Seventy years ago the guns in Europe and Asia fell silent as World War II concluded. After six years of battle and the loss of many millions of lives, the Axis powers of Germany and Japan surrendered to Allied forces. Soldiers returned to civilian life. Two world wars in 34 years had reshaped the global map.
Seventy years following the end of World War II, America is in a “valley of trouble.” It does not understand the depth of the peril it faces.
Suddenly America stood in front of the world as the dominant power. It was a moment of great opportunity.
In 1945 Europe was shattered. Hitler’s Third Reich was over. Germany was bled both physically and morally. The Nazi regime abused the Teutonic virtues of a proud and fruitful nation to terrorize the world with a bestial brand of horror. France, Belgium and the Netherlands were brutally violated and pillaged by the six years of occupation. Add to this the residual devastation from World War I, and Europe needed serious help for a fresh start.
The Russian-dominated Soviet Union suffered enormous losses at the hands of the Nazis. Its troops pushed far into Europe, and when the surrender came it occupied half of Germany, Poland and other Eastern European nations. The Soviet empire made territorial gains it didn’t want to give up. The Western powers led by the United States had real concerns that Soviet troops might push further west, seeking larger gains in retribution for war losses.
The prostrate condition of Western Europe posed grave peril for the future. The armies of Europe were broken. Great Britain was drained financially. It still held its colonies, but its glory was in the past. The British Empire would recede. It would no longer be able to assert itself as it had in the past.
In Asia, Japan was pushed back into its island borders and had lost several islands in the north to the Soviets. With the dropping of two atomic bombs on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and threats of more to come, the nation was coerced into submission. Japan surrendered on the deck of the American battleship USS Missouri (pictured above) . Under General Douglas MacArthur, an American-led occupation force settled into control of the nation.
By September 1945, America surveyed a worn and tattered world. Unlike other nations, it hadn’t suffered the impact of relentless bombardment, invasion or occupation. Other than the 1941 Japanese bombing of the American naval fleet at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, in 1941, and the invasion of Guam and several of the Aleutian Islands, no U.S. soil experienced the war firsthand. This safety, coupled with vast material resources, allowed America to produce ships, tanks, planes, food and other material to supply Allied troops throughout the Pacific, North Africa and Europe.
America’s rise to military, economic and political dominance positioned the country for what would become its great historic role in world affairs. What it did for the postwar world was unprecedented among the nations.
America the great provider
In 1947, U.S. Secretary of State George Marshall gave an address at Harvard University outlining a bold initiative to provide money to assist in rebuilding the economies of Europe, especially that of former foe Germany. What became known as the Marshall Plan eventually poured billions of dollars of development aid into Europe.
Recovery in Europe was slow. The populations were open prey for social upheaval. With the Soviet Union threatening to absorb more territory, it was necessary to bolster the defeated and weary. America alone had the economic power to sustain others. Congress approved the plan, and in only a few years the European economy was on the rise. American troops remained in Germany. In time a new alliance between North America and Western Europe called the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) was formed, with joint defense forces arrayed on the continent.
Extending a helping hand to rebuild the economy of a defeated enemy was an unprecedented move. It was a practical necessity in shoring up the West against Soviet ingress, but it still remains one of history’s most remarkable acts of generosity.
America’s postwar presence in Europe was essential to restoring economic and political order. By remaining engaged with troops, money and close political relationships, the United States did the exact opposite of its actions in Europe after World War I ended in late 1918. At that time America went home and left Europe to its own devices. The result was social chaos, Hitler and World War II. U.S. leaders would not repeat the same mistake in 1945.
Concurrent with the rebuilding in Europe was an even more dramatic restructuring of the conquered Japanese state. Japan had been led by a cult of the emperor. Centuries of tradition had established the holy warrior culture that erupted in the 1930s. In 1945 America imposed a military rule that replaced emperor worship with a Western-style democratic government. Japan’s constitution was rewritten, and it included a non-violent clause that remains to this day.
