*** war and social upheaval: World War II -- aftermath Germany and Japan

The Aftermath of World War II: The Axis Powers

World War II aftermath
Figure 1.-- The landscape of German cities were devestated by the War. Here a German school boys heads to school amid the remains of a once great city. The photograph was taken by Otto Hagel some time about 1946 or 47. I'm not sure about the city, perhaps Cologne.

There were three Axis countries defeated in World War II: Germany, Italy, and Japan. The United States, Britain and France in West Germany and the United States in Japan oversaw an occupation with changed the nature of German and Japanese society, rooting out NAZIism and militarism and fomenting the development of democratic political regimes and social structures. The results by all practical measures have been an overwhelming success. Germany and Japan today are two of the most prosperous and democratic societies in the world. There were, however, major differences in the Allied occupation policies pursued in the two countries. Germany unlike Japan was also occupied by the Soviet Union. The Soviet occupation policies in eastern Germany were very different than those pursued in the western occupation zone. The Soviets also occupied the Eastern European countries that joined the Axis in the War, in some cases under duress: Bulgaria, Hungary, and Romania. Spain dispatched a division to the Eastern Front, but never declared war on France, England, and America. The other World War II totalitarian aggressor nation, the Soviet Union, wanted to join the Axis, but Hitler refused and instead attacked the Soviets. They thus played a major part of the defeat of the Axis and became an occupyingh power, not only in Japan, but most of Eastern Europe. The Soviets were not defeated and not occupied by the western Allies and as a result did not develop a modern, vibrant democratic society and prosperous economy.

War Crimes and Atrocities

The Axis Powers (Germany, Italy, and Japan) committed the most horrendous and systematic war crimes in history, not only modern history, but all of history. They committed atrocities that most people assumed had long been outlawed by civilized states. Here the worse perpetrators were Germany and Japan. Italian conduct could be brutal, but never approached the extremes of either NAZI Germany or Imperial Japan for which slavery and mass murder was a primary war goal. There were a range of contributing factors. They included NAZI and Japanese race theory, a desire for 'living space' and resources that justified the murder of the people living on the desired land. There was also the militaristic indoctrination that promoted the terrorization,and murder of conquered peoples and prisoners of war. As a result, unlike previous modern wars, it was civilians not soldiers who perished in the largest numbers. And much of the killing was planned, not the result of accidental deaths as a result of military operations. The NAZIs created actual killing plans: the Holocaust, the Hunger Plan, Generalplan Ost among others. The Japanese were less organized, but killing operations and famines still led to some 20 million deaths. Even before the details and full extent of Axis war crimes were known, Axis brutality was well understood. The Soviet Union for nearly 2 years was a NAZI ally and helped launch the War by invading Poland. The Soviets committed the same kind of rimes most commonly associated with the NAZIs, but without the Jewish mania. And like the NAZIs these actions were committed at the direction of its government. The major difference was that the greatest killing programs and slave labor brutalities were committed against the Soviet people, not conquered people--although there was a great deal of this as well. The crimes committed included launching wars of aggression, mass murder, genocide of civilians, murder of prisoners of war, and brutal repression of conquered people.


Most wars in history are ended by amistices when a country sees that itis losing and can not win the War. Most do not fught to the bitter end or do the victors demand a change of Government. This is how world War I ended, with an armistice and without the occupation of the Central Powers. World War II would be different, very different. The faste of the Axis powers would be different. Italy would be the first Axis power to fall. The Allies invaded Sicily (July 1943). Mussolini was arrested by the Fascist Grand Council (August 1943), but the Germans rescued him. The Allies landed inn Italy and the Italians chnged sides (September 1943). The Germans by this time had essentially occupied Italy and the Allies had to fight up the Peenisula. They surrebdered in northern Itsly a few days befire the NAZI surrender (May 1943). The Allies advanced toward the Reich from the East, South, and West. The invasion of Germany began in the East when the Red Army entered East Prussia (October 1944). TYhe Gernmans resisted fiercely, especially at fiortress cuities. The Americans crossed the border of the Reich (September 1944). Aachen would be first German city to fall, The 19 day battle was the longest urban battle in the West. The Allies crossed the Rhine (March 1945). In the south, German firces surrendered befir the Allies crossed the Reich borders. The Soviets reached Berlin (April 1945). Hitler was determined to fight to the end. As a result he demanded that the German people resist long after the therec was any chance of a NAZI victory had long ebded. Much of the destruction of Germany occurred during these months. He had railed against vthose who ended Wold War I, calling them the November Criminals. And he was aware of the crimes he had ordered. So there would be no surrender. In the final month of the War, the primzary concern of the Wehrmacht was to get as many men west so thu could surrender to gthe Western Allies rather than the Soviets. Hitler commited suside (April 1945) and a days later the Germans surrendered ay 1945). The Janese in Pacific island after island fought to the death. Surrender was cionsidered shameful and dishonorable. And this continued long after Japan like Germany had any real prospect of winning the War. The Japanese strategy becme to blead the Americans, hiping that the Americsns could not ccept serious caualties and would not force the Japanese to surrender. Iwo Jima and Okinawa were ctual Jspsnese islsnds and the blood-letting was horuific (February-April 1945). The Americns planned an invaion beginning with Kyushu. The military casuaklty estimases were hirifuc. Presidebnt Trumn wondered if the resulting campsign would be a series of Okinawa up the Japanese islands all the way to Tokyo. The Japanses Army briught back forces from China and was preoparung to do justv that. Inthe end the two atmic bombs gave the Emperor the excuse he needed tonsurrender. The other Axis powers gared the same fate, prolonged Soviet iccpation. Finland was a different, it was a co-belgerant and not an Axus partner.


