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Is World War II over?

Is World War II over?

This Friday marks 75 years since Nazi Germany's surrender in World War II. The fighting would, of course, grind on for three more horrific months in the Pacific, culminating only after the US dropped two atomic bombs on Japan. But Victory in Europe – VE Day as it's known on both sides of the Atlantic – ended the European phase of the worst war in human history.

Three quarters of a century later, the number of people old enough to remember the war is dwindling fast, but in some ways the defining conflict of the 20th century continues to reverberate directly into the politics of the 21st.


In some places, the war isn't even officially over. Japan and Russia, for example, continue to argue over who rightfully owns a handful of islands that the Soviet Union occupied late in the conflict.

South Korea and Japan, meanwhile, have their own island disputes, but they recently suffered a severe rupture in relations over Seoul's demand that Tokyo accept responsibility for the occupying Japanese army's wartime atrocities in Korea.

In Eastern Europe, the trauma of the war keeps coming up. The Soviet Union lost more people (some 24 million) than any other nation, in what Russians still revere as "The Great Patriotic War." Poland, Ukraine, and Belarus were largely wrecked as fighting along the gruesome Eastern front repeatedly ground through them.

Moscow still clashes with Central and Eastern European countries over the removal of statues honoring Red Army liberators, which many locals see less as monuments to liberation than as symbols of post-war Soviet oppression. Even an international Holocaust commemoration earlier this year was marred by a spat between the Russian and Polish presidents over basic World War II facts. And in Russia's conflict with Ukraine since 2014, each side has attacked the other using language lifted straight from the 1940s – Moscow accuses today's Ukrainian nationalist groups (some of whose predecessors aligned with the Nazis against the Soviet Union during the war) of being "fascists," while some Ukrainians refer to Putin as "Putler."

That said...even as some World War II animosities have lasted, so too have the big international institutions – the UN, IMF, World Bank – that have served as pillars of the post-war international system. Those institutions depend on international cooperation and on US leadership, both of which are in short supply as the world grapples with a new global crisis.

So, here's a question: Will the COVID-19 pandemic, itself a new crisis of global proportions (though mercifully nowhere near as destructive as World War II) bring fundamental changes to the post-war order?

Khant Thaw Htoo is a young engineer who works in Eni's Sakura Tower office in the heart of Yangon. As an HSE engineer, he monitors the safety and environmental impact of onshore and offshore operations. He also looks out for his parents' well-being, in keeping with Myanmar's traditions.

Learn more about Khant in the final episode of the Faces of Eni series, which focuses on Eni's employees around the world.

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If you lead a country allied with the US, or you're simply hoping for some specific commitment or clear and credible statement of purpose from the US government, you might feel a little dizzy today. The sight of an American president (Barack Obama) signing his name, of the next president (Donald Trump) erasing that name from the same legislation/bill, and then the following president (Biden) signing it back into law again will raise deep concerns over the long-term reliability of the world's still-most-powerful nation.

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Swisher, who hosts the New York Times podcast Sway, joins Ian Bremmer for the latest episode of GZERO World, airing on public television nationwide beginning this Friday, January 22th. Check local listings.

Brexit pettiness lingers: Here we were naively thinking the Brexit shenanigans were over after the EU and UK agreed to an eleventh-hour post-Brexit trade deal last month. We were wrong — the saga continues. Now, a new row has erupted after the Johnson government said it will not give the EU ambassador in London the same diplomatic status awarded to other representatives of nation states. Unsurprisingly, this announcement peeved Brussels, whose delegates enjoy full diplomatic status in at least 142 other countries. The UK says it will give the EU envoy the same privileges as those given to international organizations, which are subject to change and do not include immunity from detention and taxation given to diplomats under the Vienna Convention on diplomatic relations. EU members are furious, with officials accusing London of simply trying to flex its muscles and engaging in "petty" behavior. The two sides will discuss the matter further when UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson meets EU representatives next week, their first face-to-face since the two sides settled the Brexit quagmire on December 31. Alas, the Brexit nightmare continues.

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The GZERO World Podcast with Ian Bremmer. Listen now.

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