Today marks the 71st anniversary of the end of one of the biggest wars in history, World War II. This war was a devastating time that resulted in at least 50 million deaths, although the actual amount of people killed is unknown.

Many factors can be attributed to the cause of this destructive war. Several historians argue that WWI led to WWII because some issues were not resolved after the first war ended in 1918. Others claim that Hitler’s invasion of Poland in 1939 is what sparked this phenomenon. Lastly, others think Japan’s invasion on China in 1931 provoked the war. Realistically, it was probably a mix of all of these problems that built up and led to a massive war. During the start of the war, America was not involved. We had just gone through one large war and were facing an economic depression.  The American people weren’t very keen on sending citizens to fight in a war that didn’t originally involve them.

American involvement all changed on December 7, 1941 when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, forcing Congress to declare war on Japan. Because of the pact between Japan and Germany, Germany declared war on America.  The U.S. entered into a full-fledged war with all of the Axis Powers. Several major battles such as the Battle of the Bulge and the battle that occurred on D-Day passed.  The war was looking to be a victory for the Allies, at least in Europe. However, the war didn’t seem to be ending anytime soon in Asia. The Japanese Army was still going strong and it didn’t look like they would ever surrender. So the President of United States, as Commander in Chief, had to make a decision: would he allow the military to drop a new weapon that would kill several civilians or would he allow the war to go on in Japan?

Physicist William Shockley estimated that if the U.S. decided to remain in the war in Japan, another 400,000 to 800,000 American soldiers would be killed and millions of Japanese would die. These fatalities would be in addition to the millions of people that had already died during the war over the previous six years. Another factor in the decision to drop an atomic bomb was the fact that there were several Asian and Allied prisoners dying every day because of the Japanese Empire. The decision had been made; President Truman decided that dropping this new weapon would surely make the Japanese surrender.  It would also hopefully result in less casualties.

However, this weapon wasn’t used without warning. The U.S. sent out leaflets begging the citizens of Japan to convince their government to surrender. A warning about the severity of the new weapon was also included in these leaflets, along with instructions to evacuate. Unfortunately, the Japanese refused to give in.  The first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945. Around 60,000 fatalities were recorded that day, yet, the government of Japan still continued to fight. Then, on August 9th, a second bomb was dropped in Nagasaki. These two instances killed over 100,000 civilians and led to additional health problems for survivors due to the radiation poisoning. Six days later, Japan announced its surrender. On September 2, Japan formally surrendered on the USS Missouri, finally ending a horrifying war.

While WWII was a horrendous event that resulted in the death of several innocent people, the war led to the end of the Great Depression.  This was due to a larger industry to promote the war effort. It also led to more innovation in technology and the GI Bill, which helps veterans with healthcare, education, and getting back into the workforce after being away from home.

Hopefully, we will never have to experience a catastrophic event like this again, and we can learn from the mistakes of the past.

Ryan S