World War II, or the Second World War (often abbreviated as WWII or WW2), was a global war fought from 1939note to 1945. It involved 62 out of the 73 existent/independent states at that time, which eventually formed two loose, opposing military alliances: the Allies or Allied powers (China, France, the UK, the USA, the USSR among others) against the Axis powers (Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, Imperial Japan and various smaller powers).
World War II is most commonly described as having been fought in two main theaters of warnote . The European Theater was the conflict between the Allied Powers against Germany, Italy and their European allies. This conflict was fought not only in Europe, but in the Atlantic Ocean and North Africa. This conflict began with the invasion of Poland in September of 1939 and ended in May 1945 with the fall of Berlin. The Pacific Theater was the conflict fought between the Allies and Imperial Japan in the Pacific Ocean and Asia, which also included some action in the Indian Ocean. This conflict was born out of the Second Sino-Japanese War which started when the Japanese Empire invaded China in July 1937. This war became part of the 'world war' proper when Japan attacked Allied and American territories in December 1941.
It was the most intensive and extensive war in history, with more than 100 million people serving in military units. In a state of "total war", the major participants eventually placed their entire financial, industrial, and scientific capabilities at the service of the war effort, thereby erasing the distinction between civilian and military resources. This included the enslavement of enemy POW and civilians as manual labourers, or coerced 'recruitment' as police and soldiers, by the Axis powers. The European Axis powers also perpetrated a number of genocides to maximise their economic performance and national security during the war. These programmes of enslavement and genocide are considered part of the The Holocaust, which was integral to the War Aims of the European Axis. Had they been victorious, these programmes would have been expanded considerably.
The war was also marked by the large-scale aerial bombardment of civilian populations and the only use of nuclear weapons in warfare, and resulted in some 50 to 70 million dead (some higher estimates go to a nice round 100 million by counting the unborn... or just by simple, and usually not deliberate, miscountingnote ) - making this war the deadliest and costliest conflict in human history.
- Prelude to War
- War in Europe and Africa
- War in Asia and the Pacific
- The Aftermath
- The Neutral Nations
For information about specific parts of the war, check here:
- Atomic Bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki
- Maginot Line
- The Air War
- The Holocaust
- The Home Front
- Home Front USA
See also Works Set in World War II.
Tropes originating from the war:
- Adolf Hitlarious: This was how the Allied media portrayed Hitler at the time. The revelation of The Holocaust kind of put an end to it. It's gotten a resurgence in recent years, particularly by people like Mel Brooks who want to make Hitler seem so absurd that his ideas will never be taken seriously again.
- All Germans Are Nazis: Unfortunately, though the war is long past, the ugly shadow of Nazi Germany endures, and inevitably colors some perceptions of the German people or some political debates and Internet discussions.
- America Won World War II:
- The US's media depictions of the war are often accused of ignoring the contributions of other states, nations, and nation-states to (winning) the war - with the USSR's pivotal role in particular being almost completely ignored due to (lingering) Cold-War anti-Communist sentiment. Post-Soviet Russian media might now quite justly be accused of Russia Wins The War due to it ignoring both the contributions of the other republics that made up the USSR (Ukraine, Estonia, etc.. etc.) as well as all the other countries and peoples who fought The Axis. The historian Stephen Ambrose points out that the title of this trope is literally true, in that although (for example) Britain was nominally one of the victors, it survived the war with major bomb damage and in extreme debt, whereas America was the only allied nation that finished the war better off than it had started it.
- An inverse trope might well be 'Nazis Fight Alone'. The only Axis troops ever seen in most media are the Germans - the Italians very rarely make an appearance (aside from North Africa, and even then they still usually give way for more Germans), and the Hungarians, Slovaks, Romanians, Bulgarians, Finns, and various SS volunteer units like the Northland (Scandinavians), Charlemagne (French), and Blue (Spanish) divisions are almost entirely absent. Quisling logistics troops including the Hiwis (Soviet citizens who served the Heer), are also never seen. Even the Japanese get the short end of the stick, as it's incredibly rare to see a work that focuses on the Pacific front, and even moreso to see such a game that doesn't do so at the exclusion of the European theater.
- Awakening the Sleeping Giant: The Trope Namer. The USA was nominally neutral at the beginning of the war, although its trade embargo against Japan and its lend-lease policy with the British and quiet participation protecting British shipping from German U-Boat attacks on its side of the Atlantic was annoying the Axis powers. However, the Axis powers, despite warnings from Ignored Expert authorities like Admiral Yamamoto, eventually went out of their way to provoke the United States into joining the fight. The result was that a country with a large population and a massive industrial base that was completely beyond the reach of any military attack (except for its shipping), and with an underestimated will to win at almost any cost, was now on the same side as Britain and the USSR. The night Britain's Prime Minister Winston Churchill heard about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, he went to bed with a deep sense of relief, because he knew that at long last America was going to join the war and that allied victory, although it might take a long time, was nevertheless inevitable.
- Cheese-Eating Surrender Monkeys: The Trope Maker in the world's consciousness. The truth is a lot more complex and nuanced. Very few people (like General Charles de Gaulle) saw the point in fighting on once France had 'already lost' the Battle Of France - Marshall Pétain's coup had a lot of popular support - and they saw no hope of Germany ever being defeated. But as they became increasingly sure that Germany would lose the war (Stalingrad, Donbass, North Africa, Kursk, central Ukraine) resistance groups were founded with the aid of existing organisations such as the French Communist Party. By Mid-1944 they were ready to welcome The Allies' return with some of the best espionage work the world has ever seen. General de Gaulle's Free French Forces also contributed several thousand combat troops to battles such as Bir Hakeim, Monte Cassino and Ouistreham (on Operation Overlord's D-Day), and once France was liberated they formed an army several hundred thousand strong to take over support roles and free up Anglo-American troops for the front lines (by taking charge of besieging the last German pockets on the Atlantic coast for instance).
