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The legacies of world war ii essay

It seeks to disentangle effects that were clearly directly due to the war from those which can be seen as the result of changes already affecting pre-war Europe, and those due to post-war developments, such as the Cold War and the European Union.

It examines the relationship between long term social, economic and cultural developments and the impact of the war and political turning points. The Impact of the War That great events have great effects seems a truism and it would follow that the Second World War, a conflict which caused a colossal loss of life, saw a continent divided as mighty armies strove for supremacy, and ended with much of Europe in ruins and the rest impoverished, must have had a transforming effect.

Few would deny that the great context for the development of Europe, politically, socially and economically, in the immediate post-war years was the war, but did it really transform Europe and, if so, for how long? Among the problems in assessing the changes to Europe, its nations, societies, economies and cultures, that may or may not be seen as consequent upon the war is the perennial historian's dilemma in distinguishing between short and long term developments.

Many of the changes that seem at first sight to have been due to the conflict and its aftermath may well have been simply the further effects of salient developments evident before the war.

Then, of course, the impact of the war varied considerably as between the defeated and the victorious states, and indeed between combatants and neutrals, the latter providing a "control" for any assessment of the war's effects. Post-war Germany and Poland looked the legacies of world war ii essay different in, say, 1950 to what they had been in 1939, but can the same be said for Sweden or, for that matter, Spain?

An essay on this subject written in, shall we say, 1950, 1970 or 1992, would have a very different perspective, for many of changes made by the war were far from permanent and, arguably, post-war developments had a greater effect.

This is most obviously the case when we consider the redrawing of the map of Europe in the immediate the legacies of world war ii essay war period.

The war ended with what in historical terms was an odd peace, for there was no peace treaty with Germany, 1 in part because the unconditional surrender of the Axis powers had left no authority to conclude peace with, and also because of the disintegration of the alliance of the victorious powers shortly after the moment of victory. Nevertheless, states EstoniaLatvia and Lithuania disappeared, frontiers were changed, and, most importantly, the division of Germany into occupied zones provided the blueprint for the emergence of two German states.

In general, East Central Europe moved west, in terms of frontier changes, seen most evidently in those of Poland, which lost territory to the Soviet Union and gained it at the expense of what had been Germany, and because of the movement of millions of people, expelled from their homes and moving west in search of security.

There was also a movement in the opposite direction as Latvians and other Baltic people and numerous other ethnic groups, such as Crimean Tartars, were forcibly moved eastwards by the Soviet authorities.

The Transformative Impact of World War II

A feature of the post-1945 settlement was thus, if settlement is not an inappropriate term, the brutal displacement of populations. Whereas the Versailles Settlement had attempted to make frontiers coincide with national or ethnic divisions, the aftermath of the Second World War saw peoples made to fit frontiers.

In particular, millions of Germans were expelled from East Prussia and other German territory ceded to Poland, and from the Sudetenlandwhile there were parallel movements of Poles from the territories ceded to the Soviet Union into that gained from Germany. Although the fate of Eastern and Central Europe was largely decided at Yalta in February 1944, the future political shape of the continent was formally agreed at Potsdam17 July to 2 August 1945, where the Allied leaders decided that there should be an inter-allied council to co-ordinate the four occupied zones of Germany and agreed that Austria should be independent, France be returned Alsace-Lorraineand Czechoslovakia the Sudetenland, and that Poland's western frontier should be the Oder-Neisse Line previously the Curzon and then the Molotov-Ribbentrop Line.

The palimpsest of the 1945 arrangements was distinct in 1950 and discernible in 1970 or even the late 1980s, when troops of the wartime allies still garrisoned Berlinbut by 1992, after the implosion of the Soviet Union, the "velvet" revolutions in the satrap people's republics, and the reunification of Germany, the map of Europe resembled that in the wake of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk of March 1918, rather more than that of 1945-92, though the end of Yugoslavia the legacies of world war ii essay recent events in the Ukrainian Republic remind us that political geography is rarely permanent; a hundred-year-old inhabitant of Lviv will have been an Austro-Hungariana Polish, a Soviet, and a Ukrainian national during his or her lifetime.

