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My brother in law says World War II started in Europe around 1917. I say around 1935. Who is closer? When did the USA officially enter World War II in Europe?

Vernon Garrison

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Hindsight is 20-20, which is why historical dilettantes of various stripes have numerous opinions as to when World War II “really” began—even amid World War I, during which the Russian Revolution broke out in 1917, which is probably what your brother in law is referring to. Others say that the harsh terms of the Treaty of Versailles, finalized in 1919, assured that an aggrieved Germany would inevitably resume the “War to End All Wars.” Some say the first act of World War II was Japan’s 1931 invasion of Manchuria in blatant defiance of the League of Nations, while similar claims are made of Italy’s 1935 invasion of Ethiopia. Some might cite 1936 for Adolf Hitler’s risky but successful occupation of the Rhineland combined with the Spanish Civil War, while others might bring up Japan’s 1937 invasion of China. Notwithstanding all such claims, the official date for the start of World War II remains September 1, 1939, when Hitler invaded Poland. As for the United States’ official involvement in the European war, while President Franklin D. Roosevelt had long been seeking a way to override American isolationist sentiment to go to war against Hitler, he saved FDR the trouble when, after some days of consideration, he decided to honor his alliance commitment to Japan and declare war on the United States on December 11, 1941—after which the U.S. Congress promptly reciprocated.




Jon Guttman
Research Director
World History Group

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