Something of Interest
World War II, also known as the Second World War, was a global war. It have lasted from 1939 to 1945. It involved the vast majority of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis. It was the most widespread war in history, with more than 100 million people, from more than 30 different countries, serving in military units. In a state of total war, the major participants threw their entire economic, industrial, and scientific capabilities behind the war effort, erasing the distinction between civilian and military resources. Marked by mass deaths of civilians, including the Holocaust and the first use of nuclear weapons in warfare (Hiroshima and Nagasaki), it resulted in an estimated 50 million to 85 million fatalities. These made World War II the deadliest conflict in human history.
The world war is generally said to have begun on 1 September 1939 with the invasion of Poland by Germany and subsequent declarations of war on Germany by France and the United Kingdom. From late 1939 to early 1941, in a series of campaigns and treaties, Germany formed the Axis alliance with Italy, conquering or subduing much of continental Europe. Following the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact, Germany and the Soviet Union partitioned and annexed territories between themselves of their European neighbours, including Poland, Finland and the Baltic states. The United Kingdom and the other members of the British Commonwealth were the only major Allied forces continuing the fight against the Axis, with battles taking place in North Africa as well as the long-running Battle of the Atlantic. In June 1941, the European Axis launched an invasion of the Soviet Union, giving a start to the largest land theatre of war in history, which tied down the major part of the Axis' military forces for the rest of the war. In December 1941, Japan joined the Axis, attacked the United States (Pearl Harbor) and European territories in the Pacific Ocean, and quickly conquered much of the Western Pacific.
The Axis advance was stopped in 1942. Japan lost a critical battle at Midway, near Hawaii, and never regained its earlier momentum. Germany was defeated in North Africa and, decisively, at Stalingrad in Russia. In 1943, with a series of German defeats in Eastern Europe, the Allied invasion of Italy which brought about that nation's surrender, and American victories in the Pacific, the Axis lost the initiative and undertook strategic retreat on all fronts. In 1944, the Western Allies invaded France, while the Soviet Union regained all of its territorial losses and invaded Germany and its allies. During 1944 and 1945 the United States defeated the Japanese Navy and captured key Western Pacific islands.
The war in Europe ended with an invasion of Germany by the Western Allies and the Soviet Union culminating in the capture of Berlin by Soviet and Polish troops and the subsequent German unconditional surrender on 8 May 1945. Following the Potsdam Declaration by the Allies on 26 July 1945, the United States dropped atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on 6 August and 9 August respectively. With an invasion of the Japanese archipelago (known as Operation Downfall) imminent, and the Soviet Union having declared war on Japan by invading Manchuria, Japan surrendered on 15 August 1945, ending the war in Asia and cementing the total victory of the Allies over the Axis.
Though the Allies' economic and population advantages were largely mitigated during the initial rapid blitzkrieg attacks of Germany and Japan, they became the decisive factor by 1942, after the United States and Soviet Union joined the Allies, as the war largely settled into one of attrition. While the Allies' ability to out-produce the Axis is often attributed to the Allies having more access to natural resources, other factors, such as Germany and Japan's reluctance to employ women in the labour force, Allied strategic bombing, and Germany's late shift to a war economy contributed significantly to the Allies' victory. Additionally, neither Germany nor Japan planned to fight a protracted war, and were not equipped to do so. To improve their production, Germany and Japan used millions of slave labourers; Germany used about 12 million people, mostly from Eastern Europe, while Japan pressed more than 18 million people in Far East Asia.
World War II altered the political alignment and social structure of the world. Germany was divided into western and eastern occupation zones controlled by the Western Allies and the USSR, accordingly. The United Nations (UN) was established to foster international co-operation and prevent future conflicts. The great powers that were the victors of the war—the United States, the Soviet Union, China, the United Kingdom, and France—became the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council. The Soviet Union and the United States emerged as rival superpowers, setting the stage for the Cold War, which lasted for the next 46 years. Meanwhile, the influence of European great powers started to decline, while the decolonisation of Asia and Africa began. Most countries whose industries had been damaged moved towards economic recovery. Political integration, especially in Europe, emerged as an effort to stabilise postwar relations and cooperate more effectively in the Cold War.
The Treaty of Versailles was neither lenient enough to appease Germany, nor harsh enough to prevent it from becoming the dominant continental power again. The treaty placed the blame, or "war guilt" on Germany and Austria-Hungary, and punished them for their "responsibility" rather than working out an agreement that would assure long-term peace. The treaty resulted in harsh monetary reparations, separated millions of ethnic Germans into neighboring countries, territorial dismemberment, caused mass ethnic resettlement and caused hyperinflation of the German currency. The Weimar Republic printed trillions of marks and borrowed heavily from the United States to pay war reparations to Britain and France.
In Germany, because of the Versailles humiliation, the Weimar Republic's legitimacy was challenged by right-wing elements such as the Nazi party, resulting in events such as the Beer Hall Putsch. With the onset of the Great Depression in 1929, domestic support for Nazism and its leader Adolf Hitler rose and, in 1933, he was appointed Chancellor of Germany. In the aftermath of the Reichstag fire, Hitler created a totalitarian single-party state led by the Nazis.
