History has been drastically transformed by both long-term and short-term phenomena. The Renaissance, Reformation, Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution easily describe the former while the French Revolution, the Great War and WWII fall under the rubric of the latter.
Having been born less than twenty five years after WWII therefore come of age in the milieu of the Cold War (essentially the spawn of WWII) I have somewhat of an emotional attachment to this historical turning point. Both my grandfather and granduncle fought in the war and its events (certainly its impact on World Jewry) continue to influence my personal way of thinking.
What follows is a list that I have compiled of important changes and transformations that were either galvanized or transformed both indirectly or directly by World War Two (not in any order)
1. The Cold War – In a sense this was the leftover fallout of the uneasy alliances that made possible the defeat of the Axis Powers. It was defined by the emergence of an ideological struggle (East v West or Communism v Capitalism).
2. Consolidation of the position of the US as a world power – Before WWII the US was viewed as more of an economic power than a military giant after the war it was clear that the US was both.
3. Decline of Britain as a World Power – Britain was already on the decline following the turmoil of the Great War but World War Two confirmed and augmented this deterioration. What would follow in the years to come was a retreat from Empire (The crown Jewel of India would gain self determination in 1947) and the abdication of Britain as the primary defender of Western Democracy.
4. Weakening of France – The French decline while paralleling that of Britain was in many ways even more severe in that it was motivated by that nation’s inglorious performance in WWII. Humbling defeats in French Indochina were to follow.
5. Growth of Socialism in Western Europe – Socialism would grow unfettered on the free side of the continent with policies of industrial nationalization and extension of big government being adopted to placate a war weary populace. Some have argued that the decline of Western Europe as a key player and a believer in its own sense of exceptionality is a consequence of the socialist mind frame.
6. Germany and Japan were successfully pegged back and weakened so that they could be rebuilt into democratic (and economic) powerhouses in the image of the allies.
7. Extension of the Iron Curtain – Eastern Europe and a vast Soviet Union would for sometime fall under the Totalitarian control of the Marxist-Leninist dogma.
8. Transition of China to Maoism – The Japanese invasion of China debilitated the central nationalist government (who fought bravely against the outsiders) leaving them devoid of the wherewithal to defeat Mao and his Communist insurgents.
9. Independence drive for global colonial regions – The Mother countries lost their will to govern their colonial empires inspiring the success through peaceful and violent means of grassroots liberation movements Within the next thirty to forty years the vast European controlled territories would assume their new status as self governing nation states (Winds of Change).
10. The Birth of the Nuclear Age – The bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki signalled this beginning of this Age but the development beforehand (such as the Manhattan Project and the competing Axis initiatives) that had their impetus with the war effort.
11. Improvement in Medicine – Vast strides in medical triage, use of antibiotics and surgical techniques were greatly accelerated by the war.
12. Development of Weapons Technology – As expected this was ubiquitous across all fields from gun manufacturing/munitions, to tank production, to armed vehicle and naval warfare (Sonar, depth charges, sea mines etc.) - In the fields of aviation great strides were made with respect to jet technology, plane manoeuvrability and payload transportation and release.
13. Espionage enhancement – Not only was the effectiveness of cloak and dagger spying, sabotage and other types of covert action improved over the course of the war many of the modern intelligence gathering services were born and grew to maturity in this volatile environment.
14. The End of the Great Depression – There is some debate as to whether World War II actually ended the Great Depression but it certainly impacted the production and employment profiles of the nations involved in a positive sense.
15. The Women’s Movement receives a big boost – With many of the men at war women provided an important role on the production line at the Home Front. The symbol of Rosie the Riveter and the boost that she gave First Wave Feminism in the work environment would forever change the traditional structure of western society.
16. Formation of the United Nations – Although it has not lived up to its original intention and certainly sports a history of both success and failure the genesis of the UN (Dumbarton Oaks Conference – October 1944) has its origins in World War Two.
17. Global Economics – Both the IMF and the World Bank were organizations that were set up to stabilize and mend international economics after the horrors of WWII (and to some extent the Great Depression). They continue to play a key role in global financer today.
18. Space Race – While its history is marred in the Cold War the prototypes of the Rockets developed by both the US and the Soviets trace their background to Germany’s World War II V1 and V2 Programs (Wunderwaffen). These developments also pre-staged the missile delivery era associated with the Nuclear Arms Race.
19. The Holocaust and an enhanced sensitivity towards genocide – While the message has been somewhat mixed and not always consistent our awareness of issues of human rights abuse (so often flatly ignored before WWII – look at the Armenian Genocide of 1915) has been highlighted by the Shoah.
20. Formation of the State of Israel – Its possible that the Jewish state may have come into fruition without the occurrence of WWII (the Balfour Declaration was signed in 1917) but the war and the ramifications of the Holocaust certainly sped up the process.
21. Oil Politics – The inability of the both the Third Reich and Japan to secure stable oil supplies for their respective war machines contributed to the failure of each of these military forces. Consequently oil politics as a driver for both political economy and industrial production would be highlighted by this truism.
22. The Computer Age – The Code breaking machine driven initiatives at Bletchley Park together with the early computer ENIAC saw their light in World War II. Alan Turing and the Bletchley crowd greatly shortened the war and set in motion the embryonic Information Age.