Was 1945 the world’s year zero?

Both victors and vanquished craved radical social change at the end of the Second World War. But were their dreams ever truly realised?

Night view of people jammed into Times Square, New York, celebrating the end of the war in Europe. (Photo by Herbert Gehr/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty

This article was first published in the August 2017 issue of BBC History Magazine 

Was 1945 the world’s year zero?

The Second World War was one of the greatest communal events in human history. Between 1937 and 1945 more than 100 million men and women were mobilised into the armed forces around the world. Hundreds of millions of civilians were also dragged into the conflict – as factory workers, as suppliers of food or entertainment, as prisoners, as slave labourers, and as targets. Every corner of the planet, even those far from the fighting, was affected by this global catastrophe. But how did this vast shared experience influence us after the war? Did it create a communal mindset, and if so, how did this manifest itself? In short, how did the memory of the Second World War change the world?

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