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Postwar occupations

A delay of some three weeks separates the Japanese surrender from its formal acceptance by General MacArthur on 2 September 1945 in a ceremony in Tokyo Bay on board the US battleship Missouri. In the interim the Allies have already celebrated victory in Japan with V-J Day, on August 15, as the equivalent of V-E Day three months earlier.

The intervening weeks are a practical necessity in preparing the Japanese people to accept the disaster which has befallen them. Their traditional faith in the god-like invincibility of their emperor has first to be disabused. When Hirohito himself speaks on radio to explain the situation, and to say that defeat must be accepted, it is a shock to many to discover that the emperor has an ordinary human voice. They must also accept the fact that after defeat comes foreign occupation.

The government of occupied Japan is placed in the hands of Douglas MacArthur. Although in name an Allied undertaking, the occupation is in fact an almost entirely US concern. MacArthur's first task is to complete the demilitarization of the country, followed by the introduction of democratic institutions to replace imperial rule.

By 1950, with the Korean war under way and Mao Ze Dong in control in China, the emphasis changes. By now the most important requirement seems to be building up Japan as a bulwark against Communism. An independent, democratic, capitalist Japan emerges with the end of the Allied occupation in 1952.

In Europe the only territories occupied by the Allies after the war are Germany and Austria. The other nations which were on Germany's side for at least part of the war - Italy, Hungary, Rumania, Bulgaria and Finland - all have their independence immediately restored, though in practice the three east European nations are already under the dark shadow of Russia.

The occupation arrangements for Germany and Austria have been agreed by the western powers at Potsdam. Both are to be divided into four zones separately controlled by the USSR, the USA, Britain and France. But Austria is to be treated leniently, as a country liberated from the German occupation of 1938.

The intention therefore is to restore Austria to democratic independence as soon as possible. In the event the occupying forces remain in place for ten years because the Russians quibble over the frontier agreements required for the eventual peace treaty - which is not finally signed until May 1955. With this achieved, Austria at last returns to independence within approximately her prewar boundaries.

The occupation of Austria, even if unduly prolonged, has been relatively uneventful. The opposite is true in Germany, where the agreement at Potsdam has provided for four zones of occupation, as for Austria, but with Berlin itself similarly divided between the four powers - even though it is deep inside the Russian zone.

Friction between the three western powers and the USSR escalates until in March 1948, in an effort to impose their will, the Russians block the access corridor from the western zones to Berlin. The blockade of Berlin, to which the Allies respond with the Berlin airlift, lasts for more than a year before the corridor is opened to traffic again in June 1949.

The western intention, after removing the remains of the Nazi system and restoring democracy, has been to return Germany to independence as a single nation. But this aim is frustrated by the Cold War and the descent of the Iron Curtain across Europe.

On 23 May 1949, some ten days after the ending of the Berlin blockade, the western powers hand over the administration of their three zones to the government of a new Federal Republic of Germany. The troops remain in place. But now they are part of the western defence against the eastern bloc, rather than an occupying force.

A week later, on May 30, the Russians follow the same logic and proclaim a constitution for a new German Democratic Republic. The heart of Hitler's Reich is thus split into two nations, with the rigid division reflected in miniature in the two increasingly isolated parts of Berlin. Germany and Berlin will remain divided in this way for forty years, until the symbolic battering down of the Berlin Wall in 1989.

War crimes and trials: 1945-1948

With the determination of the Allies to stamp out the taint of Nazism in Germany and to end the traditional militarism of Japan, there goes also a desire to bring to trial those who are guilty of war crimes.

The concept of war crimes is new in the 20th century. In 1919 the treaty of Versailles calls for the prosecution of William II, the German kaiser, for launching World War I through his violation of the neutrality of Luxembourg and Belgium. But the trial never takes place. International pressure causes a few German officers to be tried in German courts for acts of cruelty inconsistent with the customs of war. But they are either acquitted or are given light sentences, and are seen by the German public as victims.

After World War II the mood is very different, fuelled by knowledge of the horrors perpetrated by the Nazis and of Japanese cruelties in their occupied territories.

The German trials take place first, in Nuremberg over a period of ten months from November 1945. The main perpetrators of the Nazi tyranny are unavailable. Hitler, Goebbels and Himmler have all committed suicide in the days before or immediately after the German surrender. Goering too escapes the hangman's noose. He sits in the dock through the long months of the trial and is sentenced to death. But on the day before his execution he takes a hidden phial of poison.

Of the twenty-two defendants at Nuremberg three are acquitted, twelve are sentenced to death and seven are given terms of imprisonment ranging from ten years to life - among them one of Hitler's earliest colleagues, Rudolf Hess, and his provider of architecture and armaments, Albert Speer.

