Seventy years ago World War Two in Europe officially ended. It is hard to believe that it has been that long. The men and women who fought in the war, known as the Greatest Generation now had endured the collapse of one world order after the First World War, the Great Depression and finally fought the Second World War which on May 8th 1945 was ending in Europe even as it raged on in Asia and the Pacific.
For most Americans the 1920s and 1930s were decades of isolationism, where idealists believed that the United States could stay out of the wars and rumors of wars. In 1939 Hitler’s legions stormed across Europe after bamboozling the British, French and even the Soviet Union about their intentions. Even so in 1939 many Americans believed that we could remain neutral in any conflict, but by mid-1941, with France and most of Europe under Nazi rule, with Hitler’s armies advancing on Moscow and Great Britian standing alone the writing on the wall was growing increasing legible. As such the reluctant nation began to mobilize large numbers of soldiers and to build up its Navy and Air Force, and on December 7th 1941 Japan attacked Pearl Harbor and other U.S. Installations thoughout the Western Pacific and a day later Nazi Germany declared war on the United States. The latter was really a huge mistake by Hitler who had he been thinking should have done everything in his power to keep the United States out of Europe. It would be a fatal mistake.
The United States and Britian determined that Germany was a greater threat than Japan decided that the defeat of Germany took precedence and devoted their efforts to that. Even so U.S. Forces in the Pacific, primarily built around the Navy took the offensive against Japan in August 1942 at Guadalcanal. But in Europe the U.S. And Britian invaded North Africa to drive the Germans and their Italian allies out, moved in to Sicily and Itslly, knocking the Itslians out of the war in 1943. At sea allied naval forces won the Battle of the Atlantic against Hitler’s U-Boats which had sunk thousands of ships totaling millions of tons of cargo and lost lives. American war materials and supplies provided massive assistance to the British and to the Soviet Union, the latter whose Red Army had broken the back of the vaunted Wehrmacht on the Eastern Front and who by 1944 were on the offensive. In the air the United States Army Air Corps and the British Royal Air Force waged a non-stop air campaign to defeat Hitler’s Luftwaffe and bomb German industrial targets and population centers.
Then on June 6th 1944 came D-Day, the Allied invasion of Europe, Hitler meddled in the affairs of his commanders ordering a no-retreat policy in Normandy. After a brutal campaign the Allies broke out of Normandy liberating France, much of Belgium and about half of the Netherlands by the end of September. The Germans launched a last ditch offensive against the Americans in December 1994, that battle, nicknamed the Battle of the Bulge hastened the end of the war. By the early Spring of 1945 the American, British, French and Soviet forces, aided by military forces of liberated nations were closing in on the heart of Germany. With the American Army on the Elbe River and the Soviets battling street by street in Berlin and just blocks away, Hitler committed suicide in his Fuhrer Bunker on April 30th 1945. Within days his successor, Admiral Karl Donitz was seeking an end to the war. Forced to surrender unconditionally Donitz ordered German forces to surrender on May 8th 1945.
General Dwight Eisenhower issued his announcement of the endo of the war:
Men and women of the Allied Expeditionary Force:
The crusade on which we embarked in the early summer of 1944 has reached its glorious conclusion . . .
“Your accomplishments at sea, in the air, on the ground and in the field of supply, have astonished the world. Even before the final week of the conflict, you had put 5,000,000 of the enemy permanently out of the war. You have taken in stride military tasks so difficult as to be classed by many doubters as impossible. You have confused, defeated and destroyed your savagely fighting foe. On the road to victory you have endured every discomfort and privation and have surmounted every obstacle ingenuity and desperation could throw in your path. You did not pause until our front was firmly joined up with the great Red Army coming from the East, and other Allied Forces, coming from the South.
Full victory in Europe has been attained.
Eisenhower’s announcement of the end of the war is shown in the link below.
Now the men and women of the Greatest Generation are passing away, most of those that I personally knew have died. The young ones who are still with us are in their late 80s and early 90s, most if not all will be gone in the next 10-15 years.
So as you think about today, remember those men and women. Remember the evil that they fought to defeat and hope that if Americans, and by the way I don’t just mean the professional military which has been fighting our wars for the past 14 years, but all Americans have to make such sacrifices again, that we will be up to it. Sadly, I don’t know if we would be.
That may sound harsh but that generation sacrificed to win the war. Their political leaders did not cut taxes and then telli people to go shopping while the less than one percent that constituted the military went and fought the wars. No they gave up things, and millions served in the military or in war related industries. When I came home from Iraq I was stunned at just how distant the country was from the war. Unlike World War II only a few Americans even have skin in the game that we call war. That is so different than World War II. But that my friends is just my opinion.
So please don’t forget that true greatness requires both sacrifice and magnanimity.