The future is unknowable, but the past should give us hope. –Winston Churchill
It is easy to get discouraged in today’s world: scary headlines, crises at home and abroad, toxic “social” media, a bad report from the doctor, the ancient warning about “wars and rumors of wars,” etc.
Still, we can find encouragement in this quotation from Churchill. We can’t know the future, but we can find hope and courage by studying the past. By studying history, we can learn how people in the past faced perils–many more challenging than what we face today–and many of those folks were able to pull through.
Although it’s (unfortunately) not getting much attention, today is May 8, which ever since 1945 has been called “Victory in Europe” (VE) Day. It’s the day when Nazi Germany surrendered to the Allies and thus ended the global nightmare that began in 1939 known as World War II.
It’s appropriate that today’s column begins with a quotation from Churchill, because perhaps he more than any other single person helped the world stand against the evil forces of Nazism and Fascism. In short, after the former superpower France shocked the world by suddenly surrendering to Germany in June 1940, the tiny British Isles (and their far-flung Empire) stood alone against Hitler for about one year. And it was the chubby, cigar-chomping Churchill who summoned his nation’s courage to keep fighting alone.
It wasn’t until the USSR entered the war in June 1941 and the USA did likewise after Japan’s Pearl Harbor attack on December 7, 1941 that Britain had any allies.
There are no perfect people, but the Second World War was perhaps the most clear-cut contest between good and evil in the modern age. It was during the Nazi occupation of Europe that they undertook the horrific Holocaust. And though it doesn’t get much attention, Japanese atrocities across occupied Asia were just about as evil.
WWII was won by normal people giving their all. WWII vets are few now, and very elderly. Roanoke businessman Claude Smith, who recently celebrated his 101st birthday, served as a GI in the Philippines where he bravely entered enemy-help territory to scout out Japanese positions and airplanes. My dad, who was a farm boy in Indiana during the war, gathered milkweed pods that could be made into lifejackets for our servicemen. Housewives collected bacon grease which was in turn made into explosives. It was a total war and everyone was involved.
We owe that generation a debt we can never pay. One way we can honor their sacrifice and memory, however, is to value our liberties and defend them so we can pass them on to our children as earlier generations passed them on to us.
And one way to do that is to remember the lessons from VE-Day. It is possible for good to conquer evil. Learn from the past, take heart, and do your part.
To learn more about VE-Day, and its context related to WWII and the year 1945, read here.