How did World War II contribute to the US emerging as a world power?

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In comparison with almost all other European and Eurasian countries, the United States suffered relatively few losses and almost no damage to its national infrastructure as a result of the War. This fact, more important than any internal policy or foreign engagement, explains the sudden emergence of the US on the world scene as the dominant world power after 1946. If we look at the numbers alone, Germany suffered 5.5 million casualties in the War, France 217,600, Italy over 300,000, Great Britain almost 600,000, and the Soviet Union a staggering 11 million. Coupled with the fact that most major European metropoles had been absolutely level, either because of German Luftwaffe bombings or because of the fighting on the ground itself, Europe’s economy was in absolute shambles after the conflict.

Further exacerbating the situation was the rise of nationalism, which had begun as early as the nineteenth century but which had gained a new impetus after the conclusion of the conflict. It was becoming painfully apparent to the colonized peoples of the world that the Europeans were not the great, morally advanced civilization that colonizing rhetoric of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries had made them out to be. Great Britain, for example, which controlled the largest empire the world had ever seen in the nineteenth century, lost all of its colonial possessions by the late 1980s. Independence movements in Latin America, Southeast Asia, and Africa further weakened European economies, which had profited for so long by exploiting indigenous labor in these regions.

The United States was not affected by any of this. The War had not touched the American mainland, save for the fateful attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. In fact, the American wartime economy, which had seen to the establishment of thousands of new factories, the employment of the vast majority of the population, and a renewed faith in the American dream, catapulted the United States to the forefront of economic relations across the globe. In 1947, president Harry Truman set out what would become the Truman Doctrine, which pledged to support any and all anti-communist movements across the globe. American commitment to democracy and the spread of free-market capitalism set it as the icon of the free world, and Europe quickly looked Westward for economic and spiritual guidance.

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