Germany had recently surrendered, crushed primarily by the armies of the Soviet Union on the Eastern Front, aided by the Allied armies on the West. Now Japan surrendered. The Fascist powers were destroyed.
But what about fascism - as idea, as reality? Were its essential elements- militarism, racism, imperialism- now gone? Or were they absorbed into the already poisoned bones of the victors? A. J. Muste, the revolutionary pacifist, had predicted in 1941: “The problem after a war is with the victor. He thinks he has just proved that war and violence pay. Who will now teach him a lesson?”
The victors were the Soviet Union and the United States (also England, France and Nationalist China, but they were weak). Both these countries now went to work — without swastikas, goose-stepping, or officially declared racism, but under the cover of “socialism” on one side, and “democracy” on the other, to carve out their own empires of influence. They proceeded to share and contest with one another the domination of the world, to build military machines far greater than the Fascist countries had built, to control the destinies of more countries than Hitler, Mussolini, and Japan had been able to do. They also acted to control their own populations, each country with its own techniques - crude in the Soviet Union, sophisticated in the United States — to make their rule secure.
The war not only put the United States in a position to dominate much of the world; it created conditions for effective control at home. The unemployment, the economic distress, and the consequent turmoil that had marked the thirties, only partly relieved by New Deal measures, had been pacified, overcome by the greater turmoil of the war. The war brought higher prices for farmers, higher wages, enough prosperity for enough of the population to assure against the rebellions that so threatened the thirties. As Lawrence Wittner writes, “The war rejuvenated American capitalism.” The biggest gains were in corporate profits, which rose from $6.4 billion in 1940 to $10.8 billion in 1944. But enough went to workers and farmers to make them feel the system was doing well for them.
It was an old lesson learned by governments: that war solves problems of control. Charles E. Wilson, the president of General Electric Corporation, was so happy about the wartime situation that he suggested a continuing alliance between business and the military for “a permanent war economy.”
Never go to war, especially with yourself.