Whether you call it World War II or the Second World War or WWII or WW2, this great global war is the war that engulfed the world barely twenty one years after World War I. It started in 1939 and lasted till 1945. Although World War II started in 1939, skirmishes and related conflicts preceded this date. Most of the countries of the world were involved in the war and all of the world’s great powers fought in this war. The two major sides that waged war against each other were the Allies and the Axis. World War II was the most widespread war in the entire history of the world, seconded by World War I. It involved more than one hundred million people and more than thirty countries across all continents. The countries that were majorly involved in the war engaged with all their industrial, economic, and scientific powers thereby obliterating the line that divided civilian resources from the military.
Known as the deadliest war in the world’s history, more than 50 million people perished in this conflict that set ablaze the world. Sadly, the Chinese and Russians made up most of this number. Some of the reasons for this unprecedented number are massacres, genocides (such as the Holocaust), starvation, and of course the use of nuclear weapons, which was the first time such a vastly destructive weapon was used in history. The Holocaust was the devastating event that saw the Nazis systematically kill of the Jews, both in Germany and in other part of Europe. Way before World War II started in September 1, 1939, Japan was already at war with China because of Japan’s bid to rule the entire Asia and Pacific. World War II officially began when the Nazi Germany invaded Poland, which prompted France and the United Kingdom to declare war on them.
At first, the Russians fought alongside the Germans, helping them subdue and dominate most of Europe. Alliances were also formed with Italy and Japan, leading to the formation of the Axis alliance. At this point, the war was waged between the Axis alliance and the combined strength of the United Kingdom and the British Commonwealth. By June, 1941, Soviet Union was invaded by the European Axis alliance and this invasion became the largest land war in history. This disintegrated into a war of attrition, which trapped majority of the Axis’s military. In order to break this impasse, the Japanese attacked the United States and some European colonies, conquering the West Pacific.
From here on, the Axis alliance began to lose the war. Japan was defeated at the Battle of Midway, while the Germans and Italians lost the war in North Africa and then at Stalingrad, Soviet Union. The Germans suffered more defeats along the Eastern front, leading to the Allies invading Italy and Sicily. This caused the Italians to surrender unconditionally, and the Allies were victorious in the Pacific. This great loss caused the Axis powers to begin a strategic retreat across all fronts of the war. Pressing on, the Soviet Union pushed the Germans out of their lands, recovering their territories and then invaded Germany. The Allies invaded France, which at the time was occupied by Germany. As for the Japanese, they lost all the lands they had beforehand conquered in their bid to dominate Asia and their navy was crippled by the Allied forces.
The war in the European theatre came to an end, when the Allied forces and the Soviet Union invaded Germany. The Soviet Union captured Berlin, and seeking to evade the humiliation of capture, Adolf Hitler, the Nazi leader, committed suicide. On the 8th of May, 1945, Germany surrendered unconditionally. Japan, though losing the war, refused to surrender to the terms of the Potsdam Declaration, which was set forth by the Allied forces. In response and in a bid to force a surrender, the United States dropped atomic bombs (nuclear weapons) on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Under threat of more atomic bombs falling on its cities and having experienced the incredible devastation of such a weapon, the Japanese surrendered on the 2nd of September, 1945. This ended the war in the Asian theatre and sealed the Allied forces victory.
This war caused great changes to the social and political ecosystem of the world. The United Nations was born right after the war to foster an integrative international environment in a bid to preempt a reoccurrence of similar wars. The major participants in the war—called the great powers—became permanent members of the Security Council, which was also set up with the formation of the UN. These great powers are: the United States, the Soviet Union, France, the United Kingdom, and China. Following World War II, the Cold War began between United States and the Soviet Union, who were rival superpowers. The Cold War lasted an astonishing forty six years and ended with the fall of the Soviet Union. The Cold War also caused the nuclear arms race that saw the US and the Soviets building as much nuclear weapons as possible so as to possess more nuclear armament than the opposition. This eventually led to a proliferation of nuclear weapons in the world, especially when the Soviet Union fell.
Following the surrender of Germany and the end of World War II, the United States occupied Austria, while the US and Soviet Union jointly occupied Germany. Germany was divided along its axis, forming western and eastern zones. The Allies began a denazification program, which prosecuted Nazi war criminals. Germany had already lost one fourth the territory it held prior to the war.
The United Nations was officially created on the 24th of October, 1945. In 1948, the United Nations promulgated the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and made it a standard for all member states. There have been two changes to the permanent members of the Security Council. The People’s Republic of China took the place of Republic of China in 1971, while Russia took the place of Soviet Union after its fall in 1991 at the end of the Cold War.