Seventy years ago today, on May 8th, 1945, representatives of allied powers accepted the unconditional surrender of Nazi Germany, thus ending the Second World War in Europe. What few people recognized at the time, was that the end of World War II signaled far more than just an end to the fighting—it was the end of one era and the beginning of an entirely new way of life: a complete restructuring of the global order.
Every major conflict spurs innovation, and the new technologies that were developed by both warring sides changed the world. The war effort saw the development of the first rockets, computers and jet engines. Before the war, there was no radar, no radio navigation, no mass production of antibiotics, no synthetic materials such as silk or rubber, no nuclear power.
Social, economic and political changes were no less revolutionary. Post-war leaders were determined not to repeat the mistakes of the past, so, to prevent the atrocities and devastation of the war from ever happening again, and to establish an effective forum for international discussion, they established the United Nations. And to rebuild the international economic system and to mitigate future problems, they signed the Bretton Woods Agreement, setting up a system of rules, institutions, and procedures to regulate the international monetary system and counteract financial destabilization.
This was necessary because the economies of most European countries were in shambles and had to be rebuilt from the ground up. And because these old world powers could no longer wield their former influence, the old colonial system crumbled. New countries formed as old colonies declared their independence, and most eventually joined the United Nations. And two new powers emerged from the chaos—the United States and the Soviet Union: two former allies with dissimilar views of the world and different ideas for its future. Each side had its allies, and over time, growing tensions between the two sides developed into the Cold War, which defined the second half of the 20th century until the Soviet Union’s dissolution in 1991.
The Second World War decisively shaped our world. Even today, 70 years after its end, its aftermath continues to define our world.