The years that followed the end of World War II were the zenith of the American century. Historians have even termed America’s newfound position an “empire.” The United States became the indispensable nation by all essential measurements of a great power.
America’s prime position remains to this day in spite of setbacks in recent years and many calls for other nations to rise to take their turn in the spotlight of the world stage. Current U.S. leadership has downplayed America’s world role by a policy of “leading from behind” and deemphasizing the country’s status as an exceptional nation. A less prominent America is the world’s new reality.
It’s different today
Since 1945 the United States has been involved in five major conflicts requiring massive deployment of troops and materiel—Korea, Vietnam, the Persian Gulf, Afghanistan and Iraq. None of these conflicts were openly declared wars as was World War II. None ended with the kind of victory achieved in World War II. None allowed America to reshape the regions in any manner as they did after World War II.
In the case of Korea, the peninsula was divided into two nations, North and South Korea. The North remained a communist state, and today, with an unstable and erratic government, it is a major source of international terror and a clear threat to the region. American troops still patrol the fragile border between the two states, keeping a peace that could evaporate should the North Korean government gamble that an invasion would not be met with enough resistance to force it back.
America entered Vietnam with the intent of containing the spread of communism in Southeast Asia. More than 500,000 troops fought. More than 50,000 died before a treaty was signed in early 1973. Vietnam was left a divided country—the communist North and the democratic South.
But in early 1975 North Vietnam invaded the South, and within two months the South Vietnamese army and government collapsed. Vietnam became a fully communist state. America did not shape this region into its own democratic image, and the blow to morale had significant repercussions in the following years. Vietnam became a buzzword for American defeat and limitation.
Fast forward to 1991. America had experienced a comeback in terms of its will and pride of power. The decades-long Cold War with the Soviet Union was coming to a close as the monolithic Soviet Union was cracking under the weight of economic and political decline.
In the Middle East, Iraq under Iraqi President Saddam Hussein invaded the tiny Persian Gulf nation of Kuwait. In response President George H.W. Bush led the United States to assemble a coalition of nations that successfully drove Iraqi forces back into their own borders, liberating Kuwait in the process. But the region was still not safe.
In 2001, the United States experienced its greatest terrorist attack at the hands of al-Qaeda, whose leader Osama bin Laden was being harbored in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan. When demands to turn him over were refused, President George W. Bush launched a massive military campaign with the help of close allies (and eventually the NATO alliance). The United States and its partners dislodged the Taliban and took control of much of the nation, but resistance continued, especially after America’s efforts became divided due to the next big conflict.
In 2003, concern that Iraq’s Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction and was flouting United Nations resolutions led President George W. Bush to order another invasion. This time Hussein was overthrown, and an occupying Allied force set about trying to install a democratic form of government—a new attempt at nation building like in postwar Europe and Japan.
But most in this formerly dictator-ruled Muslim nation did not understand this Western style of rule, nor did Western leaders grasp how challenging it would be to instill such a change. The same proved true in Afghanistan. Religious and ethnic divisions in this region have proven resistant to Western-style reform.
In 2013 America pulled its ground troops out of Iraq after a decade, leaving the Iraqis to fend for themselves in resolving their differences and combating Islamic fundamentalism. The result has been a humanitarian disaster.
The past year has seen the rise of a radical terrorist organization proclaiming a renewed caliphate. The group known as the Islamic State or ISIS is imposing a rigid reign of terror through the parts of Iraq and Syria it controls. The central government in Iraq has not been able to mount a credible defense of its northern borders and cities. In effect, the Iraqi state left behind by America no longer exists.
The War in Afghanistan is still not over, nearly 14 years after it started. U.S. and NATO forces officially ended combat operations in 2014, but America intends to maintain a residual force there until the end of 2016. Bin Laden was eventually found and killed in Pakistan, a supposed ally in America’s war on terror. Yet Afghanistan itself has for a while been on the verge of Taliban reconquest.
