V-E Day 40 Years Later A Final Warning to the West!
The 40th anniversary of the end of World War II marks an ominous milestone for the British and American people.
JUST 40 years ago this summer, the guns fell silent in Europe on a blood-spattered world. One of history's greatest tragedies was over. In a wind-swept tent on Lüneburg Heath on the North German plain, May 4, 1945, Britain's Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery dictated terms to the beaten Nazis. Supreme Allied Commander Dwight Eisenhower was purposely absent from a similar ceremony in Rheims, France, three days later. He still seethed with rage at the Hitlerite officer caste, following his stomach-churning tour through the death camp at Ohrdruf. A pall of death and destruction enveloped civilization. But the rejoicing and euphoria at the defeat of the Axis powers ushered in a springtime of glorious hope. Perhaps now the world would find peace at last. Perhaps now the lights really could go on — as Vera Lynn had sung — "all over the world." Surely the United Nations would succeed where the old League of Nations had failed? After all, didn't the United States, Great Britain and the Soviet Union possess the military clout to smother aggression anywhere on the planet? Wouldn't this guarantee world peace? Ah, yes, how differently it was to all turn out.
The Cold War
Growing Soviet intransigence fed on Anglo-American shortsightedness and naiveté. Result? The "twilight struggle," to use President John F. Kennedy's later phrase to describe the Cold War. By 1948 the Marshall Plan began pumping vast sums of money into a stricken Western Europe. The winter of 1948-49 saw the dramatic propaganda victory of the Berlin Airlift, a brilliant riposte to the Soviet blockage of West Berlin. For 15 months British and American airmen logged 277,264 flights hauling more than 2 1/3 million tons of food, fuel, clothing and medicine — nearly one ton for every citizen of Berlin. "Operation Vittles," as the rescue of West Berlin was called, touched just the right chord in Western Europeans. "America has saved the world!" Winston Churchill exulted! In April 1949 the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) was formed. It was to be an association of sovereign states presenting a united military front against Soviet pressure, from the Bering Strait to the Black Sea. By the outbreak of the Korean conflict in June 1950, the shape of the postwar world solidified. Today, 40 years after World War II, American GIs and their NATO allies still face Soviet troops of the Warsaw Pact military bloc across the "tripwire" in Central Europe. But beneath this geopolitical fault line events are slowly altering the postwar picture.
In 1984 communist Romania did not follow Moscow's boycott of the Olympic Games. In 1984 the East Germans smarted at the Kremlin's squelching of Party Chairman Erich Honecker's visit to West Germany. Meanwhile young West Europeans, with fading memories of the Berlin Airlift but vivid memories of the U.S. folly in Vietnam, anxiously recall the saber-rattling from Washington in the early 1980s. What was happening? Détente and West Germany's eagerness to deal with Eastern Europe (the Germans call it Ostpolitik) stimulated trade on both sides of the Iron Curtain. Ostpolitik whetted East Europe's appetite for Western consumer goods, especially as the Soviet economy sputtered badly. For the West Germans, trade deals with the East bloc are sweetened with opportunities to visit friends and relatives in East Germany. Forty years after World War II this growing Euro-neutralism bedevils both the superpowers. The churning peace marches and demonstrations that swept Europe in the early 1980s signaled the unthinkable: a part of the new generation of Europeans view Washington as much a threat to world peace as the Soviet Union! Moscow, bogged down in Afghanistan, watchful of the Chinese border, wants a breathing spell in Europe.
May 1945 — Field Marshal Bernard L. Montgomery (right) reads the surrender pact ending fighting in Denmark, northern Germany and Holland, during ceremony at his headquarters in Germany. German representatives (left to right): Rear Admiral Wagner and Admiral von Friedeburg, commander in chief of the German navy. British officer stands in background. - See PDF for Picutre
This contrasts, in some Europeans' minds, with Washington's vigorous rhetoric that shattered détente. Some Americans find it hard to understand Europe's desperate desire to relax tensions along the Iron Curtain. They fail to understand that Europeans stand to lose the most in a nuclear or even a conventional war. They are the meat in the sandwich, and they know it. Europeans are also anxious to preserve the economic powerhouse built up from the ashes of World War II. "But built with the help of American and British blood and treasure!" some might retort. True. The Marshall Plan, the NATO alliance, the Berlin Airlift — all were backed by Washington's once ample treasury and the moral support of Great Britain. So the question is: 40 years after World War II, what has happened to overshadow these Anglo-American achievements? Why this strange ambiguity plaguing Washington and London's relations with the Continent? Why were Denmark and Eire so quick to condemn Britain during the Falklands War, for example? Why is it that 40 years after the English-speaking democracies played such a key role in the liberation of Europe that they often meet with such a mixed reception today?
