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I understand that the USA funded the war effort against the Axis, although the Allies in Europe had to pay for this help in one way or another.

It's fascinating to see how not that long ago (roughly 70 years) events unfolded to leave us in the state the world is in now.

In 1941, Life magazine editor Henry Luce predicted that the 20th century would be the "American" century, at a time when World War II was in progress, and America was profiting from the resulting trade (and as we now know, was about to join it). Was it World War II, or some other event(s) that caused the rise of the USA to being a superpower today?

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Define what you mean by "superpower", please. –  John Saunders Apr 12 at 22:20
    
Why has there been world wars anyway? I think this the very first question to be asked before tackling the spoils of war which has its own merit of a serious discussion. –  Abet Apr 13 at 9:39
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@JohnSaunders A very powerful and influential nation. –  Ally Apr 14 at 14:36
    
i love your question. Unfortunately, I think we are a has-been. A powerful has-been. –  edn13 Apr 14 at 20:40
    
Superpower, a state with the ability to influence events and project power on a worldwide scale. That's the definition I'm used to, and USA fits (past and present), USSR did, and no other nation really does. –  congusbongus Apr 15 at 0:54
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3 Answers 3

up vote 32 down vote accepted

The question I might have asked is, "Is the U.S. a Superpower today because of World War ONE?" And that's the question I'll answer.

In 1914, the U.S. probably was not the strongest country in the world (perhaps third or fourth, no weaker than fifth). By 1918, the U.S. was the strongest country in the world, with Germany, Britain, France, and Russia having knocked themselves out of contention. The U.S. fought in the war, but entered when it was about two thirds over, meaning that it was spared most of the damage. The only comparable event in U.S. history was "1991," with a victory in the Persian Gulf War and the collapse of the Soviet Union, the rival superpower.

During the 1920s, the U.S. controlled something like 50 percent of the world's gold reserves, a result of the trade and money flows to the U.S. during and after World War I.

It's true that the U.S. emerged from World War II with something like 50 percent of the world's industrial capacity, versus 40 percent before World War II, according to Paul Kennedy in "Imperial Overstretch." But the stage had been set during and after World War I.

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Interesting point about WW1 being the source of USA's superpower status, for the record I did not down-vote your answer. –  Ally Apr 11 at 23:35
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Professor Tom Au, it was a most marvelous hijacking of a question I have ever seen. Hats off. –  Mindwin Apr 12 at 14:40
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@Mindwin: That would be professor TUNG Au (my father). Many people confuse World Wars I and II. In this case, the OP didn't realize that America's contribution in World War II was the consequence and not the cause of (previous) superpower status. There was a relationship, just not the one the OP envisioned. –  Tom Au Apr 12 at 14:58
    
Yes, I know you answered the question while going straight to the point. Good one. And a good weekend to your father. –  Mindwin Apr 12 at 15:41
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Not bad overall, but lacking in two points. One, the U.S. were "spared most of the damage" of both world wars by simple expedient of being the one major participant not having to fight over own territory, i.e. zero damage to its own infrastructure (aside from Pearl Harbor). And two, I think your answer is a bit short on one major subject: The combination of plentyfull aircraft carriers and oversea bases (most of which as a direct result of WWII), giving the USA an unrivalled capability of force projection. And only after WWII did the US show a decided interest in being a superpower. –  DevSolar Apr 14 at 6:42
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It's hard to not include possibly biased views or controversial arguments when answering such a question. But considering the vague nature of the question, there will be no definite answer anyhow. Apart from the fact that one can not give a strict definition of the term "superpower", there is no single chain of causalities between a global event like WWII and a particular development in the subsequent years that lead to the state of the world as we know it.

Thus, I'd only like to point out certain events of WWII that - as far as I can judge this - directly contributed to the role of the US as a military superpower:

  • Operation Alsos contributed to the Manhattan project, eventually leading to the end of WWII
  • Operation Paperclip brought the scientists into the US who can probably be considered as being the driving force for winning the Space Race against the Soviet Union
  • Progresses in the development of Stealth Aircraft technology may at least partially be considered as results of capturing the Horton Fighter Bomber

Of course, the above mentioned points do not take into account other ((socio-)economical, geographical and general political) aspects that have been mentioned in other answers. But still, these points should be considered retrospectively.

However, the border may be "blurred". In this sense, one could say that winning WWII was what made the US a superpower. And regardless of that, saying that anyone "profited" from WWII leaves an uncanny feeling...

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It is hard to think of a way the US could lose WWII without remaining a superpower. It is too remote for any Axis power to materially damage. And its industrial and financial might was second to none. –  Oldcat Apr 15 at 23:09
    
@Oldcat Sure... but between "winning" and "losing" there's still a "not being involved". Again, the question (and thus, the answer) is speculative, and every aspect that is mentioned here can only illuminate a tiny bit of the whole story. –  Marco13 Apr 15 at 23:21
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No, I think that the USA would have been a very powerful nation if the war had not happened because the factors that caused America being a superpower would have existed whether or not the war did. These factors could be its large population and landmass (US's landmass is far larger than Britain's, France's and Germany's combined). In addition, it was industrializing with this large landmass and population (unlike China which had both population and landmass but no industrialization).

You could also consider some more controversial factors such as a large intelligent Jewish population, slavery and cheap immigrant labour to produce cheaper goods and food, a less class-based economy for more efficiency and patriotic spirit that might cause Americans to work longer hours). However, some may disagree if these are factors. There are also many other factors that could be considered, which would still exist if world war two had never happened.

The USA would have these factors irrelevant of the war so would be a superpower irrelevant of the war. However, WW2 definitely helped them achieve their 'superpowership' faster by allowing them to sell weapons and profit from the war.

However, if you define a superpower as the most powerful nation (power as in military and economy and influence), then maybe Russia would have become more powerful nation than the US if WW2 did not happen, so the US would not be a superpower as it was not a powerful nation.

I think the USA would definitely still be a powerful nation if WW2 had not happened.

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If I had some more rep on this site, I would downvote this answer hard. All the factors listed cannot be assigned as causes. too vague. Several other countries have all that, and are not that powerful. Also, this answer is racist. –  Mindwin Apr 12 at 14:43
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If it was all about land mass then both China and Russia would have been far ahead as nations, but they were not. –  Snicolas Apr 13 at 13:50
    
He mentions several reasons, not just land size. And China and Russia have been major powers for thousands of years in the former case and hundreds of years in the latter. –  Oldcat Apr 15 at 23:07
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Snicolas, I did mention several factors with 'and' which means they all have to be true. Mindwin, it is a fact that Ashkenazi Jews have a higher than average IQ. Racism is making value judgements, not factual claims (if I had said 'the superior Jewish race' or the 'evil spanish', this would be racist). I'm sorry if I came across as racist. In addition, if these causes are 'vague' then how come you have made a reductio argument of nations with the factors but not being powerful (a strong argument I think). –  user2850249 Apr 17 at 17:52
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