At the Imperial War Museum in London, there is an exhibit dedicated to Peace and Security during the post-World War II era. While browsing the exhibit, I noticed that the exhibit treated the post-War era as mostly peaceful with the advent of international law and international institutions such as the United Nations along with the financial institutions like the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. Personally, I questioned this narrative of 1945 being an international stunde-null (Hour Zero) on the international stage.
During the post-War era, the Cold War tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union- along with the states willfully or forcefully bandwagoning with them- nearly devolved into cataclysm. Similarly, states were formed, reshaped, or overthrown by larger powers seeking greater security in their respective regions and on the international stage. Perhaps I questioned the exhibit’s simplistic narrative because of a book I have been reading during my trip by Odd Arne Westad called The Cold War: A World History. Consequently, the Cold War has been on my mind especially with relation to World War II during my visit to Europe.
I later reflected on this point after seeing two interesting parts of the Imperial War Museum. One was a monument to the Soviet troops who died during World War II fighting the Nazis, and the other was a piece of the Berlin Wall kept by the Imperial War Museum. This struck me as an interesting juxtaposition. The Soviet monument serves as a reminder of the sacrifices of a wartime Ally, while the artifact of the Berlin Wall signifies the terrible oppression brought on Eastern Europe by the Soviet Union.
One of the points that Westad makes in his book is that the Soviets joined the Allies out of necessity rather than shared ideals or governments with the United States and Great Britain. I thought of this as I observed both the Soviet monument and the piece of the Berlin Wall. I observed how swiftly the alliance between the United States and the Soviet Union deteriorated after their common goal of defeating the Axis powers were achieved. Almost immediately after the War, both the United States and the Soviet Union solidified their positions and drew lines across Europe, Asia, Latin America, and Africa.
Later that day I really began to appreciate this juxtaposition. The juxtaposition- intentional or not- by the Imperial War Museum refutes the myth of global peace after 1945. There could not be a stunde-null for the world just as there could not be one for Germany. The ghosts of World War II’s bloody conflicts live on and still affect the world today. Understanding this history along with the complexities of the past are key to understanding the nuances of the present and the potential pathways of the future.