FALL 2002



More than a half-century since it ended, World War II remains the most total conflict in the history of the world.  Never in human history had a war been fought by so many soldiers, covered such a large area of the world’s surface, targeted and killed so many civilians, or wrought such unparalleled destruction.  The war generated atrocities that challenge the imagination, of which the systematic Nazi effort to exterminate the Jews of Europe is the most notorious.  It ended with the only use to date of atomic weapons, and produced a complex bi-polar world confrontation that shaped history for the following half century.  On the home front it required the mobilization of industry, manpower, and public opinion by governments to an extent never seen before or since.  It transformed American life permanently in numerous ways.  For the victors it was a righteous struggle, and became the base point of historical memory for several generations.  These collective memories still influence thinking today even as the “greatest generation” passes away with the march of time.  World War II retains a powerful hold on the popular imagination.  For many of you your images of the war come from the movies (has anyone NOT seen Saving Private Ryan?), the History Channel, or books and documentaries.  The number of books, films and documentaries produced on all aspects of the war is stupendous and shows no sign of slowing down.

It is essential, therefore, that this great historical event be studied systematically and understood intelligently.  We will explore in concise form this dramatic story from the Nazi attack on Poland in 1939 to the surrender ceremonies in Tokyo Bay in 1945.  Our survey will consist of more than just the narrow chronicle of military operations, though the principal ones are essential to the story.  We will look at the strategic choices that confronted the Allies and the Axis at each stage of the war; we will look at human suffering such as the holocaust and other atrocities; and we will study the evolution of strategic bombing methods that made Hiroshima and Nagasaki possible.  Our perspective is an American one, so we will also consider the home front and the way this country mobilized for the war, generated support for it, shaped attitudes toward the enemy, altered the status of women, and was, in so many ways, permanently changed by it all.



Regular attendance at class is a serious obligation.  Interpretation and analysis of the factual material in the readings is primarily a classroom experience.  Students who do not accept their attendance obligations seriously will find it difficult to do well in the course.  In any borderline grade situation I will use the attendance record as a factor.

Office Hours

Please feel free to see me at any time on any matter.  My office is in Hafey 306.  Phone x5750.  E-mail   In addition to my posted hours, I am available at many other times by arrangement.


There will be three (3) hour exams, including the final.  There will be specific questions on assigned readings.  Superior (B) or outstanding (A) exams will always include specific references to the readings and reveal work beyond minimum requirements. .  If you miss an hour exam without prior arrangement, I may require you to make it up at the end of the semester, during the final exam period.  I will count any additional assignments collectively as the equivalent of one hour exam toward the final grade.


Purchase:            Donald L. Miller, The Story of World War II (2001), Revised, expanded and updated from the original text by Henry Steele Commager.

Handouts:            Chapters 1 and 2 from Alan M. Winkler, Home Front U.S.A.: America  During World War II (2000)

Chapter 11, “Hitler’s New order,” from Michael J. Lyons, World War II: A Short History, 3rd edition (1999).

Pages 396-400 from Ronald H. Spector, Eagle Against the Sun: The American War With Japan (1985).

I will hand out information notes and other short readings from time to time.


There will be one written assignment.  Detailed instructions will be given separately.


The literature on World War II is staggering.  Attached to this syllabus is a bibliographic essay organized by course units which suggests additional reading.  I have selectively chosen classic and recent definitive titles.  Note several good paperback books useful as reference for the more narrow military operations of the war.  You should sample this literature.


The scope of the war requires basic knowledge of the geography of Europe, Asia and the Pacific, and requires almost constant reference to maps.  It is essential that you master this geography and there will be map exercises for this purpose.


Internet links for World War II voluminous.  I will provide a useful list of general and topical links for you in a separate document either at the Department’s web page or as an e-mail document for each of you.  I will note useful link references as we go along in class. You should explore on your own and inform me of your discoveries.


1.         German March of Conquest 1939-1942



            Fall of France, May 1940

            Britain alone: the Battle of Britain

            Mediterranean and the Balkans: British reversals

            Germany attacks Russia, June 1941: will it survive?

            MILLER Ch   1 “The Nazi Juggernaught”

                            Ch   2 “Britain Stands Alone,” pp. 37-53.

                            Ch   3 “From the Vistula to the Volga,” pp. 58-70.

