At 300 pm, May 8th 1945, the formal, unconditional surrender of the forces of Germany to the United Nations forces occurred, and the war state that had nearly destroyed Europe lapsed into a peace of sort. The million man armies of the warring nations on the continent stopped their organized efforts to obliterate each other, and for the first time since September 1st, 1939, the outcome was officially assured. For the 20 year old infantry man on the front lines on May 8th, the miserable sensation of potentially being the last man to die for his cause so close to the end of judgement mercifully came for a time to a close. As it did for the 24 year old captain, the 30 year old major, 34 year old colonel, and the 44 year old general. Now 70 years later on the 70th anniversary occasion of VE Day – the day the official end of the war in Europe – the few captains of those men that can say they were there, are 94 years of age and the men they led 90, and all the rest are lost to the mists of time.
At the conclusion of the European portion of the conflict known as World War II, the military colossus astride the world was not one of the ones present at the start of it. The U.S Army in 1939, the year of the European war’s initiation with Germany’s Blitzkrieg into Poland, stood at 178,000 men, the 19th largest force in the world positioned meekly in size between those of Portugal and Bulgaria. On VE Day, the United States had 12.8 million people in uniform and over 9 million of them in fighting forces across the globe. By the end, it could project 100 fighting divisions, 60 aircraft carriers, thousands of fighters and bombers, and probably the most devastating submarine service in the world. This massive force was linked to the greatest economic production capacity the world had ever seen, supported by the most effective logistics, and capable if necessary of taking the war to any corner of the world with overwhelming weaponry. With VE Day, those 8 million fighting men turned their martial attentions to defeating the last of the axis of evil, the Japanese Empire, with a horrific and staggering one million casualties estimated still to be necessary to subdue the fanatical mainland defenses of Japan, beyond the 600,000 casualties the Americans had sustained since entering the war three years before.
The picture above reminds us, seventy years later, that the outcome eventually achieved by the combined titanic forces of the allied nations needed to defeat the Nazi war machine, paradoxically revolved around one man, Winston Churchill. From the fall of France in May, 1940, until December 1941 with the attack on Pearl Harbor, Great Britain stood completely alone in the way of the incredible German military behemoth. One must remember that by May 10th, 1940, the entire continent of Europe was secure in the hands of the Nazi warlord, and the other totalitarian military power, the Soviet Union, was six months into a nearly two year period cooperating with Germany as its ally in the domination of Europe through treaty. The scrap remnants of British and Free French forces had escaped destruction of Dunkirk by the barest of margins, leaving Great Britain nearly defenseless to a determined German assault. Great Britain, was alone and by most measures defeated, and everybody thought so. Everybody except Winston Churchill, who gambled that the seas that had always provided the buffer for Great Britain. might just allow a certain technical difficulty sufficient to forestall any easy land invasion of the island, and that the ownership of the skies could assist in the delay until Great Britain could somehow convince the Untied States that the means for self preservation lay with fighting the Nazis on the continent of Europe, not the coasts of America. When no one else believed, Churchill ringingly enunciated belief ,and his words served as power as significant as any division or battleship. He would not quit, and thereby Great Britain would not quit, no matter how overwhelming the odds. The counterfactual of a world without Winston Churchill easily could be discerned, with a prostrate Great Britain seeking to avoid invasion through a calamitous peace of enslavement with the Nazis, the Soviet Union soon to face its erstwhile ally now alone, with no counterforce nipping at its heels, and the United States, the buffers of oceans insufficient to successfully fight off the entire rest of the world. Instead what proved to be Great Britain’s finest hour was ultimately because of the pugnacious leadership of the descendant of the Duke of Marlborough channeling his ancient ancestor.
May 8th, 1945, brought to the end the 2000 year history of Europe as the helmsmen of world history, initiated with Alexander’s conquest of the East in the 4th century BC, through the thousand year dominance of the Roman Empire, the linking of Christendom to the remnants of empire marshaling forth the enormous energies of the warrior kings of The Holy Roman Empire, Spain, and France, the spark of the birth of the individual genius in the Renaissance and Enlightenment, the power of the Industrial Revolution and the reach of the citizen marine of Great Britain, that brought the efficient transfer of goods, administration, and connecting language across most of the globe. On V-E Day a bankrupt and exhausted Great Britain was incapable of funding even a day of its own recovery, and the once formidable nation states of Europe forged from the Peace of Westphalia in 1648 at the end of the previous devastating Thirty Years War , lay crushed under the combined weight of the sacrifice of multiple generations of youth and almost 80 million dead in the second Thirty Years War from 1914 to 1945. The decisions as to the helmsmen of future civilization and power projection instead on that day 70 years ago stood in the grip of the colossus of the New World and the Slavic Empire of the Eurasian continent, and the basic status quo remains to this day, with Europe incapable of projection of influential power by any significant means.
May 8th, 1945 asked America to take on the mantle of helmsmen for those that had made civilization western, and in the seventy years since, when there were ramparts to be defended, America was there. When the world needed an injection of technology, America provided it. When the world was in crisis and needed food and assistance America marshaled the resources. At this seventieth anniversary, one has to ask if America has succumbed to the fatigue of sacrifice and endurance required to be the helmsman of so long a tradition, with the contraction of America’s willingness to lead over the last six years. There does not appear to be any Churchill out there to focus our attentions on the task at hand.
May 8th, 1945, however, most especially brought that unique moment when there was almost universal acknowledgement that the forces of good had triumphed over a marauding evil. An evil so malign, that the most advanced structure of civilized social structure, education, and culture had succumbed to its dark forces, and that had come to within an eye-blink of dominating the entire globe. A world in which racial genetics, perverted science, and ruthless totalitarianism would have extinguished any whisper of the world’s diversity, creativity, and individual destiny. But on May 8th, the most technologically advanced pervaders of programmed death the world had ever seen, the Nazis, had Quit, and the world deservingly rejoiced.