Aftermath of World War II

Aftermath of World War II

The Aftermath of World War II covers a period of history from roughly 1945-1957.

Europe in ruins

At the end of the war, millions of refugees were homeless, the European economy had collapsed, and much of the European industrial infrastructure was destroyed. The Soviet Union had been heavily affected, with 30% of its economy destroyed.

"Luftwaffe" bombings of Frampol, Wieluń,Warsaw, in 1939 instituted the practice of bombing purely civilian objectives.The United Kingdom ended the war economically exhausted by the war effort. The wartime coalition government was dissolved; new elections were held, and Winston Churchill was defeated in a landslide general election by the Labour Party under Clement Attlee.

In 1947, United States Secretary of State George Marshall devised the "European Recovery Program", better known as the Marshall Plan, effective in the years 1948 - 1952. It allocated US$13 billion for the reconstruction of Western Europe.

Communist control of Central and Eastern Europe

At the end of the war 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. Furthermore, it occupied and annexed the Baltic countries of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

Occupation of Germany and Austria

Germany was partitioned into 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 between 1-2 millions. 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 separated from Germany and divided into four zones of occupation, which reunited in 1955 to become the Republic of Austria.

Occupation of Japan and Korea

Japan was occupied by the U.S., aided by Commonwealth troops, until the peace treaty took effect in 1952. In accordance with the Yalta Conference agreements, the Soviet Union occupied and subsequently annexed Sakhalin. During the occupation, the Americans focused on demilitarizing the nation, demolishing the Japanese arms industry, and installing a democratic government with a new constitution. Commonly regarded by many historians as a resounding economic and social success, the Japanese occupation formally ended in 1952, soon followed by Japan's meteoric post-war economic boom. The Far Eastern Commission and Allied Council For Japan were also established to look over the occupation of Japan. These bodies served a similar function to the Allied Control Council in occupied Germany. []

Korea was divided between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, leading to the creation of two separate governments in 1948. Under Soviet auspices, the northern part of the peninsula soon declared independence as the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, while the U.S.-backed anticommunist regime in the southern half became the Republic of Korea. These two governments eventually engaged in the first "hot" conflict of the Cold War from 1950-1953 during the Korean War, the first test of the post-war American military and also of the new United Nations organization. The two Koreas are still divided today.

End of European Colonialism

The areas previously occupied by the colonial powers gained their freedom, some peacefully such as the Philippines in 1946, and India and Pakistan in 1947. Others had to fight bloody wars of liberation before gaining freedom, such as against the French attempt to reoccupy Vietnam in the First Indochina War following the Vietnamese Proclamation of Independence, and against the Netherlands' attempt to reoccupy the Dutch East Indies. Japan had brought with them a sense of nationalism that grew power bases in the Philippines, and Vietnam. This nationalist nature led to revolutions against the Americans and the French in Asia. This signalled the end of the imperial nature of many of the European powers.


The war was also a pivotal point in China's history. Before the war against Japan, China had suffered nearly a century of humiliation 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 the Republic of China became a founding member of the United Nations and a permanent member in 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 fraught with difficulties. Vast war damages and hyperinflation thereafter greatly demoralized the populace, along with the continuation of the Chinese Civil War between the Kuomintang (KMT) 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.

Border revisions: Germany, Poland, and the Soviet Union

As a result of the new borders drawn by the victorious nations, large populations suddenly found themselves in hostile territory. The Soviet Union took over areas formerly controlled by Germany, Finland, Poland, and Japan. Poland received most of Germany east of the Oder-Neisse line, including the industrial regions of Silesia. The German state of the Saar was temporarily a protectorate of France but later returned to German administration. The number of Germans expelled, as set forth at Potsdam, totalled roughly 15 million, including 11 million from Germany proper and 3.5 million from the Sudetenland. Mainstream estimates of casualties from the expulsions range between 1 - 2 million dead.

In Eastern Europe, four million Poles were expelled by the Soviet Union from east of the new border which approximated the Curzon Line. This border change reversed the results of the 1919-1920 Polish-Soviet War. Former Polish cities such as L'vov came under control of the Soviet administration of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic.

Reparations and Allied occupation

Germany paid reparations to the United Kingdom, France, and the Soviet Union mainly in the form of dismantled factories, forced labor, and coal. Germany was to be reduced to the standard of living she had at the height of the Great Depression. [ [,9171,852764,00.html Cost of Defeat] Time Magazine Monday, April 8, 1946] Beginning immediately after the German surrender and continuing for the next two years, the U.S. pursued a vigorous program to harvest all technological and scientific know-how as well as all patents in Germany. John Gimbel comes to the conclusion, in his book "Science Technology and Reparations: Exploitation and Plunder in Postwar Germany", that the "intellectual reparations" taken by the U.S. and the UK amounted to close to US$10 billion, equivalent to around US$100 billion in 2006 terms. [Norman M. Naimark The Russians in Germany pg. 206] The program of acquiring German scientists and technicians for the U.S. was also used to deny the expertise of German scientists to the Soviet Union. [Norman M. Naimark The Russians in Germany pg. 206] The case for finding and holding Nobel laurate Werner Heisenberg was summed up thus "…he was worth more to us than "ten divisions" of Germans. Had he fallen into Russian hands, he would have proven invaluable to them." [Norman M. Naimark The Russians in Germany pg. 207]

In accordance with the Paris Peace Treaties, 1947, payment of reparations was assessed from the countries of Italy, Romania, Hungary, Bulgaria, and Finland.




*Norman M. Naimark "The Russians in Germany; A History of the Soviet Zone of occupation, 1945-1949" Harvard University Press, ISBN 0-674-78406-5

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