To kill a people
Where Vietnam became a byword for American failure after the mid-1970s, Iraq and Afghanistan are taking on that mantle for this generation. It seems the sacrifice in lives in towns like Ramadi, Fallujah and Marjah have been for nothing. Such impotence and miscalculation kills the soul of a people. The sight of America’s wounded warriors from these Middle Eastern wars creates cynical disregard for the vain political statements made by leaders.
The United States entered the Middle East to bring justice to its attackers and to unseat a dangerous tyrant. But soon it took on the noble mission of installing Western-style democracy to the region—except this region did not possess the necessary cultural foundation to sustain such change. Events to date have shown the folly of that plan. Today the Middle East is a region in conflict on many fronts. The American-led invasions of 2001 and 2003 and the Arab Spring of 2011 have contributed to unrest and civil war in several countries from North Africa to Pakistan. The lack of American resolve and leadership in the region has significantly contributed to a crisis that has global implications.
That’s not so say that the United States hasn’t played a significant role in the world. It has. The last half of the 20th century was the apex of what is often called the American Century. The political, military and economic power of America continues to be the single most effective element in the balance-of-power equation of today’s world.
On balance, when all is measured, the United States, along with the other English-speaking nations of the world, has contributed from its God-given blessings to the well-being of many peoples. From medicine to education to direct charitable aid, in so many cases America has benefited the world.
These words need to be carefully considered against the doubt, the attacks and the indifference toward the power and wealth and global dominance of America. Islamic fanatics call America “the Great Satan.” Russia and other totalitarian regimes portray America as an evil “hegemonist” force, bent on undermining their security. Terrorists hate American culture and seek to destroy it and its citizens.
Sadly, even some America leaders and intellectuals undermine its role in the world by subtle criticism and doubt. America to them is not “exceptional.” America, this line of thinking goes, is like every other nation and should feel “guilty” for having so much more than others. Denying the nation’s many blessings from God, they see the country’s biblical, Christian heritage as a source for shame and loathing.
As a result, we have entered into a time of many thinking it would be better to retreat from the world and let others bear the burdens long shouldered by the benevolence of America.
Recent U.S. actions have been less intrusive and more managerial. America is an empire, but a reluctant one. It is more willing to lead from behind, using drones and carefully managed insertion of special forces teams to perform surgical cuts to the enemy.
But such reticence on the world stage creates a vacuum of power, and history teaches us that other, more malignant, forces will always fill a vacuum. As America retreats, the world is becoming a more fragmented and dangerous place.
A hinge of history
Seventy years after the conclusion of World War II is a time for Americans to wake up and realize the signs of the times. The world has reached what historians call a “hinge of history.” The door of history is opening into a different time. Events are turning the world into something far different than what was created in the last 100 years.
We have to go to the end of the First World War to better understand the shape of the world today. With the Middle East crisis, the borders of states created in the wake of that war a century ago are being erased and redrawn. The limits of American power are now exposed, with unforeseen and unintended consequences ahead. And Europe—ever present, ever dangerous—still rumbles like a dormant volcano with the potential to erupt on the world, spilling a molten flow to scorch all in its path.
To the prophet Habakkuk God said: “Look at the nations and watch and be utterly amazed. For I am going to do something in your days that you would not believe, even if you were told” (Habakkuk 1:5 Habakkuk 1:5Behold you among the heathen, and regard, and wonder marvelously: for I will work a work in your days which you will not believe, though it be told you.
American King James Version×, New International Version).
God was answering Habakkuk’s complaint that “justice is perverted … [it] never prevails” (Habakkuk 1:4 Habakkuk 1:4Therefore the law is slacked, and judgment does never go forth: for the wicked does compass about the righteous; therefore wrong judgment proceeds.
