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World War II
World War II (in Russia also known as The Great Patriotic War (for the war
after June 1941) and The War Against Aggression) was fought chiefly between
the Allies and the Axis Powers. Most of the fighting occurred in the
European theatre in and around Europe, and in the Asian theatre in the
Pacific and East Asia.
The war in Europe began on September 1, 1939, when Nazi Germany invaded
Poland. However, Japan had invaded China already in 1937 the (Second
Sino-Japanese War), which sometimes is considered the start of the Second
World War (Withdrawal of the Japense after their defeat also catalysed the
Chinese Communist Revolution). Nazi Germany surrendered on May 8, 1945,
ending the war in Europe. The war in the Pacific ended on September 2, 1945,
when Japan surrendered.
It was the largest armed conflict in history, spanning virtually the entire
world and involving more countries than any other war, introducing powerful
new weapons, and culminating in the first use of nuclear weapons. However,
despite the name, not all countries of the world were involved; some through
maintained neutrality (such as âire, Sweden and Switzerland), others through
strategic insignificance (as Mexico). However, whilst not all countries were
involved, it is clear that the Second World War has had a lasting effect in
shaping the political climate of the world as we know it today.
The war ravaged civilians more severely than any previous conflict (bringing
to its first fruition the concept of total war) and served as a backdrop for
genocidal killings by Nazi Germany as well as several other mass slaughters
of civilians which, although not technically genocide, were significant.
These included the massacre of millions of Chinese and Korean nationals by
Japan, internal mass killings in the Soviet Union, and the bombing of
civilian targets in German and Japanese cities by the Allies, and bombing of
European cities by Nazi Germany. In total, World War II produced about 50
million deaths, more than any other war to date.
Most likely learning from the example of World War I, the Western victors in
the Second World War did not demand compensation from the defeated nations.
On the contrary, a plan created by U. S. Secretary of State George Marshall,
the "Economic Recovery Program", better known as the Marshall Plan, called
for the US Congress to allocate billions of dollars for the reconstruction
The portion of Europe occupied or dominated by the Soviet Union did not
participate in the Marshall Plan. In the Paris Peace Treaty Soviet's enemies
Hungary, Finland and Rumania were required to pay war reparations of
$300,000,000 each (in 1938 year's value) to USSR and her satellites. From
Italy was required $360,000,000, shared chiefly between Greece, Yugoslavia
and the Soviet Union.
As mentioned, the Soviets bore the heaviest casualties of World War II.
Russia had been invaded three times in the 150 years before the Cold War:
during the Napoleonic Wars, World War I, and World War II, suffering tens of
millions of causalities. This is sometimes proposed as an explanation for
much of Russia's behavior after the war, when the Soviet Union continued to
occupy and dominate Eastern Europe as a "buffer zone" against another
invasion from the West.
At the same time, the United States and the Soviet Union consolidated their
military presence and links in Europe as preparation against possible
aggression. In Churchill's words, an Iron Curtain had descended across
Europe and a new phase of the conflict between the democracies and Soviet
Union, the Cold War, began.
The repatriation, pursuant to the terms of the Yalta Conference, of two
million Russian soldiers who had came under the control of advancing
American and British forces, resulted for the most part in their deaths.
Some of the prisoners committed suicide, others were shot once taken into
Soviet custody, and still others (including General Andrei Vlasov) were
executed after trial. The balance of the soldiers were sent to Soviet
forced-labor camps, where they died.
The massive research and development involved in the Manhattan Project in
order to quickly achieve a working nuclear weapon design greatly impacted
the scientific community, among other things creating a network of national
laboratories in the United States.
In the military sphere, it seems World War II marked the coming of age of
airpower, mostly at the expense of warships. While the pendulum continues to
swing in this never-ending competition, air powers are now a full partner in
any military action.
The war was the high-water mark for mass armies. While huge armies of
low-quality troops would be seen again (during the Korean War and in a
number of African conflicts), after this victory the major powers relied
upon small highly-trained and well-trained militaries.
After the war, many high-ranking Nazis were prosecuted for war crimes, as
well as the mass murder of the Holocaust committed mainly on the area of
General Government, in the Nuremberg trials. Similarly Japanese leaders were
prosecuted in the Tokyo War Crime Trial. In other countries, notably in
Finland, the Allies demanded the political leadership to be prosecuted in
"war-responsibility trials" - i.e. not for crimes of war.
The defeat of Japan, and her occupation by American Forces, led to a
Westernisation of Japan that was surely more far-reaching than would
otherwise have occurred. Japan approximated more closely to a Western style
democracy and, because of her defeat by the USA, set out to ape the United
States. This huge national effort led to the post-war Japanese economic
miracle and Japan's rise to become the world's second largest economy.