World History 2 233 - 13.4.3 The Human Toll

The end of the war saw the world grapple with the conflict’s astronomical human toll. Germany had suffered 5.5 million military deaths and lost as many as three million civilians. Japan lost 2.1 million military and another million civilians. China’s military deaths can only be approximated but may have been as high as four million, with another sixteen million civilians. The United States and the United Kingdom emerged less battered, with 416,000 American and 384,000 British deaths. However, their ally the Soviet Union arguably suffered more than any other single country. Soviet military deaths were estimated at 8.8 to 10.7 million, and more than thirteen million civilian deaths were attributed to the war. Some of these deaths were the result of military actions; other Soviet civilians died of starvation or disease caused by wartime conditions. The German and Japanese surrenders ended the combat phase of the war. However, much work was needed to rebuild the world as the victors thought it should be.

The Aftermath: Europe

The right-wing dictatorships in Spain and Portugal, by staying out of the actual conflict, were able to avoid the reconstructive policies and action of the Allies. But fascism had been dealt a severe defeat in Europe.

The Soviets exacted retribution on the Germans largely by removing and transporting back to the Soviet Union virtually anything they considered useful to rebuilding their own industrial sector destroyed by the war. Thus, the Soviet occupation zone, which became the communist satellite of East Germany, was left with little to sustain itself. The western Allies, wanting relief from the burden of supporting destitute Germans and their largely destroyed economy, began to rebuild Germany’s industries in their occupation zones. Stalin perceived these efforts as a sign of greed, continued capitalist hostility to socialism, and the West’s desire to dominate the world economy.

Efforts were also made to establish some measure of justice via war crimes trials. In August 1945, Britain, the Soviet Union, and the United States agreed to create the International Military Tribunal to try Germans accused of committing war crimes, crimes against peace, and crimes against humanity. The Nuremberg Trials sought justice for Germany’s crimes against humanity; they lasted through 1946. Twenty-two individuals and seven Nazi organizations were indicted. Nineteen defendants were convicted and received sentences ranging from fifteen years in prison to death by hanging. Three of the Nazi organizations were ruled to be criminal organizations.

There remained the huge task of repatriating all those displaced by the war. Millions of people had been shuttled around Europe by the Germans as they drew forced labor to Germany and dispatched Jewish people and others to concentration/death camps. The Soviets demanded the return of all their citizens. The Allies agreed to the controversial “Operation Keelhaul,” whereby people who had cooperated with the Germans against the Soviets, including Cossacks, Ukrainians, and Russians, were forcibly repatriated to the Soviet Union with the probability of a harsh and possibly fatal reception. Millions of others were also forcibly moved back to their “home” nations at the end of the war, such as Germans living in areas now belonging to Poland who were forced to leave for Germany. The hope was that this would help avoid ethnic tensions that might lead to another conflict. At the same time, 250,000 Jewish survivors of the Holocaust languished in camps for displaced persons because their home countries refused to take them back. About eighty thousand were eventually able to relocate to the United States, and more than 100,000 settled in the British Mandate of Palestine.

The Aftermath: Japan

On August 10, 1945, in the wake of the atomic attacks and the Soviet invasion of Manchukuo, Japanese Emperor Hirohito had informed his Privy Council that he accepted the Potsdam Declaration regarding Japan’s unconditional surrender, and soon thereafter the Allies were informed to that effect. Hirohito himself followed up on August 15 with the first public broadcast any emperor had ever made to the Japanese people, saying he would bear the pain of defeat and accept the Allied terms. A month later on September 2, General Yoshijirō Umezu, the army’s chief of staff, signed a surrender document aboard the USS Missouri at anchor in Tokyo Bay (Figure 13.19).

