FYSM 1405D: A Global History of World War II
Fall 2024-Winter 2025

Instructor: Hal Goldman

In 1939 when World War II began, many nations still fielded horse-mounted cavalry.  By the time it was over six years later, the first jet-powered fighters streaked through the air, the first ballistic missiles had entered space, and the first atomic bombs had been detonated over cities.  Sixty million people had been killed and all the world had been changed.

This full-year course will take a comprehensive global history approach to this greatest conflict in human history.  We will examine the origins of the war in the failed post-World War I peace settlement and the rise of mass political movements in Italy, Germany, and Japan before moving on to the diplomatic and military run-up to the war.  We will study the tactical, strategic, and diplomatic prosecution of the war in both the Pacific and European theatres from the perspectives of both the Allies and the Axis powers.  We will focus in particular on the experience of the war for ordinary men and women—those on the front line, those fighting behind the lines as partisans and resistance fighters, those in the rear, and those who remained back home, including those who faced repression, internment, and genocide at the hands of their own and other governments.  The course will end by examining the post-war settlement and on-going controversies concerning the memorializing of the war and those who fought in it, including debates over the morality of dropping the atomic bomb, renewed controversy over allied bombing of German cities, and controversial exhibits at the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum and the Canadian War Museum.

Students will study all this material through brief lectures, small and large group exercises, diverse reading assignments, film, music, photographs and other cultural sources.  Coursework includes in-class activities, quizzes, and informal and formal writing assignments.  First-year students completing the course will not only have a comprehensive understanding of one of the most important episodes in human history, they will also acquire strong reading, analysis, research, and writing skills applicable to all future university study.