewed confidence. Finally, World War II made the United States the world's leading military and economic force. With the Axis threat obliterated, the United States and the USSR became rivals for global dominance.

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