The Aftermath of World War II

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How did World War II change the United States internationally and domestically?  

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Since the end of the nineteenth century, it had been clear that the resource-rich and rapidly industrializing United States was the world's rising superpower, but the US was reluctant to adopt this mantle. This was rooted in history: the country took to heart George Washington's advice in his Farewell Address that it steer clear of involvement in European politics and conflicts.

The US did enter belatedly into World War I, but after that war, it retreated back into isolationism, stunningly refusing to enter the League of Nations, despite this organization being close to the heart of President Woodrow Wilson. The US was equally reluctant to join in World War II (though FDR knew this was inevitable) until the country was directly attacked at Pearl Harbor.

After the War ended in 1945, however, the US finally fully accepted its role as a world leader. This was an enormous change in its orientation to international politics. The US was at the forefront in establishing the UN, headquartering it in New York City, in creating NATO, and in crafting the post-war world order. It also acted aggressively as a global policeman trying to halt the spread of communism.

Domestically, the War jolted the country out of the Great Depression. During the war, a labor shortage gave unions a strong bargaining hand, as did sympathetic policies on the part of the Roosevelt administration. After the war, despite fears of a return to depression, the US became the world's greatest industrial engine, and business boomed.

High wages and good benefits, along with a robust economy, led to unprecedented levels of wealth flowing into the hands of ordinary Americans, leading to thirty or more years of prosperity and growth.

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After World War II, the United States became the world's foremost superpower. Unlike many of the participants in this long and bloody conflict, the United States emerged from the War richer and more powerful than ever before. One of the main reasons for this is that mainland America was never invaded and so never had to suffer the kind of sustained damage to infrastructure seen in European countries such as France and the Netherlands.

A further reason for American dominance on the post-war international stage was the development of the atomic bomb, which had been unleashed to such devastating effect upon the Japanese cities of Nagasaki and Hiroshima. With such a powerful weapon in its arsenal, the United States could command the kind of fear and respect which makes for superpower status.

On the domestic front, the American economy was stronger than ever. Despite the best efforts of the New Deal, the US economy didn't achieve full employment until after the country entered the War. With the economy working at full capacity on a war footing, there was work available for anyone who wanted it. Even after the War ended, the Truman Administration remained firmly committed to pursuing a policy of full employment, and unemployment remained low for decades.

Furthermore, the return of so many American servicemen precipitated a massive housing and construction boom, as the returning heroes had to have somewhere to live. The auto industry also thrived in the immediate post-war period, helping to nudge GDP—the monetary value of all goods and services in an economy—to record levels. This in turn generated a large and growing middle class, which changed the face of American society forever.

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World War II produced the United States as global superpower and defender of capitalism and democracy in the world. European nations that were world powers before the war (Germany, Italy, United Kingdom and France) were totally destroyed by warfare. Their infrastructures, homes, economic systems, and social systems were destroyed. While the United States suffered over a million casualties throughout the course of the war, its economy was robust and its military largely unscathed. Many in the American government felt that it was strategically important to help other countries to recover from the war. Internationally, the United States offered billions of dollars of aid to the countries of Europe and established an alliance of countries through NATO to ensure their security. There was a shift in thinking about America's role in global politics. The newly formed United Nations was located in New York City and the U.S. became a major player in the organization. Because of the Allied victory in World War II, there were only two superpowers that survived, and the United States was one of them.

World War II also had a dramatic effect on the United States domestically. The sense of confidence that existed cannot be quantified, but was very evident. There was a sense of prosperity as Americans moved to the suburbs and an interstate highway system was born. Nuclear power, which was developed for military use, was applied for a more peaceful purpose as electric companies built nuclear reactors to produce electricity. Many social changes were on the horizon in the United States. As an example, African-Americans, who had fought so valiantly in the Allied victory, pressed for their rights at on the homefront. The prosperity of the 1950's allowed the growth of popular culture as many Americans bought a television and listened to rock and roll on their radios.

While World War II had the effect of destroying many countries, the United States matured into a political and economic superpower because of it.

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