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?

Building on more than 15 years of sustainability leadership, Walmart is doubling down on addressing the growing climate crisis by targeting zero emissions across the company's global operations by 2040. Walmart and the Walmart Foundation are also committing to help protect, manage or restore at least 50 million acres of land and one million square miles of ocean by 2030 to help combat the cascading loss of nature threatening the planet.

One of the world's most famous political dissidents may die in a Russian prison this week.

Alexei Navalny has been on a hunger strike since March 31 over the authorities' refusal to let his own medical team examine him after he developed signs of tuberculosis. Now, one of his aides says Navalny is "close to death."

The fate of Vladimir Putin's most prominent critic — who was poisoned last summer, allegedly by state officials, treated in Germany, and then jailed upon his return to Russia — is being closely watched both inside and outside the country.

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How bad is the climate crisis? Every year, the UN's Emissions Gap Report shows a large gap between the trajectory we're on and the trajectory we ought to be on, explains climate journalist Elizabeth Kolbert. "Every decade now is warmer than the decade before. And we're seeing the damage pile up," says Kolbert, whose latest book is Under A White Sky: The Nature of the Future. "We saw the tremendous wildfire season in California last fall. The hurricane season in the Gulf. These are all connected to climate change, and we're just going to keep seeing more of that." She spoke with Ian Bremmer on GZERO World, airing on US public television stations starting April 16. Check local listings.

Watch the episode: Can we fix the planet the same way we broke it?

Ian Bremmer and Bill Maher discussed the global leadership of the United States compared to that of China on a recent episode of Real Time. "The level of corruption in China, the level of corruption in China, even the buildings and the rails you talk about - the average building the Chinese build lasts for 20, 25 years. In the United States, it lasts for 40 to 50. There's a reason why we are still the world's most powerful country," Ian argued. "I'm just saying China's not eating our lunch - that's all."

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As the price of Bitcoin has skyrocketed in recent months, so has the amount of energy that procuring it hogs. Research shows that Bitcoin "mining" now uses 80 percent more energy than at the start of 2020. Billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates recently sounded the alarm on crypto, saying that he would not invest in Bitcoin because mining for the digital currency requires huge amounts of energy, much of which is powered by fossil fuels that harm the environment. So where does Bitcoin rank in electricity consumption compared to nations?

Even if the US, Europe, China, and India reduce carbon emissions at the rate they've promised, much climate damage has already been done. That shouldn't stop these and other countries from doing all they can to meet their net-zero emissions targets, but they also better start preparing for a world of people on the move.

Climate change will displace an unprecedented number of people in coming years, creating not just a series of humanitarian crises in many parts of the world, but lasting political, economic, and social upheaval as those of us who live on higher ground try to find a sustainable place for these climate refugees to live.

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Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Hi, everybody, Ian Bremmer here, kicking off your beautiful spring week from New York City. A little Quick Take. I thought I'd talk today about Russia, going to be in the news this week. Putin doesn't like it when they're out of the news for too long, certainly plenty going on between the US and Russia right now.

I'd say, first of all, to start off, the relationship is in the toilet. We know this. It is the worst it's been since the early '80s. That was true even under Trump. Trump and Putin personally had a pretty good relationship, but Trump wasn't able to get anything really done for the Russians, because both the Republicans in Congress, key members of cabinet under Trump, massive amount of constraints on what Trump could actually do, whether it's trying to bring Russia back into the G7 or recognize Crimea as a part of Russia, or remove or reduce sanctions. None of that actually got done. In fact, the relationship deteriorated over the four years.

But now we've got Biden and the focus is of course, more on human rights. The focus is more on climate change, which means that Russia as a massive energy exporter and particularly in terms of their influence on Eastern Europe and Western Europe on the downstream for gas delivery, for example, something that Biden is much more focused on. So a lot more pressure on the Russians, and the Russians don't care. Their willingness to hit back and show that the Americans are not willing to take any significant risks to constrain the Russians is also fairly significant. And this is playing out in a number of ways.

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Pakistani radicals vs French cartoons: It's been a tumultuous week in Lahore, Pakistan's second largest city. After widespread protests broke out across the Muslim world late last year after Paris defended French publications' rights to publish satirical images of the Prophet Mohammad, the radical Pakistani Islamist group Tehrik-i-Labaik Pakistan (TLP), gave Pakistan's government until April 20 to expel the French ambassador, when it had planned nationwide demonstrations. When Prime Minister Imran Khan refused to meet their demands, more violence erupted across the country and authorities arrested the TLP leader — prompting TLP supporters to hit back by kidnapping six state security personnel in Lahore this past weekend. Authorities have now banned the TLP outright and are bracing for more violence in the coming days. France, meanwhile, has urged all of its citizens to leave Pakistan.

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