Our approach to World War II is both a chronological and topical survey. Approached this way the individual country experiences often are obscured. Thus we have created a series of national pages designed to focus on the experience of each country in the War. Some counties were central to the War. Others played more marginal roles, but the national experience of the War was still profound in those countries. Germany, Japan, and the Soviet Union were the key players in launching the War and making it a struggle of unbeliebale cruelty and leathality. Poland was the first country to stand up to the NAZIs and paid a terrible proce. Britain and France were reluctantly dragged into the War. While France fell in the first year of the War, dogged British resistance made victory possible. America in the end rescued Europe not only from Fascism, but after the War from Communism as well. Almost all of the independent countries of the world were involved in the War and even those who were not beligerants (Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and Turkey) were affected by it or played not inconsequential roles.
Here is a list of the countries and colonies around the War and the part they played in World War II. The War was primarily fought by a small number of countries (America, Britain, Canada, China, France, Italy, Japan, and the Soviet Union), but many more were affected by the War or played smaller roles in it. Here there are both beligerant powers and neutrals. Many neutral countries , especially in Latin America, entered the War in the final months so they could partipate in the United Nations Conference.
Quite a number of small islands or island groups played importat roles in World War II. They were territorial ossessions of the various beligerant powers, aloth a few were possessions of neutral countries. Most but not all were Pacific islands. Several were the scene of major battles. Others played important supporting roles. Many of these islands since the War have become independent countries.
Regional trends did not play a major role in World War II. This was primarily because Africa and Asia were largely divided into European colonies. The one region in which there was some regional organization was Latin America. Of course as the War developed it did take on a regional character divided into theaters.
The two major alliance systems in World War II were the Axis and Allied Nations. The Axis is relativekly easy to describe. The Axis core was Germany, Italy, and Japan. Several mother countries joined the Axis willingly or were forced into the Axis. Germany's and Japan's Axis allies were exploited although not as brutally as the captive nations. The Allies are aittle more complicated. The Allies began with the World War I Allies (Britain with the Dominions and France). After the fall of France (June 1940), Vichy France cooperated in many ways with the Germans, but never joined the Axis or bcame a beligerant. Britain and the Dominions fought alone. Countries gradually joined the Allies, primarily after they were attacked by Axis countries and for the most part occupied. The traditional policy of neutrality proved a disasterous choice in the face of NAZI aggression. The United States was one of those countries, but was actively involved with keeping Britain in the War when the Japanese carrier attack on Pearl Harbor brought America into the War. The core of the Allies thus became Britain, the Dominuons, and the United States. There was, however, no formal treaty as was the case of the Axis. The Soviet Union was a largely independent factor. It signed and alliance with Germany (August 1939) which made the War possible. The German invasion (June 1941) forced the Soviets into the Allied camp. While he Sioviet Union played a central role in the defeat of the Germans, it never was a fully Allied country. Finland after surviving the Soviet invasion (November 1939), became a German co-belgerant, but never joined the Axis. For the most part the Latin American declared neutrality, but after Pearl Harbor gradually joined the Allies as non-beligerants. They supported the Allies with raw materials for which they were amply paid. The one exception was Brazil which played an active role in the War.
Many countries were able to stay out of World War I by declaring neutrality. Only Belgium and Greece were neutrals attacked by beligerants. The German invasion of neutral Blgium shocked the world and launched the War. This was much less true of World War II. In fact, most countries whichdeclared neutrality would attacked by either the Axis powers (or forced into the Axis) or by the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union might be coinsidered a neutral, but was in fact a valuable NAZI ally until attacked by the NAZIs. The United States was also a neutral and despite strong neutrality laws was aiding Britain and France even before Hitler launched the War. As a result, the list of neutral countries normally included those few countries which managed to maintain their neutrality without being invaded by the Germans. Of course this worked only becuse they made significant concessions to the Germans, essentially buying them off. British Primeminister Churchill likened it to a group feeding a crocodile, hoping to please it and o they would be the last one eaten. In the end, only the failure of Barbarossa, the German invasion of the Soviet Union, enabled these countries to avoid a German invasion and takne over. The European countries which managed to remain neutral were: Ireland (Eire), Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and Turkey.
