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World War II

Aftermath and Reckoning

Although hostilities came to an end in Sept., 1945, a new world crisis caused by the postwar conflict between the USSR and the United States—the two chief powers to emerge from the war—made settlement difficult. By Mar., 1950, peace treaties had been signed with Italy, Romania, Hungary, Bulgaria, and Finland; in 1951, the Allies (except the USSR) signed a treaty with Japan, and, in 1955, Austria was restored to sovereignty. Germany, however, remained divided—first between the Western powers and the USSR, then (until 1990) into two German nations (see Germany).

Despite the birth of the United Nations, the world remained politically unstable and only slowly recovered from the incalculable physical and moral devastation wrought by the largest and most costly war in history. Soldiers and civilians both had suffered in bombings that had wiped out entire cities. Modern methods of warfare—together with the attempt of Germany to exterminate entire religious and ethnic groups (particularly the Jews)—famines, and epidemics, had brought death to tens of millions and made as many more homeless. The suffering and degradation of the war's victims were of proportions that passed the understanding of those who had been spared. The conventions of warfare had been violated on a large scale (see war crimes), and warfare itself was revolutionized by the development and use of nuclear weapons.

Political consequences included the reduction of Britain and France to powers of lesser rank, the emergence of the Common Market (see European Economic Community; European Union), the independence of many former colonies in Asia and Africa, and, perhaps most important, the beginning of the cold war between the Western powers and the Communist-bloc nations.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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