By Jim Buchanan
This week marks the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II in Europe.
The Sylva Herald of May 9, 1945, carried the news, and managed to run it big and yet subdued at the same time. The lead story proclaimed, “The most anxiously awaited event in modern history means the liberation of a continent which has been under the domination of military might ever since the German blitz rolled into Poland in the fall of 1939. Starting with Hitler’s bloodless conquests of trusting neighbors, the threat which has hung over the world has finally been dissipated by an overwhelming superiority of the Allies in men, materials, air power, sea power and the overwhelming desire of free peoples to rid the world of the tyranny which has ‘blacked out the lights of Europe.’ The Allied victory and the capitulation of Germany has once more restored freedom to Europe. Victory is sweet after the period of despotism which has prevailed but, as in 1918, the world must appreciate that victory is one of arms alone so far and must be followed by a peace that will ensure the world against anything like the rise of National Socialism again… Today the Allies have beaten Germany to her knees, something that was beyond the comprehension of most of the world little less than a year ago. … Battle-hardened veterans of Britain who stopped Rommel in Egypt, the husky young Yanks in their superb equipment, Frenchmen fighting to win back their homeland, the bitter Poles who remembered how they tried to fight the Wehrmacht with nothing but rifles – all these are responsible for the downfall of what was supposed to be an ‘invincible’ army.”
Despite the victory, the mood was less that celebratory.
For one, there was counting the price that had been paid. One of the Herald’s front page articles said, “There is little cause for wild excitement and jubilation even at the news of Germany’s surrender when there is still so much suffering and dying of our brave fighting men. Thousands of them have made the supreme sacrifice, many thousands more lie on hospital beds from which they will never leave; others will return maimed of limb. Hospitals are crowded with those suffering from mental disturbances, the most pitiful of all our casualties.”
Secondly, the public was clear-eyed about the price that lay ahead. The Herald carried not one, but two editorials driving that fact home.
“…The people of the world are humble before this victory. America is grateful. If the bells ringing, the sirens blowing and the momentous news left us unspeakably happy, what must it have meant to those in Europe to know that it proclaimed the lifting of the yoke of tyranny from their shoulders? The United States must now throw the entire war machine at the Japanese Empire. That enemy should not be underestimated. It will take yet more time, men and materials … we cannot allow the tidings of V-E Day swerve us in our determination to crush all that is poisoned with racial or class prejudice, wherever human freedom is suppressed for selfish privilege.”
The second editorial said the “gradual collapse of German resistance, coming on the heels of an unbroken string of sensational Allied victories, has for some reason made some people sure of a quick ending to the separate Japanese war. Before we climb on the bandwagon of those prophets who predict a sudden Japanese downfall, it might be wise to consider just a few facts about our Pacific enemies. … In the India-Burma theater, Lord Louis Mountbatten’s allied troops killed 100,000 Japanese in 14 months. Prisoners numbered 400. The same story of fanaticism was told in Saipan, Iwo Jima and now in Okinawa There are over 5,000,000 (Japanese soldiers) waiting, spoiling for a fight. Some of them have yet to be called up for military service. Invasion of the Jap homeland will call for a colossal effort. Preparations for D-Day in Normandy were made from bases in Britain. Supplying our Pacific forces will mean shipping material 6,200 miles from San Francisco to Manila, and another 1,670 miles from there to Tokyo. Our Pacific supply problem is the greatest in the whole history of warfare.”
Indeed, there were many more predictions of fighting for many years ahead than there were for a victory by year’s end.
News of VE Day will likely not get its due as the world wages another war, this one against a pandemic. Another reason VE Day might slip through the cracks is the nature of the end of the war in Europe. While Nazi Germany didn’t have an effective offensive force at hand there were still soldiers occupying a great swath of Europe. As such, there was more than one surrender. Complicating the matter was the fact that a reporter for the Associated Press broke an embargo on announcing news of the surrender ahead of curfew, meaning the world knew of the surrender 24 hours before President Truman’s official announcement.
Additionally, VE Day wanders around the calendar a bit. The U.S. and most of the world recognizes VE Day as May 8. Serbia, Belarus, Russia and Israel mark it on May 9.
Speaking of Russia, it played a role in delaying the official end of hostilities between Germany and the U.S. President Truman had hoped to end hostilities with a united Germany, but when the Iron Curtain fell and separated East and West Germany for decades, that dream ended.
Truman signed the proclamation officially ending hostilities on Oct. 24, 1951.