We must also consider the view that the two World Wars should not necessarily be treated as autonomous but perhaps be seen as parts of a single conflict, a "Thirty Years War" of the twentieth century, 2 a conflict that arose from the long-term political and economic rivalries of great powers and Europe's fault lines which led these rivalries to ignite into warfare.

It is, indeed, possible to argue that the Cold War period can be seen as at least a sequel to it. Such an interpretation of the dark history of Europe in the twentieth century does, of course, downgrade the importance of ideology and of the legacies of world war ii essay "great dictators" and has been attacked on the grounds that the coming to power of Adolf Hitler 1889—1945 was, not only the major cause of World War II, but that his hysterical and paranoid agenda gave that war its own unique and horrific nature.

Nevertheless, the outcome of the Second World War and the nature of the fracturing alliance that triumphed was clearly the major factor in determining, in political-geographic respects, the map of post-war Europe. Its impact was clearly discernible for nearly half a century, although we can debate whether it was the position of the armies of the western powers vis-a-vis the Red Army in 1945 or the subsequent announcement of the Truman Doctrine and Marshall Plan in 1947, the formation of NATO in 1948, or the entry of West Germany into the alliance in 1954 that decisively made for a divided Europe.

In that the division was also an ideological one, it determined the nature of economies and societies. It is, however, when we come to the economic and social effects of the war upon Europe, that determining the degrees and the ways in which the experience of the war as well as its outcome shaped the post-war world becomes difficult.

The major problem is that of distinguishing between pre-war influences, the experience of the war, its result, and the Cold War, which followed so swiftly. Devastation and Recovery The relentless advance of Allied forces the legacies of world war ii essay 1944 and 1945 achieved a victory, so complete as to prevent any revival of the defeated regimes.

Although celebrated with justice by the victors, it was gained at an enormous cost to all of Europe. The excesses of the Soviet forces, which raped and looted their way through eastern Germany are now well known, 4 but for many years this went unrecognised by western writers. If the conduct of the western Allies was far superior, total war cannot be waged without leaving desolation and a huge loss of civilian life in its wake and, what one author has called, "collective amnesia", 5 has obscured the costs of liberation as armies fought their way through France, Belgium and Holland.

Europe in 1945 offered a picture of desolation and ruin. Parts of the Soviet Union had been fought over three times, while Poland had suffered aggression from both Germany and Russia in 1939 and the Soviet advance in 1944 had paused only to allow the German army to destroy Warsaw.

Central Europe has been described as a "lunar landscape dotted with enormous heaps of rubble and bomb craters", 6 while, in Berlin, "Ninety-five per cent of its urban area lay in ruins". Victorious but battered, Britain was, a threadbare and austere country with an exhausted economy, now that American aid was withdrawn, and the French economy was dislocated: As the Cold War developed, it became clear that only two powers in the world had emerged from the war with enhanced strength and that these two "super powers" were the USA and the Soviet Union or USSR.

  1. In the immediate post-war period, there was, understandably little demand for films that dealt with the war or with the problems of its aftermath. Is it world history, American history, or equal measures of European and Asian history with the United States as a major actor?
  2. After Versailles , Britain and the USA had failed to support France's need for security and the memory of the way the Anglo-Saxon powers had reneged on the Treaty of Guarantee by which they had agreed to defend France against a future German attack and had been lukewarm in the enforcement of the Versailles settlement still rankled. Some have argued that the timetable of the Soviet takeover was dependent on Stalin's reactions to US policies - the ending of aid to the Soviet Union, the Truman Doctrine and the Marshall Plan -but there are good reasons for believing that whatever flexibility he demonstrated elsewhere, as in Greece , Stalin was determined to place sympathetic governments and economic systems in the countries "liberated" by the Soviet forces.
  3. Whether these twin developments were complementary or whether the latter involved a degree of anti-Americanism is arguable, especially in the case of France.
  4. Nothing better illustrates the importance attached to film than that in 1944, as Allied armies approached Germany, the Wehrmacht provided several thousand troops as extras for the filming of Kolberg, a film depicting the resistance of a besieged German city on the Baltic following Prussia's defeat at the battle of Jena and Auerstedt in 1806.

