World War II was the deadliest conflict in human history, killing an estimated 50 to 85 million people from 1939 to 1945. The large-scale ways WWII changed the world are well-known: the Holocaust's decimation of Jewish culture, the use of atomic bombs on Japan, and the wide swath of death and destruction caused the Axis powers in Europe are all commonly cited ways World War 2 changed history. But there are also more indirect ways WW2 impacted modern society.
An investigation into how World War 2 shaped the modern world reveals that, much like World War 1, technological innovation flourishes during wartime. Inventions we still use today such as modern computers, Super Glue, duct tape, and even Tupperware were devised to support the war effort. Read on for more on how World War II changed the world in ways both large and small.
It Gave Us the Word "Genocide"
It's hard to believe, sadly, but the term "genocide" did not exist before 1944. A Polish-German lawyer named Raphael Lemkin coined the term that year by combining the Greek word for race or tribe ("geno-") with the Latin word for killing ("-cide"). In 1945, the word was used at the Nuremberg trials as a descriptive term, but it wasn't until 1948 that genocide became the word used, internationally, for the crime it signifies. Lemkin's own definition of genocide was "a coordinated plan of different actions aiming at the destruction of essential foundations of the life of national groups, with the aim of annihilating the groups themselves."
It Changed Medical Ethics Forever
Not to oversimplify things, but this one can basically be chalked up to "Let's not be like the Nazis, okay?" Following the Nuremberg trials, the medical atrocities committed by the Third Reich came to light, leading the medical community worldwide to adopt the World Medical Association’s Helsinki Declaration, which has been called "the bedrock of ethical standards for human experimentation and informed consent." Things didn't get immediately better, as James Bradley from the University of Melbourne notes, but learning about how, for example, the Nazis froze prisoners to death to test the human limits of hypothermia sure made scientists think twice about the ethics of human experimentation.
It Led to the Creation of the United Nations
The United Nations was founded in 1945 to prevent another conflict with the horrific consequences of World War II. A controversial organization from the start, the UN has nonetheless undoubtedly encouraged disarmament, promoted human rights, fought poverty, and tried to spread peace worldwide. What has it done for you lately, you ask? British historian Paul Kennedy: "When all its aspects are considered, the UN has brought great benefits to our generation and will bring benefits to our children's and grandchildren's generations as well."
Professor Jacques Fomerand: "The UN and its agencies have certainly helped the world become a more hospitable and livable place for millions." Some Internet crank that goes by Phil For Humanity: "The United Nations has proven itself as a failure for its entire history and will continue being useless."
It Gave Us the World's First Real Computer
If you're reading this on a computer, smartphone, or tablet, than you are reading this on a grandchild of the Colossus. The Colossus was the first programmable, electronic, digital computer, developed during World War II by British codebreakers. It allowed the Allies to gather a ton of military intelligence from the Germans, but was destroyed after the war to maintain project secrecy. Engineer Tommy Flowers was ordered to destroy the blueprints and documentation for the room-sized behemoth, which was dismantled and recycled for various purposes. The public didn't learn about Colossus until the 1970s.