Legacies of the War
Like all wars, human suffering stands out as the key legacy of WW2, but the degree of human suffering experienced in WW2 was unmatched in history. During the war, carpet bombing campaigns targeted civilian targets as much as military ones, while starvation and disease claimed a stunning number of lives. Atrocities also added misery; the Holocaust alone killed 11 million people, half of which were Jews.
The post-WW2 era saw the decline of colonial powers, notably the United Kingdom, which set the way for the United States to rise as the new dominant power of the west. Another political outcome of WW2 was the formation of the United Nations, which hoped to succeed where the inter-war period League of Nations failed.
WW2 had only just ended when the world plunged into another conflict. In Europe, a rift grew between the uneasy alliance of capitalist and communist philosophies, splitting Europe into two, divided by the "Iron Curtain". Because the two dominant powers of the post-WW2 era, the United States and the Soviet Union, never directly fought an open war, the term "Cold War" was coined to describe the tension and rivalry between them. The two powers did, however, engage in proxy wars such as Korea and Vietnam.
The successful detonation of the atomic bomb during Operation Trinity not only directly led to the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan, but it also marked the start of the Atomic Age. Thus, in addition to the massive build up of conventional weapons, the Cold War also saw the race to stockpile atomic weapons.
Some WW2 legacies still impact our lives today. For example, the Japanese government continues to face criticism for its handling of the atrocities committed by the war time regime, while Nazi hunters continue to track down war criminals who were never brought to justice.
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James Forrestal, Secretary of the Navy, 23 Feb 1945