American King James Version×). Everywhere he looked in his nation, the prophet saw destruction and violence and unresolved conflict (Habakkuk 1:3 Habakkuk 1:3Why do you show me iniquity, and cause me to behold grievance? for spoiling and violence are before me: and there are that raise up strife and contention.
American King James Version×). He grieved that his country, Judah, so blessed by God, was so morally and ethically corrupt. We could survey the culture of America in 2015 and say much the same.
God’s answer revealed the rise of a new power called Babylon, an efficiently cruel empire that could quickly move through a land, destroying and consuming all in its path. Babylon was the instrument God would use to deal with the decayed culture of Judah, the remnant of the nation of Israel.
America and the English-speaking nations are in the same position as Judah in this scene from the ancient prophecy. These verses about moral decline could describe events any day in the United Sates.
The past year saw race riots erupt on the streets of Ferguson, Missouri, and Baltimore, Maryland. Street violence is a raw symptom of the breakdown of the family structure among the black American community. This moral collapse has been eating away at black America for the better part of the 70 years since the end of World War II.
In 1965 a government report titled “The Negro Family: The Case for National Action” described the negative impact of the breakdown of the nuclear family (one with a father and mother present) within the American black community. The report foretold that unless certain economic and cultural trends were not reversed, a total breakdown of families in this community was guaranteed. We are seeing the continued effects today. Instead of improving, the breakdown of the family has spread to other segments of American society with devastating consequences.
America is entering another presidential election cycle. The issues the candidates are debating and the qualifications of the individual candidates reflect the current moral, political and even spiritual condition of America. Cynicism surrounds this election cycle. The political leaders of the nation lack moral clarity in addressing and dealing with the pressing issues facing America. Look for this election cycle to highlight the deepening divide within America on all fronts. Regardless of who wins the presidency in 2016, America will face a changed world.
A new world without America?
The critical question of the hour is what America’s role will be in this changed world. For more than six years of the current presidential administration, the United States has not shown effective world leadership in the areas that matter. What matters is moral and spiritual leadership. America has lost its way and has not led the world on the high ground of morality and ethics.
The nation’s time to build a region and shape the destiny of peoples seems to have passed. Whatever vestige of righteousness America had 70 years ago in the wake of World War II has evaporated like the dew in the morning sunlight.
The United States leads the world in creating and glamorizing godless lifestyles of every form. Through its Hollywood entertainment complex it exports every kind of immorality and perversion. Adultery, pornography, drugs and addictions, and every form of sexual immorality are put into music, film and television and exported throughout the world.
On the home front, the issue of same-sex marriage has replaced abortion as the litmus test for social correctness today. This fact alone speaks volumes about the spiritual condition of the land.
The question is whether it’s too late to turn around this decline and restore the nation to a previous standard of right and wrong.
It’s not our place to answer this question. It’s our place to point out the problem and show the way forward for any who might choose to read their Bible and believe what it says. It’s every person’s responsibility to follow God to a better, more righteous life. It’s our place to stand in the public arena like the prophets of old and place the words of God before the people. What will you do with what you’ve heard?
Seventy years following the end of World War II, America is in a “valley of trouble.” It does not understand the depth of the peril it faces. But people of faith—people who know there is a God—someone one like you who has read this far in this article—understand that something is wrong with the world and our peoples.
It’s time to shake yourself from the fog and stupor surrounding the issues and reach out to God, who is faithful and who will bring the nation and the world through this time of trouble. His purpose stands. God cannot lie. You can get to know that God now. You can step into the story He is creating. You can make sense of your life and escape the frustration and futility you see around us.
God says, “I will … transform the valley of trouble into a gateway of hope” (Hosea 2:15 Hosea 2:15And I will give her her vineyards from there, and the valley of Achor for a door of hope: and she shall sing there, as in the days of her youth, and as in the day when she came up out of the land of Egypt.
American King James Version×, New Living Translation). Grab hold of that hope today and begin making a better life for yourself and others your life touches!