Baltimoreans celebrate VE Day, May 8, 1945. Courtesy, Image from the Baltimore Sun.

75th Anniversary of VE Day: An Optimistic Reminder for 2020

05/08/2020
By Nicholas A. Redding

75 years ago, Allied Forces received the unconditional surrender of Nazi Germany‘s remaining armed forces – officially ending nearly six years of horrendous fighting.

Today, it can be tempting to look back at World War II and see Allied victory over Nazi tyranny as a guaranteed or certain conclusion. However, for those living through the bloodshed and atrocities – Allied victory was anything but certain.

As the Nazis rolled across Europe, the fate of liberal democracy itself hung precariously in the balance. From the retreat at Dunkirk to the destruction inflicted on London during the Blitz – there was little cause for hope or victory.

Children of the blitz in London, 1940. Image from BBC.

In spite of these challenges, and overwhelming odds, the United Kingdom held on — long enough for America to enter the war and for Soviet Russia to turn the tables on its treacherous former ally. Eventually, this unlikely alliance changed the history of the world — pushing Herr Hitler and his evil henchmen to an ignominious collapse by May of 1945.

facing down another foe

Today, we face an equally powerful foe — not fascist, but viral.

Similar to the fascist foes of 1945, COVID-19 has taken advantage of our systemic vulnerabilities and exploited the openness and diversity of our societies. Like the English at Dunkirk, we have seen nothing but defeat and retreat – not from bullets and bombs – but from an invisible, ever-present enemy. Unlike our ancestors, we cannot fight our way out or punch through pillboxes on some faraway beach to defeat this foe – but we can take both solace and guidance from their spirited campaign.

In the face of overwhelming odds, the World War II generation remained united in their cause; making tremendous sacrifices so that collectively they could prevail. Or, as King George VI explained to his subjects upon the surrender, his nation had succeeded because, “We kept our faith with ourselves and with one another.”

Today, we are being asked to do the same — and we cannot allow partisan discord or a desire for a return to “normalcy” to prevent the necessary work ahead. Perhaps the lesson we should take from the victorious allies of ’45 is to remain united in spite of our differences and the pain of our sacrifices.

VE-Day celebrations on the streets of London, 1945. Image from Getty Images via BBC.

Even on VE-Day, the world knew the fight was not yet complete – as victory in the Pacific still remained illusive and not yet within grasp. Today, some parts of our nation have flattened the curve – there are bright spots in the current fight – but we must remain resolute, united and focused, and then, in our own time, we too shall prevail. 

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Nicholas A. Redding · Executive Director

Nicholas A. Redding is Preservation Maryland’s Executive Director and between announcing major organizational updates, he often blogs about Maryland and Civil War history.

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