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The End of the War in Europe

On April 25, 1945 United States and Russian troops linked-up at the Elbe River, cutting Germany in two.

The Holocaust

Thousands of Holocaust victims arriving at the Nazi extermination camp at Birkenau in 1944

When all was lost, Hitler committed suicide in his bunker along with his lover, Eva Braun. The German Empire was partitioned by the Allies into an area of Soviet control, which became East Germany, and an area of joint British/French/American control, which became West Germany. The final surrender documents were signed by General Alfred Jodl on May 7, 1945. May 8 was declared V-E (Victory In Europe) Day.

Following the war, Allied soldiers discovered a number of concentration camps and other locations that had been used by the Nazis to imprison and exterminate an estimated 12 million people. The largest single group represented in this number were Jewish (roughly half the total according to the Nuremburg trials), but Gypsies, Slavs, Catholics, homosexuals and various minorities and disabled persons formed the remainder. The most well-known of these camps is the death camp Auschwitz in which about two million prisoners were killed. Although the Nazi genocide or "Holocaust" was largely unknown to the Allied soldiers fighting the war, it has become an inseparable part of the story of World War II.

The Pacific Theater

Preceding Events

In the Pacific, war was not formally declared between the belligerents until after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. (See: Greater East Asia War). However, there was active fighting dating back to the 1930s, the cause of which can be seen in the political fragmentation and weakness of China combined with a strong Japan with a militaristic and expansionist ideology.

In the 1920s, China fragmented into warlordism in which there was a weak central government, and Japan was able gain influence in China by imposing unequal treaties with what remained of the central government. This situation was unstable in that if China dissolved into total anarchy these agreements would be unenforceable while if China was able to strength, the strong China would be able to abrogate those agreements.

In 1927, Chiang Kai-Shek and the National Revolutionary Army of the Kuomintang led the Northern Expedition. Chiang was able to militarily defeat the warlords in southern and central China, and was in the process of securing the nominal allegiance of the warlords in northern China. Fearing that Zhang Xueliang (the warlord controlling Manchuria) was about to declare his allegiance for Chiang, the Japanese intervened and set up the puppet state of Manchukuo.

There is no evidence that Japan ever intended to directly administer China or that Japan's actions in China were part of a program of world domination. Rather, Japan's goals in China were strongly influenced by 19th century European colonialism and were to maintain a secure supply of natural resources and to have friendly and pliable governments in China that would not act against Japanese interests.

Although Japanese actions would not have seemed out of place among European colonial powers in the 19th century, by 1930, notions of Wilsonian self-determination meant that raw military force in support of colonialism was no longer seen as appropriate behavior by the international community. Japanese actions were therefore roundly criticized and led to Japan's withdrawal from the League of Nations. During the 1930s, China and Japan reached a stalemate with Chiang focusing his efforts at eliminating the Communists whom Chiang considered to be a more fundamental danger than the Japanese. The influence of Chinese nationalism on opinion both in the political elite and the general population rendered this strategy increasingly untenable.

Meanwhile in Japan, a policy of assassination by secret societies and the effects of the Great Depression had caused the civilian government to lose control of the military. In addition, the military high command had limited control over the field armies who acted on their own interest, often in contradiction to the overall national interest. There was also an upsurge in nationalism and anti-European feeling and the belief that Japanese policies in China could be justified by racial theories. One popular belief with similarities to the Identity movement was that Japan and not China was the true heir of classical Chinese civilization.

In 1937, Chiang was kidnapped by Zhang Xueliang in the Xian Incident. As condition of his release, Chiang promised to united with the Communists and fight the Japanese. In response to this, officers of the Kwangtung Army without knowledge of the high command in Tokyo decided to manufacture the Battle of Lugou Bridge, also known as the incident at the Marco Polo Bridge, by which they succeeded in their intention of provoking a conflict between the Republic of China and the Empire of Japan, the Sino-Japanese War).

In 1939 Japanese forces tried to push into the Soviet far east from Manchuria. They were soundly defeated by a mixed Soviet and Mongolian force led by Georgi Zhukov. This stopped Japanese expansion to the North and Japan and the Soviet Union kept un uneasy peace until 1945.

Japan's policies in the 1930s are remarkable for their disastrously self-defeating nature. Japan's grand strategy was based on the premise that it could not survive a war against the European powers without secure sources of natural resources, yet to secure those resources it decided to undertake the war that it knew it could not win in the first place. Moreover actions such as its brutality in China, and its practice of first setting up, and then undermining, puppet governments in China were clearly antithetical to Japan's overall goals, and yet it continued to persist in them anyway. Finally, this march to self-destruction is remarkable in that many individuals within the Japanese political and military elite realized these self-destructive consequences, but were unable to do anything about the situation. Also, there appears to have been no debate over policy alternatives which might have enabled Japan to further its goals in China.

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