Thursday, 8 May 2014

May the Eighth

The 8th of May. Funny old day. Here’s what the Guardian had to say about unusual events in Dublin:

“About 3 p.m. passers-by in the centre of the city were surprised to see students of Trinity College hoisting the Union Jack and the Red Flag over the main entrance to the University.... A large crowd gathered and the students assembled at the window and sang [...] ‘Rule Britannia!’ amidst an outburst of booing from the crowd.”

Unheard of. A few windows got broken and soon enough the Union Jacks came down, but still – the British flag flown and celebrated in Dublin?

But strange sights were seen in London too. “Five years ago it would have seemed the wildest of dreams that Soviet flags would fly in triumph in the City of London, as they are doing today...”

Wild indeed.

By now you’ll have guessed that these extracts from the Guardian don’t come from today’s issue, but from this day 69 years ago. The day, 8 May 1945, when Germany surrendered to the Allies and ended the Second World War in Europe.

8 May 1945, VE Day: when the Second World War ended in Europe
In a third article, the Guardian remarked: 

“Not the Beginning of the End but the End of the Beginning, said Winston Churchill after Africa. Today he might well say: Not the End but the Beginning.” 

It was thinking of the huge job of reconstruction that lay ahead.

It ended that piece:

“In his last speech – which sadly he was not able to deliver – President Roosevelt wrote, ‘More that an end to war we want an end to the beginning of all wars – an end to this brutal, inhuman, unpractical method of settling differences...’”

Since 8 May 1945, Britain has not known a single entire day when it has not been involved in war somewhere in the world. It’s just possible that when we get to the 70th anniversary of that victory, in 2015, this country will at last be at peace everywhere, for the first time in a century.

Then we might begin to approach the ideal Roosevelt referred to.

In the meantime, we can celebrate the victory, but I suggest in a muted way. Which, curiously, is much the way the nation celebrated it then, despite the students in Dublin. On 9 May 1945, the Guardian again reported:

“After five years of ‘blood and tears and sweat’ the British people found it difficult to express their joy and relief. We are a little out of practice. Many could not find it in their hearts to rejoice when there is still so much suffering in Europe as well as another war to win.”

I remember my mother saying much the same. There was a sense of relief in London that night, and a pleasure at seeing the lights come in the evening for the first time in over five years, instead of the constant blackout. But there was not great outburst of celebration. There was still the war in the far East to win. There was a lot too much to do.

A lot has since been done. We have, for instance, built a European Union in large part to stop such wars happenig again. But it has a long way to go and, today more than ever, a generation that has forgotten what it protects us against, is trying to dismantle it. Even the small steps we have taken towards ending “this brutal, inhuman, unpractical method of settling differences” are under threat.

But that’s enough of the gloom and the caution. There are ironies to the 8 May anniversary too, and I enjoyed them greatly when we lived on the Franco-German border. The French have a public holiday on that day, but some of my French friends didn’t realise that they could still do their shopping if they came across to Germany.

“Don’t they celebrate it, then?” they asked.

Oddly enough, no they don’t. Few countries in Europe are as opposed to Nazism as Germany. But they still don’t hold a party to mark a national defeat.

On the other hand, they’re vigilant against any renewed rise of the nationalism that precipitated a conflict in which their ancestors inflicted and underwent so much suffering. They snuffed out their neo-Nazis quickly when they started to make progress in the eighties. And they give the strongest support to the ideals of the European Union.

An example that we, who were on the victorious side on that 8th May, would do well to follow.


Faith A. Colburn said...

Here's to an end to isms and all their destructive relatives.

Anonymous said...

If the last world war was entirely of Hitler's making, unfortunately most of the subsequent ones were initiated by the "Allies", i.e. the U.S., G.B., France, etc...
And I still maintain, however much I disapprove of Putin's gangster tactics, the West has a lot to answer for in the current Ukraine' Russia conflict.