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The cost and ending of the war

An unprecedented moral shock

During the world war, mass violence reached its climax.

The strategy of terror, the continual discovery of new mass graves, the distress felt at the extent of the suffering, the incomprehension of the horror of the concentration camps and the sense of hovering evil that came with a growing awareness of the genocide that had been committed all helped explain the intensity, depth and lasting effects of the moral shock caused by the war. The industry of death and genuine fears of a nuclear apocalypse waylaid hopes of continued scientific progress.

The war years taught people to live in a daily atmosphere of blind violence, inhuman treatment, racial hatred, aggression, rule-bending and lawless behaviour that had lost all power to surprise. The trivialisation of all that is worst in us is part of the Second World War’s tragic heritage.

Total war on a global level had turned the world on its head. The most murderous act of carnage known to history provoked such trauma that the Allies brought Axis leaders before international military courts. The determination to build a new world order, one that would set the conditions for sustainable peace, was expressed by the creation of the United Nations (UN) in June 1945.