Reconstruction Europe: The Victor’s Burden

‘The Big Three’: Winston Churchill, Franklin D Roosevelt and Joseph Stalin sit for photographs during the Yalta Conference in February 1945.
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In the public mind, the surrender of Japan and Germany seemed like the ultimate victory. To be sure, the forces of “good” had dealt the “evil” Axis powers a might blow; however, it paved the way for further conflict. The old world had officially died with the atomic bombing of Japan, and what took its place were empowered empires who sought to control the destinies of lesser nation-states. Through the influence of their strong economies, culture, and military might, these groups were the driving force behind the reconstruction of Europe and abroad, whose true purpose was the continuation of an imperial system. In the “New World” that was prefaced by organizations like the UN and later NATO and the Warsaw Pact, nations would need to either pick sides or create their own empires.

The history of Europe has often been one of change or, in the failure to adapt, the disintegration of one’s identity and political order. France stood from the ashes of battle in fear of the very nation they had now beaten twice: Germany. In Alexandre Kojeve’s “Outline of a Doctrine of French Policy” he acknowledges how like the old feudal system that was replaced by nation-states, the idea of a singular nation standing against the likes of the Anglo powers and the Slavic powers was Utopian at best (p. 6). Post-war France struggled to maintain the cultural independence and unity that had been disrupted by Nazi Occupation. Kojeve argued that the only way to survive being totally absorbed into the larger powers was to create alliances with Latin nations such as Spain and Italy and to form a “Latin Empire” (p. 15). This need was highlighted by the fact that nations can no longer obtain the resources they need to effectively resist the larger hegemonic powers of the US, Britain, and the Soviet Union. In the post-war, it was economic unity, not military might that was going to secure victory in wars to come. This prospect was ultimately never realized as, but Kojeve’s fear that Germany would once again eclipse is near the point of realization. Reconstruction of this age would require the consolidation and co-opting of power to meet the influence of imperial powers. This can be seen in the US occupation of Japan as well as other recipients of Allied aid.

Japan’s situation was desperate since the beginning of World War II. Before they attacked the US, they were already deeply committed to invading China, one of the largest national landmasses in the world. Although Japan attempted to create a so-called “Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere” this effort was dismantled by Allied forces. Once they stood as a nation against the world, they were doomed to fail. Japan’s relatively small landmass proportion to its population ensured that food shortages were bound to occur. These problems were exacerbated by US bombings and a ruined state infrastructure.  Food, being what David Arnold called “power in a most basic, tangible and inescapable form,” was the chief interest of occupied Japan (Aldous, p. 230). Chronic hunger and and starvation were seen as goals that the US could overcome to promote the success of Democracy and their own imperial power. The Japanese recognized this, and continued to underestimate the daily caloric input of their people in order to secure more food imports from the US. In addition, the black market aggravated the issue by misconstruing the numbers  (Aldous, p. 237). While the Japanese were able to manipulate the US for a while, the Americans in charge eventually forced the nation to increase their own agricultural output dramatically to compensate the difference of the US’ exports. In the end, Japan was unable as a nation alone to take care of the base needs of its people, and the occupying American empire had the power through its economic and military strength to force the island nation to change its ways. 

The rise of the UN and its control by the Anglo powers and the USSR provided the final death cry to the effectiveness of the nation-state. France recognized this and has struggled to the present day to maintain economic relevancy against the powers of England, Russia, and Germany. While it may be too late for France to reach their imperial aspirations, as Spain and Italy no longer wield the political power they once did, their heads were in the right place. With the re-invigoration of China as a world power and the US’ continued rivalry to maintain superiority, many smaller nations are caught in the crossfire, as Kojeve believed they would. To remain relative in modern times requires that nations give up their individuality in favor of global alliances, such as the EU and NATO. A war between modern powers would mean war between numerous nations and their subordinate allies, and the US should recognize this as the calls for nationalism and “America First” temptingly drive our nation towards irrelevance.


A Kojève, Outline of a Doctrine of French Policy, Policy Review, 126 (August 2004), 3-40.pdfPreview the documentView in a new window

V De Grazia, Irresistible Empire- America’s Advance through Twentieth-century Europe (2005), ch 7.pdfPreview the documentView in a new window

C Aldous, Contesting Famine – Hunger and Nutrition in Occupied Japan, 1945-1952 (J of American-East Asian Relations) 17.3 (2010).pdf

Nuclear Surgery: Post-War Japan

The “Ground-Zero” Memorial in Hiroshima for where the atomic bomb was dropped. In the foreground lies an arraingment of flowers against Shinto influenced architecture.×205.jpg

