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WWII Aftermath & the Creation of the United Nations

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  • 0:01 The Aftermath of World War II
  • 1:52 The Creation of the…
  • 4:20 Structure of the…
  • 6:44 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Nate Sullivan

Nate Sullivan holds a M.A. in History and a M.Ed. He is an adjunct history professor, former middle school history teacher, and freelance writer.

In this lesson, we will look at the aftermath of the Second World War and the formation of the United Nations. We will identify why the United Nations was created and explore the organization's function and structure in the post-war world.

The Aftermath of World War II

The effects of World War II presented countless challenges. The dawning of the post-war era revealed a complex, more fragile world. The United States and the Soviet Union emerged from the ashes of war as world superpowers. Both superpowers had very different ideas of how Europe should be rebuilt.

To assist in the recovery of war-torn Europe, the Marshall Plan was implemented by the United States. Between 1948-1951, the Marshall Plan provided economic aid to 16 European countries struggling to rebound from the destruction of World War II. The Marshall Plan was officially called the European Recovery Program, or ERP. The program was named after U.S. Secretary of State George C. Marshall.

The Berlin Airlift was another important event following World War II. In 1948, Soviet forces blockaded Allied-controlled West Berlin, restricting food, supplies, and even electricity. Though a daunting undertaking, American and Allied aircraft flew around the clock to transport food to the desperate people of West Berlin for nearly a year. The Soviets lifted the blockade in May 1949.

There were numerous other important developments in the aftermath of World War II that we don't have the time to discuss: the creation of the state of Israel, the formation of NATO, or the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, etc. If you have the time, I'd encourage you to look some of these up.

The Creation of the United Nations

If you remember, after World War I, President Woodrow Wilson created an international peacekeeping organization called the League of Nations. The League obviously wasn't too successful: a second world war broke out 20 years later. But the ineffective League of Nations is important because it helped set the foundation for the United Nations. The United Nations, often just called the U.N., is an international peacekeeping organization aimed at promoting harmony between nation-states and preventing war.

The underlying principle behind the formation of the United Nations is collective security. Under a collective security arrangement, a host of states band together in order to stop an aggressor state. Say there is a bully in a junior high school. He might pick on a kid or two if they are isolated, but if 20 kids present a united front and tell the bully, 'Hey, if you pick on one of us, you have to deal with all of us!', that bully is likely to back down. That is the idea of collective security: strength in numbers.

The United Nations didn't pop up overnight. It actually sort of evolved into being. Throughout World War II, the term 'United Nations' was often used to refer to the Allies. One famous poster from the war reads, 'The united nations fight for freedom.' As the war progressed, however, President Franklin Roosevelt and others increasingly began to conceive of the United Nations as a very specific international peacekeeping organization.

The United Nations officially came into existence after the United Nations Charter was ratified on October 24, 1945. Much of the U.N.'s policy was based on another charter, a very important document called the Atlantic Charter, which was issued years before, in August 1941. The Atlantic Charter set forth goals for the postwar era, such as democratic self-determination for all nations, free trade, and movements toward decolonization. In a nutshell, the Atlantic Charter called for the spread of democracy around the world. The U.N. was created to help fulfill the goals laid out in the Atlantic Charter.

Structure of the United Nations

Now let's look at the structure of the U.N. The U.N. has six branches: the General Assembly, the Security Council, the Economic and Social Council, the Secretariat, the International Court of Justice, and the Trusteeship Council.

The General Assembly is basically like a congress of member states. Each state has equal power and the opportunity to vote on various issues affecting the global community. The Security Council is a very powerful organ of the U.N. The Security Council has the authority to issue sanctions, authorize military action against aggressor states, and act in other ways to maintain global security. The Security Council is made up of the 5 permanent member states (China, Great Britain, France, Russia, and the United States) plus 10 other states that are elected to 2-year terms. The five permanent member states hold veto power over Security Council resolutions.

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