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7 May 2020updated 02 Jun 2020 8:20am

From the NS archive: The end of the Second World War was also a beginning

12 May 1945: VE Day – joy, thankfulness and hope at the end of the conflict in Europe. 

By New Statesman

As victory in Europe is announced and the streets erupt in celebration, the New Statesman’s leading article expresses thanks for the swiftness of the end, caution against a force such as Nazism rising again and, above all, recognition that it was not the Allied leaders who won the war but the ordinary people across the world’s nations. Their efforts, says the writer, have offered the chance “to rebuild our all-but-lost civilisation”.

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This has been a week in which thoughts and anxieties for the future have momentarily been submerged in a flood tide of emotional relief. With merciful swiftness – Holland saved at the eleventh hour from utter catastrophe, Denmark and Norway spared the devastation of battle, and even Czechoslovakia (where there were, at first, signs of a last-ditch stand by the SS) liberated with less bloodshed than was feared – the crowded end came as a sudden blessing few had dared so soon to expect. Over the Third Reich, prostrate in utter disarray, victory is total.

As the BBC on Wednesday described the final scene in Berlin, when Field Marshal von Keitel said quietly, “I agree,” and took up his pen to sign, for the Wehrmacht and the German nation, the instrument of unconditional surrender to the USSR and the Western Allies, millions must have echoed thankfully in their hearts the reporter’s simple words: “It was all over now.”

Yet, even in this hour of achievement, when flags and bonfires and legitimate merrymaking have celebrated release from six long years of endurance, effort and sudden death, the public mood throughout the United Nations differs greatly, we are convinced, from the thoughtless acceptance of victory with which the “Cease Fire” was greeted in 1918.

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The common people of this country and of the Continental nations whose way of life Nazi Germany challenged are aware that they saved themselves, not by the wisdom of men “set over them in authority” – grateful though they may be to this or that leader whom the war threw up – but by their own exertions. They have seen that Fascism created through the vehicle of Germany a military weapon which could be broken only by the unity of the factory workers of Moscow, Coventry and Detroit, of the men who marched together into battle from the little fields of England and the wide steppes and prairies of Russia and North America. And they perceive, without illusions, that the defeat of Germany is only the beginning of a struggle to rid the world forever of the economic and political forces in which Hitlerism, as we emphasise in a leading article, was cradled.

Though peace in the Far East has yet to be won, we have been vouchsafed in Europe an opportunity, which may never recur, to rebuild our all-but-lost civilisation. Its foundations must be based firmly on recognition of the essential unity of the working people of all nations. Their needs and desires – work and security and “a dinner of herbs where love is” – are one and the same. The Captains and the Kings have made, between them, a century of greed, aggression, hatred and blood. They may now depart.

Read more from the NS archive here. A selection of pieces spanning the New Statesman’s history has recently been published as Statesmanship (Weidenfeld & Nicolson)

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