At the end of the war, millions of people were dead and millions homeless, the European economy had collapsed, and much of the European industrial infrastructure had been destroyed. The Soviet Union, too, had been heavily affected. Borders were redrawn and homecomings, expulsions, and burials were under way. But the massive efforts to rebuild had just begun.
Despite their wartime alliance, tensions between the Soviet Union and the United States and Great Britain Allies during World War II, the USA and the USSR became competitors on the world stage and engaged in the Cold War, so called because it never resulted in overt, declared hot war between the two powers but was instead characterized by espionage, political subversion and proxy wars.
Western Europe and Japan were rebuilt through the American Marshall Plan whereas Central and Eastern Europe fell under the Soviet sphere of influence and eventually an “Iron Curtain”. Europe was divided into a US-led Western Bloc and a Soviet-led Eastern Bloc.
Internationally, alliances with the two blocs gradually shifted, with some nations trying to stay out of the Cold War through the Non-Aligned Movement.
The Cold War also saw a nuclear arms race between the two superpowers; part of the reason that the Cold War never became a “hot” war was that the Soviet Union and the United States had nuclear deterrents against each other, leading to a mutually assured destruction standoff.
As a consequence of the war, the Allies created the United Nations, an organization for international cooperation and diplomacy, similar to the League of Nations. Members of the United Nations agreed to outlaw wars of aggression in an attempt to avoid a third world war.
The devastated great powers of Western Europe formed the European Coal and Steel Community, which later evolved into the European Common Market and ultimately into the current European Union.
This effort primarily began as an attempt to avoid another war between Germany and France by economic cooperation and integration, and a common market for important natural resources.
The end of the war also increased the rate of decolonization from the great powers with independence being granted to India (from the United Kingdom), Indonesia (from the Netherlands), the Philippines (from the US) and a number of Arab nations, primarily from specific rights which had been granted to great powers from League of Nations Mandates in the post World War I-era but often having existed de facto well before this time.
Also related to this was the US helping Israel gain controversial independence from its previous status as part of Palestine in the years immediately following the war. Independence for the nations of Sub-Saharan Africa came more slowly.
The aftermath of World War II also saw the rise of communist influence in Southeast Asia, with the People’s Republic of China, as the Chinese Communists emerged victorious from the Chinese Civil War in 1949.
(Photo credit: US Army Archives / National Archives / Library of Congress).