If you were able to feel Normandy’s yellow, white, and brown grains of sand run through your fingers and get between your toes, you might not be able to tell what differentiates it from any other beach. If I showed you a current picture of the Ardennes, it’s possible to mistake it with any other deciduous forest. Or what if I took you on a walk amidst the greenery of the Tiergarten in Berlin’s city center? I doubt you’d be able to tell we were stepping over fragments of exploded mines and artillery shells while being serenaded by Starlings perched in White Willows.
While the battle scars may have faded on the topography of World War Two’s most iconic battlefields, the conflict, and its eventual resolution, remains foremost in our minds as the defining moment of modern history seventy-four years after the Allies pronounced victory in Europe.
On May 8, 1945, many European countries celebrated the first V-E Day. Millions affected by World War Two rejoiced as they finally heard the news they had eagerly anticipated. At long last, the Allies had accomplished their mission: to put an end to six years of continuous war on the European continent and force the Nazi Regime to an unconditional surrender. By its end, World War Two claimed the lives of 55 million civilians and servicemen. Among them were the 21 million Russians, 7 million Germans, 6 million Poles, 2 million Yugoslavs, and 6 million Jews who perished in the Holocaust.
The Allies had long predicted the Nazi’s ultimate surrender. In the closing months of the war, FDR, Stalin, and Churchill met at the Yalta Conference to discuss the establishment of a post-war peace durable enough to withstand the turmoils of reconstruction. The leaders agreed on a plan to partition Germany into four parts and committed to German demilitarization and denazification.
On May 7, 1945, Supreme Allied Commander General Eisenhower received the unconditional surrender of all German forces. Of course, news of the Nazi’s surrender traveled fast, and impromptu celebrations sprung up at Piccadilly Circus in London, the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, and Times Square in New York. Men and women, young and old, made toasts to a dream they once believed to be far off and elusive.
On the morning of May 8, Britain’s Ministry of Food assured Winston Churchill that there were enough beer supplies for every British person to raise a full glass on a job well done by soldiers scattered across Europe. Stores hastily put together special V-E Day commemorative items like mugs and red, white, and blue bunting. Though, it wasn’t all merrymaking. In the United States, the recent Death of President Roosevelt prompted President Truman to order that flags be kept at half-mast as part of a 30-day mourning process, and fighting continued to rage on the Pacific front.
Nevertheless, the Allies had cast fascism onto the garbage heap of evil ideas acted out by evil people, consigned to its rightful place in history. One can only imagine what our world would look like if men and women had not answered the call to combat the evils of fascism, whether it be fighting in the Ardennes or building ships in Mobile, Alabama. Thankfully, today it’s merely a hypothetical explored by novelists and historians, not our political reality.
V-E Day commemorates not only the end of the world’s bloodiest war—a cause worthy enough of jubilee—but also the beginning of a new international political dynamic. The enormous costs of World War Two unleashed an unprecedented sense of urgency to stabilize the European continent by reining in the dark iterations of nationalism and ushering in a new cooperative norm.
The United States grew into its role as a global superpower. The Marshall Plan gave $13 Billion in aid to 16 different European beneficiaries seeking to rebuild their economies. It was a massive success; in the first decade of the recovery plan, the average rate of GNP growth among the largest net benefactors of Marshall aid was 33.5%. The aid rebuilt Italy’s automobile industry, modernized Turkish mines, and grew Greek farmers’ productive capacity.
Founded in 1949, NATO committed its signatories to the largest collective defense initiative in modern history at the time, hoping to prevent nefarious actors from threatening the world’s liberal democracies ever again. The Allied victory also enabled German-born French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman to compose the Schuman Declaration in 1950, which articulated a plan to place industries associated with militarization in France and West Germany under a supranational authority. The Schuman Declaration inspired France, West Germany, Italy, Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands, to sign the Treaty of Paris a year later. The Treaty of Paris established the European Coal and Steel Community, and committed the signatories to lowering market barriers to foster economic cooperation. This was the first step towards the present-day European Union.
The aforementioned institutions aren’t without their respective problems, but without the steadfastness of classically liberal values encapsulated in these new institutions, the Allies may not have been adequately prepared to confront one of their own, the USSR, without unleashing a war that would eclipse the devastation caused by World War Two. The United States, with the help of its European partners, brought about the collapse of the Soviet menace and closed the chapter on communist totalitarianism.
Today is dedicated to remembering those boys who paid the ultimate price in Normandy, the Ardennes, or Berlin, reflecting on the human capacity for both the good and evil, and recognizing how blessed we are to be alive in the current moment. But, this doesn’t mean our gratitude should be confined to today. Every waking moment, it is incumbent upon us to be grateful for living in the most prosperous and peaceful period of human history.
The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Lone Conservative staff.