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World War II

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World War II was a truly global conflict with many facets: immense human suffering, fierce indoctrinations, and the use of new, extremely devastating weapons such as the atom bomb. From top going clockwise, Allied landing on D-Day 1944, the 1936 Nuremberg Rally, the Nagasaki atom bomb 1945, the Soviet flag over the Reichstag in Berlin 1945, the Gate of Auschwitz
World War II was a truly global conflict with many facets: immense human suffering, fierce indoctrinations, and the use of new, extremely devastating weapons such as the atom bomb. From top going clockwise, Allied landing on D-Day 1944, the 1936 Nuremberg Rally, the Nagasaki atom bomb 1945, the Soviet flag over the Reichstag in Berlin 1945, the Gate of Auschwitz

World War II, also known as the Second World War, was a mid-20th-century conflict that engulfed much of the globe and is generally accepted as the largest and deadliest continuous war in human history. World War II resulted in the direct and indirect death of anywhere from 50 to 60 million people, almost 4% of the world population at that time. It is estimated to have cost more money and resources than all other wars combined: about 1 trillion US Dollars in 1945 (roughly 10.5 trillion in 2005), not including subsequent reconstruction [1].

The conflict began by most Western accounts on September 1, 1939 with the German invasion of Poland (the Pacific war is taken to have started on July 7, 1937 with the Japanese attack on China) and lasted until the summer of 1945, involving many of the world(i)s countries. Some historians contend that the Italian occupation of Ethiopia (The Second Italo-Abyssinian War) which lasted seven months in 1935-1936 was the actual start of World War II. Virtually all countries that participated in World War I were involved in World War II. Many consider World War II to be the only true world war due to the overwhelming number of nations involved and the extraordinary number of theatres—from Europe and the Soviet Union to North Africa, China, South East Asia and the Pacific. In World War I non-European theatres had seen quick and short colonial battles, but in World War II these theatres demanded far more resources and human sacrifice.


Attributed in varying degrees to the Treaty of Versailles, the Great Depression, and the rise in Nationalism, Fascism, Nazism, Japanese imperialism, and Militarism, the causes of the war are a matter of debate. Similarly, historians do not all agree on which event signified the start of the war, and therefore its date of commencement. The most common date is given as the German invasion of Poland on 1 September 1939, or the British and French declarations of war two days later. Other candidates for the starting date of the war include the entry of Hitler(i)s armies to Prague in March 1939, the Japanese invasion of China on 7 July 1937 (the start of the Second Sino-Japanese War), or earlier yet the 1931 Japanese invasion of Manchuria, or the signing of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact.

The war was fought between the Axis Powers and the Allies. The Axis initially consisted of Germany and Italy, later including Japan and much of Eastern Europe. Some of the nations that Germany conquered cooperated, and sent military forces which fought with Germany, especially in the eastern front. Among the expeditionary forces that fought with Germany there were forces from Vichy France, Netherlands, Belgium, Spain and also armies of Russians and Ukrainians under the command of the general Andrey Vlasov. The Allies were initially the United Kingdom, including the Commonwealth, France and Poland, but were joined by the USA, USSR, and China.

Fighting occurred across the Atlantic Ocean, in Western and Eastern Europe, in the Mediterranean Sea, Africa, the Middle East, in the Pacific and South East Asia, and it continued in China. In Europe, the war ended with the surrender of Germany on 8 May 1945 (V-E and Victory Days), but continued in Asia until Japan surrendered on 15 August 1945 (V-J Day).

At least 50 million people died as a result of the war. This figure includes acts of genocide such as the Holocaust and General Ishii Shiro(i)s Unit 731 experiments in Pingfan, incredibly bloody battles in Europe and the Pacific Ocean, and the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan. Few areas of the world were unaffected; the war involved the "home front" and bombing of civilians to a new degree. Atomic weapons, jet aircraft, rockets and radar, the blitzkrieg, or "lightning war", the massive use of tanks, submarines, torpedo bombers and destroyer/tanker formations, are only a few of many wartime inventions and new tactics that changed the face of the conflict.

Post–World War II Europe was partitioned into Western and Soviet spheres of influence, the former undergoing economic reconstruction under the Marshall Plan and the latter becoming satellite states of the Soviet Union. This partition was, however, informal; rather than coming to terms about the spheres of influence, the relationship between the victors steadily deteriorated, and the military lines of demarcation finally became the de facto country boundaries. Western Europe largely aligned as NATO, and Eastern Europe largely as the Warsaw pact countries, alliances which were fundamental to the ensuing Cold War. In Asia, the United States(i) military occupation of Japan led to Japan(i)s democratisation. China(i)s civil war continued through and after the war, resulting eventually in the establishment of the People(i)s Republic of China. The war sparked a wave of independence for colonies of European powers, who were exhausted from fighting the war. There was a fundamental shift in power from Western Europe to the new superpowers, the United States and the Soviet Union, though there were few actual boundary changes.

World War II Summary
Date: 19391945
Locations: Europe, Asia, Mediterranean and Middle East, Africa
Outcome: Allied victory
Deaths (approx.)
Military: 20 million
Civilian: 30 million
Total: 50 million
Details: WWII Casualties
Main participants
Allies Axis




Main articles: Causes of World War II, Events preceding World War II in Europe, Events preceding World War II in Asia

The causes of World War II are naturally a debated subject, but a common view, particularly among the allies in the early post-war years, tie them to the expansionism of Germany and Japan: Germany had lost wealth, power and status following the first world war and the expansion was to make Germany great again.

  • In Germany there was a strong desire to escape the bonds of the World War I Treaty of Versailles, and eventually, Hitler and the Nazis assumed control of the country. They led Germany through a chain of events: rearmament, reoccupation of the Rhineland, a merger with Austria (Anschluss), incorporation of Czechoslovakia and finally the invasion of Poland.
  • In Asia, Japan(i)s efforts to become a world power and the rise of militaristic leadership (in the 1930s the government in Japan undermined and from then the military persons ruled in Japan in fact) led to conflicts with first China and later the United States. Japan also sought to secure additional natural resources, such as oil and iron ore, due in part to the lack of natural resources on Japan(i)s own home islands.


The "Big Three": Winston Churchill, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Joseph Stalin, during the Yalta Conference in 1945
The "Big Three" on the cover of TIME (May 14, 1945)

Main article: Participants in World War II

The belligerents of the Second World War are usually considered to belong to either of the two blocs: the Axis and the Allies. A number of smaller countries participated in the war, though often under occupation or as proxies of one of the large powers.

The Axis Powers consisted primarily of Germany,


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