Tuesday, May 10, 2011
Some Older Thoughts about V-E Day
Two days ago marked the anniversary of V-E Day. Usually I try to write something at least peripherally about WWII on that day. However, I've just been caught up in too many things lately so I'm going to be a bit lazy and post something I wrote in my journal a couple of years ago about V-E Day. Bear in mind this is from my journal and thus is not as analytical as what you may have become accustomed to on this blog. I have made some minor revisions (such as updating the year, smoothing out some of the grammar, correction of spelling errors, and dropping the sordid details from the orgy of the previous night) and inserted a few editorial comments for clarification of some ideas and words (noted by the black lettering).
Today marks sixty-six years since the unconditional surrender of Nazi Germany and the official end of the European theater of conflict in WWII (it is the "official" end because the actual act of surrender from the German COs [Hitler committed suicide on April 25th] was proffered on the 7th of May but for geopolitical reasons Stalin insisted that the declaration be made on the following day). And so the official day that the German high command surrendered has become known as V-E Day or Victory in Europe Day. There is a particularly iconic image that represents much of the elation felt that day in which a sailor (spontaneously?) passionately embraces and kisses a nurse upon hearing the news.
Unfortunately, these ebullient feelings would be of short duration as the full extent of Axis' atrocities became revealed, particularly the horrors perpetrated by Hitler's Nazi Germany. This calls to mind one of my favorite episodes of Band of Brothers entitled "Why We Fight" which occurs during the events shortly after V-E Day. As the title of the episode indicates the soldiers start questioning why they have been involved in a war that seemed to be all about the affairs of countries other than their own; it is difficult for them to understand why they should be concerned with European geopolitics and its consequences/effects on the national security of the United States. And though they never quite resolve these political issues they are finally able to embrace a moral justification for the war when they stumble upon their first Jewish concentration camp and are given an answer to why they fight. Now though most nations knew fully well by at least 1942 about Hitler's attempts to exterminate the Jews (and other undesirables) with the purpose of making Europe Judenrein (free of Jews) most of the soldiers were unaware of these malevolent crimes against humanity until they began to liberate the concentration camps.
But as tragic as WWII was it is remarkable in that, to my mind at least, it is the one conflict of recent times that is difficult, perhaps impossible, to assert should never have happened. Of course there is a sense in which one could argue that no war should ever happen and I concede such. But after the appeasement at Munich in 1938 (and I would argue long before) the world was justified to stop Hitler by force. (Though there are fringe revisionist scholars who try to make the specious argument that WWII was not justified in any sense they remain so marginal that their effects on people's judgment about WWII is, thankfully, negligible. But that hasn't keep some from continuing to try and argue such. For example, see my series of posts about Pat Buchanan's view of the war starting here.) All other conflicts of recent time (Iraq I and II, Vietnam, Korea, Afghanistan, etc) that the US has been directly involved in do not fare as well under the same kind of moral scrutiny.
Of course the truth of the matter is that the US did not get involved in WWII for any strictly moral reason (exemplified by the fact that it took nearly three years for the US to get into the war and when Roosevelt refused to do such morally 'necessary' actions as diverting bomber resources to destroy the various railroad networks that transported Jews and others to the gas chambers) but principally for geopolitical/national security reasons. In fact, this is ultimately why any nation state goes to war: security. And regardless of the new vogue ideas that arise in the field of International Relations, and the continuing utterance of platitudes that occur during meaningless discussions about 'idealism (or liberalism)' versus 'realism' the fact of the matter is that a nation state will be chiefly compelled to war when it perceives a threat to its own security (I am using 'security' here as a blanket designation covering the sum total of a country's national self-interests). Yet as much as I would like to believe that the US entered WWII because it felt morally compelled to do so the reality is that it did not get involved until its own national security was threatened, namely, by the bombing of Pearl Harbor (To be fair the reluctance to enter WWII did not originate from Roosevelt but rather from the very much ingrained isolationist thinking of the American populace). Nevertheless, the world is of course better off because the US did eventually enter the war ultimately turning the tide against Hitler and Nazi Germany bringing about the end of the European conflict of WWII on this day, Victory in Europe Day.