As Japanese soldiers lied in wait of an impending invasion by Russians, Chinese, and American soldiers, they were, most of them, united by their national fervor for the emperor and Japan. Many of them had trudged through some of the most gruesome battles of the war and had not even heard the news of the atomic bombs being dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and their friends and families. The surrender of Japan by the Emperor Hirohito was unprecedented in the Japanese warrior-culture and many struggled to push through the immediate post-war climate. On all sides, there was guilt and pain over what had occurred. At the epicenter of the debate was the atomic bomb and the ruin it had caused in the two cities. While the war had officially ended, both the US and the Japanese fought over the right to claim the moral high ground, with the US putting their efforts into the scarred “Hiroshima Maidens.”
One historian of this specific period, David Serlin, focuses on Hiroshima and its corroborating pieces, such as the proposed memorial by Isamu Noguchi, a Japanese-American, and the “Hiroshima Maiden” plastic surgery project (Serlin, p. 58). These two projects, which were all proposed by Americans, created backlash among the Japanese community. Serlin does focus on this aspect and notes that some Japanese considered it inappropriate to allow any Americans, regardless of Japanese descent, to work on memorials in Hiroshima (ibid). To be sure, this would be akin to the bombers of Pearl Harbor dedication a memorial to appease their own war guilt, which the US was, in essence, doing. At the time, Japan was attempting to construct a new post-war rhetoric which showed them pushing through the tragedy and rebuilding a “new” Japan (Serlin, p. 64). Japan’s insistence to push a “victim” narrative gives them the basis to criticize the nuclear policy of the US, which was further provoked by the Lucky Dragon in 1953 (Serlin, p.79). On the other hand, the US was attempting to use the radiation scarred women of Hiroshima and their free plastic surgery as a symbol of “altruism” to show the US’ good intentions (Serlin p. 81).
The complimentary article by Dower helps prop up this position ever further. He claims that Hiroshima receives the brunt of attention relating to the damage of the atomic bombs even though Nagasaki suffered a similar fate. The emphasis of Japanese media to focus on solely the ruined buildings instead of the disfigured survivors serves to present the Japanese as a strong, unshakeable people who able to move on from the destruction. This was in fact a fallacy as a major problem of the post-war was the kyodatsu or the traumatized and lost people of WWII who carried out their lives with a purposeless attitude (Dower, p. 170). Here we see the contradicting positions of the Japanese and the Americans, with some accusation of US being their “feminization” of Japanese culture (Serlin, p. 87). If we ask which narrative won out in the end, we only must look at modern Japan and the strong nation they stand as today.
Post-war Japan was a continued battle between the State Department and the resurgent government of Japan to set an accepted view of the atomic bomb. Where the US wanted to establish the bomb as an “ethical” option that saved lives by preventing a long and costly invasion of the Japanese mainland, the Japanese used it as an example of the strength and fortitude of the people of the rising sun. Looking forward, Japan became one of the strongest economies in the world, for a period, until the inevitable crash that rocked the island nation in the 90s and 00s. Japan adopted, and still maintains, the same post-war attitude that Germany held following their rough treatment at the hands of the allies. The actions of the victors of World War II have shaped the current world order, and it is important to recognize the impact that a weapon like the atomic bomb caused on the only people who have suffered its use.


D Serlin, Reconstructing the Hiroshima Maidens, in Replaceable You- Engineering the Body in Postwar America (2004).pdfPreview the documentView in a new window

Recommended: J Dower, A Doctor’s Diary of Hiroshima, Fifty Years Later, from Ways of Forgetting, Ways of Remembering – Japan in the Modern World (2012).pdfPreview the documentView in a new window

Fighting through Peace

WWII Veterans protest the closing of a memorial during a government shutdown.×188.jpg


Since before the Roman emperor Septimius Severus proclaimed on his death bed to, “enrich the soldiers and despise all others” (Cassius Dio, Roman History), veterans have been the object of political scrutiny in nearly every major conflict. World War II saw one of the greatest deployments of soldiers and the greatest loss of life in human history. In the end, many came back from the horrors of conflict to societies which were unable to care for them. Disillusionment, anger, and emotional breakdown was endemic among the returning warrior caste, yet popular culture paints post-war veterans as stable, functioning members of society. Although governments around the world handled the veteran issue in varying way, they were all unified in the general pressure that their re-assimilation placed upon the state.

Not all veterans were treated equally in the post-war setting. In the case of the Soviet Union, state media portrayed the veterans as heroes who were fully cared for by the government. Ostensibly, this was true; but Richard Dale writes that Red Army soldiers were made fully aware of the benefits available to them, but not the full details of them (Dale, pg.115).  His article takes the side of the veterans as mistreated and misunderstood members of society whose integration created friction with their civilian counterparts. The Soviet Union’s situation differed from that of say the United States in that the entire nation was consumed by war. Leningrad, in particular, hosted battle hardened citizens who had survived the years of battle and starvation and emerged into an insular society which was unconcerned with the woes of others.

On the flip side, veterans held a considerable amount of bargaining power in acquiring privileges. Crotty and Edele described in their paper the factors which went into the legitimacy of veteran restitution, such as moral debt, democratic/non-democratic natures of government, existence of welfare, and the unity of veteran movements (p. 19). Make no mistake, veterans were owed a great deal for their sacrifices, but many nations were not able to “foot the bill” in a devastated post-war setting. Because of this factor, many veteran’s issues went ignored or were categorized as handled by the state, such as with the Soviet Union. On the civilian front, veterans provided a symbol for gender equality advocates to show deconstruct the enduring idea of male masculinity. Jarvis argued that the mental states of veterans and their inability to receive proper neuropsychiatric care was a keystone issue that would help bring down the veil of pride and manhood that merely prolonged emotional wounds (p. 98).

