U.S. Enters The War

By 1940, it seemed that the Japanese might turn southward toward the oil, tin, and rubber of British Malaya and the Netherlands Indies. In July 1941, when the Vichy government permitted the Japanese to occupy the remainder of Indochina, the United States froze Japanese assets. On November 19, after General Tojo's government had taken office in Japan, a special envoy, Saburo Kurusu, arrived in the United States and announced that he sought a peaceful understanding. On December 6 President Roosevelt responded with a personal appeal for peace to the Japanese Emperor. On the morning of December 7 the Japanese answer came-a shower of bombs on the American fleet and defense installations at Pearl Harbor.

As the details of the Japanese raids upon Hawaii, Midway, Wake, and Guam blared from American radios, incredulity turned to anger at what President Roosevelt called the "unprovoked and bastardly" attack. On December 8 Congress declared a state of war with Japan; three days later Germany and Italy declared war on the United States.

On December 9, when President Roosevelt delivered his war message to the American people, he reminded them:

"The true goal we seek is far above and beyond the ugly field of battle. When we resort to force, as now we must, we are determined that this force should be directed towards ultimate good as well as against immediate evil. We Americans are not destroyers-we are builders."

The nation rapidly geared itself for mobilization of its manpower and its entire industrial capacity. On January 6, 1942, President Roosevelt announced staggering production goals: delivery in that year of 60,000 planes, 45,000 tanks, 20,000 anti-aircraft guns, and 18 million deadweight tons of merchant shipping. All the nation's activities-farming, manufacturing, mining, trade, labor, investment, communications, even education and cultural undertakings-were in some fashion brought under new and enlarged controls. Money was raised in enormous sums; great new industries were created; striking new techniques were developed, as in the mass production of ships and planes; major movements of population took place. Under a series of conscription acts, the armed forces of the United States were brought up to a total of 15,100,000. By the end of 1943, approximately 65 million men and women were in uniform or in war-related occupations.

Soon after the United States entered the war, the western Allies decided that their essential military effort was to be concentrated in Europe, where the core of enemy power lay, while the Pacific theater was to be secondary. Nevertheless, in 1942, the Pacific--where the navy kept its carrier-borne aircraft--saw some of the first important American successes.

In May 1942, heavy Japanese losses in the battle of the Coral Sea forced the Japanese navy to give up the idea of striking at Australia, and in June carrier planes inflicted severe damage on a Japanese flotilla off Midway Island. In August, unified army-navy action brought an American landing on Guadalcanal and another naval victory, the battle of the Bismarck Sea . The almost incredible growth of the navy, a result of intensified shipyard production, gave hope of further victories.