Results of World War II
Results of the War
The Allied forces had crushed the German attempt to conquer Europe. The Nazi Party was disbanded and discredited; many of its key figures killed them- selves or fled to South America. Those captured in Europe were tried as war criminals. Germany lost all the territory it had conquered during the war. Much of Japan was destroyed by nuclear bombs.
Europe’s population was devastated by the war. The Soviet Union was the hardest hit of all, with 9 million soldiers and 17 million civilians dead. The total deaths for all other European nations combined were about 6 million soldiers and about 12 million civilians, including the refugees of all nations who died of starvation, disease, or stray bullets. Approximately 6 million Jews, Sinti, and Romany were massacred in the Nazi concentration camps. Thousands more Europeans were lucky enough to emigrate overseas before or during the war; most would never return.
Not only people, but whole cities, were casualties of the war. Much of central Europe lay in ruins. Germany was utterly destroyed by Allied bombs. The beautiful capitals of Berlin and Vienna were unrecognizable, nothing but smoking heaps of loose bricks, chunks of concrete, and wrecked hulks of buildings. Cities and villages across Italy and Poland had been reduced to piles of stones. Transportation systems across the continent were wrecked. Everyday necessities such as fresh water, fuel, electricity, and food were unavailable. Sanitation was impossible in bombed-out cities. Governments were in disarray or had been removed from power.
The war ended a long era of European domination of the globe. For the next 50 years, only two nations dominated world affairs: the United States and the Soviet Union. The tremendous power the Soviet Union would soon wield was not immediately apparent at the end of World War II; the case was quite otherwise with the United States. The United States emerged strong from the war for three reasons. First, the munitions industry had completely reinvigorated the American economy. Second, American casualties had been very low compared to European losses. Third, the war had had only a minimal impact on American civilians, since apart from the one bombing attack on Pearl Harbor, they were far removed from the combat zones.
The leaders meeting in Potsdam for the peace conference had an enormous rebuilding task before them.
Provisions of the Potsdam Conference
- Austria and Germany would each be divided into four zones of occupation: Soviet, British, U.S., and French.
- The capital cities of Vienna and Berlin would be divided into four zones of occupation, as above.
- The Allies would help to rebuild German industry and reestablish local German governments.
- German refugees would be helped to return to their homes.
- Poland would retain the German territory it had taken during the war.
- Germany would pay reparations to all Allied nations, with the Soviet Union taking the largest share as the greatest sufferer.
The leaders at Potsdam were outwardly civil, but inwardly distrustful of one another. Stalin did not want the United States imposing a capitalist economy on Germany. In addition, he deeply resented the fact that the Allies had waited until 1944 to invade Normandy, while Soviet soldiers were fighting desperately in the east. On his side, President Truman did not want the Soviets to gain too much control over Poland and Eastern Europe. These mutual suspicions grew as time went on. Before long, they would lead the world into the Cold War.
The United Nations
The League of Nations had failed to prevent World War II. National leaders agreed that they needed to design a new, stronger peacekeeping organization. Delegates from the United States, China, the Soviet Union, and Britain wrote a proposal for an organization to be called the United Nations. Delegates from fifty nations then met to discuss the proposal and write a U.N. charter. It established a General Assembly, in which all member nations would have an equal voice, and a 15-member Security Council. Of the fifteen seats on the Security Council, ten would rotate among nations; the other five would be permanently held by Britain, China, France, the Soviet Union, and the United States.
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