On September 1st, 1939, German forces invaded Poland, officially starting what would become the largest and most devastating war in human history. Over the following five years, approximately 70 million people died as a result of WWII—an estimated 40-50 million of which were civilians. The word genocide was manifested. Yet, amidst the atrocities of the period, humankind was simultaneously making leaps and bounds in the areas of medicine, technology, science, and communication; unassuming heroes arose; countries banded together through optimism, courage, and sacrifice.
Eighty years later, as Americans, we are still affected by the war in our daily lives, whether you realize it or not. In fact, this list could go on and on: think Tupperware, the commodity of books, and, strangely enough, a love for M&Ms. The following are ways in which WWII left lasting impacts:
The Nuremberg Trials (1945-1949), brought to justice Nazi officials, German industrialists, lawyers, high-ranking military officers, and doctors in their crimes against peace and humanity. During the trials, the medical horrors conducted by the Third Reich were uncovered, leading to global adoption of the World Medical Association’s Helsinki Declaration. Helsinki has become the foundation of “ethical standards for human experimentation and informed consent.”
Discussing the extent of technology that came out of WWII is too large a feat for this blog. However, there is one piece of tech that has become vital to modern society: the world’s first computer, Colossus. Created by the British codebreakers, Colossus was fully electronic, digital, and programmable, a feat previous engineers hadn’t been able to accomplish.
It is important to note that while Colossus was the world’s very first computer, it doesn’t have a true connection to whatever device you’re using to read this article. Colossus engineer Tommy Flowers destroyed the computer and any traces of its existence on orders from his superiors, directly erasing the device from history until it was rediscovered in the 1970s.
$236 billion dollars spent on the war was added to the nation’s debt. Yet, despite the 1,048% increase in debt, the U.S. economy grew rather steadily. Between 1939 and 1944, the U.S. economy grew by 8%. From 1941 to 1943 it grew over 17% each year. However, even with an improvement in the economy, the U.S. needed to find a way to pay off the massive amount of debt the war racked up. Their solution? Expanding income tax and mandatory withholdings from paychecks.
WWII turned 80 this year, yet its atrocities, lessons, and stories remain impactful and important to the nation’s identity and way of life. So, the next time you wonder why your paycheck is smaller than you’d like it to be, are reading an article on your computer, or at the doctor’s office, remember that your experiences have always been, and always will be, tied to WWII.