The United States and World War II


Dr. Bob Miller

556-9128 (w)            573-1446 (h)

707b One Edwards (office hours by appointment)




Michael J. Lyons, World War II: A Short History (Upper Saddle River, NJ, 1997)

Ronald Takaki, Hiroshima: Why America Decided to Drop the Bomb (Boston, 1995)

Course Packet (available at DuBois Bookstore)

Course Description:

Even though most of the events that we will study occurred some 60 years ago, this course will endeavor to explain how World War II still exerts a powerful impact on our daily lives.  This course will examine the origins of World War II, how America became an active force in it, and finally, how our culture was transformed by the war.  There will be a healthy mix of lecture format, interactive class discussions, and lots of excerpts of documentary and feature films.

By the end of this course, students will have developed a detailed working knowledge of the origins of World War II, America's role in it, and the war's legacies that still resonate today.  Students will also learn how to analyze excerpts of feature and documentary films as historical evidence.  Finally, students will learn some of the basic skills in conducting an interview with someone who lived through the war years.

ASAP Course Requirements:

All weekend courses offered through the Adult Scholars Accelerated Program (ASAP) require that students have a strong academic record in order to ensure that they can undertake the rigors of significant independent scholarship as well as the intensity of the weekend experience itself.   Students are required to attend orientation.  As with all ASAP course, attendance is mandatory.  No exceptions can be made.  Consult your student information folder for more information on ASAP attendance and withdraw policies.

We will spend 21 hours together in the classroom.  Each session will begin at 9 a.m. and end at 5 p.m. and will allow for a one hour lunch break. There are many places to eat near the Old Courthouse. The UC Center at Lebanon is also equipped with a microwave so you can heat up food if you wish.  Also, please feel free to bring snacks to share with your classmates.   

Grading Scale:

Pre-work Writing Assignments            30% of final grade

Oral History Project

·         Written Report                                 15% of final grade  

·         Classroom Presentation                15% of final grade

Take Home Final Exam                        40% of final grade

90-100              A

80-89                B

70-79                C

60-69                D

Below 60            F


Pre-work Writing Assignments:

There will be three different opportunities to write short papers prior to each session.  You will need to do the required readings that correspond with each session first.  Each paper will count towards 10% of your final grade.  These papers must be typed, double-spaced and should be a thoughtful, well-reasoned essay.  These papers should be approximately 3 pages in length.  Please make a copy of these papers for me and keep one for yourself.  We will use these exercises to facilitate classroom discussions/debates.  The questions for each of the sessions are as follows:

Session I:

Where were you on December 7th, 1941?  This has become one of the most often asked questions of the World War II generation.  Social scientists have referred to events like the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor as "flashbulb memories."  With startling detail, most people can tell you where they were, who they were with etc.  What public event(s) in your lifetime has come close to evoking a similar sense of a shared, collective memory?

Session II:

Based on your reading of Chapter 20 in Lyons, World War II: A Short History, compare and contrast the home front experiences of Germany, Great Britain, the US, the Soviet Union, and Japan.

 Session III:

Based on your reading of Takaki, Hiroshima, what (in your opinion) were the justifications used by US officials that persuaded them to drop the atom bomb on Hiroshima?  Are you persuaded by those reasons?

Oral History Interview:

Each student will be required to conduct an oral history interview with someone who lived during the war years.  The goal of this assignment is to capture the real-life, everyday experiences of an average American.  Everyone who has a first-hand memory of the war years has a viable and valuable history to share with you.  In other words, do not feel compelled to hunt down a Congressional Medal of Honor recipient or someone "famous."  The stories of factory workers, housewives, air raid wardens, or young children are just as intriguing.

 This assignment will consist of a written report (typed, double-spaced) that will count towards 15% of your final grade.  I have provided a useful sample of a student paper in your course packet.  The purpose of the paper will be to excerpt some of the most interesting parts of your interview.  Depending on what sort of questions you ask, you should be able to piece together a narrative of that person's story and how the war affected their life.

During the second and third weekend sessions you will be asked to present your interviews to the class.  This part will also count towards 15% of your final grade.  Each student will be given up to ten minutes to share their interviewee's experiences with the class.

