September 1 marks the formal start eighty years ago of the Second World War. The six-year conflict was one of the most consequential events in human history. Its legacy is still enormously felt today.
Many of the events that took place during the war were unprecedented. To begin with, unlike the First World War, which was fought mainly in Europe, the Second World War was truly global. It was also the most destructive conflict in history. It cost more money, damaged more property, killed more people, and caused more far-reaching changes than any other war in history.
Although its exact cost in human lives is unknown, we do know that on average, between September 1, 1939 and September 2, 1945, 27,000 people were killed each day. The total number of casualties on both sides totaled between 60 and 80 million service personnel and civilians killed.
Six million of these were the victims of the Holocaust: Jews who were murdered by the Nazi regime and its collaborators solely because they were Jewish.Millions of others also died in Nazi concentration camps, but never before in human history had genocide—the annihilation of an entire people--been implemented as government policy despite the fact that it brought no economic, territorial or political advantage.
When the war ended in 1945, the world lay in ruins. Some 4 percent of the global population had been killed, and with peace the horrors and atrocities of the war came to light. Hoping to stabilize the world and ultimately prevent another such cataclysm, Allied leaders set up a new international system of norms and ideals, conceived to ensure peace, security and prosperity for all nations. This included the establishment of the United Nations which, in 1947, adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; the establishment of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank to ensure economic stability; and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, to counter the new threat rising from a former ally.
Indeed, the Cold War between the Soviet Union and Eastern Bloc on one side, and the Western powers on the other, was a dominant factor for the next half a century, giving rise to a competition between the adversaries that resulted in the Nuclear Arms Race, the Space Race and the threat of a nuclear war.
Commemoration of the events of the Second World War are important for reminding us that it is up to each new generation to ensure that the peace and prosperity purchased so dearly with the blood and suffering of millions, is extended to future generations.