A large number of countries were invaded and occupied during World War II. These were mostly European countries invaded and occupied by the Germans. German occupation policies were brutal and in sone cases such as Poland, genocidal. They were also explotive. The occupation policies esentially underwrote the German war effort. NAZI Germany at the time Hitler launched the War was virtually bankrupt, a situation hidden by fical subtrrfuges and mirrors. France in particularly played a key role in supporting the German war economy. German policy caused a terrible famine in Greece. Austria after the War claimed to be a captive nation, but was more of willing participant in the NAZI war effort. Italy and Japan began the process with their invasion of Manchuria (1931) and Ethiopia (1935). China and the Soviet Union were invaded, but not defeated. And the Soviet Union was for a time a NAZI ally, participating in the invasion and subjegation of neigboring countries. The situation in Asia is more complicated. The Philippines was about to achieve independence when the Japanese invaded (1941). Burma, Dutch East Indies, Indo-China, Malaya, and Singapore were European colonies and thus the Japanese invasion was a change in colonial rulers and not invasions of independent counties. And there were varying degrees of cooperation with the Japanese by nationalist groups because the Japanese claimed to be liberating them. Even the countries which cooperated with the Japanese (especially the DEI and Burma) were severely exploited and subject to apauling attrocities.
There is a tendency today to read history with the very misguided assumption that people at the time knew what we know today. There is a grave misunderstanding. And there is further confusion because Americans and Europeans view the War through a largely Europeans lens. While much is written about captive nations in Europe, it should be understood that much of the territory overran by the Japanese were colonies in which the local population had no role in Government. Engagement with the issues involved with the Axis was largely a question of geography. The Allies did not want a War and beyond Europe the local populations were often not much aware of world events, a for the bulk of the world population not much aware of events beyond their village. Latin America was the region leat affected by the War. Most of the countries there benefitted because of the rise of commodity prices. There was non appreciation for how NAZI racial and colonial policies would affect them. Africa was also not much affected, except for North Africa. The African coiuntries were drawn in to an extent because they were European countries. Both Britain and France recruited local troops, but most joined up for the wages not out of any loyalty to the European cause. The Ukranians abd Balts brutalized by the Soviets at first saw the NAZIS as liberators as did many Soviet Muslims. On the other hand Red Army soldiets conscripted from Central Asia had no idea what the War was about. There was considerable support for the Axis in Middle Eastern countries. There was a total lack of understanding of what NAZI racial and colonial policies would mean for them if the Axis won the War. And NAZI influences continued in Arab political movements like the Bath. The same was true in Asia, including the European countries overan by the Japanese. Many Asians in these colonies found out what the Axis would mean when millions perished in Japanese induced famines (Dutch East Indies and Indochina). We can look down on the Third World for not understanding what the issues were, but the situation was not entirely different in the West. The British reacted only when Hitler's aggressions made it clear that their island was in peril. And the French under Vichy colaborated with the NAZIs, apparently unaware of just how imperiled France was, fooled by intitial 'correct' German behavior. And French public opinion did not swing away from Vichy and collaboration until the NAZIs forced Vichy to assist with labor conscripotin for war wirknin the Reich. As for America, it was only the bombs droping in Pearl Harbor that convinced the United States to enter the War. And Americans while believing that the NAZIs were killing some Jews and other people, did not generally believe until the Allies crossed the Rhine and began liberating concentration camps the reports of mass slaughter. For many during the War, it was not the great issues of liberty and democracy tht dominated their thought, but centuries old ethnic divisions. This was the case in both the Balkans and Eastern Europe. As a result, in the Balkans alone more people wwre killed than all the Allied (America, Britain, and France) war fatalities and the bulk of the killing was done by local forces, often neighbors, not the Germans.
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