Why this ambivalence straining the Atlantic alliance? Is it just European ingratitude and creeping communism as some shortsighted U.S. policymakers charge? Or is this sense of drift in the West linked to more subtle unseen factors, invisible causes that also tie in with the decline in world stature of the English-speaking nations these past 20 years? Decline? Yes. No one can dispute that the English-speaking democracies have tumbled a long way since those glory days of 1945 when the Queen of the Netherlands could publicly state, "Every time my people see a Canadian soldier, they stand around and cheer." Times have indeed changed. In France, Britain's Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher recently finished third in a poll of leaders French people strongly dislike, behind such notables as Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and Libya's Muammar Kadafi! Obviously this is not 1945. But, 40 years after V-E Day, even a former U.S. Secretary of State wonders if the United States is "incapable of mastering events." British parliamentarian Enoch Powell sadly characterizes the leader of the Western alliance, the United States, as "huge and powerful still, but purposeless and ineffectual... wallowing like some dismasted man-of-war, in the trough of world events." So the real question is this: Has anything happened to the Americans and British themselves since 1945 to bring them to this state of affairs? Is the respected — and maligned — Soviet dissident and exile Alexander Solzhenitsyn right? Are there spiritual factors at work in the lives of nations? Is the decline in Anglo-American world influence, their diminished stature in world leadership, somehow strangely tied in with the more or less general prosperity and affluence of the past 40 years? If so, how?
On January 7, 1960, President Eisenhower's State of the Union message struck perceptively at the root cause of future American decline in stature and world influence. He warned his countrymen: "A great nation can for a time without noticeable damage to itself pursue a course of self-indulgence, making its single goal the material ease and comfort of its own citizens. But the internal moral softness that will be engendered will in the long term bring it to disaster. America did not become great through softness and self-indulgence." Not at all! As her unstinting sacrifice in World War II and the noble generosity of the Berlin Airlift underlined. Yet the America of the 1950s worried historian George F. Kennan: "If you ask me whether a country with no highly developed sense of national purpose, with the overwhelming accent on personal comfort, with insufficient social discipline even to keep its major industries functioning..., has good chances over the long run of competing with a powerful, serious and disciplined society such as that of the Soviet Union, I must say that the answer is 'no.'" In 1953 Britain's great wartime leader Winston Churchill, then serving his people for the second time as Prime Minister, published a bitter warning in his Triumph and Tragedy, the concluding volume on World War II. Churchill's theme for the work: "How the Great Democracies Triumphed, and So Were Able to Resume the Follies Which Had So Nearly Cost Them Their Life." Churchill's chilling blast at Anglo-American lassitude in the face of mortal danger met little response from nations then about to embark upon the greatest consumer binge in their histories. Especially Britain, which suffered painful adjustments in the postwar period (meat was still rationed up to 1953). Ahead was the frenetic affluent decade of the 1960s, the decisive decade in the postwar history of America and Britain.
The Aging Lion
"Britain's most valuable asset had always been the character of her people," lamented Paul Enzig in Britain's Crisis in the Sixties. "They were as public-spirited as any nation. Unfortunately today the behavior that was the exception (in 1945) has become the rule, while the attitude that was the rule has now become the rare exception." What happened to Britain in the 1960s? In many ways she was reaping the whirlwind, still paying out the penalties of the Second World War. Six war years had badly eroded family ties and discipline. Before that, the vaunted British Establishment had stumbled badly in World War I. It needed the support of the working classes to lead Britain to victory in 1945. The stage was thus set for radical change. The Suez debacle of 1956, the Profumo political sex scandal of the early 1960s, the rise of the "swinging England" mentality and "Beatlemania," the orientation of the Labour governments of the 1960s, all this reflected a Britain churning in transition. The Establishment-oriented, steely character that got Britain through the 1940s and early '50s was being challenged by the exciting "classless," affluent generation of the '60s. As millions of young Britons "turned on" and tuned out in the late 1960s, gambling, the pub and the "telly" seemed to hypnotize their fathers, those who had held the fort so admirably against fascism in 1940. Watching a nation embarked on the unconscious commitment to living "smaller than life," columnist Bernard Levin sadly prophesied the turbulent 1970s in Britain: "She rose again and again to her feet, only to fall as often as she rose. The consequence was that she became dazed, and frequently, on rising began to go backwards under the impression that she was going forwards; in time things grew even worse, and she began to lose all sense of which was which." But the sex, drugs and vulgarity that began to waft across the Atlantic on wings of song ("We were the Trojan horse," said Beatle George Harrison) found a ready response in a North America restless and dissatisfied with the fruits of affluence — precisely as President Eisenhower had predicted.
