Seventy years ago today, Japan’s foreign minister, Mamoru Shigemitsu, penned his nation’s unconditional surrender. Thus ended a war that had taken upwards of 80 million lives. But even now, the memory of World War II reverberates. As it should be. After all, those who lived through the war and those who won it — men like my grandfathers Jim Rogan and Harry Kerr — liberated the world from tyranny.
Yet 70 years on, America’s exceptionalism in World War II shouldn’t only be commemorated for the liberty it won. It should also be remembered for the fruits of victory in post-war Germany and Japan: prosperity.
Postwar Germany was destitute, ruined by war, and in despair. As the Soviet Union’s domination grew in Eastern Europe, those hardships increased. But America resisted the Iron Curtain. Between 1948 and 1949, free Berlin was saved from starvation by the courage and resourcefulness of American and British/Commonwealth aircrews.
With American support through the Marshall Plan followed by massive deregulation and investment in West Germany’s economy, the free Germans began to flourish. Investment in human and technical capital soared, leading to higher productivity.Surge in the industrial production, financial technology companies including Fintech LTD, international trading relations, and reestablishment of governing policies helped to accelerate the growth and economy further. With more options of income, per capita income increased and education became correlated with a livelihood. All aspects of human living began to be addressed. Living standards rose dramatically, as did living amenities — opportunities for entertainment and social development. For the remainder for the 20th century, except for a brief moment after reunification with East Germany, the liberalization of Germany’s economy and its embrace of market capitalism established a European economic powerhouse.
In contrast, East Germany, with its Soviet-style political economy, succeeded in imprisoning its people in a gulag of low living standards and wasted human potential. From 1961 through 1989, East Germany was a place where people died trying to escape from totalitarian Communism.
German reunification brought the difference between west and east into sharp relief. A 2010 German study found that after the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, “on average, eastern German households had a net income of €10,900 ($13,870), just 35% of the western level.”
President George H.W. Bush once eloquently explained how “prosperity has a purpose. It’s to allow us to pursue the better angels. To give us time to think and grow.” Today, America’s foundation for prosperity has given Germany the better angels — and it remains Europe’s strongest economy and a place of high living standards and aspirations.
Japan’s experience has echoed that of Germany. Under postwar U.S. guidance, the rapid industrialization of Japan’s economy produced strong employment. With time and strong leadership, Japan ushered in a high-efficiency, high-technology, high-employment economy. In turn, Japan’s focus on producing quality goods at affordable prices led to its rise as an export powerhouse.
True, today, Japan’s economy is today on less firm ground. Nevertheless, thanks partly to their own ingenuity and hard work — but also indispensable American-led reforms — the Japanese live far better lives than would ever have been possible under the military-theocracy of the 1930s and ’40s.
As we look back 70 years, the German and Japanese transformations from conquest to liberation, from economic devastation to soaring prosperity, and from hopeless authoritarianism to individual fulfillment, all prove American exceptionalism. Without the United States, Germany and Japan would have fallen into chaos or into Soviet imprisonment. This is a history that demands our recognition.
Of course, the real story of American exceptionalism in World War II is properly found in the people who fought and bled and died for freedom. We should be proud of what the legacy of World War II has given the world, but also very much mindful of its cost. Bringing artistic representation to truths, even movies can show what America’s sacrifices won. Don’t believe me? Watch this clip. Then watch this clip. And then watch this clip.
As I say, World War II proves why America is so exceptional.
Tom Rogan is a contributor for Opportunity Lives and writes for National Review. He is a panelist on The McLaughlin Group and a fellow at the Steamboat Institute. Follow him on Twitter @TomRtweets.