70 years on: The legacy of VE Day at the end of the second world war
Are the politicians commemorating the end of world war two acting in the spirit of those who fought and died in their millions 70 years ago?
as THE politicians lurch from the general election campaign to laying wreaths and remembering the dead, are they acting in the spirit of those who fought and died in their millions over 70 years ago?
May 8th is the 70th anniversary of VE Day, when the Second World War came to an end. After six years of war, a poor, hungry, damaged and battered Europe saw Hitler dead, the allies victorious and the beginning of a new era.
As all the news media has repeatedly shown us, people in Britain celebrated by taking to the streets and holding impromptu parties. In London the streets were thronged throughout the centre of the capital and the pubs ran out of beer. My mum was part of those crowds, given two days off work and determined to celebrate the end of fascism in Europe and what they hoped would be the end of suffering.
And people had suffered. The last year of the war in London saw the onslaught from the skies returning, with the V1 and even more dreaded V2 rockets, which caused thousands of deaths. The last V2 explosion was only in March 1945, less than two months from the war’s end. Most people had lost friends and family, in my mum’s case her first boyfriend, a rear gunner in a Lancaster bomber shot down over Berlin in November 1943, aged 19.
Even the celebrations, then, were tinged with sadness and, as the historian Juliet Gardiner said on the Today programme, a certain sort of aimlessness as people wandered the streets of central London on May 8th.
Many people in Europe had suffered much worse. The Jews of Europe were fascism’s most obvious victims, killed in their millions alongside gypsies, gays, the disabled and others targeted by the Nazis. Most countries of mainland Europe were occupied and resistance movements were born which fought with immense courage and bravery against the Nazis and home grown collaborators. Yugoslavia was scene of a bloody civil war, where the left partisans fought against monarchists and fascists. Greece was also victim of civil war, with the British aiding and abetting the right against the Communists. Britain’s bombing of Germany, the city of Dresden in particular, was bloody and deliberately targeted civilians.
Russia was particularly hard hit, losing around 27 million people in the war including at the terrible siege and battle of Stalingrad, where the Germans’ eventual defeat marked a turning point in the war.
You will hear little about most of this in the next few days. Europe’s post-war history saw the defeat of the left in countries such as Italy and France. The labour government in Britain brought in real reforms, many of which have been dismantled or under threat today. The demand by the people of Europe for peace in 1945 is ignored by the governments and military today.
In August 1945, the US dropped the atomic bomb on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, causing death and injury on a previously unimagined scale, following on a deadly conventional bombing of Tokyo. The war ended with the US the declared victors, and very soon afterwards a ‘Cold War’ began. Europe was divided along its centre, and Germany divided as a country.
Today, there are dangers of that Cold war starting up again. Russia’s commemoration of VE day is on May 9th, because of the time differences in signing the peace. The leaders of Europe are for the most part boycotting the celebrations there, supposedly at the behest of the US and in response to the war in Ukraine. Even Germany’s Angela Merkel, who could not have boycotted it altogether, will turn up on May 10th.
There are many very good reasons for remembering the end of the war and the sacrifices of my parents’ generation. There is no good reason to support a boycott which is aimed at fostering conflict and possibly future wars, rather than the peace and anti-fascism which most people thought they were fighting for.
Source: Stop the War Coalition