There were three major Axis countries in World War II: Germany, Italy, and Japan. Germany started the war in 1939, by invading Poland; Italy joined in 1940, after the invasion of France. Italy also invaded North Africa and Greece, taking advantage of its strategic place in the Mediterranean. In 1939, Japan was already engaged in a war against China; it took advantage of the fall of France to occupy other territories in Southeast Asia. This stirred the world in many different ways.
Then on December 7, 1941, the Japanese launched one of the most damaging surprise attacks of all time on the United States of America, forcing a sleeping giant to awake and join the war. The Americans lost about 3,000 sailors in the Attack on Pearl Harbor.
The term "Axis" is a reference to a 1936 speech by Mussolini, celebrating a treaty with Germany, in which he said:
- This Rome-Berlin protocol is an axis around which all European states, animated by a desire for peace, may collaborate.
Subsequently newspapers began to use the phrase "Rome-Berlin axis," and later "Rome-Berlin-Tokyo axis," or "Axis" for short.
George W. Bush's "Axis of Evil"
In a speech on January 29, 2002, George W. Bush referred to Iraq, Iran, and North Korea an "axis of evil," using, as the New York Times noted, "a word once used to describe the alliance of Germany, Italy, and Japan during World War II." However, Iraq, Iran and North Korea were not allies; in fact at the time of his speech Iraq and Iran's governments were bitter opponents (which is not to say that they weren't "evil").
Europeans objected to the speech as having a combative tone, and felt that Bush was issuing military threats to the three nations he named. Bush aides insisted, however, that Bush "was not suggesting imminent military activity" against any of the countries.
- Cortesi, Arnaldo (1936), "Mussolini Urges Paris and London to Enter Accord," The New York Times, November 2, 1936, p. 1
- Sanger, David E (2002), "Bush, Focusing on Terrorism, says Secure U.S. is Top Priority"; The New York Times, January 30, 2002, p. A1
- Daley, Suzanne (200), "The Allies," January 31, 2002, p. A12
- Sanger, David E. "Bush Aides Say Tough Tone Put Foes on Notice" January 31, 2002, p. A1