World War II was one of the most destructive wars in human history with anywhere from 40 to 100 million people losing their lives in the conflict. Once World War 2 ended, the rebuilding began. This rebuilding came in the form of both reconstruction of buildings and infrastructure, as well as of relationships between nations. While much of Asia was equally devastated during WW2, the quest for peace in Europe will be the focus here.
As the Fighting Ended, Occupation Began
Planning for post-war Europe began well in advance of the conclusion of the fighting in Europe once it became clearer that the Allied side would emerge victorious. At the Yalta Conference, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, and Joseph Stalin represented their individual nations and agreed on some of the plans for a post-war peace. As part of this plan, the parties agreed on a security agency that eventually emerged as the United Nations and which served as a forum for resolving conflicts between nations but also as an armed force to police problems that might arise.
In addition, discussion surrounded new borders in Europe in which Poland would be recreated (in its final historical reemergence) with a border on the Curzon line to the East and with the absorption of some of Germany in the West. Further, there was discussion on the division of Germany into occupied zones that would be held by Russia, the United States, Britain, and France. The parties also agreed on democratic governments in which the people in their respective nations would eventually select their own governments.
While the Yalta conference laid the groundwork for peace in post-war Europe, the various belligerents tried to physically occupy as much land in Germany and the surrounding nations as possible. Russia occupied Poland and most of Eastern Germany, and refused to acknowledge the terms that were agreed on as part of the Yalta Conference. With the idea that possession is a large part of ownership, the parties moved to the first post-war conference.
The Potsdam Conference
Due to the death of FDR, Harry Truman occupied the spotlight for the United States. Truman was a relative unknown in the international community but was more of a fierce negotiator than many originally feared. While control of Poland was ceded to the Soviet Union, the occupation of the Czech Republic, France, Austria, and Poland by Germany was ended. The borders of Poland were officially eliminated. Further, various spheres of influence were set up in which Western Europe was dominated by the United States and Britain, while Eastern Europe was controlled by Russia.
During the Potsdam Conference the Atomic Bombs in Japan were erupted which strengthened the Allied Position and led the various allied nations to move towards officially adopting the United Nations.
The New Borders and Spheres of Influence
The spheres of influence that were outlined unofficially during the Potsdam conference were tested shortly after peace most notably during the Berlin airlift conflict in which the Soviet Union refused access to the parts of Berlin that were occupied by the Western Allies. The Western Allies eventually airlifted supplies into Berlin to prevent mass starving in the Western controlled parts of the city.
Harry Truman, at great political risk, approved the Marshall Plan that was supported by former General George Marshall. The Marshall Plan provided food and supplies to all ravaged European nations including the U.S.S.R., which many believed to be a faulty policy at the time. This policy built great faith in the United States and support for the Western Allies in many parts of Europe, and helped to eliminate some of the built-up tension.
While the cold war would linger in Europe until 1989, peace in Europe after World War 2 was mostly secured as a result of the aforementioned actions and a great deal of restraint on behalf of many leaders who felt that the bloodshed from the first two World Conflicts was enough.