Year Zero: A History of 1945

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Year Zero : A History of Ian Buruma. A marvelous global history of the pivotal year as a new world emerged from the ruins of World War II Year Zero is a landmark reckoning with the great drama that ensued after war came to an end in One world had ended and a new, uncertain one was beginning.

Regime change had come on a global scale: across Asia including China, Korea, Indochina, and the Philippines, and of course Japan and all of continental Europe.

Year Zero: A History of 1945

Out of the often vicious power struggles that ensued emerged the modern world as we know it. In human terms, the scale of transformation is almost impossible to imagine. Great cities around the world lay in ruins, their populations decimated, displaced, starving.

After Year Zero - Geographies of Collaboration since 1945 - Interview with John Akomfrah

Harsh revenge was meted out on a wide scale, and the ground was laid for much horror to come. At the same time, in the wake of unspeakable loss, the euphoria of the liberated was extraordinary, and the revelry unprecedented. The postwar years gave rise to the European welfare state, the United Nations, decolonization, Japanese pacifism, and the European Union.

Ian Buruma on his new book ‘Year Zero: A History of ’ | WBEZ

Much that was done was ill advised, but in hindsight, as Ian Buruma shows us, these efforts were in fact relatively enlightened, humane, and effective. The buildings that remained standing often had some of their floors caved in and their windows blown out from the explosions. There were no more sidewalks since piles of debris lay where houses once stood.

The survivors searched through the ruins for anyone still alive and for something to eat. At night, because electricity and gas no longer worked, people groped about with flashlights and candles, sticking to the middle of the street to avoid collapsing walls, leaking water pipes, and the twisted wreckage of civilian and military vehicles.

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When the German officers were signing their surrender on May 8, , Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel told the Russians that he was horrified by the extent of the destruction wrought on Berlin, whereupon a Russian officer asked Keitel whether he had been equally horrified when on his orders thousands of Soviet villages and towns were obliterated and millions of people, including many children, were buried under the ruins.

Keitel shrugged his shoulders and said nothing.


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The numbers of dead in German cities were staggering, but they were equally ghastly elsewhere. Some 43, died in London during the Blitz, , in Tokyo in , and over , perished in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.


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