In Europe, Germany and Italy were becoming bolder. In March 1938, Germany annexed Austria, again provoking little response from other European powers. Encouraged, Hitler began pressing German claims on the Sudetenland, an area of Czechoslovakia with a predominantly ethnic German population; and soon Britain and France followed the counsel of prime minister Neville Chamberlain and conceded this territory to Germany in the Munich Agreement, which was made against the wishes of the Czechoslovak government, in exchange for a promise of no further territorial demands.
Out of all causes of World War II, the desire and ability of Adolf Hitler, in control of Nazi Germany, to dominate Europe and gain control especially of the agrarian resources to the east of Germany was the primary one. He was allied with the Empire of Japan, which desired to dominate Asia, including the much larger nation of China, as well as Italy (which had ambitions to control parts of the Balkans) and several smaller countries. Hitler had successfully taken control of Austria and Czechoslovakia by early 1939, when Britain and France reversed their policy of appeasement and switched to a policy of deterrence, warning they would declare war if Germany attacked Poland. Hitler thought they were bluffing, and signed an agreement with the Soviet Union in late August that divided up Poland and the Baltic states. Germany invaded Poland on 1 September 1939. Hitler's invasion of Poland drove Great Britain and France to declare war on Germany, and World War II had begun.
The Axis Powers (particularly Germany and Japan) were perhaps some of the most systematic perpetrators of war crimes in modern history. Contributing factors included Nazi race theory, a desire for "living space" that justified the eradication of native populations, and militaristic indoctrination that encouraged the terrorization of conquered peoples and prisoners of war. The Holocaust, the German attack on the Soviet Union and occupation of much of Europe, the Japanese occupation of Manchuria and the Philippines and attack on China all contributed to well over half of the civilian deaths in World War II and the conflicts that led up to the war. Even before post-war revelations of atrocities, both nations were notorious for their brutal treatment of captured combatants.
The Axis forces employed limited biological and chemical weapons. The Imperial Japanese Army used a variety of such weapons during their invasion and occupation of China and in early conflicts against the Soviets. Both the Germans and Japanese tested such weapons against civilians and, in some cases, on prisoners of war.
The Nazis were responsible for The Holocaust, the killing of approximately six million Jews as well as two million ethnic Poles and four million others who were deemed "unworthy of life" (including the disabled and mentally ill, Soviet prisoners of war, homosexuals, Freemasons, Jehovah's Witnesses, and Romani (Gipsies)) as part of a programme of deliberate extermination.
About 12 million, most of whom were Eastern Europeans, were employed in the German war economy as forced labourers. At least five million Chinese civilians from northern China and Manchukuo were enslaved between 1935 and 1941 by the Japanese government for work in mines and war industries.
It has been suggested by some historians that the mass-bombing of civilian areas in enemy territory, including Tokyo and most notably the German cities of Dresden, Hamburg and Cologne by Western Allies, which resulted in the destruction of more than 160 cities and the deaths of more than 600,000 German civilians be considered as war crimes.
The Nuremberg Trials were a series of military tribunals, held by the Allied forces of World War II, most notable for the prosecution of prominent members of the political, military, and economic leadership of Nazi Germany.
In an effort to maintain peace, the Allies formed the United Nations, which officially came into existence on 24 October 1945, and adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, as a common standard for all member nations. The great powers that were the victors of the war—the United States, Soviet Union, China, Britain, and France—formed the permanent members of the UN's Security Council.
Germany had been de facto divided, and two independent states, Federal Republic of Germany and German Democratic Republic were created within the borders of Allied and Soviet occupation zones, accordingly. The rest of Europe was also divided onto Western and Soviet spheres of influence. Most eastern and central European countries fell into the Soviet sphere, which led to establishment of Communist led regimes, with full or partial support of the Soviet occupation authorities. As a result, Poland, Hungary, East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Romania, and Albania became Soviet Satellite states. Communist Yugoslavia conducted a fully independent policy, causing tension with the USSR.
Post-war division of the world was formalised by two international military alliances, the United States-led NATO and the Soviet-led Warsaw Pact; the long period of political tensions and military competition between them, the Cold War, would be accompanied by an unprecedented arms race and proxy wars.
Economic recovery began with the mid-1948 currency reform in Western Germany, and was sped up by the liberalisation of European economic policy that the Marshall plan (1948–1951) both directly and indirectly caused. The post 1948 West German recovery has been called the German economic miracle. Also the Italian and French economies rebounded. By contrast, the United Kingdom was in a state of economic ruin, and although it received a quarter of the total Marshall Plan assistance, more than any other European country, continued relative economic decline for decades.
The Soviet Union, despite enormous human and material losses, also experienced rapid increase in production in the immediate post-war era. Japan experienced incredibly rapid economic growth, becoming one of the most powerful economies in the world by the 1980s. China returned to its pre-war industrial production by 1952.
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