A similar trial begins in Tokyo in May 1946 and lasts for more than two years. When sentences are finally passed on twenty-five defendants, in November 1948, seven are sentenced to death and the rest to imprisonment.

The human cost: 1939-1945

Notorious though World War I is for its wanton waste of life in the trenches, the tally of death in World War II is far greater. The estimated figures for the first war suggest that some 8 million service personnel and 7 million civilians lose their lives. This total of 15 million is more than doubled in the second war, largely owing to two factors - the staggering cost in lives of the heroic Russian resistance to the German armies, and the evils perpetrated by the Nazis on the Jews.

It is calculated that Russia suffers the loss of 7.5 million serving men and women and 10 million civilians. The number of murdered Jews is estimated to be in the region of 6 million, the majority of them from Poland.

China too, in her long war against Japan, has exceptionally high losses, particularly of civilians - 2.2 million military and 6 million civilian dead. Of the other combatant nations, the two main Axis powers lose the most. Germany's dead are 3.5 million military, 500,000 civilian. Japan's equivalent figures are 1.5 million and 600,000.

For the other nations in the war the statistics are markedly lower. For military and civilian deaths the approximate figures are: France 200,000/400,000; Britain and the Commonwealth 300,000/65,000; Italy 200,000/150,000; USA 300,000/6000.

Postwar remedies and reactions

As with the genesis of the League of Nations in World War I, there are discussions among the Allies during the next war as to what more effective international organization can be devised to secure world peace. The first steps are taken by Roosevelt and Churchill during the meeting which produces the Atlantic Charter of 1941.

In the following year twenty-six states publish a Declaration of the United Nations, setting out their reasons for opposing the Axis powers and their vision of a just world. And in 1945 fifty-one states sign a Charter of the United Nations, thereby setting up the new organization which replaces the League of Nations. Though often unequal to the numerous challenges facing it, the UN will prove the most successful international forum yet devised.

With a blueprint in place for diplomatic cooperation, the next immediate task is the reconstruction of the shattered European economies. The dire situation in many of the war-ravaged countries prompts the US secretary of state, George C. Marshall, to propose a programme of US aid. The resulting Marshall Plan distributes some $13.5bn to sixteen European countries during the period 1948-52. It provides an invaluable boost to the process of recovery.

There is an element of self-interest in Marshall's proposal. The most urgent problem confronting the capitalist west is now perceived to be the spread of Communism, with Stalin plainly intent on extending his global influence. A prosperous western Europe will provide a vital bulwark against this threat.

The reality of a dividing line through Europe, perceived already as a danger at the Yalta conference early in 1945, is unmistakable once the dust of war settles. Speaking in the USA in March 1946 Churchill expresses the new situation with brutal clarity. The new Europe, he says, is very far from the one the Allies were fighting to save; in its place, 'from Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic an iron curtain has descended across the continent'. The recent war has led directly to another of a different kind, to be known as the Cold War.

The dangers of the new situation prompt the creation of the next postwar remedy. In 1949 eleven European nations and the USA together form the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

NATO is a defensive pact, with the members pledging themselves to treat an attack on any as an attack on all. As such it does not immediately provoke a similar response from the USSR. This comes only after the western powers agree to the rearming of the Federal Republic of Germany and invite their previous enemy to join NATO. Russia responds by forming in 1955 the Warsaw Treaty Organization (usually known as the Warsaw Pact) with her enforced allies on the eastern side of the iron curtain.

From the Kremlin's point of view the pact has the added advantage of making it easier to suppress the eastern European countries, since the Warsaw Treaty allows for large numbers of Russian troops to be moved for defensive purposes towards the border with west Germany.

Meanwhile the Cold War has also incidentally provided a remedy for Japan, whose recovery is not catered for in the Marshall Plan. The year 1950 brings the first flaring of the Cold War into a major conflict. It breaks out within the territory of Japan's nearest neighbour, Korea. Japan becomes an important base for the troops and material pouring into south Korea to halt what the United Nations has identified as aggression from the north. With this boost the Japanese economy makes rapid strides.

At the same time the economy of west Germany is growing fast as new industries are constructed from the rubble.

Germany is the west's frontier state along most of the iron curtain. Japan is the only developed country close to Communist China. Thus the first few years after World War II bring an extraordinary realignment. The USSR and China, two of the five main Allied nations during the war, are now the feared enemies of the west. Meanwhile the two main Axis powers, bombed to complete devastation by the Allies, reconstruct to become pillars of western capitalism. Within a few decades the world's three largest economies are the USA, Germany and Japan.

World War I led, almost inexorably, to World War II. But World War II conclusively ends that earlier chapter, introducing something very different in the Cold War years.

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