F or millions, World War II was the greatest catastrophe in history. Those who suffered most were the Jews, Russians, Germans, Japanese, Poles, Yugoslavs, Filipinos, and Chinese. Altogether, nearly 50,000,000 people were killed; millions more were terribly scarred, either physically or mentally. Trillions of dollars worth of property was destroyed, including art works and other irreplaceable cultural and historical treasures.
For other millions of people, World War II was a boon. Those who benefited most were the yet-unborn Germans and Japanese. Among contemporaries, the people who benefited most, by far, were Americans.
The first thing that stands out about America in the war is that although the United States made a decisive contribution in Europe, and played the critical role in the Pacific, the cost of victory was relatively low. Fewer than 300,000 American soldiers, sailors, and airmen were killed, out of an armed force of some 16,000,000; as compared to most other belligerents, this was a low ratio. Although some American property in Hawaii, and a great deal in the Philippines, was destroyed, the forty-eight states suffered no damage. These two facts -- a low casualty rate and almost no damage to property -- meant that the American experience of war was far different from that of other nations.
Around the world, the most common emotion in the period 1939-45 was fear, the most common sensation was hunger. In the United States, fear and