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Useful Notes / World War II
aka: Second World War

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Humanity's best and worst were displayed for all the world to see, all colourised.note 

"I ask you: Do you want total war? If necessary, do you want a war more total and radical than anything that we can even imagine today?"
Joseph Goebbels, Sportpalast speech, 18 February 1943

World War II, or the Second World War (often abbreviated as WWII or WW2), was a global war fought from 1939 to 1945. Nazi Germany's invasion of Poland is generally accepted as the start date of World War II, though several other conflicts that would be incorporated into the larger international conflict were already underway—the largest of which was the Second Sino-Japanese War, which "officially" started in 1937 but had been ongoing in some form since 1931. Many citizens of Russia/the old Soviet Union and the United States also generally consider 1941 to be the start date, June 22nd for the former at the start of Operation Barbarossa, the German invasion of Russia, and December 7th for the latter following the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor, when Germany and Japan both declared war on the US. 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 countries allied to them).

World War II is most commonly described as having been fought in two main theaters of war.note  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 also in the Atlantic Ocean and North Africa. The conflict began with the invasion of Poland in September 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 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.


For information about specific parts of the war, check here:

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 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 more so to see one 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 English speaking 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 the war went increasingly sour for Germany (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. The 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 Pétain, official capital Paris, de facto capital the spa-town of Vichy). Some of the collaboration was enforced by German occupiers (such as sending dozens of thousands of French workers in Germany through the STO — Service du Travail Obligatoire, Mandatory Labor Service), part of it was of local initiative (such as the Vel d'Hiv roundup of Jews, the "Carlingue" aka the French Gestapo, French fascist parties being eager to satisfy the needs of the occupiers, or the French volunteers in the German armies). 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
  • Glamorous Wartime Singer: Certainly the era that codified the trope and provided the most iconic ones, who appeared in morale-boosting films and toured troups on the frontlines. Famous examples on the Allies' side include Vera Lynn, The Andrews Sisters, Dinah Shore, Marlene Dietrich... Germans also had some, with the likes of Lale Andersen (the first and most iconic performer of "Lili Marleen") and Evelyn Künneke.
  • 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.
  • 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.
    • In his "Asimov's Chronology of the World", Isaac Asimov even cites this exact trope (though well before TV Tropes existed) by ending the book in 1945, saying that the post-Hiroshima world was so vastly different as to almost be a separate history of its own.
  • 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 Netherlands, 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. F4U Corsairs also achieved this as a result of high-speed air being forced through the oil coolers in the leading edge of the wings, famously leading to the aircraft being dubbed "Whistling Death",note  and P-51 Mustangs from the supercharger intake, though in these two cases it was much more limited and dependent on which direction the aircraft was traveling in relation to the listener.
    • 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 caused a fair bit of 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; there was some experimenting with a Helicopter Pack meant to be distributed to German soldiers for increased mobility in urban environments, but, like many Wunder weapons, it did not pan out from some early drawing board designs.
  • 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 nations such as Germany, Japan, and USSR also produced propaganda cartoons.

Other impacts of the war in pop culture:

Si monumentum requiris, circumspicenote 


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): World War 2, WW 2, Second World War, World War Two


"Repeat, please!"

In a dramatization of real events, RAF Training Squadron T5, composed of Polish emigres and refugees including survivors of the Polish Air Force, is ordered to return to base when their flight intersects with an incoming German air raid. The Poles pretend they didn't understand the orders and turn to attack the German bomber flight, seeking vengeance for their conquered homeland (with their hapless instructor frantically turning to join them when he realizes what they're doing). The next day, they are chewed out for disobeying orders and violating communications protocol (i.e. speaking Polish instead of English on the radio)... and then congratulated on their victory and activated for combat as 303 Squadron, who will become legendary for their bravery in air combat.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (8 votes)

Example of:

Main / DisobeyedOrdersNotPunished

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