World War II

This iconic symbol of the hard-fought battle for Iwo Jima illustrates the bravery and determination of American soldiers as they took control of the tiny, yet strategic island.

Little did photographer Joe Rosenthal realize when he captured the sight of United States soldiers raising the stars and stripes that his photograph would earn him a Pulitzer Prize. Nor could he imagine that it would also become the most recognizable image of the war. Three of the soldiers shown hoisting the flag were killed before the clash ended. But their place in history remains eternal.

Historians believe that what triggered World War ll can be traced back to World War l. The peace treaties that ended the war caused bitterness and anger. Germany and its allies had suffered tremendous hardships. In the early 1930s, the world was hit by an economic depression. Workers lost their jobs, and millions faced difficult times. The people were looking for leaders who could bring change.

Germany, Italy and Japan came under the rule of dictators or military rule. Mussolini took power in Italy in 1927. Military commanders took control of Japan in the early 1930s. And in Germany, Adolf Hitler, leader of the Nazi Party, gained power in 1933. These men promised to restore their countries to greatness. Instead, Hitler began to arm Germany for war, Japan invaded China, and Mussolini sent troops to Ethiopia.

Germany’s invasion of Poland in 1939 signaled the start of the Second World War in Europe. And Japan’s surprise attack on the United States naval base at Pearl Harbor, on December 7, 1941 brought America into the war in both the European and Pacific theaters. The Allied coalition, Britain, France, the United States and the Soviet Union, were united in their determination to defeat the axis powers.

Four years later on May 7, 1945, Germany surrendered, ending the war in Europe. The war in the Pacific ended August 14, 1945, after America dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan.

World War ll was the bloodiest, deadliest war the world had ever seen. More than 38 million people died, many of them innocent civilians. Fighting ranged all over the globe. And during the war more than 50 countries went to battle.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who led the country during the war, did not live to see peace. Just a few months before the war ended, he died of a cerebral hemorrhage. In a speech he wrote, but never delivered, he said, “We must cultivate the science of human relationships — the ability of all peoples, of all kinds, to live together and work together in the same world, at peace.”

Two superpowers, the United States and the Soviet Union, emerged from the conflict. And the roots of the cold war — that would define most of the century — took hold.