Explain the major consequences of World War II

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A. physical and economic destruction
B. the enormous loss of life, including millions of civilians through the bombing of population centers and the slaughter of political opponents and ethnic minorities
C. support in Europe for political reform and decolonization
D. the emergence of the U.S. and the Soviet Union as the world’s two superpowers

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Focus Question: What were the major consequences of World War II?

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Good Will to Men by William Hanna & Joseph Barbera, a powerful anti-war cartoon remake of the 1939 MGM cartoon feature Peace on Earth
  • Good Will to Men updates the earlier cartoon to show the destructive effects on new weapons during World War II, including nuclear weapons
  • Nominated for Best Animated Short Subject Oscar


During the war, women played a crucial role in filling employment vacancies while the men went off to fight.
  • However, when the war was over, federal and civilian policies granted these jobs back to men, thus cornering women into a particular gender norm of being a housewife.

A. Physical and economic destruction

The war caused unprecedented destruction of life and property. There was a complete destruction of fields and factories, mills and workshops and the houses of the civilians. Many countries involved in the war were in ruins due to bombing. Germany had a number of cities that were devastated due to the bombing campaign. Japan was also devastated by the bombing that they experienced from the U.S. to end the war. England also had serious damage due to the German bombing during the 1940 blitz, Nearly all of the European powers involved in World War II had experienced devastation due to bombing.
Millions of people died and many more were permanently disabled. In the opinion of Chester Bowles, World War II "killed twenty-five million people, permanently disabled twice that number and devastated much of Germany, Italy, Poland and the Balkans, Russia, China and Japan."

The war also created an acute scarcity of foodstuff, essential commodities and cloth. This led to unprecedented inflation. The standard of living fell drastically. Since the prices shot up, the lives of millions became miserable.

Berlin Street, 1945
Berlin Street, 1945

Effects on the Axis and Allied powers

The three great Axis Powers, namely Italy, Germany and Japan, were leveled to dust.

(i) Germany, the chief architect of the war, was utterly humiliated and punished. At the Potsdam Conference, Germany was divided into four zones, each placed under a major allied victor.

(ii) The Italian empire disappeared from the map of the world. The spoils of war, in terms of territory and reparation, were shared and enjoyed by the major Allied victors.

(iii) After the war, Japan was placed under the control of the Far Eastern Commission with General MacArthur as the Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces. Only in 1951 was Japan able to regain its lost sovereignty under the San Francisco Peace Treaty.

Great Britain emerged from the war as a second-rate world power. The British Empire suffered heavy losses during the war. After the war, within a short span of time, many new nations were born from the ruins of the British Empire.
Hiroshima aftermath, 1945
Hiroshima aftermath, 1945

The strain of the war on France was beyond her power to endure. Though it emerged victorious from the war, its status sank considerably in the international field and it became a second-rate power. Undoubtedly, it also suffered heavy losses.

The United States of America played a vital role in winning the war. U.S. manufacturers made fantastic profits. World War II enabled the U.S. to play an important role in financial, political and diplomatic domains all over the world. The underdeveloped, developing, and war-torn states turned their eyes towards the U.S. for her aid, both physical and financial.

B. Enormous loss of human life

World War II was the most deadly military conflict in human history.
  • Sixty million people lost their lives as a result of the Second World War.
  • Nine Million of these people were victims of the Holocaust, which was the systemic slaughter of Jews, Roma People, people with disabilities, and homosexuals carried out by the Nazi regime that ruled Germany.
  • During the Holocaust, millions of people were sent to concentration camps where they were subjected to torture or killed in gas chambers. Starvation, genocide, military conflict, and aerial bombings all contributed to the horrific death toll.

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Click for a list of the total death toll by country

See World History II.26 for more on the Holocaust.

"The Final Solution" as it would come to be called, ended up being the mass execution of the Jews of Europe.
  • The plan did not initially call for the mass killings, but for the relocation of them. Eventually, throughout the years of the Second World War, the goal of "The Final Solution" became extermination over relocation.
  • Initially, the Jews were moved from their homes and forced to live in Ghettos. The living conditions of the Ghettos were very unsanitary, with no privacy or space.
  • The next step was moving many of the Jews from these Ghettos to concentration camps. Eventually, Death Camps were constructed, where their sole purpose was to exterminate mass amounts of Jews. Many mass killings were carried out through gas chambers. They were often told they were to enter this large room to receive a showers, and were killed through the use of gasses.

Click for more information about the Ghettos

Click for photos and information about some of the Concentration camps of World War II

The war proved the moral degradation of man, for he killed his own species in an unparalleled scale. Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy and militarist Japan inflicted unimaginable cruelties upon the combatants as well as non-combatants and innocent men, women, and children. The dropping of the two atom bombs by the U.S. on Japan in August 1945 demonstrated how man was competent enough to wipe out the entire human race within a split second.

Click for informational video's on Nazis during World War II

Click for details World War IIEvacuations of children.

C. Support in Europe for political reform and decolonization

In 1945, the United Nations was formed to try and prevent large scale international military conflict and genocide.

European nations had too many problems at home to keep up their empires abroad. The vast majority of the European nations' limited resources were put back into rebuilding Europe. Europe’s preoccupation with its own problems led to the rapid process of decolonization. In addition, nationalist movements in colonial territories developed that fought against western imperialism. These nationalist movements also contributed to decolonization. New nations like India, Pakistan, Burma and Ceylon were born on their ruins, while Israel, Iran, Syria and Lebanon won political freedom from their imperialist masters.

Rise of Communism

World War II enhanced the prestige of the communist dictatorship of Russia, and enabled it to spread its control all over east and central Europe as well as Asia. Democracy held its sway over Western Europe, however.

The world thus came to be divided into two power blocs:
(a) the Capitalist bloc of Great Britain, the U.S. and their allies, and
(b) the Communist bloc of the Soviet Union and her satellites.

D. Emergence of the U.S. and the Soviet Union as the world’s two superpowers

external image Agregateur_Poietique.gifFor more on the beginnings of the Cold War, see United States History II.18 and II.19

Map of the Former Soviet Union
Map of the Former Soviet Union

The European nation-states lost their power due to physical destruction and their lack of financial resources. This made room for the U.S. to become a major power house. The U.S. was harmed very little by the war. In fact, the war helped the U.S. economy because many nations became dependent on the U.S. to export materials that supported the war effort. This created a manufacturing boom that continued in the post-war era.

The Soviet Union, though heavily harmed by the war, was in a much better position economically and militarily then the other former European powers. The Soviet Union had built up a very large and strong army. Additionally, it controlled a lot of territory and set up governments all over eastern and central Europe that represented its interests. The combination of its powerful army and control over vast amounts of land put in a position two be a super power.

The U.S. and the Soviet Union went head to head in the Cold War, wherein America wanted to defend and spread capitalism and the Soviet Union wanted to defend and spread communism.

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Also, see this link for World War II Lesson plans

Click here for multiple articles and lesson plans from various grades from //Scholastic//

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BBC, World War II. Retrieved March 8, 2007, from BBC Online Web site: http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/worldwars/wwtwo/
Yale Law School, World War II : Documents. Retrieved March 8, 2007, from The Avalon Project Web site: http://www.yale.edu/lawweb/avalon/wwii/wwii.htm
World War II: Human and Material Cost. Retrieved March 8, 2007, from Encyclopedia Britannica Online Web site: http://www.britannica.com/eb/article-53609/World-War-II
World War II: Aftermath and Reckoning. Retrieved March 8, 2007, from Fact Monster Web site: http://www.factmonster.com/ce6/history/A0862014.html