World War 1914 to 1945

1. As a result of an online History Course on Global History Since 1300(Coursera: Professor Adelman, Princeton University), I feel I have a better understanding of the nature and consequences of WW2. One way to start is to compare the military and civilian casualties by some of the major participating countries: I consider these to be reasonably reliable facts.

World War II Casualties

Country                         Military                            Civilian
China                           7-16 million                    10-20 million
Germany                     5.5 million                      1.1-3.1 million
Japan                           2.1 million                       2.6-3.1 million
USSR                           8.8 – 10.7 million         12.7-14.6 million
Britain                           383.8 thousand           67.1 thousand
United States              416.8 thousand             17 thousand
All Countries          22.6-25.5 million         37.6-55.2 mil.

The figures show that China and Russia (later the USSR) had by far the largest military and civilian casualties. Both were allies of the west. Their main opponents, Germany and Japan, suffered considerably more than either their allies the US or Britain. Some of the Asian losses are due to Japan’s invasion of China, which began in the early 1930s, and to the civil war taking place in China between communists and nationalists.

2. WW1 and WW2 were one war with two active periods and in between a worldwide recession especially in the developed world. The recession ended due in large part to WW2. Unemployment fell when men and women were recuited for the war effort, either in the armed forces or in wartime production. This also provided a fiscal stimulus which was partly chanelled into savings and the purchase of government bonds as a way to finance the war effort and to prevent consumer spending from generating inflation.

3. Both WW1 and WW2 were global. In the east the Japanese had invaded China in the 1930s where a civil war was already in progress between the Communists and Nationalists. The Japanese were only forced to withdraw after surrendering when the second atomic bomb was dropped. The other aspect of war in the east was fighting between the West, mainly the US and the Japan, which also ended with bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

4. Another arena of WW2 saw the contest between the Germans and Russians where both sides suffered enormous military and civilians losses. At times, there were almost five times as many German troops on the eastern than on the western European front, and the devastation in the east was much greater.

5. Other parts of the world were also involved especially countries in Asia and Africa with ties to the main combatants. And while much of the reported fighting took place on land with ground troops supported by air power, there were major naval actions undertaken by the fleets of the US, Britain, Germany, Japan, and Russia.

6. At the start of the war the major combatants had to increase the number of those enrolled in their armies, navies and airforces. A combination of volunteers and conscripts made up the armed forces. This consisted of taking untrained members of the public, putting them into uniforms, giving them some basic training and sending them off to fight. Only members of the regular forces had more than basic training. When reading about how the Russians enrolled millions of fighters, this was achieved by rounding up members of the public, putting them into uniform and sending them off to fight.

7. As a result of being educated in the UK, my previous impression of WW2 is that it took place mainly on the western European front with a focus on events like the Battle of Britain, the Normandy landing and the allied advance eastwards to meet up with the Russians in Germany in 1945.

8. The casualty figures have revised my views. The period 1914 to 1945 was one of continuous war, at some times more intensive than others. The fighting and deaths were far higher in Asia and eastern Europe-Russia than in western Europe. Also to be considered in this period is the flu pandemic of 1918-20 which infected 500 million people and accounted for 50 to 100 million deaths around the world.

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2 Responses to “World War 1914 to 1945”

  1. maureen Says:

    Hello Chris, I just discovered your blog today…very interesting comments and analysis on a wide variety of topics. I had never quite thought of WWI and WWII as two phases of one war…but it makes me want to pick up The Guns of August and a few other books to see how I might come around to this perspective! It was certainly an uneasy calm between the two wars but I am not quite convinced it was actually one war 🙂 See you at the next book club meeting.

    • cmaule Says:

      Downton Abbey provides a dramatized version of the interwar years.
      I suppose you can connect everything to everything else. I was brought up to think of them as two wars, and now am not sure. Was the Cold War a continuation as well?
      See you later this month.

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