Menai High student shares her winning words

Menai High School student Kathleen Polson shares her winning essay on how the lessons of World War II are still relevant today.

Kathleen Polson is among one of six students who scored top marks for their essay writing, which will see her join a tour of historic WWII sites in Japan and Hawaii as part of the ClubsNSW Premier's WWII Memorial Tour.


It is difficult to compare the lessons of WWII to today as so many years have gone by. The modern world functions very differently to how it once did. The world is facing different issues, and our everyday routine has evolved to look very dissimilar to people's lives of the 1930's - 1940's. However, I believe the lessons learnt from WWII are extremely important and cannot be ignored by our modern-day world leaders. The events of World War Two, including the death toll of 60 million people, as well as even more people who suffered the aftereffects of war, including illness, poverty and homelessness suffered by both sides of the deadly conflict, is something which cannot be tolerated again in any shape or form. Historian George Santayana famously said, "Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it." This quote rings true for many, as it conveys the importance of never forgetting the cause of such suffering.

Since the end of WWII, the world has seen numerous conflicts of a much smaller nature. Fortunately, these conflicts have not evolved into world wars. However, our world leaders must be aware of regional conflicts which can quickly escalate and threaten world peace on a global scale. Nuclear weapons are unfortunately a reality in our world today and many countries have the ability to deploy them. Such a decision would put at risk the very existence of the world as we know it. The effect of nuclear weapons on human beings was frighteningly displayed in WWII when atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The nuclear weapons today are much more powerful and deadly and would cause death and destruction on a much larger scale. This cannot be allowed to happen.

During the lead up to WWII, Germany under the leadership of Adolf Hitler was preparing for war by building weapons of war on a mass scale. Hitler was determined to expand German territory by invading nearby countries such as Czechoslovakia and Austria. The leaders of the free world at this time decided on appeasement in response to Hitlers military advances. They believed that Hitler would be satisfied with taking these smaller countries and not advance further. History tells us this was a grave mistake. Hitler would soon invade many other European countries including Poland and France and the world was drawn into a mass conflict known as WWII.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization, also known as NATO, was created after World War Two, to commit to peace and protection between its members. NATO's website states that the treaty, "commits the Allies to democracy, individual liberty and the rule of law, as well as to peaceful resolution of disputes." This treaty works to avoid the occurrence of conflict, reflecting on the horrible impact of WWII. Today these values remain, as the threat of war continues to loom. Recently, the Russian invasion of Ukraine demonstrates the possibility for large scale conflict to begin, even in 2022. This conflict has demonstrated the importance of the NATO treaty, and its continued relevance, with the Ukraine applying for NATO membership as it experiences great devastation by totalitarian opposition.

While the events of World War Two can seem distant, it is vital to not disconnect from the atrocities that occurred. It is important to recognise the ways in which totalitarianism can exist, and how it negatively affects not only individual areas, but the world as a whole.

The unfortunate power held by Hitler, was facilitated by his ability to create division amongst the German people. In 1933 Hitler created the Reich Ministry for Public Enlightenment and Propaganda, Hitler appointed Nazi Politician Joseph Goebbels as chief propagandist. The propaganda distributed was used to manipulate and persuade the feared German public to Nazi ideology, which saw Jewish people wrongly targeted. The effects of propaganda was most successful in the times of the Great Depression. Violence and division thrives in times of uncertainty, suffering people seek guidance in hope to return to a place of safety and comfort. It is during these times, people with totalitarian desires sight opportunity and are able to manipulate the thinking of many, through the distribution of propaganda. Examples of this include antisemitic stories in the newspaper and films. Great division was created by the repeated antisemitism that was put out by the Nazi party. In 2020 the world was paralysed by the emergence of the Covid-19 pandemic. Never had the world been halted in such a way since the devastation of WW2. In March 2020 America's New York was stated as an epicentre for Covid-19. In response to the spread of the virus, Donald Trump, America's president at the time, referred to Covid-19 as the "Chinese Virus". Trump's rhetoric influenced a wave of racism towards Asian communities. Newspapers have stated that, "anti-Asian hate crimes" had increased 145% in several States in America in 2020 after President Trump had used negative language toward China.

As mentioned before, "those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it." This quote from Santayana is not stating that the events of World War Two will manifest in an identical fashion to 1939. Rather, Santayana is urging people to recognise the themes and power structures that were the cause of this conflict. Examples of these themes include totalitarianism, division, and propaganda. When we reflect there is evidence of these themes around the world today. It is important to be able to recognise them before we face the possibility of a third world war, or in fact any conflict of any scale, because the world cannot achieve complete world peace, if even one country or group of people are impacted.

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