A further weakening of the position of Europe came with the diminuendo of the colonial empires of Britain, France and the Netherlands. The stress and expense of war and of humiliation at the hands of Japan had already impacted severely upon the positions of the imperial powers, while the opposition of the USA and of the emergent United Nations to colonial possessions was a further factor.

Winston Churchill 1874—1965 [ ] had, perhaps, failed to realise or had ignored the anti-colonial implications of the Atlantic Charter, which he and Franklin D. Roosevelt 1882—1945 [ ] had signed in 1941, or the strength of American opposition to empires.

US policy was, nevertheless, ambiguous as anti-imperialism could conflict with its Cold War interests; having refused to back Britain during the Suez crisis in 1956, it proceeded to press her to retain bases of strategic importance, as with Cyprus and Diego Garcia.

The process of decolonisation set in, sometimes "with astonishing — and in some cases excessive speed", as with the British Empire, 9 at a single blow with the Dutch Empire, collapse and precipitate withdrawal as with the Belgian Empire, or accompanied by a hard and lengthy struggle as with France's wars in Vietnam and Algeria10 but it was practically complete by the early 1960s.

Essentially the imperial powers lost the appetite and will to hold on to empires, the legacies of world war ii essay were no longer seen as worthwhile by their home electorates.

Britain, at first sought a substitute for Empire in the Commonwealth, but was then to waver between Atlanticism and Europe, while France, hastily, turned its attention towards Europe and followed a policy of forming a close relationship with West Germany.

The physical and economic recovery of Europe was, despite the enormous damage done to the infrastructure, industry, agriculture and commerce, to be quicker than most observers expected and that of Western Europe was spectacular after the bleak and austere immediate post-war years.

The Legacy of World War Two: Decline, Rise and Recovery

It has been argued that it was the depths to which Germany had sunk in 1945, the near-starvation, disorder and hopelessness that inspired a West German recovery that prioritised economic recovery stability, and order, 12 while another view is that it was a determined effort to erase the past. These developments were underpinned by different economic and social systems and, if in part the result of the war and differing national traditions, were also consequent on America's aid to the West via the Marshall Plan.

A salient feature of the recovering Europe has been identified as the increased role of the state as director of economies and, via increased taxation and state welfare, of civil societies and the organisation and direction of states for the war effort has been held to be a major influence on these developments. A little disputed effect of total war is that it vastly increases the power of governments and both governments and peoples had become accustomed to, respectively, positions of command and dependency.

Whether these post-war developments represented a continuation of war-time systems of government, had already been evident in pre-war Europe, or were largely a response to the problems of a ravaged Europe can be debated. The more extreme forms of the legacies of world war ii essay control of economic and social life experienced by the states of Eastern and Central Europe may be seen as imported from, or imposed by, the Soviet Union, though many of these states had formerly been used to a high degree of government direction and were experiencing some of the worst problems of post-war dislocation and poverty.

Central to the recovery of Western Europe was a balance or synthesis between liberal capitalism and socialism, though in France and Italy this was challenged by powerful Communist Parties, strengthened by the Resistance movements which had developed late in the war. The general direction of governments' policies was contested between social democratic and moderate conservative parties, but moved steadily towards the latter from the early 1950s.

