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World War II: 1940-1945

America's self-absorbed, it's-all-about-me attitude in the 1920s contributed to the nation suffering a severe economic downturn in the Great Depression (see Chapter 16). As if that wasn't bad enough, the same kind of me-first isolationist impulse on an international scale helped get the country shocked into World War II. The U.S. came out of this global conflict stronger than ever because Americans learned to fight back together and take the lead in solving world problems that they couldn't escape.

True to the modern social history approach, the AP exam won't expect you to know all the battles, generals, and airplane names. You do need to understand what led to the biggest war in history, plus the course of the conflict and its main high points. Because of their age, the Test Masters who put the finishing touches on the AP History Exam almost certainly know people who lived through World War II. They'll expect you to take this chapter's topic as seriously as they do.

THE BRINK OF WAR

After World War I, Americans tried to crawl back into bed and pull the isolationist covers over their heads. With the nightmare of the Great Depression still causing economic pain, the last thing that people wanted was another international war. The U.S. wasn't looking for trouble, but trouble seemed to be looking for them.

The London Economic Conference (1933)

At first, President Franklin Roosevelt was in favor of the London Economic Conference (1933), which convened to get the nations of the world working together on solutions to the Depression. When he discovered the Conference's sole purpose was to fix the value of gold, Roosevelt backpedaled fast. He had been lowering the value of gold in the U.S. to get more dollars in circulation; the last thing he wanted was an agreement that would fix the dollar-to-gold ratio and take away his money-creating ability. Roosevelt refused to go along because the fixed gold price didn't help the United States face its Depression.

Other nations noticed the isolationist stance of the U.S. and started to act in their own interests as well. Not only did the London Economic Conference fall apart without the United States, but it also made countries that much more determined to go it alone. The collapse of the international finance and trade system of the 1920s contributed to the increasing tendency to violence in international relations.

 
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