Take Home Final:

At the end of the final session I will hand out and explain the take home final exam.  It will be worth 40% of your final grade.  The exam will be essay in format and the questions will test your comprehensive knowledge of the issues we discussed in class.  In order to excel on this part of your course work, it will be imperative for you to integrate the material from your lecture notes, text, course packet and films in a cogent and well-reasoned essay.  I also encourage you to draw on outside resources (WW II websites and other traditional sources).  The final should be turned into the ASAP office in French Hall on the last Friday (during the tenth week) of the quarter by 3PM.

Reading Assignments and Lecture Topics:

January 22, 2000

Part I: War and Culture, 1914-41

Read: William J. Vanden Heuvel, "America and the Holocaust" (course packet) and Lyon, World War II: A Short History, Chs. 1-13 (omit Chs. 6 and 9)

Understanding the Origins of World War II

·         1900: War As An Instrument of Foreign Policy

·         Origins of World War I

·         Total Warfare in the 20th Century

·         The United States and "the war to end all wars…"

·         Winning the War and Losing the Peace

Prelude to War: The Gathering Storm, 1919-39

·         The Rise of Militarists: Italy, Germany and Japan, 1922-33

·         War in Asia/ War in Europe, 1931-37

·         The Limits of Collective Security: Munich, 1937-38

Divide and Conquer: Germany's War, 1939-41

·         German War Aims

·         The Fall of France

·         The Battle of Britain

·         Clash of the Titans: Invading the Soviet Union

·         Hitler and the Jews

FDR, American Public Opinion and the Coming of War, 1933-41

·         The Limits of Depression Diplomacy

·         Americans and Other People's Wars

·         The Nye Committee Report and the Isolationist Impulse in Congress

·         The Quarantine Speech

·         The Election of 1940

·         America Comes Full Circle: The Arsenal of Democracy

War Comes to America, 1941

·         Defense Industries and the Color Line: The March on Washington Movement

·         The Deterioration of US-Japanese Relations

·         Day in Infamy: December 7th, 1941

 February 5, 2000

Part II: The Culture of War, 1942-44

Read: Miller, "Preparing for Armageddon," Hagerty, "Sexual Discourses," Darr, "The Long Flight Home," and Moore, "Traditions from Home" (course packet) and Lyons, World War II, Chs. 13-22 (omit Ch.18)

 World War II and the American Home Front, 1942-44

·         The Dawn of the "American Century"

·         America Rolls Up its Sleeves: Producing for Victory

·         Maintaining Morale during America's Dark Days

·         Prisoners Without Trial: The Plight of Japanese Americans

·         Double Victory: African Americans and the War

·         New Roles for Women (for the duration)

 Class Presentations

You're In the Army Now! Mobilizing the Armed Forces

·         Conscientious Objectors, Alternate Service and the "Good War"

·         Fighting in a Jim Crow Army

·         GI Jane Goes to War: WACS, WAVES, SPARS and WASPS

February 19, 2000

Part III: Cultural Wars

Read: Polenberg, "World War II in Retrospect" (course packet) and Lyons, World War II, Chs.23-26 (omit Ch.25)

America's Victory Culture

·         The Censored War

·         Hollywood Goes to War: Propaganda in an Open Society

·         Combating Complacency at Home

·         Wartime Postwar Planning

Class Presentations

American War Aims, 1942-44

·         Cementing the Ties That Bind: The Grand Alliance

·         Europe First

·         America's Pacific War: Early Victories

·         The Juggler: FDR and Wartime Diplomacy

·         Opening the Second Front: D-Day and Normandy

Shutting Down the Axis Powers, 1944-45

·         Battle of the Bulge

·         Yalta: The Beginning of the End

·         Changing of the Guard: The Death of FDR

·         VE-Day

·         Japan's 11th Hour

·         Truman and the Bomb

·         VJ-Day

Looking Back at the War

·         Coming to Grips with Defeat: Germany and Japan

·         Coming to Grips with Victory: The US and Its "Good War"

·         Commemorating the War: Memorials, Monuments, and Museums