Essay Topics for World War II

World war II soldiers
Frank Whitney/The Image Bank/Getty Images

Students are often required to write a paper on a topic as broad as World War II, but you should know that the instructor will expect you to narrow your focus to a specific thesis. This is especially true if you are in high school or college. Narrow your focus by making a list of words, much like the list of words and phrases that are presented in bold type below. Then begin to explore related questions, like those that follow the words in this list and come up with your own cool WWII topics. The answer to questions like these can become a good starting point of a thesis statement.

Culture and People

When the US entered into war, everyday life across the country changed drastically. From civil rights, racism, and resistance movements to basic human needs like food, clothing, and medicine, the aspects of how life was impacted are immense.

  • African-Americans and rights. What impact did the war years have on the rights of African-Americans? What were they allowed or not allowed to do?
  • Animals. How were horses, dogs, birds, or other animals used? Did they play a special role?
  • Art. What art movements were inspired by wartime events? Is there one specific work of art that tells a story about the war?
  • Clothing. How was fashion impacted? How did clothing save lives or hinder movement? What materials were used or not used?
  • Domestic violence. Was there an increase or a decrease?
  • Families. Did new family customs develop? What was the impact on children of soldiers?
  • Fashion. Did fashion change significantly for civilians? What changes had to be made during wartime?
  • Food preservation. What new preservation and packaging methods occurred during and after the war? How was this helpful?
  • Food rationing. How did rationing impact families? Were rations always the same for different groups of people? Were soldiers affected by rations?
  • Love letters. What do letters tell us about relationships, families, and friendships? What about gender roles?
  • New words. What new vocabulary words emerged during and after WWII?
  • Nutrition. Were there battles that were lost or won because of the foods available? How did nutrition change at home during the war because of the availability of certain products?
  • Penicillin and other medicine. How was penicillin used? What medical developments occurred during and after the war?
  • Resistance movements. How did families deal with living in an occupied territory?
  • Sacrifices. How did family life change?
  • Women's work at home. How did women's work change at home during the war? What about after the war ended?

Economy and Workforce

For a nation that was still recovering from the Great Depression, World War II had a major impact on this country's economy and workforce. When the war began, the fate of the workforce changed; overnight, American factories were repurposed to produce goods to support the war effort and women took on jobs that were traditionally held by men, who were now off to war.

  • Advertising. How did food packaging change during the war? How did advertisements change in general? What were the advertisements for?
  • Occupations. What new jobs were created? Who filled these new roles? Who filled the roles that were previously held by many of the men who went off to war?
  • Propaganda. How did society respond to the war? Do you know why?
  • Toys. How did the war impact the toys that were manufactured?
  • New products. What products were invented and became a part of popular culture? Were these products present only during war times, or did they exist after?

Military, Government, and War

Americans were mostly against entering the war up until the bombing of Pearl Harbor, after which support for the war grew, as did armed forces. Before the war, the US didn't have the large military forces it soon became known for, with the war resulting in 16 million entering the service. The role the military played in the war, and the impacts of the war itself, were vast.

  • America's entry into the war. How is the timing significant? What factors are not so well known?
  • Churchill, Winston. What role did this leader play that interests you most? How did his background prepare him for his role?
  • Clandestine operations. Governments went to great lengths to hide the true date, time, and place of their actions.
  • Destruction. Many historic cities and sites were destroyed in the U.K.—Liverpool, Manchester, London, and Coventry—and in other nations.
  • Hawaii. How did events impact families or society in general?
  • The Holocaust. Do you have access to any personal stories?
  • Italy. What special circumstances were in effect?
  • "Kilroy was here." Why was this phrase important to soldiers? 
  • Nationalist Socialist movement in America. What impact has this movement had in society and government since WWII?
  • Political impact. How was your local town impacted politically and socially?
  • POW camps after the war. Where were they and what happened to them after the war? Here's a starting point: Some were turned into race tracks after the war!
  • Prisoners of war. How many POWs were there? How many made it home safely? What were some long-lasting effects?
  • Spies. Who were the spies? Were they men or women? What side were they on? What happened to spies who were caught?
  • Submarines. Were there enemy submarines on a coast near you? What role did submarines play in the war?
  • Surviving an attack. How were military units attacked? How did it feel to jump from a plane that was disabled?
  • Troop logistics. How were troop movements kept secret? What were some challenges of troop logistics?
  • Views on freedom. How was freedom curtailed or expanded?
  • Views on government's role. Where was the government's role expanded? What about governments elsewhere?
  • War crime trials. How were trials conducted? What were political challenges or consequences? Who was or wasn't tried?
  • Weather. Were there battles that were lost or won because of the weather conditions? Were there places where people suffered more because of weather?
  • Women in warfare. What roles did women play during the war? What surprises you about women's work in World War II?

    Technology and Transportation

    With the war came advancements in technology and transportation, impacting communications capabilities, the spread of news, and even entertainment.

    • Bridges and roads. What transportation-related developments came from wartime or postwar policies?
    • Communication. How did radio or other types of communication impact key events?
    • Motorcycles. What needs led to the development of folding motorcycles? Why was there widespread use of military motorcycles by the government?
    • Technology. What technology came from the war, and how was it used after the war?
    • TV technology. When did televisions start to appear in home, and what is significant about the timing? What TV shows were inspired by the war, and how realistic were they? How long did World War II affect TV programming?
    • Jet engine technology. What advances can be traced to WWII needs?
    • Radar. What role did radar play, if any?
    • Rockets. How important was rocket technology?
    • Shipbuilding achievements. The achievements were quite remarkable during the war. Why and how did this happen?