Initially the United States had little intentions on getting involved with World War II. It wasn’t until December 7th, 1941 that this ideology changed; this is the day that Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. Two days later The United States declared war on Japan and then within three more days, Italy and Germany declared war on the United States as well. This left the United States as part of the Allied Powers- including Great Britain, China and the Soviet Union- against the Axis Powers which consisted of Germany, Japan and Italy.
The basis for the war stemmed from the end of World War I. Germany had felt wronged by the Treaty of Versailles, as they had to pay an excessive amount of money and fell into a lot of debt, which only magnified the effects of the already existing depression. After the loss of World War I a power vacuum formed in Germany as well. This plus the economic situation led to the rise of Hitler; using the Jewish population as a scapegoat, he promised Germany he would get them back on their feet through a socialist economic policy. A majority of the nation strongly believed in him and his ideology, mainly because it was their only sign of hope in getting out of the depression.
Japan came into the picture around 1936 when Japan and Germany signed the Anti-Comintern Pact, which basically said that they aimed to disintegrate all existing nations that functioned under communism. Japan then decided to takeover French Indo-china so they could have better access to China. The United States, who has always been friendly with the French, and the British decided to freeze all of Japan’s assets and most importantly placing an oil embargo on the country, and demanded that they withdraw from Indo-China. This left Japan wanting to declare war on the United States, however they feared the strength of the US’s naval fleet, so they decided to plan a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor.
The attack on Pearl Harbor spurred Anti-Japanese sentiment throughout the US, which lowered the social status of the Japanese immensely as they were seen as ‘animals’ and inferior to the rest of the human population. Niall Ferguson, a scholar of international history who has taught at Harvard, Stanford and NYU, stated that “Allied troops often saw the Japanese in the same way that Germans regarded Russians- as Untermenschen (subhuman).”* Anti-Japanese sentiment swept the nation at an unimaginable speed. It was so intense that in 1942 President Roosevelt was pressured to sign Executive Order 9066 which demanded that all Japanese-Americans must leave their homes in the west coast and relocate to one of ten internment camps. 120,000 people were moved. “Jap Hunts” also became a popular thing; people would give themselves “jap hunting licenses” and would go and round up Japanese-Americans and kill them. This was one of the most conspicuous infractions of civil liberties in American history. The status of Japanese-americans decreased dramatically during this time period as everyone else in the US thought they were superior to them.
*Niall Fergusson, “Prisoner Taking and Prisoner Killing in the Age of Total War: Towards a Political Economy of Military Defeat”, War in History, 2004, 11 (2): p.182