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?

Superpower is defined as a very powerful and influential nation.

  • 4
    Define what you mean by "superpower", please. – John Saunders Apr 12 '14 at 22:20
  • 1
    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 '14 at 0:54
  • Seems subjective; how will you select an authoritative answer? – Mark C. Wallace Dec 2 '19 at 22:27
  • 2
    This appears to be entirely answerable by reference to the theoretical schema it contains and/or is an undergraduate essay prompt designed to allow free argument while displaying content learnt in a topical course. – Samuel Russell Dec 3 '19 at 7:06
  • @Samuel Russell Agreed. VTC as too trivial. – John Dee Dec 10 '19 at 0:21

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.

| improve this answer | |
  • 8
    Professor Tom Au, it was a most marvelous hijacking of a question I have ever seen. Hats off. – Mindwin Apr 12 '14 at 14:40
  • 3
    @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 '14 at 14:58
  • 7
    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 '14 at 6:42
  • 2
    @TomAu, If the US was a super power at the end of WWI why did the allies largely ignore Wilson plea's for leniency for Germany at the Paris Peace talks? If population advantage in 1918 made it a defacto super power, why isn't India today with it's 4x the population of the United States the defacto super power? WWI was not a game changer for the US, by 1919 the US army was disbanded and it was back to business as usual. The US economy never even got on a war footing in WWI. The US purchased alsmost all it's weapons from European powers for that war.. (Artilery, Tanks, Airplanes ) – user27618 Dec 3 '19 at 0:09
  • 1
    @TomAu: And that's exactly the point, isn't it? The US entered into WWII as a minor military power (!!), and came out as one out of only two superpowers. Which somewhat undermines your argument that it was all about WWI. The first war did set up what was yet to come, but it was the second war that really shook things up. (Removing, among others, Britain as the #1 sea power by simple expedient of Britain being broke and indebted to the USA.) – DevSolar Dec 3 '19 at 7:28

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...

| improve this answer | |
  • 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 '14 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 '14 at 23:21
  • You are pointing the capture and the intelligence on German realisations to a far more important situation that they wer ein reality. The achievements in nuclear as well as aeronautic and stealth technology of German were not that much important compared to the state of theory in the world at the same time. However, years after, the USA and some other countries were able to transform this theory in practice with their achievements in other fields such as electronics – totalMongot Jun 23 '19 at 20:30
  • @totalMongot I didn't quantify any importance, just mentioned things that had not been mentioned before, and certainly contributed to certain developments. And as for things like nuclear weapons, the importance of finishing the bomb a few days earlier than the enemy cannot be quantified anyhow. However, we won't be able to unfold the Hypothetical Axis Victory here. – Marco13 Jun 23 '19 at 23:16
  • Sorry, I thought you were explaining in general and not pointing some specific points – totalMongot Jun 25 '19 at 19:27

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.

| improve this answer | |
  • 3
    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 '14 at 14:43
  • 1
    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 '14 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 '14 at 23:07
  • 2
    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 '14 at 17:52
  • +1 because you got it mostly right.. but what's the deal with "large intelligent Jewish population,"? America's Jewish population hovers around 2%. It's a little disconcerting to recognize 2% of the population as the first national resource in making America a Super power. I will give you the benefit of the doubt though and +1 you. – user27618 Dec 3 '19 at 0:00

WW2 was clearly a factor in putting the USA in the position of superpower.

Military superpower: In 1939, the USA had a weaker, in number, army than Romania. They had a powerful fleet , however, and aviation was OK: reliable airplanes, with useful performances. In 1945, they are first in aviation, navy, and second in land army after the Soviet Union.

Economic and industrial: In the meantime, a powerful industry has been put to its maximal production rate, putting many women to work. Thus, the US enhanced their workforce. Economical power is vastly supported by the financial edge, with gold reserves. They managed well this power when they achieve to put into service the Bretton Wood system.

Political power: Multiple and reliable allies in Europe, even if they had some trouble with France. Communist parties failed to be an efficient counterpower in most european countries. Strong alliances in South America. Good partners in the Middle East, from Saudi Arabia to Israel a few decades later.

Cultural power: From Captain America to movies.

Food power: Important thing. The Marshall plan was for a great part about feeding the Europeans, and America achieves to do that. They sold a lot of food, seeds and fertilizer.

However all this power was a little hampered by the vigorous fights in Asia: China, Korea and later Vietnam. USA lost there a lot of bases, and a lot of cultural power fled to non governemental forces (like the hippie movement), thus levering down the American edge in the cultural influence.

| improve this answer | |
  • You are missing a point there: battle readiness is not directly linked to military power, especially for a country like the USA, which has wo oceans between itself and wars. For the Korean war, we are already 8 years (1.5 * WW2 length) after WW2, so you might understand why the military power of 1945 was not entirely sustained. Notably, the political power gained in Japan pushed the USA to reduce their forces there. Later, they were able to reinforce. – totalMongot Dec 3 '19 at 19:06
  • Another point: the P 51 were only there at the start of the war, and I am wondering if they were not under south korean flag ? About the tanks, the Pershing was clearly not a "refurbished tank" And about navy, is Missouri not enough for you to blockade, land troops (Incheon) and bomb North Korea? :) – totalMongot Dec 3 '19 at 19:07
  • @totalMongol, I'm not talking about battle readiness which is typically a term applied to existing divisions, army corps, ships or planes. I'm talking about non existent capabilities. The US military contracted by an order of magnitude between 1945, and June 30, 1947. From 12 million to 1.5 million. Basically the US went back to it's pre WWII numbers. If it wasn't a Super power before WWII it clearly wasn't militarily better off in 1949. And again we are talking about the beginning of the Korean War.. Clearly Korea was a wake-up call. – user27618 Dec 3 '19 at 19:54
  • @totalMongol, America few the P-51 Mustang through 1953. The Korean war ended July 1953. The USAF few propeller Mustangs against Soviet Mig 15 jets until the F-86 Sabre's replaced them. 3 years!! And yes the first three Pershings tanks rushed to Korea from Japan were salvage jobs. Lost after braking down because their fan belts were improvised. The US military had ZERO medium tanks in Korea at the onset of the war only the light M24 Chaffee's which were outmatched by the North Korean T-34s medium tanks. This forced the US to salvage abandoned Sherman's from WWII Pacific battle fields. – user27618 Dec 3 '19 at 20:19

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.