Edited by Michael J. Oliver and Derek H. Aldcroft
Chapter 3: The Second World War as an Economic Disaster
3. The Second World War as an economic disaster1 Niall Ferguson On 20 April 1949, the New York Times carried three items about Japan. The most arresting headline was: ‘Japan’s War Cost Is Put at $31 Billion; 2,252,000 Buildings Razed, 1,850,000 Dead’. Similar ﬁgures were produced in the post-war period for nearly all the combatant countries. In four countries – China, Germany, Poland and the Soviet Union – the death toll was even higher, or ﬁve countries if the mortality of the 1943 Bengal famine is attributed to the war. Altogether, the best available estimates suggest, somewhere in the region of 60 million people lost their lives as a result of the Second World War. In some countries the mortality rate was higher than one in ten. In Poland it approached one in ﬁve (Harrison 1998a, 3,7).2 No other previous war had been so catastrophic in relative, much less in absolute, terms. Nor was Japan unique in the scale of destruction its capital stock had suﬀered. Although the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki represented the logical culmination of Anglo-American strategy – two entire cities laid waste by just two atomic bombs – comparable devastation had already been wreaked in other cities by conventional weaponry. In the aggregate, according to the US Strategic Bombing Survey, 40 per cent of the built-up areas of 66 Japanese cities had been destroyed; nearly a third of the urban population had lost their homes. In Germany a similar proportion of the housing...
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