The War ended dufferently in the three main Axis countries (Italy, Germany, and Japan). The first Axis country to surrender was Benito Mussolini's Fascist Italy. After the fall of Sicily. the Fascist Grand Council arrested Mussolini (July). The country's leadership began to plan a exit from the War. This was complicated by the fact that Hitler would intervene to prevent this. And Germany despite reverses in the East still had the capability to do this. Italian leaders pledged that they wold continue the War while at the same time they began secreat negotiations with the Allies. The Italian surrender when in finally came was conducted more like a country joining the Allies than surrndering. This was in part because Germany immediately moved to seize control of Italy. There were no ambiguities about the surrender of Germany and Japan. Hitler could have saved Germany from devestation. Most of the danage to the Reich occurred after D-Day. He of course was not about to do that. He knew that surrender meant not only the end of NAZI Germany, but his own trial as a war criminal. Thus Germany fought to the end until Allied armies met in Germany and the Soviets felt an apopcalyic battle in Berlin. After Hitler committed suiside, Admiral Dönitz, the second Führer ordered Keitel and Jodl to surender (May 1945). Japan had joined the Axis so that the more powerful Germans could prevent America from fousing on them. After the German surrender, this was precisely what occurred. The Japanese strategy was to make it so costly in blood and material for the United States pursue the War to a Japanese unconditional surrender. Okinawa so horrified the Americans that to avoid a bloody invasion became a virtual necesity. Thed Japanese were still undecided, but the combined impact of two atomic bombs and the Soviet declaration of war finaly convinced Emperor Hirohito to surrender (August 1945).

Defeated Axis Countries

The three principal Axis countries were Germany, Italy, and Japan. These three countries and the Soviet Union, were the countries primarily responsible for launching World War II. Each was treated very differently by the Allies. Germany was divided and subjected to a thorough process od De-Nazification including De-Nazification courts. The Italians were largely allowed to deal with the Fascist on their own. While Japan was forced to accept unconditional surrender like Germany, in fact the Japanese were allowed to keep the Emperor and the the Government was not dismanteled like the NAZI Government. The United states also refused to permit the Soviet Union to participate in the occupation. There were war crimes and the United States imposed wide-spread reforms. Several Eastern European countries also joined the Axis with various degrees of compulsion by the NAZIs. Some like Slovakia were puppet states. Other like Romania and Bularia were forced into the Axis, both by the Soviets and Germans. Hungary was more of a willing participant. Each of these countries was occupied by the Soviet Union which proceeded to install Soviet-style regimes. There were also areas from neighboring countries that the NAZIs annexed to the Reich.

War Crimes Trials

The primary warcrime trials were the International Military Tribunals in Germany and Japan. There were no international tribunals in Italy. There were also national trials in the occupied countries that focused more on local collaborators. The International War Crimes Trials introduced a new concept in international law, making the planning, preparing, initiating, or waging of war of aggression a crime. After World War II, the International Military Tribunal at Nurnberg (composed of a judge from Britain, France, the Soviet Union, and the United States) tried NAZI leaders. The International Military Tribunal for the Far East, at Tokyo (composed of a judge from Australia, Britain, Canada, (Nationalist) China, France, India, the Netherlands, New Zealand, the Philippines, the Soviet Union, and the United States) tried Japanese leaders. Both tribunals stressed in their proceedings that laubching a war of aggression "is not only an international crime; it is the supreme international crime". The two tribunals established the principle that only high government officials actually formulating or influencing governmental policy can be charged with "crimes against peace. Thus soldiers in an army who have a legal obligation to follow the orders of their government can not be procecuted for crimes against peace while the political leaders and ranking generals could. Low ranking individual could, however, be procecuted for individual acts of atroicities such as the murder of civilians. All of the occupied countries tried local collaborators. The Soviets controlled the trials in Eastern Europe. The trials in Western Europe wee conducted like the International Tribunals as real trials with judicial safeguards. Trials in Asia were more varied.

Soviet Union

The other World War II totalitarian aggressor nation, the Soviet Union also committed terrible atrocities. And Stalinn wanted to join the Axis and ordered Molotov to arrange it. Hapan and Italy were amenable. Hitler had other plans. He did not want an alliance with the Soviets. He wanted to attack the Siovietm seize the kand and resiurces and kill the population. He refused and instead invaded the Soviet Union (JUne 1941). Thus thanks to Hitler, the Soviets wound up on the winning side. They played a major part in the defeat of the Axis and became an occupyingh power, not in Japan, but most of Eastern Europe. The Soviets were not defeated and not occupied by the western Allies and as a result did not hve to answer fir their war crimes ir after the War develop a modern, vibrant democratic society and prosperous economy.


Reader Comment

A HBC reader writes, "I must start off by saying you have wonderful site. Even though I have not gone through most of your site, it still marvels me on how clothing can help depict history. Anyway I must ask you if you can direct me to any resource that talk about in detail the occupation of Japan and maybe Europe if you can? For you see I am planning to a write a fictional story about the occupation of Japan and another about the war in Europe. But the problem is I want to get everything that is factual right. Like the units that were there, how the people reacted, and so forth. Even though you did help answer that question about occupation for me it be nice if you direct me to more source to help me get a better picture. For me, if I told something that was not true about the time or misrepresent something I feel I be doing a great disservice for the people of that time and to everyone." HBC would appreciate any suggestions reader may have about good accounts of the occupation of Germany and Japan.


Haffner, Sebastian. Defying Hitler (Farrar Straus Giroux).


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Created: November 7, 2002
Spell check: February 29, 2004
Last updated: 8:12 AM 3/19/2023