The Japanese islands are east of the Asian continent, so the Japanese saw the sun before anyone on the mainland. This is why the Japanese people call their islands the “Land of the Rising Sun.” Japan was also a rising industrial leader in the early twentieth century despite having few natural resources. Japanese leaders believed they had to conquer their neighbors to provide their factories with the raw materials.

The Japanese believed that it was their destiny to unite East Asia under their control. In 1894, Japan expanded into Korea. In 1937, as Germany prepared to expand across Europe, Japan conquered Manchuria, a province in northeast China. By 1938, the Japanese controlled many important Chinese port cities and much of the Chinese coastline.

Pearl Harbor attached (headline)


The Honolulu Star-Bulletin announces the attack on Pearl Harbor

Indochina is a peninsula between China and India in Southeast Asia. France had controlled Indochina for many years, but 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 as war raged in Europe, so 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 less than an hour, the surprise attack killed over 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.

Hideki Tōjō


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

Once America joined the war, it became a global conflict, with participants from every populated continent. The United States, 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 killed himself. 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.

Franklin Roosevelt (photo)


President Franklin Roosevelt signs the declaration of war against Japan.