The American Interest
Analysis by Walter Russell Mead & Staff
V-E Day Remembered

Today is May 8; on this date in 1945 the unconditional surrender of all remaining German forces went into effect. Still celebrated in many countries as a national holiday, it is a date we must never forget.

It is a day to remember the millions of victims the Nazi tyranny claimed, the millions of civilians who died in the war to destroy Hitler’s Reich, and the millions who laid down their lives to ensure that the world did not, as Churchill warned,  “sink into the abyss of a new dark age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science.”

I am traveling to St. Petersburg later this month, the scene of one of the greatest and most cruel battles in that most terrible of wars. I will also be visiting Berlin, where I will be attending meetings only a few yards away from the courtyard where Hitler’s body was burned.

We must never forget the horrors of that war, the foolishness and cowardice that allowed Hitler to achieve such military strength, or the courage and sacrifice that finally brought him down.

Published on May 8, 2012 4:57 pm
  • Kenny

    May 8 “is a date we must never forget.’

    I fully agree with that sentiment, but then again I’m a sucker for lost causes.

    Two days ago I heard on talk radio where this organization — the name of which I cannot recall — was going around asking college GRADUATES who Hitler was. Believe it or not, a shocking number were clueless. Yes they were.

    Now if the future generation are this ignorant about something as basic as Adolph Hitler, you hope in vain that May 8 will not be forgotten by the great, great majority.

    And by the way, Mr. Mead, are you of the opinion that the demand for unconditional surrender from Germany and Japan was wise. I’m not.

  • http://inthisdimension.com alex scipio

    Arguably the most important thing to remember from WW2 is this: Total war works. Japan and Germany have been staunch economic and military allies ever since. There is no question today’s Germans, Italians and Japanese are better-off than now they would have been had the Allies not conducted total war.

    Every State is governed at the behest of its citizens or subjects, and when those citizens rise-up, the power of the State is immaterial (Russia 1917, Britain 1776) which is why China reacted as it did to Tianenmen.

    The point?

    If an adversary’s behavior is so bad as to go to war against it, casualties of civilians – by definition responsible for their government – must take a backseat to the objective of the war: the destruction of the enemy polity, and bringing that nation to become completely dependent on their conqueror.

    Because these are not the goals of any doctrine of “Limited War” – which has NEVER worked – it is senseless to conduct limited warfare. It wastes lives, treasure and futures on both sides – and never has achieved its goal.

    If war is the answer, and it very often has been throughout history, limited war is not.

    Had we nuked Tora Bora when bin Laden was there – at the cost of NO American casualties – this would have been over thousands of wasted lives ago…

    If an adversary is worth fighting, total war is the only mature response. And if we’re not ready for total war, anything else is just a waste – and a waste American normally loses (Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia).

  • Cunctator

    Agreed — once must not forget the 1930s — for example, as we confront the challenge of jihadism and Iranian nukes.

    And when in St. Petersburg don’t forget that you are at the site of the start of the Russian Revolution. Without the Bolsheviks coming to power in St. P., there probably would not have been a Nazi takeover in Germany 14 years later — or the popular support for such a radical alternative to the threat of communism in Germany. So much evil flows (directly & indirectly) from the nature of the regime that replaced the Tsars and its leaders.

    And one more little caveat — don’t forget when in Russia that while the Soviets ended the Second World War on the side of the good guys, Stalin actually helped start the war while allied to Hitler.

    International politics is often so confusing.

  • John Barker

    “We must never forget the horrors of that war, the foolishness and cowardice that allowed Hitler to achieve such military strength, or the courage and sacrifice that finally brought him down.”
    Well said,but military history is hardly ever a part of the education of the young. I once taught a writing course to high school students focused on WWII. The students were fascinated; they read and discussed important issues and composed some fine papers. But such adventures are now curtailed by the banalities and stupidities of the trivia testing regime.

  • thibaud

    Re. military history, perhaps when/if WRM posts from St. Petersburg he can help correct American readers’ ignorance of that WWII military theater whose scale and significance dwarf all other theaters combined.

    The siege of Leningrad was just one of many epic battles across a 1,000-mile Eastern Front that was Hitler’s real obsession, the focal point of the war, the main arena in which the outcome would eventually be determined.

    It’s no slur against American, British or Canadian bravery to point out that Hitler’s Operation Barbarossa was THE campaign of WWII: the number of troops involved on both sides and the casualty rates were an order of magnitude greater than those in France, North Africa and Italy.

    It’s little-studied or commented-on in US colleges or US media, but the battle that broke the back of the German war machine was Stalingrad, without question the greatest battle in history. Excellent histories of this battle are told by Alan Clark in “Barbarossa” and by Antony Beevor in “Stalingrad.” The horrors of this battle are beyond our imagination; the significance of the battle is largely unrecognized.

    Greater still was the slaughter and suffering of the civilians living in the regions along that 1,000-mile front, which historian Timothy Snyder called “the Bloodlands” in his masterful work by the same name. (http://www.amazon.com/Bloodlands-Europe-Between-Hitler-Stalin/dp/0465002390)