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The Cold War (1945–1963)

History SparkNotes

The Postwar World: 1945–1949

Key People & Terms

The Postwar World: 1945–1949, page 2

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1945 United Nations forms Nuremberg trials begin Japan surrenders
1946 Tokyo trials begin
1947 Marshall Plan implemented
1948 Israel becomes a nation Truman orders Berlin airlift
Key People
Harry S Truman -  33rd U.S. president; successfully carried out end of World War II after FDR’s death; helped create new postwar political and economic world order
Joseph Stalin -  Soviet premier; opposed reindustrialization of Germany outlined in the Marshall Plan; ordered Berlin blockade
Douglas MacArthur -  U.S. Army general; commanded Allied forces in the Pacific during World War II and subsequently led U.S. occupation of Japan

Postwar Predicaments

As World War II combat operations ceased in Europe and the war drew rapidly to a close in the Pacific, the United States and its new president, Harry S Truman, faced many new challenges. War criminals had to be punished, Europe and Japan had to be rebuilt, the global economy had to be restructured, and the United States had to ensure that another world war would not erupt.

At first, Truman seemed unfit to solve these problems. The product of a Missouri political machine, he had minimal experience with international affairs, having served only as senator and then just months as Franklin D. Roosevelt’s fourth-term vice president. Despite his relative inexperience, however, Truman quickly acclimated to his new position and proved capable of tackling these postwar problems.

The Bretton Woods Conference

The process of rebuilding Europe began almost a year before Truman became president, when the United States invited Allied delegates to discuss the postwar world in Bretton Woods, New Hampshire, in July 1944. At the conclusion of the conference, delegates had created two major world financial institutions: the World Bank, to help stimulate development in third world countries, and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), to regulate exchange rates.

The United Nations

Stalin’s representatives were, however, involved in the formation of the United Nations, which was intended to promote international security and prevent future global conflicts. Meeting in April 1945, just days after Franklin D. Roosevelt’s death and Truman’s succession to the presidency, delegates drafted the organization’s founding charter, which closely resembled the charter of the failed League of Nations after World War I. Because World War II had proved that the United States could no longer remain isolated from world affairs, the new charter passed easily through the Senate ratification process that summer. According to the charter, the United States, Great Britain, France, China, and the USSR each would have a permanent seat and veto power on the governing Security Council.


One of the first tasks for the United Nations was the creation of the Jewish nation of Israel. Carved out of British Palestine along the eastern Mediterranean, this new state became the home for millions of displaced Jews who had survived centuries of persecution. Hoping to keep the Soviet Union out of Israel, win Jewish-American votes, and capitalize on the American public’s postwar sympathy for the Jewish people, Truman ignored his foreign policy advisors and officially recognized Israel in 1948. Although the decision gave the United States a strategic foothold in the Middle East, it also ruined relations with the Arab countries in the region and Muslim nations around the world.

Rebuilding Japan

The process of rebuilding Japan began almost as soon as the war ended. The commander of the Allied forces in the Pacific, U.S. Army general Douglas MacArthur, spearheaded the democratization and reconstruction process—a daunting task considering the widespread devastation throughout Japan. MacArthur rounded up ranking officers in the Japanese military leadership and tried them as war criminals in the Tokyo trials. The Japanese, for their part, accepted defeat and worked hard to rebuild their country under U.S. guidelines.

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