Today, May 8, marks the 69th anniversary of the end of World War II in Europe. Though the war would continue against Japan in the Pacific for many more months, the unconditional surrender of Germany at the Allied headquarters in Reims, France ended the over 5-year bloodletting that forever changed the European continent.
On September 30, 1938, Britain and Germany signed the Munich Agreement in an attempt by British leaders to appease Hitler’s saber-rattling and push for more territory. After the agreement, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain stood at 10 Downing Street and made his “Peace in Our Time” speech. He said, “My good friends, for the second time in our history, a British Prime Minister has returned from Germany bringing peace with honour. I believe it is peace for our time. We thank you from the bottom of our hearts. Go home and get a nice quiet sleep.”
However, just a year later, Nazi Germany invaded Poland and worked with Soviet Russia to carve up the free country. Europe was plunged into the bloodiest war in its history.
Germany quickly swept through continental Europe leaving Britain to fight on its own against the Axis powers of Germany and Italy. Prime Minister Winston Churchill, after spending decades in the political wilderness, rallied his country to fight alone in the hope that the United States would enter the war and turn the tide against the forces of tyranny.
When the U.S. entered the war after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, President Franklin D. Roosevelt ensured that the European theater would be the priority. The “Arsenal of Democracy” was turned against Adolph Hitler’s Germany, and Western Europe was liberated from the tyrant’s grip. When Germany was finally defeated with the overwhelming power of the United States, Churchill made a moving and emotional speech from the balcony of the Ministry of Health in London.
Churchill said on May 8, 1945:
God bless you all. This is your victory! It is a victory for the cause of freedom in every land. In all our long history we have never seen a greater day than this… Neither the long years, nor the dangers, nor the fierce attacks of the enemy, have in any way weakened the independent resolve of the British nation…
President Harry Truman, taking over for the recently deceased Roosevelt, had a message for the American people who had sacrificed so much to ensure freedom for an entire continent.
Truman said in a proclamation, calling for a “day of prayer”:
The Allied armies, through sacrifice and devotion and with God’s help, have wrung from Germany a final and unconditional surrender. The western world has been freed of the evil forces which for five years and longer have imprisoned the bodies and broken the lives of millions upon millions of free-born men.
The “special relationship” between the United States and Britain was cemented by the war, the U.S. became the pre-eminent world power, and for a time the forces of freedom were ascendant. The great sacrifice of freedom loving people to defeat evil and ensure this victory should never be forgotten.