the Rise of American Superpower

HIS122: United States History II
Dr. Noah Cincinnati
Unit 4 Primary Sources: Interventionism, World War II, and the Rise of American

Background: Following years of tensions in the Western Pacific regarding Imperial
Japan’s aggressive war in China and its military advances into Southeast Asia, the FDR
administration initiated a freezing of Japanese financial assets in the U.S. and a
complete embargo of U.S. oil to Japan in 1941. In doing so, Japan lost access to 80
percent of its oil resources, effectively threatening to halt its war machine. In response,
Japan launched a surprise naval air attack at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, devastating the U.S.
Pacific Fleet with the hope of eliminating U.S. power in the Pacific as Japan then
launched massive invasions across Southeast Asia. Days after the Pearl Harbor attack,
Nazi Germany also declared war on the U.S. In time, the Axis Powers would come to
regret U.S. entry into the war.
World War II would prove to be the largest national endeavor in American
history. It unleashed extraordinary industrial and economic growth, effectively pulling
the U.S. out of the Great Depression while also triggering sweeping social
transformations that would forever change American life. The war would send nearly
16,000,000 Americans into the Armed Forces and the industrial economy would
produce history’s most powerful military force. In doing so, the U.S. would amass an
astonishing amount of military power, capable for the first time of projecting that
power virtually anywhere across the globe. While most Americans saw U.S.
intervention and the building of an American superpower as necessary and inherently
moral in saving the world from totalitarian enslavement, World War II did trigger
important considerations among ordinary citizens and policymakers about the
implications of this emerging superpower. Novel questions that would burden
Americans throughout and immediately after total U.S. victory: Why do we fight this
war? What type of conduct would be justifiable in defeating the enemies of the U.S.?
Was overwhelming American military power inherently good? What does fighting to
project liberalism abroad mean for American democracy at home? The following
sources reveal how some tried to make sense of the new possibilities and perils of
American superpower.

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