In the words of Cordtz, "Six years of the worst carnage ever inflicted on mankind. That was World War II. Between 35 million and 60 million were killed, and far more wounded. Property damage was literally incalculable" (par. 1).
In terms of geopolitics, the aftermath of the war was a bi-polar world in which two Superpowers faced off from opposite sides of the world and of the ideological divide. The Cold War and nuclear arms race that followed the Allied victory constituted an incredibly costly military buildup that ended up diverting economic resources of the major countries of the world that might otherwise have been used for the betterment of humanity through education, economic growth, and cultural enrichment. All of these factors must be accounted for in any audit of the negative effects of World War II.
The first and most important consideration in evaluating the consequences of World War II was the human toll, both civilian and military. From the six million victims of the Nazi extermination program to twenty-five hundred American service personnel who were lost at Pearly Harbor to the hundreds of thousands of Japanese whose lives were snuffed out by the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, it defies understanding to think about the potential each of those lives had to affect the world for the better. There are no words to describe the anguish suffered by so many loved ones who lost their family and friends during the war. Families were permanently shattered, and relationships were severed by the war.
The moral cost of the war was also staggering. Not only did the German death camps obviously illustrate a new level of human degeneracy, but killing of civilians in the name of military necessity became and acceptable standard in the conduct of warfare, an unfortunate development that continues to be reflected in combat operations to this day. Richman contends that "area bombing of Germany and Japan set a new standard in the indiscriminate killing of civilians under color of combat" (par. 7). Thus, when evaluating the human cost of the war, it is essential not only to count the number of people whose lives were lost, but also to consider the impact on the moral standards of those who remained.
The Economic Toll
World War II was simply devastating from an economic perspective. The sheer destruction of entire cities had left little or no infrastructure to support economic stability of nearly every major economic power in Europe, as well as others around the globe. Nevertheless, the destruction left in the wake of the war ended up prompting a reconstruction and recovery effort known as the Marshall Plan that ultimately led to a far stronger global political and economic foundation than would otherwise have been possible. According to Cordtz, "even the losers ultimately emerged from the destruction and humiliation far better off than before. The people of Japan and Germany (most of it at any rate) escaped from totalitarian captivity to erect sturdy democratic political systems. Both countries rebuilt such powerful industrial machines that they can now successfully challenge their military conquerors. And both were able to accomplish all this in large part because of American assistance" (par. 4).
The Marshall Plan was perhaps the most generous and successful foreign economic aid program in the history of the world. Without it,