World War II was a worldwide conflict taking place from roughly 1939 to 1945. Largely a result of German dissatisfaction with the Treaty of Versailles signed at the end of World War I (which punished Germany heavily for what was originally called "The Great War" and forced Germany to pay huge reparations to the victors and reduce its military forces to minimal numbers), the war broke out after barely 20 years of peacetime.
The war was divided into two "theaters" of operations: Europe and the Pacific.
The major combatants of the European theatre were Germany and Italy as the Axis Powers and Britain and France on the Allied side. (The United States did not enter the conflict until after the bombing of Pearl Harbor in Hawaii by the Japanese on 12/7/1941.) Though German Chancellor Adolf Hitler had occupied many territories throughout neighboring countries during the 1930s, claiming they were originally German possessions, he ordered an all-out invasion of Poland in September of 1939. He allied himself with Italian leader Benito Mussolini and the Soviet Premier, Josef Stalin, with the intention of dividing Europe between them. However, Hitler later invaded the Russia and subsequently lost the support of Stalin, who then sided with the Allies to eventually defeat him. One of the lasting legacies of the war, aside from the destruction in Europe and the deaths of millions of Allied and Axis soldiers and civilians, was the systematic extermination of 6 million Jews and millions of gypsies, Hungarians and other ethnic peoples at the hand of Hitler's Nazi party, that were deemed undesirable in the proposed Nazi new order.
In the Pacific theater, the conflict involved Japan and China, with Japan seeking to expand it's empire by occupying China, Southeast Asia and much of Polynesia. On December 7, 1941, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, the major United States naval base of the Pacific. The United States quickly declared war on Japan, Germany and Italy and entered the war, vastly turning the tide in the Allies favor.
Germany and Italy surrendered during the months of late April and early May, 1945. The battle in the Pacific stretched on for a few more months until the United States dropped atomic bombs on the Japanese port cities of Hiroshima (8/6/1945) and Nagasaki (8/9/1945). Japan officially surrendered on 8/15/1941.
Treaties were reached after talks in Potsdam, Germany. Not seeking to make the same mistake that they did with the Treaty of Versailles of 1919, the Allies agreed that Germany and Italy would not be harshly punished, but rather that the concentration be focused on the rebuilding of Europe and Japan in the postwar period.
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