A new Era in Man's Understanding of Nature's Forces

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TS6, November 2014

History – The USA and the World, 1945-2003
The USA and the World in 1945
Doc. 1 – “A New Era in Man's Understanding of Nature's Forces” by the American cartoonist D. Fitzpatrick,

St. Louis Dispatch, August 7, 19451

Doc. 2 – Winston Churchill, describing a conversation with Truman in 1945

To bring the war to an end, to give peace to the world (…) at the cost of a few explosions, seemed, after all our toils2 and perils, a miracle. The end of the Japanese war no longer depended upon the pouring in3 of (the Russian) armies.

Doc. 3 – A cartoon by Paul Carmack, published on August 11, 1945 in the Christian Science Monitor

Correction du contrôle -

I – The USA and the World in 1945: the great winner of World War II

A – An unchallenged military power

1 – The end of World War II in Europe

World War II mobilized 12,200,000 American soldiers: 38.8% volunteers while the others were draftees. 420,000 of them never came back and almost 700,000 more were wounded. “V-E” (Victory in Europe) day occurred on May 8th, 1945, thanks to the tremendous role of the Grand Alliance (the UK, the USA and the USSR).
2 – The end of WWII in the Pacific: the US atomic unchallenged superiority

a – Hiroshima, August 6, 1945

The city was the target of the first nuclear bomb (nicknamed “Little Boy”) ever dropped by the plane Enola Gay, at 8.15 am on August 6, 1945, triggering 117,000 casualties according to the Americans (twice as many according to the Japanese). The blast flattened the landscape in a two-mile radius, destroying 69% of the town’s buildings, and the mushroom cloud rose to 15,000 meters.

On 9 August, the Americans dropped another bomb (nicknamed “Fat Man”), on Nagasaki. The Japanese surrendered on August 14.

b - Hiroshima analyzed by US historians: end of WWII or beginning of the Cold War?

  • The official explanation of the bombs…

The official explanation stipulates that the bombs were dropped to end the war quickly and “to save the lives of thousands and thousands of young Americans” (President Truman, August 9, 1945), because the Japanese sent Kamikazes against the American warships.

  • …which started being questioned in the 1960s

But in the 1960s, historians questioned the official version:

  • The Japanese had offered to surrender on August 3, but their offer was rejected because it wasn’t an “unconditional” surrender.

  • President Truman dropped “Little Boy” just before the USSR entered the war in the Pacific (August 8). By doing this, he beat the USSR by a nose4, surprising the USSR which could no longer claim the lands that had been promised to the Soviets during the Yalta Conference (some Japanese islands and the control over Manchuria in China).

  • The consequences of Hiroshima in the balance of power between the two blocs

The bombs were launched while the Potsdam Conference was still in progress: it changed the balance of power between the two blocs. Truman had kept the attack entirely secret, and Stalin saw this show of force as a way for the USA to intimidate the USSR and the whole world, and assert its World-wide domination. It snatched away the prestige the USSR had gained during the War by heroically fighting against the Nazis (the USSR lost 24 million people during World War II). Besides, Truman became more confident and more aggressive during the conference.

Hiroshima definitely launched the nuclear arms race between the two superpowers. It put an end to the Grand Alliance, and some historians even say that Hiroshima was “the first casualty of the Cold War”.

3 – The assertion of the USA’s hard power

The USA’s hard power is characterized by the country’s numerous and strong army (more than 3 million soldiers in 1953) and by the intelligence agencies specialized in espionage and counter-espionage like the CIA (Central Intelligence Agency) created in 1947.

B – The first economic and financial power in the World

1 – The economic supremacy

Unlike many other countries (Europe, the USSR, China, Japan, etc.), the USA had not been destroyed during WWII (except the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, Dec. 7, 1941). The war effort definitely helped the USA out of the 1929 crisis: the country doubled its GDP during the War while it produced around 1/3rd of the World’s manufacturing goods (twice the production of Nazi Germany and ten times the production of Japan).

By 1945, the country represented half of the world’s industrial production and owned two third of the World’s Gold stocks, while the defeated countries as well as France, the USSR and the UK were economically exhausted.
2 – The Bretton Woods Monetary Conference (New Hampshire, north of Boston)

The Conference gathered 44 Allied countries including the USA, the USSR, the United Kingdom, China, France as well as most Latin American countries. It established the IMF and the IBRD (future World Bank), both headquartered in Washington D.C. It set the gold standard at $35 an ounce (i.e. 28.35 grams), and chose the dollar to be the reference currency/backbone of international exchange, the only currency convertible into Gold. The meeting provided the World with post-war currency stability.

C – The political prestige of the savior

1 – A major actor of the Conferences that reorganized the World

Meeting, representatives and context


Yalta Conference (Russia), in February 1945, gathering the Big Three(Stalin, Churchill, Roosevelt). War in Europe was not finished: the USSR was in a position of strength as it had liberated all Eastern Europe.

  • Germany would be demilitarized and divided into four zones (Russian, British, French and American) as well as Berlin, the capital city.

  • They agreed on “a Soviet sphere of influence over Eastern Europe”: very vague term, but free elections had to be organized in these liberated countries.

  • The UNO would be set up to maintain World peace.

San Francisco Conference (USA), in April-June 1945, gathering delegates of 51 allied States of the Grand Alliance (including the USSR, many European countries and the USA).

The Conference resulted in the creation of the United Nations Charter on June 26, 1945, giving birth to the United Nations Organization (UNO) whose role was to maintain World Peace.

President Truman addressed the delegates on the opening day of the Conference, April 25, 1945: “You members of this Conference are to be the architects of the better world. In your hands rests our future. By your labors at this Conference, we shall know if suffering humanity is to achieve a just and lasting peace.”

Potsdam Conference (Germany), in July-August 1945, gathering Stalin, Truman, Churchill and Attlee (after Churchill lost the general elections in Britain).

The war was not over in Asia and the USA dropped the A-bomb on Hiroshima: this gave the USA a position of strength.

Tensions had appeared since the Yalta Conference:

  • Division over the fate of Germany: the USSR wanted to punish it harshly, unlike Truman who did not want to repeat the mistakes of the 1919 Treaty of Versailles.

  • No final agreement over Eastern Europe still occupied by the Red Army. The USSR never organized free elections: Stalin settled popular democracies (East Germany, Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Romania, Bulgaria) thanks to rigged elections, i.e. puppet communist states which were under the domination and the control of Moscow.

2 – The beginning of an “American Century”

The expression was coined in February 1941 by the journalist Henry Luce working for Life Magazine. The expression accorded well with the economic realities of the American power (see I-B-2) as well as with the political prestige of the savior country.

1 You may use the expression « flash of lightning » or the word « lightning » (éclair) to describe the document.

2 Toil : labeur, travail.

3 To pour in : arriver en masse, de toute part.

4 To beat sb by a nose: prendre quelqu’un de vitesse.

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