Second World War - 1939 - 1942

Joseph L. Hern

Thursdays, March 8 - April 12 3:30 - 5:30 p.m. 6 sessions
Prescott House, 55 Beacon Street

In this first part of a two-part course, we will look at the Second World War during its first half when, for the most part, it was not a truly global conflict. In these years, the initiative lay with the Axis Powers of Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, and Japan.

We will begin by examining the European instability at the end of the 1930s brought about by German as well Italian expansionism, and consider the outbreak of war in September 1939 within days of the Nazi-Soviet nonaggression pact being struck. We will study the Phoney War/Sitzkrieg; the Russo-Finnish Winter War; Denmark and Norway; the May offensive; the fall of France; the “stab in the back;” Britain alone; Vichy France; the Balkans; the Atlantic; the Mediterranean; American attitudes; the destroyers deal; Lend-Lease; the attack on Russia; and finally, Germany’s declaration of war on the United States, among other themes.  

We will also examine events in Asia, including Japan’s intervention in China –  a leitmotif of the 1930s that metastasized in 1937 into outright warfare between Japan and China. We will consider to what degree developments in East Asia and in Europe were symbiotic, and how American opposition to Japan’s war with China set the United States and Japan on a collision course, culminating in the Japanese attack on not just Pearl Harbor but simultaneously and successfully against American and European colonial possessions throughout the Western Pacific. 

Assigned readings, consisting mainly of journal articles, contemporary speeches, and state documents, will be distributed. Ian Kershaw’s Fateful Choices: Ten Decisions That Changed the World, 1940-1941 is a useful companion reader.

Teaching Style: Lecture with discussion     Weekly Preparation: 2 hours


    Joseph L. Hern

    Joseph L. Hern is a graduate of the University of Massachusetts Amherst (BA history, honors), Boston College (JD, honors, Order of the Coif), and Boston University (LLM). He is an attorney in Boston with a practice concentrating in trusts, estates and estate planning.