- Les Collaborateurs: The Trope Namer was the government of The State of France (head of state Marshal Petain, official capital Paris, de facto capital the spa-town of Vichy), part of which operated under German military control. See also The Quisling below.
- Final Solution: Trope Namer and Trope Codifier. Nazis referred to die Endlösung der Judenfrage, "the Final Solution to the Jewish Question." It should be noted the image most people gained from the popular media (crematoria, burning pits, gas chambers, fierce guards with dogs, experiments on people and so on) comes from the final phase of The Holocaust, the extermination of Hungarian and Transylvanian Jews, when the death industry finally broke down overloaded with dead bodies. This is the plain reason for which we have survivors to tell the tales, because at that moment there were people to escape or survive. Previous campaigns of mass murder (euthanasia of the mentally disabled, extermination of the Soviet prisoners, extermination of Jews in Operation Reinhard camps in Poland) were so efficient they barely left any survivors.
"Auschwitz was a walk in the park compared to Treblinka" - Hershl Sperling, Holocaust survivor
- Iwo Jima Pose: Trope Maker, Trope Namer, and Trope Codifier. Associate Press photographer Joseph John Rosenthal took a photo depicting five Marines and a Navy corpsman raising the US flag atop Mount Suribachi during the Battle of Iwo Jima. It has since become one of the most iconic images in history, and the photo has come to symbolize US Marine operations in the Pacific Theater. It also formed the basis for the US Marine Corps War Memorial in Arlington, Virginia. The flag itself, along with the first one which it replaced, can be seen on rotating display at the National Museum of the Marine Corps in Quantico, VA.
- Music to Invade Poland To: German music from before the war has become another thing tainted by National Socialism in the years following.
- No Swastikas: The entire rationale behind the taboos on the swastika and the Rising Sun, in fact. Unless it's a historical documentary with archive footage, it's almost impossible to see swastikas even in period pieces set during the war.
- Nothing Is the Same Anymore: The entire contemporary world is forged in the aftermath of the Second World War. No facet of modern life, social mores, culture, science and general worldview was left untouched. The Allied Powers created several institutions such as the United Nations, NATO, the World Bank, as well as start an ongoing debate about nuclear weapons (that is still ongoing) and human rights abuses and government measures to curtail the same.
- The Quisling: Trope Namer Vidkun Quisling, who betrayed his country to the Nazis and got stood up in front of a firing squad after the war. Other Quislings of World War II include President Wang Jingwei of China, Dirk Jan de Geer of the Netherladns, Marshal Philippe Pétain and Prime Minister Pierre Laval of France and General Andrei Vlasov of The Soviet Union. De Geer advocated negotiating a peace treaty between the Netherlands and Nazi Germany, which hurt Dutch morale by stating that the war couldn't be won; Queen Wilhelmina labeled him a deserter and traitor to the Dutch cause for publishing documents advocating cooperation with the Germans. After the war ended, De Geer was convicted of treason at trial and stripped of his honorary titles, spending one year in jail followed by a three-year probationary period. Quisling, Laval and Vlasov were (tortured and) executed, Pétain's death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment due to his advanced age and (by that time) severe dementia, and Jingwei died of natural causes before the war was over.
- Reichstropen: An index for the tropes originating in Nazi Germany.
- La Résistance: The Trope Namer was active during this war in France, but every occupied country had a resistance movement to one degree or another. Some countries actually had more than one movement - e.g. a communist one plus a monarchist one (it wasn't unusual for them to end up fighting each other as well). China had so many turncoats-turned-resistance fighters-turned-bandits that the historical community generally wrings its hands and splits it up into local and regional warlords, nationalist guerrillas, communist guerrillas and Chinese Communist Party guerrillas, with some room for overlap.
- Sentai: Trope Namer. Used by Imperial Japan for their task forces. Later readopted and codified by Super Sentai into different approach.
- Stuka Scream: Trope Maker, Trope Namer, and Trope Codifier. Some versions of the German Ju 87 Stuka dive bomber were fitted with Jericho-Trompete sirens, which would make a distinctive screaming sound to intimidate the targets of their attacks. American SBD Dauntless dive bombers had holes in their dive flaps that had a similar effect, the sound being described as a banshee wail.
- The Jericho Trumpet was removed from later models of the Stuka, as the Germans quickly came to the conclusion that equipping a bomber with its own air raid siren to warn the enemy was counter-productive. Not to mention that the sirens purportedly caused drag and the lack of siren prior to being bombed ended up being a nasty surprise.
- Stupid Jetpack Hitler: Nazi Germany developed some advanced technologies that were ahead of their time, such as the first operational jet airplanes, ballistic missiles and cruise missiles. German scientists also played a key role in the development of the US and Soviet ballistic missile and space programs after the war. But no jetpacks.
- Those Wacky Nazis: The pervasive image of nazism led to this trope in popular culture.
- Wartime Cartoon: Every major cartoon-producing studio in Hollywood produced propaganda cartoons with various aims (supporting the war effort, vilifying the enemy and so forth). Other nation such as Germany, Japan and USSR also produced propaganda cartoons.