The Post-War World

The end of the Second World War brought many photo opportunities for the victors. The Soviets and the Western Allies had promoted the concept of an antifascist brotherhood during the war, and photos were taken all over the world of the Allies embracing and celebrating their victory.

Before the war ended, the three major Allied nations began to discuss the postwar world in a series of conferences with the three leaders. United States President Franklin D. Roosevelt, United Kingdom Winston S. Churchill, and Soviet Premier Josef Stalin met at Yalta in March 1945 and Harry S Truman, Clement Atlee and Stalin met in Potsdam in July 1945. Roosevelt had first used the term "United Nations" when 26 Nations signed the Declaration of the United Nations on January 1, 1942. From April to October 1945, 51 nations met in San Francisco and created the United Nations. The Headquarters were set up in New York after the Charter was ratified by a majority of the member nations. The major Allies (China, Soviet Union, France, Great Britain, and the United States) held seats on the Security Council, each country held veto power over any decision the United Nations made.

The reality was that huge cracks were appearing in the Allied unity. With no more enemies to fight, the suspicions held at bay until victory was obvious became public and bitter. Churchill later wrote that he already suspected the Soviets were replacing the Axis as the aggressors before the European war ended.

America, enjoying a brief monopoly on the atom bomb, conducted tests in the Bikini Atoll on July 25, 1946. The world was impressed by the casual destruction of so many warships as much as it was by the bomb itself. The Berlin Airlift heightened the Cold War tension in 1948. In 1949 the Western Powers came together to form the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). When the Soviets and soon the French, British, and Chinese acquired the bomb, huge arsenals were quickly built. The ability to annihilate the planet many times over evolved into the concept of Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD) which meant that neither side would start a war if they were guaranteed to be destroyed.

In the Pacific, the seeds for more conflict were being sown all over Asia. Soviet Forces occupied Northern Korea on August 12, 1945 and the United States landed in September 18. Within two years, the Koreas were at war, along with the Western powers and the Soviets. The United Nations supported the West after the Soviets walked out of the Security Council. Only after Stalin died could the North Koreans sign an armistice in July 1953. Two million Koreans and 53,000 Americans died.

In French Indochina, the American-armed French fought to hold onto their prewar colonial empire. Vietminh leader Ho Chi Minh, who had agitated for Vietnamese independence since the Versailles Conference of 1919, wrote the Indochinese declaration of independence from Japanese occupation based on the American Declaration of Independence. But Truman felt he had to support the French. Sporadic fighting culminated in the defeat of the French at Dien Bien Phu in 1954.

America wholly occupied the Japanese Home Islands, in a government that was secretly completely controlled by MacArthur. The only Soviet-occupied islands were part of the Kuriles, occupied in August 1945. The Soviets refused to relinquish control.

MacArthur reinvented the Japanese government. With an eye to running for President against Truman, whom he disliked, MacArthur wrote in sweeping changes into the new constitution, including women’s suffrage, representative democracy, and establishment of political parties, including the Communist Party. One of the most controversial articles prevented the use of Japanese forces overseas. The 1940’s and 1950’s were hard times, with the black market providing most of the consumer goods for the Japanese, and the United States supplying most of the food.

The Americans ended their occupation of the Home Islands in 1952. Okinawa and Iwo Jima were continually occupied until the 1970’s, with massive military operations denying the Soviets a warm-water port for their Navy. At the end of the occupation, it was proposed that a giant statue of MacArthur would be erected in Tokyo Bay. That was never accomplished, but he had left his mark on the Japanese people. MacArthur was recalled in 1952 after advocating the use of atomic weapons in Korea and war with China.

The Japanese attitude towards the war was varied and intense. Relatives of those killed all over the Pacific still travel to recover bones from sunken ships or battlefields, and ritually burn them in ceremonial fires. The massive destruction of Japan had instilled a fervent opposition to the use of Japanese forces overseas. The announcement of the creation of a new "Self-Defense Force" was met with student riots throughout the 1960’s. A fringe group, called the Red Army, participated in several terrorist attacks in the 1960’s and 1970’s.

America took up the anti-Communist bastion in Vietnam, fighting with their old ally Ho Chi Minh. In fighting that lasted from 1962 to 1975, millions of Vietnamese and 59,000 Americans were killed. The war left Vietnam as the fourth largest military power, and severely tested American ideals and morale.

The 1980’s saw resurgence in anti-Japanese sentiment in the United States, as public opinion and the media converged to anoint Japan as an economic enemy. The Japanese gained dominance in several industries, including the electronics industry. The Japanese made several purchases of American companies and stock, leading to widespread fears in the United States that Japan had an industrial lead.

Japanese Emperor Hirohito was the last wartime leader to die in 1989. He was mourned amid a reexamination of his complacency in wartime actions in Nanjing, Manila, and the start of the war.

The war passed into history as thousands of veterans died during the 1990’s. As the twentieth century dawned, the scope of the violence and the millions who died were reexamined in film and television.

With the millennium, thousands of people entered a new century with the hope that such a war would never be fought again.