VE-Day: rejoicing 75 years of victory and freedom

What more can be said on such a magnificent anniversary? No current topic is equal to it – victory over a monstrous power, preservation of our nation and many others. 75 years of freedom for half the continent – it was another 44 years before Eastern Europe was liberated.

In Berlin, left in ruins in 1945, they are celebrating the day for the first time, as a moment of liberation, but the eastern half of the city and the eastern lands of Germany went straight from one bloody tyranny to another.

It is impossible for the upcoming generation to understand the moment. There those who remember it, but most of us were born long afterwards. We have been brought up all our lives with all the easy assumptions of a free country and those Millennials, born after the Socialist tyrannies of the east were swept away, can have no imagination of anything but the way the world lives today. Talk of life in Nazi Germany, or the Communist East, washes over them because things cannot really have been like that, can they – the world doesn’t work like that does it? It did, and more so that can every be described.

The evil comes from the essence of man. It is not unusual across the world or history – it is our free, benevolent society which is unusual. It cannot be taken for granted.

Churchill warned, when we stood alone:

The whole fury and might of the enemy must very soon be turned on us. Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this Island or lose the war. If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be free and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands. But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science.

We were buoyed up by song, and while it cheered, there was no doubt about what the effort entailed, rewards to be won and the peril if failure should befall:

I’ll never forget the people I met
Braving those angry skies
I remember well as the shadows fell
The light of hope in their eyes
And though I’m far away
I still can hear them say
“Thumbs up!”
For when the dawn comes up

There’ll be bluebirds over
The white cliffs of Dover
Tomorrow, just you wait and see
There’ll be love and laughter
And peace ever after
Tomorrow, when the world is free

The world is free, and has been for 75 years, because of that intense effort and sacrifice of six, long years or blood, sweat, toil and tears. Today is really Churchill’s day, so his words can speak for themselves:

Yesterday morning at 2:41 a.m. at Headquarters, General Jodl, the representative of the German High Command, and Grand Admiral Doenitz, the designated head of the German State, signed the act of unconditional surrender of all German land, sea, and air forces in Europe to the Allied Expeditionary Force, and simultaneously to the Soviet High Command.

General Bedell Smith, Chief of Staff of the United States Army, and General Francois Sevez signed the document on behalf of the Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force, and General Susloparov signed on behalf of the Russian High Command.

Today this agreement will be ratified and confirmed at Berlin, where Air Chief Marshal Tedder, Deputy Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force, and General de Lattre de Tassigny will sign on behalf of General Eisenhower. General Zhukov will sign on behalf of the Soviet High Command. The German representatives will be Field-Marshal Keitel, Chief of the High Command, and the Commanders-in-Chief of the German Army, Navy, and Air Forces.

Hostilities will end officially at one minute after midnight to-night (Tuesday, May 8), but in the interests of saving lives the “Cease fire” began yesterday to be sounded all along the front, and our dear Channel Islands are also to be freed today.

The Germans are still in places resisting the Russian troops, but should they continue to do so after midnight they will, of course, deprive themselves of the protection of the laws of war, and will be attacked from all quarters by the Allied troops. It is not surprising that on such long fronts and in the existing disorder of the enemy the commands of the German High Command should not in every case be obeyed immediately. This does not, in our opinion, with the best military advice at our disposal, constitute any reason for withholding from the nation the facts communicated to us by General Eisenhower of the unconditional surrender already signed at Rheims, nor should it prevent us from celebrating today and tomorrow (Wednesday) as Victory in Europe days.

Today, perhaps, we shall think mostly of ourselves. Tomorrow we shall pay a particular tribute to our heroic Russian comrades, whose prowess in the field has been one of the grand contributions to the general victory.

The German war is therefore at an end. After years of intense preparation, Germany hurled herself on Poland at the beginning of September, 1939; and, in pursuance of our guarantee to Poland and in agreement with the French Republic, Great Britain, the British Empire and Commonwealth of Nations, declared war upon this foul aggression. After gallant France had been struck down we, from this Island and from our united Empire, maintained the struggle single-handed for a whole year until we were joined by the military might of Soviet Russia, and later by the overwhelming power and resources of the United States of America.

Finally almost the whole world was combined against the evil-doers, who are now prostrate before us. Our gratitude to all our splendid allies goes forth from all our hearts in this island and throughout the British Empire.

We may allow ourselves a brief period of rejoicing; but let us not forget for a moment the toil and efforts that lie ahead. Japan, with all her treachery and greed, remains unsubdued. The injury she has inflicted upon Great Britain, the United States, and other countries, and her detestable cruelties, call for justice and retribution. We must now devote all our strength and resources to the completion of our task, both at home and abroad. Advance, Britannia! Long live the cause of freedom! God save the King!

See also

Books

All the things I meant to do

I made a list, of those things I could get done during the lockdown. Not much has been ticked off. I did the DIY, or some of it. I never got round to writing a book but I did find some old chapters I wrote years ago when someone told me that everyone has a book inside them, and I decided that I do have a book inside me – and it should stay there.

