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1945: A Whole New World!
It’s not just a song from Disney’s Aladdin! No other event in human history changed the path of
history like World War II. This war reshaped the political map, altered the balance of power in
the world, and led to a new era in human history. In many ways, the way we live today in the
year 2014 continues to be shaped by World War II and its aftermath. This fact sheet summarizes
the state of the world at the conclusion of the war, and some of its major effects.
United States: The U.S., which was untouched by the devastation of the war, emerged as a
military and economic “superpower.” The other major victorious power, the Soviet Union, was
the second great “superpower” on Earth. The United States economy was greatly stimulated by
the war, and the depression was brought decisively to an end. New industrial complexes were
built all over the United States. Spared the physical destruction of war, the U.S. economy would
dominate the world economy. After four years of military buildup, the U.S. had also become the
leading military power. The position of the United States as the leader of the free world was now
more obvious than ever.
Soviet Union: The Russian people had suffered immeasurably during the war, and western
Russia was devastated by the land warfare that was primarily on Russian territory. But, in the
process of defeating the Germans, the Russians had built a large and powerful army, which
occupied most of Eastern Europe at the end of the war. Their great resources and population
assured that the Soviet Union would be, along with the United States, one of two superpowers.
Western Europe (including Great Britain): Utterly destroyed and laid in ruins. Millions of
people were homeless, the European economy had collapsed, and much of the European
industrial infrastructure was destroyed.
China: China emerged on the winning side of the war. However, they were devastated by the
war with Japan. A civil war between the Nationalists Kuomintang (led by Chiang Kai-Shek) and
the Communists continued on throughout the rest of the 1940s, until the Communists declared
victory in October 1949.
Central and Eastern Europe and the Balkans: With the exception of Austria, all of the
nations liberated from the Nazis by the Soviet Union were forcibly placed under the control of
Communist puppet governments controlled by Stalin. Stalin also annexed Estonia, Latvia, and
Germany: The defeated Germany was divided among the Allies into American, Soviet, French,
and British zones. The capital city of Berlin was also divided into four occupation zones.
Japan: Japan was also left in ruins. The defeated Japan was occupied by American troops for
seven years, until 1952. For the first several years, General Douglas MacArthur was the leader.
The Americans dismantled the Japanese weapons industry and worked with the Japanese to
establish a constitutional democracy under our guidance.
Korea: The nation of Korea was divided between the United States and the Soviet Union into a
Communist-controlled North Korea and a capitalistic and democratic South Korea.
Colonies in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East: The traditional colonial powers of Europe
were now exhausted and diminished. India and Pakistan became independent from Great Britain
in 1947. The Vietnamese fought to win their independence from the French. The Algerians
revolted against the French as well. The Netherlands failed in their attempt to recapture the
Dutch East Indies. The same process was carried out across much of Africa in the late 40s and
early 50s.
Border changes: As a result of the new borders drawn by the victorious nations, large
populations suddenly found themselves in hostile territory. 15 million Germans were expelled
from their homes. 4 million Poles were expelled by the Soviet Union.
Reparations payments: Germany made payments to the Soviet Union, mostly in the form of
dismantled industrial plants and 3 million German POWs who were given to the Soviets as slave
laborers. Beginning immediately after the German surrender and continuing for the next two
years, the U.S. pursued a vigorous program to harvest all technological and scientific know-how
as well as all patents in Germany. We took most of their scientists as well. Other nations forced
to make payments were Italy, Romania, Hungary, Bulgaria, and Finland.
International organizations and cooperation: The United Nations was founded on October 24,
1945. Also, in 1944, the major economic powers met to create an International Monetary Fund
and to agree upon a regime of international tariff regulation known as GATT. There was a
determination to avoid the mistakes of the interwar years that had exacerbated the Great
War criminals: Germany was totally defeated, and the Nazi regime brought down. Its leaders
were tried for crimes against humanity at Nuremberg, the former site of Nazi propaganda
Get ready to learn more about the aftermath of the Holocaust!