It took international co-operation, co-ordination and a subsuming of national sovereignty (British troops, for example, were under US control in some theatres) as well as a deepening of economic, political and social ties, to bring the Second World War to a close. As we commemorate the 75th anniversary of the D-Day Landings and the Battle of Normandy, these themes echo around the events marking the occasion. The comments of veterans unanimously include the importance of friendship and collaboration between nations in preventing a repeat of the events of 1939-45 and the decade leading to the War itself.
A global conflict with a global resolution
The conflict was an example of how nationalistic states and economic isolationism could and did lead to extremism and war. Great sacrifices were made to stop the totalitarian states that fascism represented. Nor was it just European people who fought in either the Second or the First World War of course, but those from across the world; from India to Africa, from the Middle East to Asia, these truly were World Wars.
What’s more, in order to encourage some of its colonies to fight, the UK had to make promises about their freedoms, too. Those promises, as well as the conflicts, meant that the world was never the same afterwards.
When the Second World War ended, efforts to ensure it never happened again included increasing economic ties and creating a global system of rules, multinational organisations and alliances. A slew of international organisations, including the forerunner to the EU (The European Iron and Steel pact), the IMF, the World Bank and NATO were created.
Learning the value of deep economic ties
Lessons about how Europe reached the point of conflict once again, stemming from the reparations in the aftermath of the First World War, were learnt and punitive damages were avoided. Instead, markets were opened between the western nations and the GATT was created. A long period of economic growth and the deepening and widening of these organisations to include more members occurred.
Are these lessons about nationalism, isolationism and beggar thy neighbour policies now being forgotten?
One hopes not. We can be optimistic that more countries are democratic than ever before. That, contrary to the daily evidence, deaths from war are a small fraction of what they used to be. The world is vastly richer and more have a stake in the current system than ever before.
Institutions and principles that create a stable world order
The institutions created then are still standing and so are the principles behind them. International co-operation and free trade between nations makes the world a richer and safer place to live in.
The role of the US, then and now, is crucial. Acting in its own enlightened self-interest has served it and the world well. Hopefully the benefits the US, its people and its economy have reaped from underpinning the post-War world order will reassert themselves in due course.
What is ironic is that the challenges of success: more people living longer than ever before, and the surge in global population it entails, means there needs to be even more co-operation to ensure the world ecosystem can sustain so many humans at such high living standards.
Only by utilising the vast range of technology available, broadening markets, embracing the digital revolution and AI, can the world continue to prosper. But everyone must gain from it and no one can be left behind. Those are the lessons from the War that we must never forget.