This is a black and white photograph of a man who is wearing a military uniform with tassels on his right sleeve, a hat and glasses. He stands over a desk in the middle of the picture and bends down to sign a large white paper on a rectangular table with a tablecloth that drapes over the sides, covering the table. There are four of these large papers across the table with a smaller stack of white papers on the right corner of the table. He has a chair behind himA chair is located on the opposite side of the table from him. Next to that chair stands a man who is wearing a military uniform with a hat. He watches the signing. Behind him there is a man in a military uniform standing in front of microphones. There is a group of military men in various uniforms standing in the right of the picture, watching the signing. In the top left of the picture there are more people standing and sitting looking over a railing, some taking pictures.
Figure 13.19 General Yoshijirō Umezu, chief of the Japanese Army General Staff, signed the articles of surrender for Japan aboard the USS Missouri on September 2, 1945. Opposite him were representatives of the Allied Powers, standing behind General Douglas MacArthur at the microphones (with hands behind his back). (credit: “Japanese surrender, Tokyo Bay, September 2, 1945” by U.S. National Archives/Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain)

As supreme commander for the Allied powers, General Douglas MacArthur was ordered to exercise authority during the Allied occupation of Japan through the Japanese governmental system, including Emperor Hirohito. MacArthur charged the Japanese government to immediately repeal the Peace Preservation Law, which allowed for the arrest of anyone perceived to be posing a threat to—or critical of—the Japanese government, and to begin open and free discussion of the entire Imperial government and its institutions. Political prisoners were released, and the Special Police were disbanded. On New Year’s Day 1946, the emperor publicly disclaimed his divine status: “The ties between us and our people have always stood upon mutual trust and affection. They do not depend upon mere legends and myths. They are not predicated on the false conception that the Emperor is divine and that the Japanese people are superior to other races and fated to rule the world.”

In Tokyo, the International Military Tribunal for the Far East emerged from the Potsdam Declaration. (Since the Soviet Union had not declared war on Japan at that time, it was not a party to the agreement.) The trials began in 1946 and lasted until November 1948. Eighteen members of the Japanese military and nine senior politicians were indicted. All were found guilty but one, who was found mentally unfit to stand trial; six were executed and the rest sentenced to prison.

For six years, from 1946 to 1952, the United States dominated the occupation of Japan. General MacArthur and his occupation authorities partnered energetically in almost all aspects of Japanese politics, economics, and society to try to reform and rebuild Japan. The overall goals of the occupation were demilitarization, democratization, and the fostering of respect for fundamental human rights. The Constitution imposed by MacArthur and his Government Section in 1947 was the sort of fundamental change no single group in Japan itself could have effected. The fact that it has survived virtually unchanged suggests that the Japanese themselves came to terms with it and bent the system to reflect their habits of mind and politics. The emperor was made a figurehead, “the symbol of the State and of the unity of the people.” Real sovereign power was vested in the people via the Diet, an elected two-chamber legislature. An extensive Bill of Rights guaranteed academic freedom, women’s suffrage, the right to choose residence, collective bargaining, and full employment.

Demilitarization was immediately begun, and the Japanese accepted that a realistic appraisal of world conditions after World War II strongly suggested force was not a good way to protect Japan and secure access to economic resources. The preamble to the Japanese Constitution begins, “We, the Japanese people, desire peace for all time.” Land reform began to make more small farmers owners of their farms instead of renters, and union membership was supported in the industrial sector, but many large corporations remained and were deliberately not broken up. Japan was severely limited militarily; no Japanese army was allowed, nor was Japan permitted to go to war in the future.

Attempts took place across the globe to achieve some form of just and lasting peace. One glimmer of hope was the United Nations, an international body agreed to by the Allied leaders during wartime conferences and finally established in New York City in April 1945. The United Nations was pledged to “save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind, and to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small . . . to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom.”

Judicial actions in both Germany and Japan were the beginning of attempts to define such concepts as genocide and crimes against humanity, as a way to counter the possibility that the conflict had actually normalized total war, mass violence, brutalization, and totalitarianism. The war had also brought into stark view the cruel consequences of racism and racist ideologies. Even liberal democracies could be poisoned by such thinking, as was revealed in the United States by the groundless displacement of Japanese residents and nationals and Japanese American citizens.

As another aftermath of the war, women worldwide found themselves enjoying some of the freedoms and responsibilities of their fuller citizenship and participation in their nation’s fortunes. And populations in Africa and Asia, feeling they had earned liberation from prewar colonialism, began to reach for more self-determination and national legitimacy. It was widely felt that the struggles and sacrifices of so many could not and should not have been in vain.

The content of this course has been taken from the free World History, Volume 2: from 1400 textbook by Openstax