  1. There was also a movement in the opposite direction as Latvians and other Baltic people and numerous other ethnic groups, such as Crimean Tartars, were forcibly moved eastwards by the Soviet authorities. It is striking, however, that defence has been the field in which Franco-German cooperation was least evident.
  2. There was a plethora of state controlled marketing boards and rationing persisted into the 1950s. Britain, for instance, can be seen as taking up where it had left off in 1939 in moving from the 1950s towards a consumer-orientated economy and society.
  3. Central to this thesis is the argument that the war had a socially levelling impact and that significant indicators were a narrowing of the gap between rich and poor in terms of incomes and wealth due to income tax, death duties and an increase in state welfare; it did not erode class differences, but improved the position of the working classes. Italy had peaked in armaments production and military spending before her entry into the war and both war-related production and the industrial economy as a whole fell back after 1940.
  4. The physical and economic recovery of Europe was, despite the enormous damage done to the infrastructure, industry, agriculture and commerce, to be quicker than most observers expected and that of Western Europe was spectacular after the bleak and austere immediate post-war years.
  5. In that the division was also an ideological one, it determined the nature of economies and societies. US policy was, nevertheless, ambiguous as anti-imperialism could conflict with its Cold War interests; having refused to back Britain during the Suez crisis in 1956, it proceeded to press her to retain bases of strategic importance, as with Cyprus and Diego Garcia.

The Cold War Divide Whether the Cold War divide, the formation of the Soviet Bloc and the imposition of socialist one party economic and political systems of government on much of East Central Europe was planned by Joseph Stalin 1879—1953 from the beginning has been much debated. Unity and Conflict 1960 identified a similar process.

  • In Britain, the war undoubtedly led to a controlled economy, and the Beveridge Report of 1942 is seen as leading to post-war welfare legislation and was a factor in the election victory of the Labour Party under Clement Attlee 1883—1967 [ ] in 1945;
  • In the first chapter, "U;
  • The war itself saw, with thousands of US troops crossing the Atlantic, a new wave of American influence, first in Britain and then in areas of Europe occupied by American forces;
  • East Germany may have lagged behind its western neighbour, but itself became by far the most economically successful state amongst the People's Democracies, even though the uprising of June 1953, crushed by the Red Army and followed by the mass exodus of professionals and skilled workers to the West, demonstrated that without Russian intervention the GDR could have collapsed;
  • In particular, millions of Germans were expelled from East Prussia and other German territory ceded to Poland, and from the Sudetenland , while there were parallel movements of Poles from the territories ceded to the Soviet Union into that gained from Germany.

The Crushing of Eastern Europe 1944-56 2012 has, more recently, provided support for this thesis. Certainly the take-over of the Baltic States had already provided a taste of what was to come, while Communist parties in states overrun by Russian forces clearly expected full support for their seizure of power.

The Impact of the War

Against this interpretation, there is Stalin's apparent flexibility in making his "back of an envelope" Percentage Agreement with Churchill, while Mark Mazower has queried whether over Italy and Poland there was not, "at the highest levels, a tacit quid pro quo? Bulgariawhere from 1944 a Communist-dominated Fatherland Front was the only legal political group; Poland and Romania, where a strong parallel state was dominated by Communists; and Hungary and Czechoslovakia, where, until 1948, a limited degree of democracy was permitted.

Some have argued that the timetable of the Soviet takeover was dependent on Stalin's reactions to US policies - the ending of aid to the Soviet Union, the Truman Doctrine and the Marshall Plan -but there are good reasons for believing that whatever flexibility he demonstrated elsewhere, as in GreeceStalin was determined to place sympathetic governments and economic systems in the countries "liberated" by the Soviet forces.

As he said to Milovan Djilas 1911—1995the Yugoslavian partisan, who eventually fell out with Marshal Josip Broz Tito 1892—1980"This war is not as in the the legacies of world war ii essay Essentially the Truman Doctrine and the Marshall Plan represented the policy of the containment of Soviet power and influence and they and the Soviet reaction reinforced the emerging division of Europe.

The Irresistible Rise of Germany The most striking post-war development was the division of Germany into two states by the "Iron Curtain", a term first used by Joseph Goebbels 1897—1945 and later, in different circumstances, by Churchill. By no means planned by the Allies though the Morgenthau Plan had toyed with idea the legacies of world war ii essay dismembering Germany, just as Ferdinand Foch 1851—1929 and Georges Clemenceau 1841—1929had done in 1918the division of Germany proceeded in step with the development of the Cold War; the defeat of Germany provided the opportunity and the Cold War the rationale.

What followed was the German "economic miracle", the transformation of the bleak and battered landscape of post war Western Germany into a thriving industrial economy that quickly became the power house of Western Europe, although when the two German Republics were formed in 1949, neither appeared destined for economic success.

Both owed their existence to the Second World War, but in the Anglo-American Bizone, anti-Nazism had quickly been replaced by anti-Communism, a process made seamless as it had Germany's experience of 1945 to build on, whereas in the Soviet zone which became the GDR or German Democratic Republicanti-fascism and the idea that German anti-fascist forces had played a great role in freeing the country of the National Socialist regime became what has been described as the GDR's "congenital myth".

European economic development was on the cusp of the end of industrialisation and the beginning of the post-industrialisation era.

This was not yet apparent to most observers, for the very name of the major step towards the European unity, the European Coal and Steel Community, demonstrates that the economic common sense of the time prioritised coal and heavy industry.

Both western and Soviet Bloc states were able to make advances within the bounds of an economic outlook that was about to become moribund. The Soviet Union and its satellites were as good at building steel works and giant shipyards as their western competitors, the legacies of world war ii essay the former failed to satisfy the emerging demands of consumers, just as they failed to provide political choice.

Inevitably the first stage of European recovery had to be along the old lines - coal, steel and the rebuilding of the infrastructure - and here the Eastern European economies were able to compete.

But, and here the two Germanys can be taken as representative, a gulf opened when it came to the consumer revolution in the production of automobiles, refrigerators and other "white goods" to satisfy the aspirations of consumers, it was West Germany and Western Europe which made progress.

A famous Italian film of 1948, directed by Vittorio de Sica 1901—1974was Bicycle Thieves, a title and plot that would have been puzzling in Western Europe a decade later. The success of the Western European economies in recovering from the nadir of 1945 was infinitely superior to the much more limited progress made by the Soviet Bloc, but it is easy from an early twenty-first perspective to underestimate the limited but real achievements of the Eastern European economies in the first post-war decades.

Additional Information

When the wave of what was virtually the looting of defeated and overrun states by the Soviet Union was over, towns and cities were rebuilt, if brutally and insensitively, while new industrial towns were established.

Central planning saw employment and basic security implemented and was effective in the production of coal, iron and steel, though poor at encouraging agricultural production. Statistics were, of course, massaged for five-year plans could not be seen to have failed, but the success of Soviet science was seen as phenomenal in the West and was symbolised by the launch of Sputnik in 1957, while higher education was a priority in most Eastern European states, to an extent which contradicts the widely held belief that education and economic prosperity necessarily go hand in hand.

East Germany may have lagged behind its western neighbour, but itself became by far the most economically successful state amongst the People's Democracies, even though the uprising of June 1953, crushed by the Red Army and followed by the mass exodus of professionals and skilled workers to the West, demonstrated that without Russian intervention the GDR could have collapsed. The Hungarian revolt of 1956 again demonstrated the internal contradictions of the Eastern European economies and its suppression demonstrated that even post-Stalin, no significant deviations from Marxist-Leninism would be permitted.

The war had brought the USA, as well as the USSR, into the heart of Europe, though it was essentially the disintegration of the wartime Grand Alliance that made it stay there, and American aid via the Marshall Plan undoubtedly played a major role in assisting the recovery of The legacies of world war ii essay Europe and determining its political complexion; the results of the Italian election of 1948 were important here in that they resulted in a resounding victory for the Christian Democrats as was Adenauer's narrow victory in the first elections to the Bundestag in August 1949.

Parallel, however, to the close association in defence and politics with the United States was a movement towards European unity. A Congress of Europe met in The Hague in May 1948 to discuss various plans for closer integration and this led to the formation of the Council of Europe the following year, which in turn set up a parliamentary assembly and then, in succession, to the Schuman Plan, the subsequent formation of the Coal and Steel Community and the European Economic Community EEC.

