On the 75th anniversary of Victory in Europe (VE) Day it would feel wrong not to write a short post. On 7th May 1945 the Nazis surrendered – Hitler having committed suicide a week before – bringing an end to the most devastating conflict of all time. The following day people could finally celebrate, if only momentarily.
For the second time in less than half-a-century the international powers vowed that this would be a war to end all wars. The death toll was staggering:
Some 70 million men and women served in the armed forces, taking part in the greatest military mobilization in history. Civilians, however, did most of the suffering and dying. Of the estimated 66 million people who perished, nearly 70 percent—some 46 million—were civilians, including six million Jews murdered during the Holocaust.
Once the killing had stopped and the dust had settled, citizens were left to sift through the ravages of war, with much of Europe and Japan (the latter surrendering in August 1945), not to mention a whole host of other countries, reduced to ruins.
Amidst the painful recovery, an American-led international system developed with the overriding purpose of preventing another global war. Multilateral institutions were founded, trade agreements signed, new states created (including a Jewish homeland in Israel), and defensive alliances formed. Whilst far from perfect – and I will leave it to the professional analysts to argue the merits and demerits of the post-WWII liberal-based international order– the overriding goal has been met.
Despite a global population boom, nuclear proliferation, climate change and persisting ethnic, religious, racial and political discord, to name but a few challenges, there has been no World War Three. Nor have we really come close to one, nor shall we. It is inconceivable to think that horrific events like the Holocaust could happen again – whilst noting the genocidal outbursts that have occurred in some regions over the past 75 years – or that we will ever see a repeat of the mass mobilisation necessary to wage World War Two.
Of course, the lessons of the war dim over time and with the number of survivors who participated in the last global conflict reduced to a tiny percentage, there are few people left who can impart anecdotal accounts of this unprecedented event in human history.
This concern is partly alleviated by the multilateral, globalised order that we now live in and that should be preserved at all costs. Yet, it is still important for children today and of future generations to learn of this period in history; of how it happened, of how it was allowed to happen, of its consequences and the sacrifices made by ordinary people.
Such an understanding is necessary to appreciate why the 8th May is such a significant date in the calendar and why it is a cause for global unity in an era of petty global competition that pales in comparison to the desperate time of World War Two.