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Pacific Theater in World War II Facts: Lesson for Kids

Instructor: David Wilson

David has taught college history and holds an MA in history.

The United States and Japan fought throughout the Pacific Ocean in World War II from 1941 to 1945, a part of the war remembered as the Pacific Theater. Learn about how the fighting in this part of the world began and ended during WWII in this lesson.

Water, Water, Everywhere

When was the last time you went swimming? Maybe one of your friends has a backyard pool, or maybe you took a trip to the beach recently. Whenever you stand on the shore of the ocean, you get a sense of how incredibly big it is. Can you imagine trying to fight an enemy across an entire ocean? It's not an easy task, but during World War II, the Allied Powers of the United States, Australia, New Zealand, and Britain fought the Empire of Japan across the Pacific Ocean. This part of the war, called the Pacific Theater, started with Japan controlling almost the entire area, but ended with victory by the Allies.

Japanese empire in World War II, colored in green
Map of Japanese empire

Not Big Enough for the Two of Us

Japan's empire began to spread over eastern Asia before World War II - in fact, they began before World War I! Japan had conquered Korea and parts of China before the war, but during World War II they saw an opportunity to expand their power even further. By 1941, Japan's empire had spread across a larger area of land and sea than any other country in the world, including parts of China, southeast Asia, the Philippines, Indonesia, and many of the small islands in the Pacific.

Photo of burning US ship at Pearl Harbor
Pearl Harbor attack

In 1941, however, they realized that to control the entire ocean they needed to destroy the United States' navy, meaning their warships. On December 7th, 1941, Japan attacked Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. President Franklin Roosevelt called it 'a day that will live in infamy' and brought the United States into World War II.

While the United States had allies like Great Britain and the Soviet Union on their side, these countries were too busy fighting Nazi Germany to assist with Japan. Australia and New Zealand did help, but much of the fighting in the Pacific Theater was between Americans and Japanese.

Island Hopping

The United States used a strategy called 'island hopping' to re-take parts of the Pacific conquered by Japan. Each island they captured brought them closer to attacking Japan directly. However, this was much easier said than done. Battles on islands like Iwo Jima resulted in thousands and thousands of deaths on both sides. Slowly but surely, the Allies began to re-take parts of the Pacific.

Famous photo of American soldiers raising the flag on top of Iwo Jima
Americans raising flag on Iwo Jima

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