1945 was the year that radically changed the world, according to Dutch historian Ian Buruma. Atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, beginning the Atomic Age. General Douglas MacArthur took charge of the Supreme Command of Allied Powers. At the end of the Second World War, Europe was divided up by forces from the United States and the Soviet Union, precipitating the Cold War. The United Nations was formed to prevent another worldwide catastrophe. The Nuremberg Trials were held to bring Nazi mass murderers to justice for genocide--the first time men had been put on trial for crimes against humanity.
In the prologue, Buruma recounts his father's horrifying experience as a Dutch POW in Germany, dodging bombs and trying to avoid starvation due to malnourishment. Conditions were dire for residents in large sections of Europe, but Jews, Gypsies and others who were sent to concentration camps by Nazis suffered particularly grotesque horrors. On a smaller scale, the Japanese committed war crimes against people in its conquered territories, particularly Manchuria and Korea.
Buruma recounts the exultation at war's end, when frequent romantic liaisons and marriages contributed to the baby boom. (American and Canadian men were particularly desirable to Western European women.) He also describes attempts to seek revenge on those who collaborated with the Germans and the Japanese. The predominant feeling, however, was exhaustion. In most of Europe and Asia war rations continued until several years after the war had ended.
At the end of the war, unfortunately there were numerous survivors who had no homes to which they could return. Jewish concentration camp survivors had all their possessions stolen from them, and some eventually settled in Palestine (later Israel). Soviet POWs were repatriated back to the Soviet Union, even if they despised living in a Communist state. The displaced persons who were able to adjust to civilian life with few difficulties were the lucky ones.
Measures had to be put in place to introduce democratic ideals to Germany and Japan. From the beginning, Germans were resistant to denazification, but Germany could develop an amnesia about the past and start anew. The Japanese readily threw militarism aside but were able to keep their Emperor.
Though new governments sprang up in most of Europe and Asia, imperialism was still a factor. Conflicts in Korea and Vietnam presaged the Korean and Vietnam Wars. The new United Nations addressed colonial issues. With chilling details, Buruma describes a world that was mentally preparing itself to deal with future anguish.