It’s been 70 years since the official end of WW2 in Europe. A good time to be grateful. Western Europe hasn’t seen a significant conflict on its soil in three generations. No matter what people think of terrorism, it isn’t a World War.
The Cold War wasn’t (or isn’t) fun. The threat of nuclear annihilation that influenced the second half of the 20th century was real. But those were fears, those were threats. That wasn’t a firestorm raining from the sky, or tanks rolling through towns, or child soldiers, or gas chambers. There are wars all over the world right now, but nothing like that.
Here in Germany, there’s been a lot of information about the end of the war in the media. It’s taken all those years for survivors to speak up, mostly children back then, now in their 70s and 80s. They still don’t wholly understand what they lived through. “It’s incomprehensible,” they say. It may be hard to imagine what it was like, but we – the younger generations – need to try every once in a while. Not in the knee-jerk, finger-pointing sort of way. Those of us who live comfortably and in peace need to remember how fragile that is, and how privileged we are.
In many places, my home country for one, we’ve passed into a pseudo-peace where wars are fought in our name all over the world without us knowing what’s really going on. That’s a scary situation, and one that could lead to very bad places, as I noted in a post a couple of years ago about the Sadness of War.
But still, nothing going on today has the scale of WW2. I get the sense the Germans are immensely grateful for the peace they’ve lived since then. On a political level, they’re still aware of Germany’s responsibility to the past. That’s why the German chancellor Angela Merkel will attend ceremonies in Moscow (the former western allies won’t go, because of the Ukraine conflict). As skeptical as I am about Russian politics today, I think it’s right to honor what the Soviet Union did in WW2. It took the brunt of the fighting, and the deaths, defending their land from invasion.
In western Germany, the Americans were the real winners of WW2. 1945 started a love affair with all things American that didn’t truly break until the Iraq War. The US was the “Schutzmacht,” Germany’s protector. In the past 15 years or so, the public skepticism about the US and its interests has grown. The recent scandal about the German intelligence service spying on European interests for the Americans is fuel for the fire. The Germans are grateful for everything the US had done for them after WW2, but there are calls to move on. The ex-Schutzmacht can’t be trusted like it used to.
That leaves Germany, a central member of the European Union, trying to find its role 70 years after the catastrophe it brought upon the world. For years, international polls have shown how admired modern Germany is, and people around here tend to be slightly stunned when they learn this. They’re more used to the childish and vicious reminders of Germany’s past, like in Greece when people put a Hitler mustache on a picture of Merkel, or show her with a swastika. As if any other country in the world has dealt better with its dark past than Germany.
Photo: VE Day Celebrations on Bay Street, Canada. By John H. Boyd [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons. http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AVE_Day_celebrations_on_Bay_Street_1945.jpg