Today (May 8th) is the 72nd anniversary of V-E Day, commemorating the end of World War II in Europe. The war in the Pacific would drag on for another four costly months, but on this date in 1945, citizens and leaders of the Allied nations celebrated the defeat of Nazi Germany. Part of me wants to write something about this, but it occurs to me that anything I might say will be from an enormous distance of time and experience. I never had to join the military. I never had to put my life on hold or give it up completely, in violent conflict.
But I benefited in some ways from those who did, and so I can’t let this day go by.
So I’d like to give the stage to two of the leaders who faced their enemies and made decisions that I can neither fathom nor judge. On May 8th 1945, Winston Churchill and Harry Truman addressed their nations and the listening world to announce the end of the war in Europe. I haven’t edited these speeches…they deserve to be heard in their own time and form. Thousands of people…both military and civilian…from America, Britain and Japan…would die after this celebration ended, and both leaders speak with an eye toward the task still at hand.
And yet each is beautiful…and appropriately terrible…in its own way. I invite you to give them a read, and also to heed President Truman’s call to prayer. Today is a day for sober reflection and moderate celebration.
Blessings to you this V-E Day.
Prime Minister Winston Churchill
May 8, 1945 London
My dear friends, this is your hour. This is not victory of a party or of any class. It’s a victory of the great British nation as a whole. We were the first, in this ancient island, to draw the sword against tyranny. After a while we were left all alone against the most tremendous military power that has been seen. We were all alone for a whole year.
There we stood, alone. Did anyone want to give in? [The crowd shouted “No.”] Were we down-hearted? [“No!”] The lights went out and the bombs came down. But every man, woman and child in the country had no thought of quitting the struggle. London can take it. So we came back after long months from the jaws of death, out of the mouth of hell, while all the world wondered. When shall the reputation and faith of this generation of English men and women fail? I say that in the long years to come not only will the people of this island but of the world, wherever the bird of freedom chirps in human hearts, look back to what we’ve done and they will say “do not despair, do not yield to violence and tyranny, march straightforward and die if need be-unconquered.” Now we have emerged from one deadly struggle-a terrible foe has been cast on the ground and awaits our judgment and our mercy.
But there is another foe who occupies large portions of the British Empire, a foe stained with cruelty and greed-the Japanese. I rejoice we can all take a night off today and another day tomorrow. Tomorrow our great Russian allies will also be celebrating victory and after that we must begin the task of rebuilding our hearth and homes, doing our utmost to make this country a land in which all have a chance, in which all have a duty, and we must turn ourselves to fulfill our duty to our own countrymen, and to our gallant allies of the United States who were so foully and treacherously attacked by Japan. We will go hand and hand with them. Even if it is a hard struggle we will not be the ones who will fail.
President Harry S. Truman
May 8, 1945 Washington DC
THIS IS a solemn but a glorious hour. I only wish that Franklin D. Roosevelt had lived to witness this day. General Eisenhower informs me that the forces of Germany have surrendered to the United Nations. The flags of freedom fly over all Europe.
For this victory, we join in offering our thanks to the Providence which has guided and sustained us through the dark days of adversity.
Our rejoicing is sobered and subdued by a supreme consciousness of the terrible price we have paid to rid the world of Hitler and his evil band. Let us not forget, my fellow Americans, the sorrow and the heartache which today abide in the homes of so many of our neighbors-neighbors whose most priceless possession has been rendered as a sacrifice to redeem our liberty.
We can repay the debt which we owe to our God, to our dead and to our children only by work–by ceaseless devotion to the responsibilities which lie ahead of us. If I could give you a single watchword for the coming months, that word is–work, work, and more work.
We must work to finish the war. Our victory is but half-won. The West is free, but the East is still in bondage to the treacherous tyranny of the Japanese. When the last Japanese division has surrendered unconditionally, then only will our fighting job be done.
We must work to bind up the wounds of a suffering world–to build an abiding peace, a peace rooted in justice and in law. We can build such a peace only by hard, toilsome, painstaking work–by understanding and working with our allies in peace as we have in war.
The job ahead is no less important, no less urgent, no less difficult than the task which now happily is done.
I call upon every American to stick to his post until the last battle is won. Until that day, let no man abandon his post or slacken his efforts. And now, I want to read to you my formal proclamation of this occasion:
A Proclamation–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. They have violated their churches, destroyed their homes, corrupted their children, and murdered their loved ones. Our Armies of Liberation have restored freedom to these suffering peoples, whose spirit and will the oppressors could never enslave.
Much remains to be done. The victory won in the West must now be won in the East. The whole world must be cleansed of the evil from which half the world has been freed. United, the peace-loving nations have demonstrated in the West that their arms are stronger by far than the might of the dictators or the tyranny of military cliques that once called us soft and weak. The power of our peoples to defend themselves against all enemies will be proved in the Pacific war as it has been proved in Europe.
For the triumph of spirit and of arms which we have won, and for its promise to the peoples everywhere who join us in the love of freedom, it is fitting that we, as a nation, give thanks to Almighty God, who has strengthened us and given us the victory.
Now, therefore, I, Harry S. Truman, President of the United States of America, do hereby appoint Sunday, May 13, 1945, to be a day of prayer.
I call upon the people of the United States, whatever their faith, to unite in offering joyful thanks to God for the victory we have won, and to pray that He will support us to the end of our present struggle and guide us into the ways of peace.
I also call upon my countrymen to dedicate this day of prayer to the memory of those who have given their lives to make possible our victory.