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The long history of World War II

World War Two was the most devastating conflict in recorded human history. It was both global in extent and total in character. It has understandably left a long and dark shadow across the decades. Yet it is three generations since hostilities formally ended in 1945 and the conflict is now a lived memory for only a few. And this growing distance in time has allowed historians to think differently about how to describe it, how to explain its course, and what subjects to focus on when considering the wartime experience.

For instance, as World War Two recedes ever further into the past, even a question as basic as when it began and ended becomes less certain. Was it 1939 when the war in Europe began? Or the summer of 1941, with the beginning of Hitler’s war against the Soviet Union? Or did it become truly global when the Japanese brought the USA into the war at the end of 1941? And what of the long conflict in East Asia, beginning with the Japanese aggression in China in the early 1930s, ending with the triumph of the Chinese Communists in 1949?

From Japanese aggression against China in the early 1930s to the transition from World War to Cold War in the late 1940s, this timeline puts the events into their wider context and illustrates how they shaped the war.

Featured image credit: Near Algiers, “Torch” troops hit the beaches behind a large American flag “Left” hoping for the French Army not fire on it. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Recent Comments

  1. […] Just when did World War II begin and end? The answer’s not as obvious as you might think, according to Richard […]

  2. Ralph J. Kampen

    My uncle was a machine-gunner on a ship. When they got to where the GIs were to go ashore, he became a machine-gunner on a LST & was capturead with several others & worked on the railroad the Chinese were building. Luckly he survied to marry my mother’s younger sister. I never knew this until two years ago when he died & I read his obit in paper. I guess that was why he was the way he was. A very quiet & a hard worker.

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