2.         U.S. Neutrality 1939-1941

            FDR’s strategy and objectives

            Military planning: Germany first

            Supportive neutrality: aid to Britain

            Deterring Japan: Pacific diplomacy

            Last minute efforts

                        Handout notes

3.         Japan Triumphant 1941-1942

            Japan’s strategy: opportunities of war

            The China “incident” – morass on the continent

            Debate: north or south?

            1942 conquests: what next?

            Extension south: Solomans and Coral Sea

            Midway – the tide of war turns July 1942

            Guadalcanal: the first American offensive

            U.S. attitude toward the enemy

            MILLER Ch   4 “The Rising Sun”

                            Ch   5 “The Hard Way Back,” pp. 129-160.


4.            Opening a second Front: Anglo-American Differences 1942-1943.

            Churchill’s strategic thinking

            U.S. Joint Chiefs strategic thinking

            Battle of the Atlantic 1942 – the submarine war

            Tyranny of logistics and supply: where to attack?

            See-saw in Africa: Tobruk – TORCH – El alemein 1942

            Sicily and Italy 1943: the European side-show

            MILLER Ch   2 “Britain Stands Alone,” pp. 53-57

                            Ch   5 “The hard Way Back,” pp. 160-184

                            Ch   7 “Up the Bloody Boot”

5.         The War In Russia 1941-1944

            Stalin demands a second front 1942

            Stalingrad: the tide turns against Germany

            Russia moves west

            Kursk: July 1943

            900 day siege of Leningrad ends January 1944

            Warsaw, August 1944

            Big Three Diplomacy 1943-1944: Teheran

            MILLER Ch   3 “From the Vistula to the Volga,” pp. 70-76.

                            Ch 17 “From the Volga to the Oder”

6.         The Allied Bomber Offensive Against Germany

            Strategic bombing concepts

            British Bomber Command

            American methods

            Destruction of Hamburg and Dresden

            Bombing pros and cons

            MILLER Ch   8 “The Air War”

                            Ch 16 “Make Them Remember”

7.         The Holocaust and the Horrors of Japanese Atrocities in Asia

            German occupation policies

            The Jewish question and the “final solution”

            Japanese occupation policy

            Japanese treatment of allied POWs; Unit 731 experiments; comfort women

            LYONS Ch 11 “Hitler’s New Order”

            SPECTOR, pp. 396-400.

8.         The Home-front: the United states at War 1942-1945

            Mobilization of the economy

            Unique role of women

            Defining the enemy: OWI

            Race and the propaganda war

            WINKLER Ch   1 “The Arsenal of Democracy” (Handout)

                               Ch   2 “American Society at War” (Handout)

9.         D-Day to VE-Day (June 1944 – May 1945)

            The second front: finally

            Allied strategy and Anglo-American strategic differences

            Battle of the Bulge: the final German attack

            End of the war in Italy

            Yalta, February 1945: the alliance begins to crack

            Overrunning the Reich 1945

            MILLER Ch   9 “The Great Invasion”

                            Ch 10 “From Normandy to Germany”

                            Ch 11 “The Battle of the Bulge”

                            Ch 18 “Across the Rhine”

10.       U.S. Offensive Against Japan 1943-1944

            Strategy and leadership

            MacArthur v. Nimitz

            Assaulting Japanese islands: Tarawa

            Return to the Philippines, 1944

            Bloodbath on Saipan; Peleliu; Iwo Jima

            MILLER Ch   6 “The Dead of Tarawa”

                            Ch 12 “The Marianas

                            Ch 13 “A Marine at Peleliu”

                            Ch 14 “The Return”

                            Ch 19 “Iwo Jima”

11.       War on the Periphery: China-Burma-India (CBI)

            China: the 4th ally

            CBI: lowest on the priority list

            Allied strategic differences

            Offensive in Burma: the Asian side-show

            MILLER Ch 21 “The Setting Sun,” pp. 592-594.

12.            Crushing Japan: War Without Mercy

            Fire from the sky: strategic bombing November 944-August 1945.

            Submarine war in the Pacific: cutting off Japan

            Okinawa, April-Junw 1945: preview of things to come?

            Forcing surrender: the atomic bomb and the end of the war (VJ-Day)

            MILLER Ch 15 “The B-29s”

                            Ch 20 “Okinawa”

                            Ch 21 “The Setting Sun,” pp. 595-625

                            Ch 22 “Victory”

13.            Aftermath  (Time permitting)

            Four power occupation of Germany

            Friction at Potsdam July 1945

            U.S. occupation of Japan

            Prosecuting war criminals