Ultimately, these issues resonate today with the veterans of the United States’ longest persisting conflict producing many of the same anxieties of World War II. We can learn from the lessons of the post-war period to improve on our own health care and veteran affairs. As of now, there is a growing divide between the civilian world and the military one which threatens to produce the same resentments that plagued the Vietnam-era and numerous other situations. As it was in the time of Marius during the Roman Republic, the proper care of veterans plays a major stake in the future of many nations. The above image, which depicts veterans protesting the closing a WWII memorial shows the influence these old warriors still possess in today’s conscious. We need to respect the sacrifices of troops and ensure that they receive the proper care required to help them continue serving their nation in peace as they did in war.


C Jarvis, ‘If He Comes Home Nervous -‘ US World War II Neuropsychiatric Casualties and Postwar Masculinities, Journal of Men’s Studies 17.2 (Spring 2009).pdfPreview the documentView in a new window

R Dale, Rats and Resentment – The Demobilization of the Red Army in Postwar Leningrad, 1945-50, Journal of Contemporary History 45.1 (Jan. 2010).pdfPreview the documentView in a new window

R Jefferson, ‘Enabled Courage’ – Race, Disability, and Black World War II Veterans in Postwar America, Historian 65.5 (Fall 2003).pdfPreview the documentView in a new window



Blog Post #1 Ethan Claybrook: Seizing Nationality

American MP admits a family into a refugee center.

WW2 had reduced Europe to a melting pot. The war torn landscape of Germany and France held refugees of many nationalities and identities, all being coveted by the victorious Allied powers. Under the guise of international relief and working in the interest of human rights, the refugee question became the first battleground between the East and West powers. Like predators, the surviving nation-states of Europe went after the vulnerable displaced peoples, mainly women and children, as a means to re-establish national power. In France, a large influx of non-French peoples during WW2 let to the question of how to preserve their identity. The need for raw manpower was challenging a desire to maintain an ethnic French population. The author’s of both articles present evidence that pushes forward the idea of refugees as political and logistical tools. In a memo addressing economic planning, it was stated that introducing such a large, foreign, adult, labor force will cause all national character to disappear (L’Intelligence de´mographique, 2003). How France and other countries were described in the post-war did not differ greatly from that of the Nazis.

The post-war repatriation, although labelled silver words, mirrored the Nazi’s goals of national unification in many ways. The French, especially, sought to be both restituted for their occupation and to meet out revenge on the Germans. For Zahra, the most important commodity to obtain was the children. The victimized children narrative is one that instantly provokes sympathy, which is the intent of Zahra’s article. The viewpoint that the Allies and the Axis were not so different in their methods or their goals challenges the traditional “good vs. evil” ideology that is presented in the main stream. Zahra presents the vilification of women who had consorted with the enemy in France as a means of avenging French national honor and as a way that authorities could seize children (p. 339). In the interest of regaining nationalism, in a time where an internationalist agenda is being pushed, all powers are shown as pursuing their own goals instead of collectively reconstructing Europe.

“In War’s Wake” backs up the assertions made by Zahra. Cohen, the author, claims that DP’s (displaced persons) were central to the “relief and rehabilitation” of Europe (p.4).The difference, however; is that instead of victims, Cohen see the refugees as leverage that the “Big Powers” of the time used to battle each other in the pre-Cold War arena. Repeating a point made by Zahra, the “liberal ambiguity of internationalism”, as symbolized by the creation of the UN and UNRRA, was so in-defined that many powers continued to build up their own nation-state’s power through appropriation and the mass movement of peoples (Cohen, p.9). One specific example was the relocation of Eastern European Jews to the mandate state of Palestine, which was heavily influenced by Allied powers who wished to stratify ethnic groups together (Cohen, p.15).

Ultimately, both articles attempt to tackle the issue of relocation, a practice used by the Nazis and later the Allied powers, which is in essence a war crime. Zahra and Cohen distance themselves from both the Allies and Axis in favor of the refugees and DP’s who were the most subject to post-war change. This stance enhances their credibility and gives sympathy to their subject. Zahra’s use of women and children, and their alleged manipulation by the French and Eastern Europeans, gives her a seemingly ethical stance. The articles force us to abandon our preconceptions of right and wrong and to look at the actions which have created the world as we know it today. We are still living in the age of displaced peoples and political refugees, so it is important to learn from consequences of the post-war period.


Gerard Daniel Cohen, In War’s Wake: Europe’s Displaced Persons in the Postwar Order (2011), intro. & ch. 1Preview the documentView in a new window

T Zahra, ‘A Human Treasure’ – Europe’s Displaced Children Between Nationalism and Internationalism, Past and Present 210, supp. 6, (2011).pdfPreview the documentView in a new window