I was going to start learning Russian – if someone is thinking of shooting at you, I should know what to yell back so Russian seemed sensible, and easier than Chinese. I might get back to Greek again instead (in case I meet Aeschylus on the street one morning). I haven’t though.

The lockdown is ending, praise be, and that end-of-holiday feeling is creeping in. I know there are things I should have done. It is not a holiday though and I am working, but with gaps, and without the commuting time to take me back and forth.

That list sits beside my keyboard, glaring at me.

I meant to read more. In fact I seem to read less – no time on a train to open a book. I meant to write up a complex report, which is the sort of thing I do for fun, but there is always something more interesting to do.

One thing I could do to make more time is not to write long blog posts.

Ah well. Now, where was I? Reading, yes: Как легко, доктор, быть философом на бумаге и как это трудно на деле!

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Books

Waking as from sleep

The lockdown is wearing off. There are more cars on the roads, more people on the streets, passing distances are shrinking, shops are reopening. Normality reasserts itself in spite of the panic and lockdown bullies.

Those who play up an affectation to panic about ongoing infection are prone to ever more self-righteous indignation about thoughts of bringing normality; affronted, it seems, by the desire of others for freedom. The lockdown is being shaken off willy-nilly in any case. We can see the end, many of us have been resenting the shackles long since, and so it cannot last and is not lasting.

There have been voices throughout crying down the house-arrest of an entire nation, and those voices deserve honour, nor the scorn that less noble minds are throwing at them. Of the latter, we know their game – for all the high-minded talk of protecting the vulnerable, it is about imposing power on others.

The lockdown measures were designed as temporary measures, passed by Parliament only with great shows of regret from the Conservative benches, and the emergency Act was given fixed review stages and an unextendible termination date.

However, power once given to those willing to use it is addictive. There is nothing so permanent as the temporary measure – income tax was a temporary wartime measure brought in by William Pitt the Younger, and licensing laws a wartime measure in 1914. The ratchet is a cruel mechanism in government. Someone will always find a reason to keep a power in their hands “just in case”. There will be utility proven to us no doubt – restraints on freedom justified by appeals to utility and convenience are a major target for John Stuart Mill.

We have a House of Commons and a Prime Minister keen on individual freedom (though we also have a Chancellor of the Exchequer keen on fiscal restraint who blew his reputation at the first budget). The emergency legislation has a sunset built into it, but it has created a dangerous precedent to allow any new scare to eliminate common freedom.

Boris once talked of a British Dream America, but we never really saw what that was. The phrase is borrowed from across the Pond – we know, sort of, what the American Dream is, and America was born of a luscious regard for liberty, for the rights of a free-born Briton, which the imperial system denied to the Colonists. The new America was built on rhetoric and rang with phrases like Patrick Henry’s cry:”Give me liberty or give me death!” (Well, when I am stuck indoors I say “give me liberty or give me a bit of a nasty cough”.)

We in Britain have not needed slogans of our own because we consider these rights so self-evident we have no need to write them down, but maybe now we are waking as from sleep we should start. We need not have those slogans of the Colonials which need an exclamation mark at the end, but in centuries of just being ourselves we have many telling phrases to scorn overbearing authority. I may have to compile a list.

In the meantime, enjoy the last fortnight or two of rest before the country cranks up again to full steam and to catch up on the wasted months. By the increased noises outside, we are cranking up already.

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Books

Reviewing the EU’s proposals

Almost two months ago, the European Union’s negotiators published their proposals as a draft treaty. It was at once rejected by the British negotiators – as well it might, as it was in flagrant breach of the terms agreed in the Political Declaration.

The standard European negotiating strategy is as it always was: if you want a cow, you demand the herd and negotiate down from there. They have for many years been puzzled that the British approach hitherto has been to hand the herd over without demur. Now that is not happening, which must be an even greater puzzlement to them.

The Europeans’ proposals extend over 440 pages: 316 plus appendices. Some of it is standard and as expected, and may be mirrored in the British proposals: these include free trade with no tariffs, protection of intellectual property and so forth, all of which are within the Political Declaration. Others cover areas within the Political Declaration such as state aid, public procurement and control of monopolies but take the wrong approach and are frequently one-sided, giving the European Union a remedy in case the United Kingdom breaches its side but no remedy against the European Union when it contravenes its obligations.

The main problem issue is the field of “Level Playing Field and Sustainability”: sections which render the whole proposal impossible.

The proposal is no more than a proposal, though described as a “draft agreement”. Had it been close to acceptable, it could have been reviewed as close-to-agreement work in progress, but it is not, as Number 10’s team have made clear. However, it is a document of interest in the current negotiations, and it has not been withdrawn, and so it is worth a read and an analysis.

The British proposals when fully published would be worth analysis also.

The proposals are long and involved and so a separate commentary is needed, which we are compiling on this site, and will expand over the following days:

See also:

Books

Beyond Brexit:

On the Brexit campaign and the referendum:

Others: