W orld War II effectively stopped the world between 1939 and 1945. To this day, it remains the most geographically widespread military conflict the world has ever seen. Although the fighting reached across many parts of the globe, most countries involved shared a united effort aimed at ending the aggression of the Axis Powers—Germany, Italy, and Japan. Despite the fact that Germany and Japan were technically allies, however, they had vastly different motives and objectives, and their level of cooperation was primarily one of distracting the attention of each other's enemies rather than of attaining any specific common goals. Therefore, most studies of the war cover the conflicts with Germany and Japan separately, dividing treatment of the war between the European and Pacific theaters of operation.
The end of the war hastened the independence of many British crown colonies (such as India) and Dutch territories (such as Indonesia) and the formation of new nations and alliances throughout Asia and Africa. The Philippines were granted their independence in 1946 as previously promised by the United States. France attempted and failed to regain control of its colonies in Indochina.
Poland's boundaries were re-drawn to include portions of pre-war Germany, including East Prussia and Upper Silesia, while ceding most of the areas taken by the Soviet Union in the Molotov-Ribbentrop partition of 1939, effectively moving Poland to the west. Germany was split into four zones of occupation, and the three zones under the Western Allies was reconstituted as a constitutional democracy. The Soviet Union's influence increased as they, with the tacit approval of the West, established hegemony over most of eastern Europe and incorporated parts of Finland and Poland into their new boundaries. This appeasement of Stalin by the West became known as the Western betrayal among the Soviet-dominated countries. Europe was informally split into Western and Soviet spheres of influence, which heightened existing tensions between the two camps and helped establish the Cold War.
To prevent (or at least minimize) future conflicts, the allied nations, led by the United States, formed the United Nations in San Francisco, California in 1945. One of the first actions of the United Nations was the creation of the State of Israel, partly in response to the Holocaust.
In 1947, U.S. Secretary of State George Marshall devised the "European Recovery Program", better known as the Marshall Plan. Effective from 1948 to 1952, it allocated 13 billion dollars for the reconstruction of Western Europe. Of Germany's four zones of occupation, coordinated by the Allied Control Council, the American, British, and French zones joined in 1949 as the Federal Republic of Germany, and the Soviet zone became the German Democratic Republic. In Germany, economic suppression and denazification took place for several years. Millions of Germans and Poles were expelled from their homelands as a result of the territorial annexations in Eastern Europe agreed upon at the Yalta and Potsdam conferences. Mainstream estimates of German casualties from this process range 1?2 million. In the West, Alsace-Lorraine was returned to France, and the Saar area was separated from Germany and put in economic union with France. Austria was divided into four zones of occupation, which were united in 1955 to become the Republic of Austria. The Soviet Union occupied much of Central and Eastern Europe and the Balkans. In all the USSR-occupied countries, with the exception of Austria, the Soviet Union helped Communist regimes to power. It also annexed the Baltic countries Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania.
In Asia, Japan was occupied by the U.S, aided by Commonwealth troops, until the peace treaty took effect in 1952. The Japanese Empire's government was dismantled under General Douglas MacArthur and replaced by a constitutional monarchy with the emperor as a figurehead. The defeat of Japan also led to the establishment of the Far Eastern commission which set out policies for Japan to fulfill under the terms of surrender. In accordance with the Yalta Conference agreements, the Soviet Union occupied and subsequently annexed Sakhalin and the Kuril islands. Japanese occupation of Korea also ended, but the peninsula was divided between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, along 38th parallel. The U.S.-backed South Korea would fight the communist North Korea in the Korean War, with Korea remaining divided.
World War II was a pivotal point in China's history. Before the war against Japan, China had suffered nearly a century of intervention at the hands of various imperialist powers and was relegated to a semi-colonial status. However, the war greatly enhanced China's international status. The central government under Chiang Kai-shek was able to abrogate most of the unequal treaties China had signed in the past century, and China became a founding member of the United Nations and a permanent member of the Security Council. China also reclaimed Manchuria and Taiwan. Nevertheless, eight years of war greatly taxed the central government, and many of its nation-building measures adopted since it came to power in 1928 were disrupted by the war. Communist activities also expanded greatly in occupied areas, making post-war administration of these areas difficult. Vast war damages and hyperinflation thereafter demoralized the populace, along with the continuation of the Chinese Civil War between the Kuomintang and the Communists. Partly because of the severe blow his army and government had suffered during the war against Japan, the Kuomintang, along with state apparatus of the Republic of China, retreated to Taiwan in 1949 and in its place the Chinese communists established the People's Republic of China on the mainland.
SparkNotes Editors. (2005). SparkNote on World War II (1939–1945).
Retrieved February 9, 2010, from http://www.sparknotes.com/history/european/ww2/
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