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Modern America II
The Great Depression
Americans have known both good times and bad times. In good times, nearly everyone who wants a job can get one. People who have jobs can buy nice things for themselves and for their families with the money they earn. The things they buy help companies and stores make money. When these companies and stores make money, they hire more workers. This hiring keeps the good times going.
Americans enjoyed good times for most of the 1920s. In 1929, however, the good times came to a quick stop. The stock market crashed, and people who owned stocks lost millions of dollars. When they lost so much money, these people stopped buying things. Companies and stores could not sell goods. Instead of hiring more workers, they had to lay off some. The laid-off workers, in turn, did not have the money to buy nice things for themselves and their families. That hurt more companies and stores. The number of people without jobs kept rising. The United States went from good times to bad times.
The Great Depression of the 1930s was a decade of bad times. Millions of people lost their jobs. In many cases, these people lost their homes, too, because they had little money. The number of homeless people rose sharply. Many Americans did not have enough to eat, and nearly all had little hope for a better future. Finally, the government took steps to end the Great Depression. But it was not until the 1940s—with the start of World War II—that nearly every American who wanted a job could find one.
World War II
World War II grew out of World War I. Germany was treated harshly for its role in the first war. Some Germans were angry about this harsh treatment and wanted to strike back at England and France. These Germans backed Adolf Hitler as their leader. Hitler began taking over parts of Europe. The Second World War began in 1939, when England and France declared war on Germany.
Most Americans wanted to stay out of this war, just as they had wanted to stay out of World War I. But most Americans wanted Germany to lose. They backed President Franklin Roosevelt’s decision to send supplies to help England fight against Germany. Then, suddenly, the United States was forced to enter the war.
On December 7, 1941, Japan, fighting on Germany’s side, sent planes to bomb the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The attack was a great success for Japan, wrecking a great number of U.S. ships and planes. But the attack on Pearl Harbor brought the United States into the war on the side of England and France. American forces led the way to victory over Germany and Japan.
Germany was the first to surrender. After pushing German forces out of North Africa and Italy, U.S. and English soldiers invaded German-held France. The Germans were pushed out of France and back onto German soil. Germany gave up in May 1945. Meanwhile, U.S. forces pushed the Japanese back in the Pacific Ocean. Japan gave up in August 1945, after U.S. planes dropped atomic bombs on two Japanese cities, Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
The Atomic Age
The atomic bombs dropped on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki brought World War II to an end. It was an end that was also a beginning. These powerful weapons began the atomic age.
U.S. scientists had been worried that Germany would be the first to invent an atomic bomb. All during World War II, they worked hard to build a weapon unlike any other in history. By July 16, 1945, the scientists were ready for a test. The test that day at Alamogordo, New Mexico, was a huge success.
On August 6, the first atomic bomb exploded over Hiroshima. A second fell on Nagasaki three days later. Both cities were destroyed, and about 200,000 people were killed. Many died right away in the huge blasts. Others died later from burns as fires swept through the cities and from sickness caused by radiation.
The atomic bomb made the United States the world’s most powerful country. In 1949, however, Russia exploded it own atomic bomb. The atomic age then turned into an “arms race,” with the U.S. and Russia each trying to build more and bigger bombs. The two nations soon had enough atomic weapons to destroy the world.
The arms race ended in the late 1980s. Both the U.S. and Russia are now destroying many of their atomic weapons. What use will be made of atomic power in the years ahead? It can be used to make electricity. But others point to scary accidents at power plants and the problem of getting rid of radioactive waste. No one knows what the future of the atomic age will be.