Whether these twin developments were complementary or whether the latter involved a degree of anti-Americanism is arguable, especially in the case of France. Although Ludwig Erhard, often seen as the pioneer of West The legacies of world war ii essay recovery, claimed that the recovery owed nothing to American economic support, the FDR was in general more sympathetic towards US policies. As with so many aspects of post-war Europe, it is difficult to see the moves towards what was to become the European Union as a direct result of the Second World War, if only because of the pre-war antecedents, such as Aristide Briand's 1862—1932 "Memorandum on a European Federal Union" 1930 and Jean Monnet's 1888—1979 collection of essays, entitled The United States of Europe 1931 ; indeed most of the best known proponents of European unity in the post war period had been promulgating it before the war.

Nevertheless, the war and its immediate aftermath, undoubtedly, gave a great fillip to the movement in that two of the motivations behind it, that a divided Europe inevitably seemed to lead to war and that individual national states could not compete in economic and political power with the USA, seemed clearly evident.

  • As we have seen, one result of the war was that the role of the state increased enormously in most countries, yet the degree to which this occurred and the forms it took differed widely, while there are anomalies in any easy elision from the war-time or pre-war experiences to this development;
  • The excesses of the Soviet forces, which raped and looted their way through eastern Germany are now well known, 4 but for many years this went unrecognised by western writers;
  • Among the problems in assessing the changes to Europe, its nations, societies, economies and cultures, that may or may not be seen as consequent upon the war is the perennial historian's dilemma in distinguishing between short and long term developments;
  • Few would deny that the great context for the development of Europe, politically, socially and economically, in the immediate post-war years was the war, but did it really transform Europe and, if so, for how long?
  • The Soviet Union and its satellites were as good at building steel works and giant shipyards as their western competitors, but the former failed to satisfy the emerging demands of consumers, just as they failed to provide political choice;
  • This work can easily be used to effectively augment a broader global treatment of World War II.

Yet, paradoxically, it was the threat from one super the legacies of world war ii essay and the protection of the other that provided the context for the post-war success of European supra-nationalism and the most important reason for it, the rapprochement of France and Germany.

Ever since 1870 and even more earnestly from 1918, France's main diplomatic aim had been the containment of what was, if only potentially, the major continental power. Although the defeat and division of Germany reduced that potential, France was, at least as determined as in 1918 to exact a territorial and economic price in order to contain the country it still regarded with hostility.

France's initial refusal to join its zone of occupation with those of Britain and the USA when the latter set up the Bizone was largely because it objected to a process intended to assist German recovery and was still intent upon exacting reparations. After VersaillesBritain and the USA had failed to support France's need for security and the memory of the way the Anglo-Saxon powers had reneged on the Treaty of Guarantee by which they had agreed to defend France against a future German attack and had been lukewarm in the enforcement of the Versailles settlement still rankled.

From 1948 the Cold War resulted in commitments that gave France and Western Europe as a whole the necessary security, for the cooperation that had proved impossible previously. Added inducements for rapprochement were a realisation of the precariousness of France's great power status especially as its colonial problems mounted and above all, the perception of the advantages of economic cooperation.

Thus, the shield of the NATO alliance, though France's attitude to the Soviet Union was more ambivalent, her membership of NATO less solid, and her acceptance of West German re-armament more reluctant, than those of other members of the Alliance, provided the basis for closer German-French relations.

The parallel growth of intra-European economic cooperation, which was to result in the EEC, led to mutually convenient closer ties in a variety of fields. It is striking, however, that defence has been the field in which Franco-German cooperation was least evident. The failure of Robert Schuman's 1886—1963 proposal for a European Defence Community in 1950 and France's virtual withdrawal from NATO in 1956 revealed basic divisions in the European approach to defence.

Subsequent attempts at combined European defence arrangements have come to little and, although the European Union may have become an economic super-power, it remains a quarter of a century after the end of the Cold War dependent upon NATO for its defence. The Wartime Legacy A number of developments, which were common to most western European countries and which shaped their political, social and economic systems, are often put down to the experience and effects of the war.