Friday, May 8, 2009

8-9 May 1945: V-E Day. Victory Over Fascism

Czechoslovak liberation medal

On this day in 1945—midnight on 8 May in the west, thus a day later in the USSR—the unconditional surrender of the forces of the Third Reich to the victorious allies went into effect.

Winston Churchill told Parliament:
Yesterday morning, at 2.41, at General Eisenhower's headquarters, General Jodl, the representative of the German High Command and of Grand Admiral Doenitz, the designated head of the German State, signed the act of unconditional surrender of all German land, sea and air forces in Europe to the Allied Expeditionary Force, and, simultaneously, to the Soviet High Command.
. . . . . . . . . .
The German war, Mr. Speaker, is therefore at an end. After years of intense preparation Germany hurled herself on Poland at the beginning of September, 1939, and in pursuance of our guarantee to Poland, and in common action with the French Republic, Great Britain and the British Empire and Commonwealth of Nations declared war against this foul aggression. After gallant France had been struck down we from this Island and from our united Empire maintained the struggle single-handed for a whole year until we were joined by the military might of Soviet Russia and later by the overwhelming power and resources of the United States of America. Finally almost the whole world was combined against the evildoers, who are now prostrate before us. Sir, our gratitude to our splendid Allies goes forth from all our hearts. We may allow ourselves a brief period of rejoicing, but let us not forget for a moment the toils and efforts that lie ahead. Japan, with all her treachery and greed, remains unsubdued. The injuries she has inflicted upon Great Britain, the United States and other countries and her detestable cruelties call forth justice and retribution. We must now devote all our strength and resources to the completion of our tasks both at home and abroad.
The fascist German response managed to be characteristically both ingratiating and self-pitying. The New York Times report concluded:
After having signed the full surrender, General Jodl said he wanted to speak and received leave to do so.

"With this signature," he said in soft-spoken German, "the German people and armed forces are for better or worse delivered into the victors' hands.

"In this war, which has lasted more than five years, both have achieved and suffered more than five years, both have achieved and suffered more than perhaps an[y] other people in the world."
Some might beg to differ.

Nonetheless, it's worth remembering a time when wars had a clear moral purpose and clear conclusions, and re-education and "nation-building" actually meant something and succeeded.


New York Times front page

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