The Hapless Giant
In 1964 the United States Supreme Court authorized sweeping Civil Rights legislation, inaugurating a national debate about "rights" that has not abated. That same year the U.S. Congress permitted President Lyndon Johnson to step up the war in Vietnam. Two ominous events, as it turned out. American author
April 2, 1948 — Planes forming first group to carry emergency food supplies to Berlin residents are unloaded at Tempelhof airport after flight from Frankfurt in the American occupation zone. German personnel unload the Air Force C-47 Dakotas. Airlift arose from attempt by Soviet Union to force the Western powers to abandon their post-World War H rights in West Berlin. - See PDF for Picture
James Michener, as William Manchester later recorded in The Glory and the Dream, had perceptively foreseen that the American style of war in the postwar period would soon have fatal consequences: "Starting with the Korean War in 1950," he wrote, "our nation developed a seductive and immoral doctrine about which I have become increasingly dubious. The mistaken doctrine was this: that we could wage with our left hand a war in which a few men chosen at random sacrificed their lives, while with our right hand we maintained an undisturbed economy in which the fortunate stay-at-homes could frolic and make a lot of money" (pp. 565-566). The dubious doctrine hit home to millions of Americans through television. The mass media increased their hold on the public throughout the 1960s and Marines in the Mekong Delta in Vietnam made great theater for the evening news. America's campuses erupted. By 1968 President Johnson was goaded into quitting after his first full term. Vietnam traumatized the United States. It debased the tone and quality of public life. It was an easy step to the security-phobia mentality that lay at the heart of the Watergate break-in and the resulting cover-up. While America writhed in internal agonies, President Richard Nixon and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger optimistically proclaimed 1973 as the "Year of Europe," a chance to mend fences with the half-continent America had helped so much to rebuild. By now millions of Europeans, with fading memories of the C-47s and Operation Vittles, but vivid memories of B-52s and Operation Rolling Thunder pommeling Vietnam, began to question the U.S. claim to moral leadership. The well-publicized race riots and assassinations of the decade didn't help. Also, the U.S. economy began to slip beyond the power of government fine-tuning, especially after the OPEC oil embargo of 1973-74. Ironically then, 1973, the "Year of Europe," became, instead, the "Year of Watergate." Then came the presidential election of 1976. President Jimmy Carter, sincere and energetic but a Washington outsider, found it nearly impossible to translate moral high-mindedness into effective policy. As the economy skidded, the electorate struck back in 1980. Ronald Reagan promised to reverse the image of American impotence symbolized dramatically by the hostage crisis in Iran. Europeans who sniped at what they perceived as President Carter's indecisiveness over neutron bombs and the placing of missiles in Europe, received another jolt from the new administration. The saber-rattling of the early 1980s helped trigger monstrous peace marches and antinuclear rallies in Western Europe. The U.S. invasion of Grenada in 1983 did little to alter European perceptions. Anything that could heat up world tensions and jar the present "cold peace" in Europe disturbs the Continent greatly.
The Number 40
How do thoughtful Europeans view the United States now, 40 years after World War II? Christopher Bertram, political editor of the West German weekly Die Zeit and former director of London's International Institute for
Why is it that 40 years after the English-speaking democracies played such a key role in the liberation of Europe that they often meet with such a mixed reception today?
Strategic Studies, comments: "The United States today is militarily stronger than for many years, so why should there be doubt over America's superpower status? The answer is that it takes more than military strength to qualify. What distinguishes a superpower is its willingness and ability to design and maintain a framework of international order that not only serves its own interests, but also accommodates the interests of the large majority of weaker countries. It is the commitment not only to its own well-being, but to that of the international community as a whole. "There was a time when the United States was a superpower in the true sense: confident not only in its strength but also in its ability to build, together with others, a world of shared duties and rights, and to be ready to carry the major burden in this enterprise" (Toronto Star, December 2, 1984). The Anglo-Americans who rescued Western Europe in the Great Crusade of 1944-45, the people who sponsored the Berlin Airlift and have been pivotal in the NATO alliance, no longer give granitelike stability to the Western world. How different was May 8, 1945. The United States and Britain were then emulated models of service and strength, possessors of "the right stuff." Britain, though drained economically by the horrors of war, gallantly maintained a military presence around the world into the 1960s. But, as Christopher Bertram has pointed out, military and economic factors alone are not supreme in world affairs. It took the architect of the Marshall Plan, Harry S. Truman, to point out the truth on April 3, 1951: "God has brought us to our present position of power and strength!" Britons and Americans were by no means righteous nations in 1945, but neither were they plagued with abortion, homosexuality, white-collar crime, income tax cheats, teen suicide, divorce, drug addiction, pornography, obscenity and televised trivia. "Righteousness exalts a nation," we read in Proverbs 14:34 (Revised Authorized Version). But the same God who rescued the United States, Britain and many other nations in World War II, so that this message you regularly read in the pages of The Plain Truth could go forth — this same God has a stern warning for our people. It is time we realized the biblical importance of the number 40 on this 40th anniversary of V-E Day. In the Bible the number 40 signifies the end of a period of testing! (See Judges 3:11; 5:31, last part; 8:28; and Matthew 4:2; Acts 7:30, 36.) Our peoples have been tested and are found wanting. We have gone the way of selfishness. We have sinned by transgressing God's law, which is the way to peace. Britain and America had better wake up quickly, before it is too late, and repent of national sins — or we will be hurled from our summit of power and sent into national captivity till we do learn our lesson, break off our sins and turn to the God who alone gives peace and joy.