WWII had very high human costs (~6.1e7 total deaths), even compared to WWI. It also caused non-death problems, like PTSD, non-PTSD fear, lots of disabilities, lots of refugees. Adjusting to peace hard.

No new states post-WWII. However, >1e6 German civilians driven out of eastern Europe, Poland shifted west, Germany became BRD & DDR, USSR controlled Eastern Europe.

West had lots of economic prosperity, Communist regions had some progress, no repeat of the interwar years.

Social consequences major (linked to econ changes). Some groups didn’t want back to normal. Women and minorities demanded change.

WWII lead to the Cold War (new type of conflict) and the threat of nuclear war. Everyone was scared of nuclear arms races.

World went from Western-Europe-centric to superpower-centric. International bodies more important. Political nationalism & racism less popular.

What political & territorial changes did WWII cause?

Peace conferences & settlements

Axis didn’t have political conferences during WWII. Allies did. Yalta and Potsdam (1945) shaped post-war Europe before the war actually ended.

Germany split into 4 zones of occupation (USA, Britain, France, USSR) and stayed divided until early 1990s. By 1949, the Bundesrepublik Deutschland (American, British, French zones) was its own country (even including isolated West Berlin) separate from the Deutsche Demokratische Republik. Austria was also divided, but was reunified in 1955 after Russian withdrawal.

In regions the USSR had invaded to attack Germany, people’s democracies were created, with 1-party governments subordinate to the USSR. Russia also gained some of what was East Prussia.

Japan lost territorial gains and was US-occupied. Emperor still ran things, but was officially human and not divine. Korea became an independent North and South Korea. Manchuria (stripped of resources by Russia) became Chinese again. USSR took reparations. West actually sent BRD & Japan money and supplies. No long peace conference, rather, cold war.

Chinese Civil War resumed.

WWII economic impact?

Economic change

Financial burden unprecedented. USA spent 3.41e11 (at-the-time) USD. Germany spent 2.72e11, USSR 1.92e11, Britain 1.2e11, Italy 9.4e10, Japan 5.6e10. USSR lost 30% of wealth. Nazi thefts/looting not calculated. Japan said to have lost 5.62e7 USD.

Short-term damage > WWI short-term damage. Conflict was more mobile and there was more air power. Most major cities were very damaged, some destroyed.

Long-term effects not as bad. WWI caused huge depressions. However, post-WWII USA was huge in Western European recovery and helped found and support the United Nations. Western European economies started reviving in 1948, and the rate of growth started increasing in 1950. US economy went from war production to unprecedented growth, with cheap electricity, new tech, good domestic and foreign markets. Even supplying Europe with aid helped.

War experience with government intervention caused economic progress in Europe. If governments could produce lots of war goods, then they could prevent depression and unemployment. France (Jean Monnet) created 1946 Plan for the Reconstruction of Key Industries. West Germany and Italy modernized with a bit more government control than before.

People also realized that tariffs weren’t so great, so world trade growth helped recovery. US pushed free trade. Organization for European Economic Cooperation and European Economic Community tried to reduce inter-European tariffs.

Africa and Asia didn’t face huge price drops in raw materials, and remained European markets for finished goods. War caused chemical and electrical industry advances. Women in the workplace led to new domestic appliances. Consumer industry developed.

American aid (allowed by wartime prosperity) was a big deal. Distribution began 1943, first through the UN Relief and Rehabilitation Administration. The International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (to become the World Bank) and the International Monetary Fund provided short-term rebuilding loans. Western Europe got 1.2e10 USD through the Marshall Plan.

Western European huge economic prosperity unified it further.

What social changes did WWII cause?


Prejudices had to be abandoned for total war. French women allowed to vote 1944. Some ground was lost after peace. Experience of war, more education, more labor-saving tools, more available contraceptives changed gender roles if not attitudes.

War had increased female workplace participation, range of available jobs, female travel, financial independence, willingness to display their skills, and freedom from domestic demands. Post-war feminist movement influenced by war experience. However, subsidized child care and meals didn’t last after WWII, the 1950s baby boom increased pressure for childcare, and returning soldiers took women’s jobs.

In more damaged countries, women burdened with survival problems rather than liberated by challenges. Berlin has rubble women memorial for moving debris. African-American women still stuck in low-paying, often domestic jobs. 1950s prosperity glorified family life over female independence, women’s movement emerged in 1960s.

Totalitarian states like USSR had more status/reward equality. Female oppression seen as similar to class oppression. Male deaths high enough to require female employment. Fascism had brought women into politics, so its end slightly reduced female power in some ways.

War – the challenge to tradition

Communism disrupted traditional attitudes, in Britain and Germany the middle class rose and the nobles declined, and the conservative German upper class suffered after attempting to remove Hitler (see Bomb Plot of 1944). Japanese defeat ousted military aristocracy and imperial cliques. Mussolini’s fall demolished Italian monarchy. Post-war world less differential and needed more skilled labor.

Family life

Urban bombings, mass conscription, absence of fathers disruptive. Foreign workers/forces present and paternal absence undermined traditional morality. Sex was temporarily destigmatized, but women who had sex with or were raped by occupiers (and the resulting children) were mistreated after the war. Juvenile delinquency and crime were high. Gender, age, and workplace relations changed hugely. Cigarette smoking rose.

Racism & minority rights

Anti-Semitism not brand-new. WWII let genocide proceed unchecked. Jews were killed in pogroms (in part by locals), then forced into ghettoes and starved and killed at random. Starting 1942, labor and death camps were created for a more systematic genocide campaign. Sometimes only inefficient workers were killed, and sometimes all were. The death rate increased as Germany began losing, and near the end, forced marches were common. People were really shocked by the camps when they saw them.

Germany had lots of modern culture, science, and tech, and lots of scholarship. So the Holocaust was extra-surprising. It led to lots of cultural relativism and made it hard to believe European stuff was better.

Ethnic conflicts didn’t end. Ethnic Germans were driven out of other states after the war, with high casualties. Anti-Semitism still common in post-war Germany. In 1952, >50% of Germans still called Hitler Germany’s greatest leader. USSR very anti-Semitic in the early 1950s.

Also, the Holocaust didn’t prevent all future genocides. However, people questioned racialism more. Black workers moved to northern cities and gained world experience through military service. USA got even more yay-democracy. Returning black GIs liked racism even less. Civil Rights grew after WWII.

The need for black labor during WWII had led to increased activist success. Threatened protests led to bans on racial discrimination in defense industries and federal offices and bans on military segregation.


Fascism, nationalism, and racism looked worse. Democracy looked more effective at war. Communism also looked better. Welfare states became more common in Western Europe.

What were immediate wider implications of WWII for international relations?

The Cold War! It started based on conflicts predating the war, but WWII developed it a lot. US had policy of containment (no letting communism spread) implemented through Truman Doctrine (1947) and Marshall Plan. Stalin created Comecon (joint economic system) and Cominform (political coordination). Churchill coined phrase iron curtain 1946, which became truer.