Many important events, including the Cold War and a formal apology to the interned Japanese Americans, occurred during the years that followed World War II. On June 21, 2000, U.S. president Bill Clinton awarded 20 Medals of Honor, most of them posthumously, to the Japanese American soldiers of the 442d Regimental Combat Team from World War II. This formal ceremony represented more than just overdue acknowledgment of the soldiers' bravery under fire.
The award of the Medal of Honor was also a way of acknowledging that a wrong had been done to the Japanese American community in the crisis years of World War II, when 120,000 had been interned in American camps. The echoes of the Second World War have reverberated to the present in a myriad of different voices, and they can still be heard more than 60 years after its end.
The decades since the war have been among the most eventful in history, but they have not seen a repeat of the two cataclysmic conflicts that transformed Europe and Asia from 1914 to 1945. The absence of any major war between any of the states that fought the last war has been perhaps World War II's most enduring legacy.
Although the Korean conflict provoked renewed anxieties about a Third World War, such a scenerio was averted. China, the Soviet Union, and the United States recognized that the stakes were too high. In 1953 a cease-fire was called, and the two Korean states found themselves back where they had started in 1950. South Korea went on to become one of the boom economies of the Pacific Rim, while North Korea became and remained a Communist dictatorship, impervious to the eventual collapse of world communism 40 years later.
The absence of general war did not mean the absence of crises and conflicts, many of which developed as a direct consequence of World War II and its aftermath. In Asia, the collapse of the colonial order brought about by Japanese aggression contributed to the rapid end of the old empires throughout the region.
Nationalist revolt in the Dutch East Indies began in 1945 with a declaration of independence. After a violent anticolonial war, the Dutch were expelled and an independent Indonesia was established in 1949. In Malaya, Communist insurgency resulted in a prolonged anticolonial campaign that the British government fought with a mixture of brutality and concession. When the area won independence in 1957, communism had been defeated.
In French Indochina, the reverse happened. French colonial forces and the local French population responded to Communist insurgency with widespread violence. In 1954 French forces suffered a humiliating defeat at Dien Bien Phu and abandoned the whole region. Indochina was divided into the separate states of Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam, with the last divided like Korea. North Vietnam became a Communist state led by veteran nationalist Ho Chi Minh, and South Vietnam became a pro-Western dictatorship backed by American aid.
As in the case of Korea, the North soon began to put pressure on the southern area, and in 1957 it launched a full-scale guerrilla war. In 1960 Communist sympathizers in the South formed the National Liberation Front and provoked a civil war as well. The result was more than a decade of violence along the battle lines of the global Cold War. Only in 1975, towards the end of the Vietnam War did Laos, Cambodia, and South Vietnam finally become Communist states, putting an end to the long postwar crisis.
Go to the next page to learn about the formation of the state of Israel.To follow more major events of World War II, see: