Dread a world war. Not just owing to the colossal loss of men and material, but also because we simply could not avoid it twice despite knowing the costs. That the world didn’t get into a third combat meant some hard lessons were learnt, but many countries still do come perilously close to it every now and then.
The month of May marks the end of World War II in Europe even though the war was raging on in the Far East till Japan formally surrendered on August 15, 1945. The Allies formally agreed to Nazi Germany’s unconditional surrender on May 8, 1945. Thus May 8 is celebrated as Victory Day, Victory-Europe Day and V-E Day in various parts of the European continent. Since the German Instrument of Surrender was signed at the Soviet headquarters in Berlin after midnight as per the Moscow time zone, Russia, Israel, and quite a few countries in central Asia and eastern Europe celebrate May 9 as Victory Day.
While for many countries these days mark their victory in the war, for many others it is also a day that marks the end of unprecedented suffering for millions. Many leaders also use the occasion to showcase their supremacy and evoke a strong sense of patriotism.
For instance, President Vladimir Putin in his speech on the occasion said: “The lessons of the past war are relevant once again. We have done and will do all that is necessary to guarantee the high capabilities of our armed forces.” Those in the modern Russian army remember the “oath” of Soviet soldiers who fought Nazi Germany, he added: “I die but I will not surrender”.
From WW I to II
Many called the World War I the war to end all wars but it could prevent a war for just about two decades. World War II was fought across the world between 1939 and 1945. Hardly any country escaped and it is estimated that around 22 million soldiers and 38 million civilians lost their lives. The dead included six million Jews killed by the Nazis during the holocaust.
The Treaty of Versailles, which Germany was forced to sign after the end of World War I that ended in 1918, is blamed by many for the outbreak of World War II. The terms of the treaty signed between the victorious Allied powers of Britain, France, USA and Italy and the defeated countries of Germany, Hungary, Austria and Bulgaria, dealt a body blow to the economy, particularly of Germany. Mass unemployment and sky-rocketing inflation meant a weak economy and an angry people.
The treaty also held Germany responsible for World War I, for which it had to pay damages, its army was limited to a lakh, and parts of its territory were given to other countries like Italy, Poland, France, Belgium and Denmark. Czechoslovakia was carved out of German-controlled areas and some German colonies were distributed among the allies.
Such tough economic and political conditions enabled the birth of fascist parties, including the National Socialist German Workers’ Party or the Nazi Party founded by Adolf Hitler. Hitler simply did not like the treatment meted to Germany and after a failed attempt in 1923, successfully became Chancellor of Germany in 1933.
After he took over, he started violating the terms of the treaty and started reclaiming the lost territory. Rhineland, Austria, Czechoslovakia and Poland were invaded. Britain backed Poland and along with France declared war on Germany in September 1939. In 1940, Germany attacked and defeated Norway and Denmark. Thereafter, Germany turned its focus on Britain and later on Russia.
Italy, under Benito Mussolini, joined hands with Germany and wanted to take Egypt. In June 1941, Germany, Italy and Japan attacked the Soviet Union but could not capture Moscow. On December 11, 1941, Hitler declared war on the United States of America to support a pact he had with Japan. It was now a global conflict and World War II was truly on.
Responding, the US focused on defeating Germany, Italy and their supporters. The Germans also could not stand the onslaught of Russia and were on the backfoot from 1943 onwards. In September 1944, Allied troops attacked Germany and the Soviet troops were all over Berlin in April 1945. On April 30, Hitler committed suicide and Germany surrendered on May 7, 1945.
Winston Churchill, the British Prime Minister, knew of the German surrender on May 7 but withheld the official announcement. Joseph Stalin, the Soviet Union’s premier, wanted to make the announcement on May 9.But Churchill was in no mood to give that honour to Stalin and so came the official announcement from Britain’s Ministry of Information that said, “In accordance with arrangements between the three great powers, tomorrow, Tuesday (May 8), will be treated as Victory in Europe Day and will be regarded as a holiday.”
(With input from Agencies)