This past week, the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II was commemorated. It was on August 15, 1945, that Japan, the last axis power, announced its surrender to the allied powers after two devastating nuclear bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It was a brutally destructive end to the most destructive period in human history.
From 1939 to 1945, the world was in a constant state of flux as the competing sides fought for geopolitical control. Although the allied powers (initially led by France and the U.K., later joined by the U.S. and Russia) prevailed in the end, it looked very bleak indeed for the first few years of the war. The axis powers of Nazi Germany and Italy had taken most of Europe and the French colonies in Africa, while Japan was quickly gobbling up areas of China, Southeast Asia, and the Pacific. Only after 1944 did the allies reverse the trend, first taking back Europe and then pivoting to Asia. The war officially ended on September 2, 1945, with Japan’s signature of the instrument of surrender.
The video below shows how the political boundaries of the axis, allied, and other powers shifted during every single day of the war from 1939 to 1945. YouTube channel Emperor Tigerstar is remarkable in putting together videos of maps which illustrate the change in political power over periods of time, such as the rise and fall of the Roman Empire. This video is a great example of how a well-made map can often explain a story better than words ever could. As you watch the front lines change, and listen to audio from speeches given by figures such as President Franklin Roosevelt, you can almost picture these historical battles happening before your eyes.
During the six years of the war, over 70 million people died in total. Violence of this magnitude has, thankfully, not been replicated since. The two atomic bombs dropped over Japan have also been the only nuclear weapons to be used in war so far. As we remember the events of 1945, let’s also recognize the importance of restraint and diplomacy in resolving international conflicts in the future. The great turmoil and destruction of the war have become a memory which grows ever more distant. As political extremism around the world is once again on the rise, let us hope that such levels of destruction never return.