Impact of Second World War

Published 11 Jan 2017

There are important lessons that guided the US policy makers during the dark period of the Second World War. If the United States did not lead then nobody would; second, that the conditions of for international order required the creation of a more open, multilaterally organized international economy; and third that without sufficient power there would never be peace in the world. Not all the lessons drawn from the past were as brutally realist as this last one.

Nonetheless, there were few members of the policy elite on the eve of the Second World War who had not arrived at the conclusion that if the United States was to get involved (and presumably be on the victorious side) in yet another war, this time around, it would also have to win the peace as well—and the only way it would be able to do this was from a defined position of strength (Brands).

How strong the United States was to become as a result of the Second World War has been the subject of many fine studies; and for the majority of international historian; the most obvious important consequence of a global war which left somewhere close to fifty million dead was not the Holocaust, the decline of European power, or even the spread of Soviet influence, but the rise of the United States; and the most obvious measure of this was economic. (Graebner 1984). In very simple terms, production for war (carried out by capitalism but directed by the state) broke the back of the American Depression in less than two years and led to the most remarkable periods of scientific and technological innovation in the history of the American free enterprise system.

The outcome was staggering. Basically, when the war concluded, the United States controlled over half of the world’s industrial output. Indeed, the basis of America’s postwar economics preponderance was laid in these critical years when the great corporations like Boeing, Ford, Goodyear and General Electric were directed by government to innovate, create, and out-produce the enemy in the great battle for the future of humanity (Brands).

Although many historians volunteer that the Second World War began in Europe when Germany invaded Poland in 1939, many events had been occurring in the Asian landscape that also lead to the fighting of World War II on the Asian front. This essay will discuss the events leading to the explosion of World War II in the Pacific when Japan launched a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor in Hawaii on December 7, 1941, as well as the effects of this war on the said country (Brands).

The animosity of Japan towards the western hemisphere may be traced to the forced reopening of the country to foreign influences in the 1800’s. For centuries the Japanese had successfully driven out foreigners from their country. In the website of HistoryNet.Com, although the Japanese had resumed trading with the United States in the latter part of the 19th century, their relationship was tainted with animosity and mistrust, which even increased during the passing of the Exclusion Act of 1924, wherein Japanese immigrants were forbidden to enter the United States (Brands).

Furthermore, the Japanese economy began to falter and collapse. This situation became even more desperate with the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 and the Great Depression of 1929 which affected markets and economies worldwide. The Japanese government, dominated by a militaristic leadership, intensified its search for resources outside the country. Coupled with this objective was the need to find new lands for the growing Japanese population to settle in. Its first target was China. The Japanese military leaders thought that conquering China would not only add lands for its populace, but could provide a market for their exports which were not doing as expected in the Western Hemisphere. (Graebner 1984).

In the website of Japan-Guide.Com, it is stated that Japan then conquered and annexed Manchuria, a province of China. This move was severely criticized by the League of Nations of which Japan was a member. The latter then left the organization shortly thereafter. In 1937, it engaged China in the Sino-Japanese War, won, and was able to occupy the entire coastline area of China soon after. (Graebner 1984).

In the history section of About.Com, Japan allied itself with the Axis Powers Italy and Germany in the Triple Entente Accord. A direct result of this was the embargo on the country by the United States, which resulted in an oil shortage in Japan. The latter then conquered Indonesia, which provided them with the necessary oil. Also, the military leaders of the country, thinking that the United States could also be defeated, secretly planned to go to war. This led to the infamous attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Japan and the United States were now at war. (Graebner 1984).

Japan was able initially to annex to its Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere most of Southeast Asia. This included Indochina, Indonesia, the Philippines and even New Guinea. However, after several crucial battles in the Pacific, the United States was able to gain ground slowly, and finally received the surrender of the Japanese Imperial Army shortly after the second atomic bomb was dropped at Nagasaki in August of 1945.

Also in the website of About.Com, it is stated that finally, Emperor Hirohito directed the military leaders to surrender to the Americans to end the war and the possibility of more Japanese citizens dying because of the atomic bomb. The Emperor himself was present aboard the USS Missouri when the signing of the surrender was made formal (HistoryNet.Com 2005).

The end of the Second World War also signaled the end of colonialism. Many of the countries in Southeast Asia broke free of their conquerors. Even China began taking back many of its territories which were occupied by other nations. The Japanese people also were finally able to associate a voice and a face with their Emperor. The picture that their Emperor painted during the surrender showed that he was no longer a god, but an ordinary human being just like anyone else (HistoryNet.Com 2005).

On the other hand, defeat during this war may have served both as an inspiration and motivation for Japan to get back on its feet and become a technological and economic power despite the absence of natural resources such as petroleum and other metals. The war had seen the application of many decades of technological research, and this was a field that the country wished to excel in. Many speculate that after the war, the Japan-U.S alliance was forged in order to fight communism, which was slowly gaining ground in Asia with the emergence of communist China under the umbrella of the Soviet Union. (HistoryNet.Com 2005).

If the Second World War laid the basis for much of what followed in the postwar period—policy-makers having dutifully learned the painful lessons from the interwar period—it also provided the US with the experience necessary to run and organize the world. Much has been made of what US leaders learned from the British—the “Greeks” to what some regarded as the new American Romans. There is something in this. Britain after all had unwritten the nineteenth century international system; and the British were conscious too that as the war went on their power would slip while that of the United States would rise. Many resented this bitterly.

The overwhelming majority, however, soon came to terms with the fact, and the most influential tried in their own rather patronizing fashion to educate their younger American cousins in the ways of the world. Not only had the war itself provided several valuable lessons; so too did American history. Indeed, one should take care not to overstate influence or to underestimate America’s own experience, first in the process of becoming a major power at the end of the nineteenth century, and then as a real force during the First World War. Nor should one ignore its historical role in Latin America and the Pacific. Indeed, even in the interwar period, when it was thought to be entirely disengaged, it was still a critical factor in international relations. (HistoryNet.Com 2005).

Meanwhile, Japan may have paid the ultimate price in its desire to become a dominant power in the Pacific and perhaps in the world during the Second World War. The loss of many lives especially during the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki still lingers in the hearts and minds of many Japanese today. Perhaps it would have not been possible for the country to become the economic and technological superpower that it is today if it were not for this war.

Works Cited

  • Brands, W. What America Owes the World: The Struggle for the Soul of Foreign Policy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Glines, C.V. (2005). ‘Nagasaki-The Bomb That Ended World War II’. Last Update November 2005.Retrieved May 15, 2007 at:
  • Graebner, N. (ed) (1984) America as a World Power: A Realist Appraisal from Wilson to Reagan Delaware, Scholarly Resources Inc.
  • HistoryNet.Com (2005). ‘Japan’. Last Update 01 November 2005. Retrieved May 15, 2007 at:
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