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1945: The Year That Marked Our Planet

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Postdam Conference in 1945
Postdam Conference in 1945

In this paper I attempt to show, briefly, an overview of how 1945 was at a global scale, focusing more on how 1945 was felt in the different regions of the world, mixing historical data and some of my own thoughts too. I will end by explaining what objectives were set in 1945, using mainly the UN charter preamble, and how they have not been fulfilled.

1945 globally

1945 was marked globally by the war, by the end of it to be precise. WWII ended in Europe on May 7th with Germany´s surrender and it officially ended on September 2nd with Japan´s surrender in the Pacific. It was a period of uncertainty as there were few things clear at that period. 1945, as will be seen later, will be characterized by the end of colonial empires that had dominated the entire world in centuries past, an end that will be brought by the uprising of some Middle Eastern countries that will start independence movements against their metropolis.

In economic terms, the USA was the dominant country. The year before, 1944, at the Bretton Woods Conference, an international monetary system was founded and the beginning of the negotiations to end protectionism and impulse a free market economy and international commerce started. Although this was quite a challenge for many economies that were devastated by the war, which wanted to get hold of protectionism.  However, with the creation of the International Bank of Reconstruction and Development, it will be easier for the countries to get loans, and it will be even easier when, in the following years, the International Finance Corporation and the International Development Association are created.

In terms of society, all parts were relieved, the Allies and the Axis powers. It may be thought that the Axis were resented because they lost, and it may be part true, but at the end what every civil person and most soldiers wanted was to finish that bloody war. Erich Maria Remarque shows this clearly in his WWI novel All quiet on the Western Front, when, speaking about those who really should be fighting the war, he writes: “Kropp on the other hand is a thinker. He proposes that a declaration of war should be a kind of popular festival with entrance-tickets and bands, like a bull fight. Then in the arena the ministers and generals of the two countries, dressed in bathing-drawers and armed with clubs, can have it out on themselves. Whoever survives the country wins. That would be much simpler and more than just this arrangement, where the wrong people do the fighting”

1945 in different parts of the world

The devastating effects of the Battle of Manila in 1945
The devastating effects of the Battle of Manila in 1945.

To start this second point, I believe necessary to start talking about those who were directly involved in WWII: Europe, the USSR, USA and Japan. [1]Europe, in 1945, was seeing how the war was coming to an end after the successive defeats of Germany since late 1942 and 1943, when the Germans lost the Mediterranean shoreline or when the Soviet Union captured an entire German Army in Stalingrad. Moreover, the support that the Nazi regime had previously found on Mussolini´s Italy was lost when, on April 25th, the Italian Republic fell. After Mussolini´s death, Hitler could only find support in Japan, and even Japan was struggling to keep up with the rhythm the Allies were setting. Foreseeing the disastrous fate of Germany, Hitler killed himself the 29th of April. The Allied Forces were getting closer to the cradle of Nazism, to Berlin, where they fought a fierce battle the 1st of May, and on May 7th, Germany surrendered. It was the end of a war that had totally devastated the continent, a war that had reduced to ruins what was once the most powerful place on Earth.

For the USSR, 1945 was no different as it was also marked by the war. On January 27th, the Soviet troops liberated Auschwitz on their way to Germany. And, the Soviet Union was also a key participant in the Battle of Berlin and the takeover of this city. Although it must be noted that “equally horrible were the sadistic murders and rapes during the Red Army´s drive to Berlin (…)”[2]. This matter raised up a question in my mind: why is it that the fact that the Soviet Union was crucial for the defeat of such a cruel regime as the Nazi one, eclipses the equally despicable atrocities that its troops carried out? Undoubtedly, the end of war and the defeat of Nazi Germany was one of the most important events in the history of our planet and it must be talked and debated about, and we should also thank the Soviet soldiers who worked for the liberation of Europe, but I think it is quite a pity that just because the Soviet troops contributed largely to the overthrow of the Nazis, they could get away with all those crimes they also committed. It is unfair that the Soviet troops were not brought to trial because, somewhat, those are also crimes against humanity, crimes that were punished at the Nuremberg Trials (that I will briefly talk about later).

