The end of WW2: 5 articles you can read right now

As we reach the 75th anniversary of VJ Day, marking the effective end of the Second World War, BBC History Magazine editor Rob Attar highlights five pieces from our archive that offer interesting perspectives on the final months of the conflict

Hiroshima.
1

Was the US justified in dropping atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki during the Second World War?

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Ultimately, it was the dropping of the two atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki that brought the war to an end. Seventy-five years later, debates still rage about whether this was a justifiable action, and we explored both sides of the argument in a 2015 BBC History Magazine article, on the occasion of the 70th anniversary. (The web version also incorporates a discussion on the subject between two HistoryExtra readers.)

As you’ll see from the article, there are strong arguments on both sides. I’ve been to the Peace Memorial Museum in Hiroshima, which really forces home the almost unfathomable horror and destruction of the nuclear attack. But, on the other hand, soldiers and civilians were being killed in huge numbers throughout the Pacific War, and if the bombs really did shorten the conflict by months, or even years, then might this have been a lesser evil?

 

2

VJ Day: Turning the tide in the east

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I’m cheating a little bit here as it’s not yet in the archive, but I do encourage you to pick-up the September 2020 issue of BBC History Magazine where you’ll be able to read Jonathan Fennell’s piece on how British and Commonwealth forces turned the tide against Japan in Burma. As much as military logistics or battle strategies, he identifies the morale of the international force as being critical to battling back against the Japanese troops. With much of the British empire beginning to creak, inspiring Indian, African and other soldiers to risk their lives for the cause was a tremendous challenge.

I explored this subject further with Jonathan for the HistoryExtra podcast, which will soon be available to download.

 

3

Why did the Allies win the Second World War?

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Back in our May 2020 issue, we included a special supplement to mark the 75th anniversary of VE Day and I’d like to highlight this article where eight historians – among them Max Hastings, James Holland and Andrew Roberts – selected what they view as the prime reason for the Nazis’ defeat. Several of the historians pointed to the Nazi-Soviet clash, which accounted for the vast majority of casualties in Europe, but other factors, including code-breaking and Hitler’s own interventions, also made the list.

Expelled Germans leaving Poland's western territories
The last trickle of expelled Germans leave Poland’s western territories c1951, near the climax of what was probably the greatest forced migration in history. (Photo by Bert Hardy/Picture Post/Getty Images)

 

4

“Many of the Holocaust’s perpetrators got away with it”: why Nazi crimes went unpunished

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The end of the war in Europe also brought to an end the Holocaust, but of course the story didn’t end there, as survivors sought to cope with what had happened to them, and attempts were made (and often not made) to bring perpetrators to justice. In this fascinating article, originally published in BBC World Histories, Mary Fulbrook explored the legacy of the Holocaust in a conversation with fellow expert Richard J Evans.

Mary Fulbrook and Richard J Evans. (Photo by Fran Monks)
Mary Fulbrook and Richard J Evans. (Photo by Fran Monks)

Listen: Mary Fulbrook and Richard J Evans explore the aftermath of the Nazi genocide, considering how subsequent generations have sought to understand the greatest atrocity of the 20th century, on this episode of the HistoryExtra podcast:


5

“The war without an end”: what happened in Europe after VE Day?

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The Second World War is often neatly delineated into the years 1939–45, but the reality of what happened after WW2 is more complicated. In the east, the war in China had begun at least two years earlier, and in Europe, the end of the war did not necessarily bring peace to the continent. This Keith Lowe article from 2015 examines the conflicts that blighted Europe after the Nazi surrender, some of which have still not fully been resolved. A war without end?

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Rob Attar is the editor of BBC History Magazine