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The United States emerged from World War II virtually unscathed, except for the bombing at Pearl Harbor. Economically, we were stronger after the war than before it. This put us in a position to be very influential in the rebuilding of Europe’s economies after the war, which worked out to our economic benefit. Also, we were the only country with atomic weapons at that time, which put us in a strategically unique position.
Russia was the other big winner, as far as post-war territory was concerned. The Russians paid a very steep price in the war, both in terms of lives lost and the impact the war had on their country physically. Because they were able to recover after being pushed to the brink by the Germans, they were in a position to dictate peace terms at the Yalta Conference in 1945. They ended up with a lot of territory around their borders.
It is interesting that the U.S. and Russia arrived at their superpower status in such different ways.
It is important to also note that the previous economic and military powers in the world were completely finished off by World War II. Great Britain had been declining for decades but the expense of the war and the devastation of the war combined to create the necessity for a domestic focus and eventually the loss of almost all of their colonial holdings. This created a vacuum that was filled by the proxy expansion and conflicts between the USSR and the USA as they attempted to structure governments around the world to follow their lead.
The USSR also benefitted from a massive influx of aid both financial and military aid that came from the allies. This helped them to make up some of the losses they suffered which then also helped to form the basis for their expansion in the post-war years.
Both the USA and the USSR then also focused on becoming military super powers because they saw it as the only way to prevent "losing" to the other perceived super-power. The massive arms race that led to gigantic military spending on both sides ended up only being sustainable for the USA but for three decades created the illusion of the USSR as a super-power.
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