We can’t talk about the USA without speaking alongside it about Japan and the vicious conflict they had in the Pacific. Japan, during the years of WWII, had taken over many islands and territories in the Pacific Ocean, as well as in Asia (the Korean Peninsula, for instance). [3]These territories were then progressively liberated by the USA, especially in 1945, a key year for the fate of Japan as it will start to lose its own territories in several battles like Iwo Jima (February 16th) and Okinawa (April 1st). [4]On July 1945, US attacks intensified as over 40,000 tons of bombs were dropped to the archipelago and industrial areas as Tokyo or Osaka were devastated. Japan suffered the strongest and most devastating short-term action carried out in WWII when, after it refused to surrender as the Allies had recommended them when they issued the Potsdam Proclamation on July 26th, two nuclear bombs were dropped. The first one was dropped the 6th of August in Hiroshima, which “was approximately 60 percent destroyed by the bomb”[5]; and the second one was dropped the 9th of August in Nagasaki, which was “a large industrial center and an important port on the west coast of Kyushu”[6]. After the two bombs were dropped and the USSR declared war on Japan on August 8th, on September 2nd 1945 Japan surrendered, putting an end to WWII.

[7]1945 was extremely important because of the Potsdam Conference, which took place from July 17th to August 2nd, and reunited, after the Yalta Conference (on February 1945), Winston Churchill, Joseph Stalin and Harry S. Truman. In the Conference, they tried to avoid the same mistakes they made after WWI with the Treaty of Versailles. They reached several agreements like: Germany would be divided into 4 parts, each controlled by one power (USA, USSR, United Kingdom or France); Germany would be totally disarmed and demilitarized, and German industry will be dismantled in order to avoid the creation of military power by the Germans; moreover, the Allies will agree upon several changes in the educational system of Germany and the values of its society towards democratic values and eradication of totalitarian ones.

I think it is immensely interesting the fact that it was agreed in the Conference the spread of democratic values in Germany, something that doesn´t really match what the UK was exercising in its African colonies (and that will later be commented) or what the USSR was carrying out on its own territories, including the purges and the suppression of freedom of speech. It is really heartbreaking to see how the leaders of the world at that time were, in my opinion, hypocrites and above all, weak because they wouldn´t fight to try and establish what they thought was actually right,

Another important event that started after the war in Europe were the Nuremberg Trials, where Nazi Party officials and Nazi military personnel with high ranking were brought to trial for crimes against humanity or crimes against peace[8]. The Nuremberg Trials played an important role in giving an impulse to the creation of the International Court of Justice that will effectively, under the rules of international law and the “ius cogens”, function in years later.

After speaking about the major participants of the war, I think it is appropriate to speak briefly about the year 1945 in other regions that are often shadowed by the big powers and the war. These are: Africa, the Middle East, Latin America and Oceania.

[9]Africa, in 1945, was hoping for the quick defeat of Germany because they were promised democracy and development if they helped the Allied forces. During the war, the population in Africa exponentially grew, as well as the economy and the demand for their agricultural and industrial goods. They were “seeing light at the end of the tunnel”, but just when the war ended, those promises of democracy and development vanished, the colonial empires of France and the UK didn´t keep their word. Here, once again, we can see the greed and the hypocritical attitude that has characterized Europe for centuries, since the arrival of Europeans to America until our days.

Regarding the [10]Middle East, 1945 will be marked by the progressive withdrawal of colonial powers from the territories (from Syria, Lebanon, Jordan…). But, above all, in my opinion, the crucial event in the Middle East and North Africa in this year was the creation of the League of Arab States, what I consider an important landmark in the international relations among Arab countries. In the [11]preamble of the Pact of the League of Arab States, we can see the intentions of this League such as: “to strengthen the close relations and numerous ties which bind the Arab States” or “to direct their efforts towards the goal of the welfare of all Arab States, their common weal, the guarantee of their future and the realization of their aspirations”.

The Elbe Day in 1945
The Elbe Day in 1945

Furthermore, Latin America[12] was also involved in the war but in a more indirect way. Countries like Mexico, Brazil or Argentina supported the Allied cause and some countries, like Ecuador on February 2nd 1945, even declared war on Germany. The end of the war marked a period of democratization in Latin America, although “communist parties were banned and communist leaders purged from unions”. An important event in Latin America in 1945 was the Conference of Chapultepec the 21st of February, where Latin American countries will stop moderately the advance of liberal economic policies adjusting the text of the Economic Charter of the Americas, avoiding the suppression of economic nationalism and government intervention in the economy and industry[13]. This will determine greatly the fate of Latin American economics; as what was agreed at Chapultepec was profoundly against the principles of free trade agreed in Bretton Woods and with the GATT, Latin America will step outside the globalizing process of the economy and will, in the long term, harm itself as we can see today.

And last, but not least, we have to speak about the islands in the Pacific. The Pacific Islands, in 1945 were looking forward to the victory of the Allied Forces because, with the US troops in their islands, they discovered the capitalist world where, with hard labor, you could get money and buy the things you wanted; and not only did they wanted the Allies to win because of the progress they were willing to achieve, but also because many islanders actively participated in the war against Japan, for instance: in American Samoa, the Fitafita Guard was deployed in 1941; or in Fiji, around 6500 enlisted and around one third of them were deployed to the Solomon Islands to fight the Japanese, who were enslaving those islanders who were conquered by them[14].

Objectives and real results.

In 1945, a number of objectives were developed when, on June 26th, the UN Charter and Statute of the International Court of Justice were signed. The UN Charter was developed after the defeat of Nazi Germany and it was created with the purpose of avoiding conflicts similar to WWII mainly.

But, after having studied the UN Charter, I strongly believe that what was agreed on it was just mere palaver. It may be true that the intentions the signing countries had were noble, but over the years, since the signing of the UN Charter, we can see a number of events (most of them involving powerful countries) that clearly went against the principles under which the Charter was signed.

It is easy to show some of these examples. While the Charter, in the second paragraph of the preamble, speaks about reaffirming “faith in human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small”[15], we can find countries like the USA (main sponsor of the UN Charter) where there were not equal rights for African-Americans for decades and it was not until the 60s when they started getting fundamental rights. We can also find the South African case, where the UK, another major sponsor of the Charter and one of the Allied powers who fought for the liberation of Europe against Germany, oppressed black South Africans because of the color of their skin.

The Soviet Army captures the Reichstag
The Soviet Army captures the Reichstag

Another example of how what was agreed as main objectives in the UN Charter was not fulfilled can be found when, also in the preamble, it is stipulated that “armed forces shall not be used, save in the common interest”[16]. This objective was broken as can be seen in several events as the USSR´s invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 or, regarding the USA, the Bay of Pigs invasion in Cuba or the Invasion of the island of Grenada in the Caribbean. These actions can´t be justified by the international law as they were not fulfilling their obligations as members of the UN, which, in this respect, are mainly that, unless it is for legitimate self-defense, a country can´t use its military forces until the Security Council approves it (article 51).

We shall not forget the colonial issue. On article 1.2 of the Charter, it is stipulated that “the purposes of the United Nations are: 2. To develop friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples (…)”[17]. It is clear that this was not achieved as many colonial powers refused the right of self-determination to many territories, most of them in Africa. Take, for instance, the Spanish example. Although Spain entered the UN in 1955, when it became a member of it, it should have given independence to Morocco and Equatorial Guinea, but instead, these didn´t get it until the late 60s and the beginning of the 70s.

