The instability that came after World War One (1914-18) in Europe laid the foundations for the next global conflict: the Second World War. History would repeat itself again two decades later and would demonstrate that all the cruelty which men are capable of had yet to be documented.
Germany was unstable, both politically and economically. In this times of uncertainty, the country witnessed Adolf Hitler’s rise to power, along with his party (the Nazi Party, NSDAP). With unusual speed, Hitler proceeded to rearm the nation and to sign strategic treaties with Italy and Japan to further pursue his ambitions of global domination.
The Allies, on the other hand, were fearful of another devastating world war with incalculable consequences. Therefore, they tried to contain the situation by adopting a policy of appeasement which turned out to be totally ineffective in the end.The invasion of Poland by the Nazi armies in September 1939 led to the British and French declaration of war with the Third Reich that would ultimately start the Second World War.
Over the next six years, World War 2 would take more lives and destroy more properties around the world than any other war previously known by mankind. Among the 45-60 million people who died due to this brutal war, 6 million jews were exterminated in the infamous nazi concentration camps, as part of the Final Solution planned and designed by Adolf Hitler and his cronies, like Heinrich Himmler or Reinhard Heydrich. It must be noted that the genocide that happened during the Second World War didn’t only target the Jewish people; gypsies, homosexuals, and political enemies would also suffer the same fate. It must be noted that evidence of the Holocaust is undeniable. Nazi concentration camps, like Auschwitz, were a painful reality.
However, we shouldn’t end up having a reductionist and/or Manichean vision of the Second World War; the Allies also had some pretty dark episodes during WWII. Also, countless women (who were often victims of systemic rape), children and old people of all sides went through episodes as horrible of those lived by the men fighting on the frontlines. Nor should it be forgotten that World War Two wasn’t only confined to Europe. The Pacific theater of operations showed that human barbarism and destruction doesn’t respect geographical borders (events like the Nanjing massacre, the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki or the Japanese war crimes bear witness to this).
The Second World War is, without a doubt, the best known war in history. In this blog, we try to sketch the history of World War Two without ideological bias. We make every attempt to respect history and focus on shedding light on the lesser-known events and cultural aspects that have surrounded this fascinating war.
If you simply want a schematic view of the conflict, we recommend that you click here to read a summary of World War Two (coming soon).
Consequences of World War 2
Before ending this article, we can’t overlook the consequences of the Second World War, which undoubtedly marked the second half of the 20th century.
The first consequence of WW2 was the Allied occupation of Austria and Germany. Austria became a neutral state, without allying with any political bloc. But Germany was divided into Eastern and Western occupation zones, controlled by the Soviet Union and the Western Allies, respectively.
Another consequence of the Second World War was the denazification program implemented in Germany, which led to the conviction of Nazi war criminals and the purge of former Nazis in the postwar German government. However, this policy was ultimately altered to grant amnesties and reintegrate a large number of former Nazis in the West German society.
At the territorial level, Germany lost one-quarter of all its territories held prior to the Second World War. The eastern territories of Silesia, Neumark and most of Pomerania were annexed to Poland, and Eastern Prussia was divided between the Soviet Union and Poland (9 million Germans were kicked out of those provinces).
In an effort to keep the peace after World War 2, the Allied powers created the United Nations (UN), which was officially born on Oct 24, 1945. In 1948, they also passed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
World War Two, however, marked the beginning of tensions between the Western Allies and the USSR. After the Second World War, Germany was divided in two “independent” nations: the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) and the German Democratic Republic (East Germany), within the borders of the respective areas of occupation.
The rest of Europe was also divided into Western and Soviet areas of influence. A large part of Eastern and Central European countries would remain under the Soviet umbrella. This would finally lead to the establishment of Communist regimes in them. As a result, Romania, Poland, Hungary, Albania, Czechoslovakia and East Germany became Soviet puppet states. Only Communist Yugoslavia remained more-or-less independent (this lack of cooperation with Stalin would eventually cause tensions and problems with the Soviet government).
It should be noted that changes in the geopolitical map weren’t limited to the European continent. After the end of World War Two, many emancipation movements emerged all around the colonial world and led to the creation of the State of Israel and the decolonization of Africa and Asia.
Ultimately, the division of the world after WW2 was formalized by the creation of two international military alliances: the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), under the aegis of US Government. and the Warsaw Pact, led by the Soviet Government.
We can’t forget Asia, a continent which also played a big role in the final outcome of the Second World War. After WW2, USA occupied the Japanese archipelago, while the Soviets annexed the Sakhalin Island and the Kuril Islands. Korea, under Japanese rule during World War 2, was divided and occupied by the US army in the South and by the Soviet Union in the North, between 1945 and 1948. In China, nationalist and Communist forces resumed the civil war in June 1946.
In the Middle East things were not very quiet after the end of the Second World War. The Arab rejection of the UN division plan of Palestine and the birth of the State of Israel as a compensation for the Holocaust atrocities marked the beginning of the never-ending Arab-Israeli conflict.
While all this was happening, the European colonial powers tried as hard as they could to keep part (or all) of their colonial empires. Despite their efforts, their loss of resources during World War Two finally resulted in the decolonization of Africa and Asia.
At an economic level, the world economy suffered greatly during the Second World War, although the participating nations were affected in very different ways. The United States, for example, ended up being much richer than any other country after the war: they underwent the demographic baby boom and their GDP (gross domestic product) in the 1950s dominated the capitalist world.
After WWII, the economic recovery in Europe began in 1948 with the monetary reform introduced in West Germany and was accelerated by the liberalization of the economy. Actually, the economic boom of West Germany after 1948 would be known as the “German economic miracle”.
The economies of France and Italy also improved thanks to the Marshall Plan. The USSR, in spite of its huge material and human losses suffered during World War 2, underwent a fast increase in its post-war production.
After the Second World War, Japan enjoyed an incredibly fast growth and became one of the top economies in the world by the early 1980s. China would still take more time to gain momentum; it wouldn’t be until 1952 that they would get back to its pre-WWII industrial production levels.