How societies remember and commemorate the past often says something about how they see themselves — and can be highly contentious.
Soviet pressure on its neighbours, from Norway in the north to Turkey and Iran in the south, along with Soviet spy rings and Soviet-inspired sabotage in western countries, further deepened western concerns. Much of the revenge was to gain advantage in the postwar world.
The majority of ports in Europe and many in Asia had been destroyed or badly damaged; bridges had been blown up; railway locomotives and rolling stock had vanished. Not a few people then and since wondered if the trials were merely victors' justice, their moral authority undercut by the presence, in Nuremberg, of judges and prosecutors from Stalin's murderous regime, and by the fact that in Tokyo, the emperor, in whose name the crimes had been committed, was shielded from blame.
During the war, millions more had fled their homes or been forcibly moved to work in Germany or Japan or, in the case of the Soviet Union, because Stalin feared that they might be traitors. Thousands of unwanted babies added to the misery. The trials, inconclusive though they were, formed part of a larger attempt to root out the militaristic and chauvinistic attitudes that had helped to produce the war, and to build a new world order that would prevent such a catastrophe from ever happening again.
Acknowledging such difficult parts of the past is not always easy and has led to history becoming a political football in a number of countries.
Today, particularly in the countries that were on the winning side, there is a reluctance to disturb our generally positive memories of the war by facing such issues.
It has not necessarily been easier among the nations on the winning side.
That the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki might have been morally wrong or unnecessary causes equal controversy in the United States. When it was elected in the summer of 1945, for example, the Labour government in Britain moved rapidly to establish the welfare state.
Many Europeans were surviving on less than 1,000 calories per day; in the Netherlands they were eating tulip bulbs. The four horsemen of the apocalypse — pestilence, war, famine and death — so familiar during the middle ages, appeared again in the modern world. In Germany and Japan, democracy slowly took root.
How should the past be remembered?
Nor did their peoples want to pay the price of empire, whether in money or blood. And Dresden, or the firebombing of Hamburg, Tokyo and Berlin, the forcible repatriation of Soviet prisoners of war, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, should remind us that bad things can be done in the name of good causes.
Particularly in divided societies, it is tempting to cling to comforting myths to help bring unity and to paper over deep and painful divisions. In France and Italy, women finally got the vote. The terrifying new power of atomic weapons was to lead to a standoff suitably known as Mad — Mutually Assured Destruction. We should not view the war as being responsible for all of this, however; the rise of the US and the Soviet Union and the weakening of the European empires had been happening long before 1939.
Britain, France, and the Netherlands all saw their imperial possessions disappear in the years immediately after the war.
In China, people turned increasingly from the corrupt and incompetent nationalists to the communists. The rights of women also took a huge step forward as their contribution to the war effort, and their share in the suffering, were recognised.
The Europeans' African empires crumbled in the 1950s and early 1960s. Two powers, so great that the new term "superpower" had to be coined for them, dominated the world in 1945. In 1949, the Soviet Union exploded its first atomic bomb, giving it parity, at least in that area, with the United States.