After examining the contradictions of what was established and what has really happened over the years, I can only say that it has been both a great failure and a great success at the same time. A failure because, as we have seen, those ideas of peace and friendship among nations have not been fully achieved. But a success because the United Nations has strengthened, somewhat, the willingness to avoid wars like the ones that were experienced in the first half of the 20thcentury. We should also point out that, although many countries and leaders from several developing countries have committed a wide range of atrocities, most of the violations of international law were carried out by powerful countries like the USA or the USSR.

Bibliography

– Howard, Michael, “Europe in the Age of the Two World Wars”

– Stites, Richard, “The Russian Empire and the Soviet Union, 1900-1945”.

-Center of Military History, United States Army, The war against Japan, 1952, 2001 edition, https://history.army.mil/html/books/012/12-1/CMH_Pub_12-1.pdf

-“The Potsdam Conference, 1945”, The Office of the Historian, https://history.state.gov/milestones/1937-1945/potsdam-conf

-“The Nuremberg Trials, History, https://www.history.com/topics/world-war-ii/nuremberg-trials

– Ranger, Terence, “Africa”.

– Owen, Roger, “North Africa and the Middle East”.

-“Pact of the League of Arab States”, March 22, 1945

– Knight, Alan, “Latin America”.

– Galindo, José, “The Conference of Chapultepec (1945): Latin American Economic Nationalism versus the Free Market Policies of the United States” (2017), Universidad Veracruzana

– Laracy, Hugh, “World War Two”, Tides of History: The Pacific Islands in the twentieth century, University of Hawaii Press (1994)

-“Charter of the United Nations and Statute of the International Court of Justice”, June 26th, 1945, https://treaties.un.org/doc/publication/ctc/uncharter.pdf

[1] Howard, Michael, “Europe in the Age of the Two World Wars”, pages 115-116.

[2] Stites, Richard, “The Russian Empire and the Soviet Union, 1900-1945”, page 127.

[3] Center of Military History, United States Army, The war against Japan, 1952, 2001 edition, https://history.army.mil/html/books/012/12-1/CMH_Pub_12-1.pdf , pages 328-329

[4] Center of Military History, United States Army, The war against Japan, 1952, 2001 edition, https://history.army.mil/html/books/012/12-1/CMH_Pub_12-1.pdf , page 443

[5] Center of Military History, United States Army, The war against Japan, 1952, 2001 edition, https://history.army.mil/html/books/012/12-1/CMH_Pub_12-1.pdf , page 449

[6] Center of Military History, United States Army, The war against Japan, 1952, 2001 edition, https://history.army.mil/html/books/012/12-1/CMH_Pub_12-1.pdf , page 452

[7] “The Potsdam Conference, 1945”, The Office of the Historian, https://history.state.gov/milestones/1937-1945/potsdam-conf

[8] “The Nuremberg Trials, History, https://www.history.com/topics/world-war-ii/nuremberg-trials

[9] Ranger, Terence, “Africa”, pages 269-271.

[10] Owen, Roger, “North Africa and the Middle East”, pages 254-257.

[11] “Pact of the League of Arab States”, March 22, 1945, page 1.

[12] Knight, Alan, “Latin America”, page 287

[13] Galindo, José, “The Conference of Chapultepec (1945): Latin American Economic Nationalism versus the Free Market Policies of the United States”, pages 9-17, 2017, Universidad Veracruzana.

[14] Laracy, Hugh, “World War Two”, Tides of History: The Pacific Islands in the twentieth century, University of Hawaii Press, pages 149-158.

[15] “Charter of the United Nations and Statute of the International Court of Justice”, June 26th, 1945, https://treaties.un.org/doc/publication/ctc/uncharter.pdf , page 2.

[16] “Charter of the United Nations and Statute of the International Court of Justice”, June 26th, 1945, https://treaties.un.org/doc/publication/ctc/uncharter.pdf , page 2

[17] “Charter of the United Nations and Statute of the International Court of Justice”, June 26th, 1945, https://treaties.un.org/doc/publication/ctc/uncharter.pdf , page 3.

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