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America and World War II, Effects of the War

nuclear annihilation, economic force, harmful insects, typhus, economic mobility

After World War II ended, the use of the atomic bomb changed the world in many ways. Nuclear power led to a four-decade-long arms race between the United States and the USSR, and nuclear annihilation continues to threaten the world today. At the same time, nuclear power enabled scientists to develop new sources of energy.

During the war, other technological and medical advances were developed that saved lives and improved living standards in the decades ahead. Penicillin, a “miracle drug” first used to treat Allied casualties, was used at home to defeat disease, reduce infant deaths, and extend life expectancy. DDT, a colorless chemical pesticide, destroyed harmful insects and prevented typhus and malaria. New fuel mixtures extended the range of warplanes and later of civilian planes; jet propulsion planes transformed transoceanic flights and were in commercial use by the late 1950s. Other facets of technology developed during World War II included radar, semiconductors, freeze-dried food, infrared technologies, and synthetic materials.

World War II ended Nazi barbarism and vanquished totalitarian power that threatened to conquer the globe. The cost of the war was immense. Allied military and civilian losses were 44 million; those of the Axis, 11 million. The United States lost almost 300,000 people in battle deaths, which was far less than the toll in Europe and Asia. At home, the war quenched isolationism, ended the depression, provided unprecedented social and economic mobility, fostered national unity, and vastly expanded the federal government. The U.S. government spent more than $300 billion on the war effort, which generated jobs and prosperity and renewed confidence. Finally, World War II made the United States the world’s leading military and economic force. With the Axis threat obliterated, the United States and the USSR became rivals for global dominance.

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