The Empire of the Rising Sun

Japan is a crowded nation with few natural resources. Traditionally, the Japanese islands were the easternmost point of the Asia. The Japanese people call their islands the “Land of the Rising Sun” because it seems the sun rises from Japan, then spreads across the rest of Asia. Japan became an industrial leader in the early twentieth century but it was unable to expand their economy.

Britain and France feared that Hitler would attack Poland. Both countries declared they would defend Poland from German attack. They attempted to get the dictator of the Soviet Union, Josef Stalin, to join their alliance against Germany, but Stalin signed a separate pact with Germany. In September 1939, Germany attacked Poland from the west, while the Soviet Union attacked from the east. The attack caused Britain and France to declare war on Germany.

The Japanese believed that it was their destiny to liberate the people of Asia from European control. In 1894, Japan expanded into Korea. In 1937, as Germany was preparing to expand across Europe, Japan conquered Manchuria, a province in northeast China. By 1938, the Japanese controlled many important Chinese port cities and a great deal of the Chinese coastline.

Indochina is a peninsula between China and India in Southeast Asia. France had controlled Indochina for many years. Japan was able to assume control of Indochina when Germany occupied France in 1941. The United States demanded that Japan leave Indochina, and halted oil sales. Japan depended on American oil to fuel its industries. The Japanese were forced to search for new sources of oil. The Dutch colonies on the islands of East Asia were an obvious target. The Japanese knew that they would face war with the Americans if they attempted to conquer the Dutch colonies while war raged in Europe. Japan decided to strike America by surprise.

On a quiet Sunday morning, more than 500 Japanese fighters and bombers attacked the American Naval Base at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. In little more than an hour, the surprise attack killed more than two thousand Americans and significantly damaged the American war fleet in the Pacific. President Roosevelt announced that that date, December 7, 1941, was “a date which will live in infamy.” The Japanese believed they could destroy the American’s ability to contain their empire in Asia by destroying the naval ships in Pearl Harbor. They did not count on American resolve and industrial might.

Once America joined the war, it truly became a global conflict, with participants from every populated continent. The United States, along with Great Britain, France, and the Soviet Union became known as the Allied Forces, while Germany, Japan, and Italy were the Axis Powers.

America decided first to focus on the threat from Hitler. 1942 marked the turning point in the war. American soldiers and military might of the factory workers joined the effort while Germany was forced to fight enemies on all sides.

By 1945, Germany was in ruin. Allied bombers destroyed cities from the air, while their armies marched across Germany. The nation was completely devastated. When Hitler learned the enemy was within thirty miles of his underground bunker, he shot himself to death. The Nazi terror was over.


Download this lesson as Microsoft Word file or as an Adobe Acrobat file.

Mr. Donn has an excellent website that includes a section on World War I and World War II.

Pearl Harbor attached (headline)

The Honolulu Star-Bulletin announces the attack on Pearl Harbor

Hideki Tōjō

Hideki Tōjō was a general of the Imperial Japanese Army and the Prime Minister of Japan during most of World War II.

Franklin Roosevelt (photo)

President Franklin Roosevelt signs the declaration of war against Japan.