It is 65 years since the end of the Second World War. To be precise, the war in Europe ended on May 8, 1945, when the Allied Forces formally accepted the unconditional surrender of Nazi Germany and the war in the Pacific ended with the announcement of Japan’s surrender on August 15. After six years of total warfare, the world was at last at peace. Today, at a time when the so-called War on Terror has been waged since the 9/11 atrocities and the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq have been going on for nine and six years respectively, this does not seem such a long time. World War II was however an all-consuming phenomenon in which practically the whole globe, including the Commonwealth Caribbean, was involved.
Western historians generally consider WWII a just war, as the Allies had no other choice but to resort to the use of arms to rid the world of the murderous, militaristic regimes of Hitler, Mussolini and Tojo. American historians in particular have been prone to describing the Allied victory as a triumph of democracy over totalitarianism. There is some truth in this, but the truth, as we know, is usually the first casualty of war and the real facts are not always that clear-cut.
History, of course, is generally written by the victors and can hardly ever be considered to be entirely free from bias, if not manipulation. Thus, it is curiously convenient for purveyors of Western triumphalism and Marxist-Leninist sympathisers alike to disregard Soviet totalitarianism and Stalin’s genocide against the various peoples of the USSR in the context of the common cause against the Third Reich. Nonetheless, even with the passage of time, the revelation of new facts and the widening of perspective, there is little gainsaying that WWII had to be fought and that the right side won.
But what is the legacy 65 years later, particularly with regard to Europe? A rebuilt Europe, courtesy of the Marshall Plan, and a more secure Europe, thanks to the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and in spite of the tensions of the Cold War, led to unprecedented growth and prosperity in the 1950s and 60s and a desire for greater integration in Western Europe. The European Union today owes much of its original thrust to the notion of “never again” and the quest for a lasting peace following the carnage of two world wars. And with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the collapse of the Soviet Empire, the EU continues to thrive and expand, notwithstanding the current economic uncertainty.
Now what does all this have to do with our Caribbean Community? The foregoing may seem rather circumlocutory to some, but there is a direct connection between the end of WWII and the fortunes of our region. These continue to be linked to the UK and Europe for longer than many of us would have anticipated or wished at the time of Independence, as we emerged from the shadows cast by the sun setting on the British Empire in the aftermath of a conflagration that had created a new global order. But can we honestly say, as many Europeans might be tempted to, that we have seen the lasting light of a bright new age?
It would be naive to think that, as we shed the colonial chains, we should have moved forward apace with Europe. But why do we appear to have made so little real progress when Europe has been able, by and large, to put the pain and suffering of the 20th century behind it?
Instead of working together to fulfil the promise of Independence, what do we do? We blame our former masters for under-developing us and replacing servitude with dependency, as we once more turn to them, cap in hand. We rail against our apparent fate to be forever small, poor and downtrodden; we revel in the mindset of the victim and we blame others for our divisiveness.
This is not good enough. Should we not be the makers of our own destiny? Should we not accept that just as Rome was not built in a day and the EU itself is a work in progress, we must persevere with our CARICOM project, even as our leaders balk at the type of enlightened, bold and selfless decision-making necessary to secure the integrity and future of what Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves of St Vincent likes to call “our Caribbean civilisation”?
Europe, of course, had massive help to get back on its feet and has the advantage of centuries of development. And the long-term security of Europe was strategically important to world peace. We cannot and should not wish for a war to rescue us from geopolitical irrelevance and economic oblivion, even as our young, fragile nation states are being undermined by narco-traffickers and organised crime. We simply need to refine the strategic vision of our place in the hemisphere and the world to ensure that we are taken seriously. We can only do this in concert with each other.
We pay lip service to the maxim that in unity there is strength, yet we cannot summon the will to rescue CARICOM from the doldrums of official inaction and public apathy. The regional project was never meant to be an overnight task and, as has been previously noted, it is not for the faint of heart. We must find the urgency to make the quantum leap forward, without further circumlocution and prevarication, to implement the Single Market and Economy and put in place the necessary governance structures to ensure its success.
65 years may be a long time for some, but we should remind ourselves that it is 52 years since the creation of the West Indies Federation, 45 since the organisation of the Caribbean Free Trade Association (CARIFTA), 37 since the establishment of CARICOM and 18 years since the visionary recommendations of the West Indian Commission. We really should have our act together by now otherwise whoever writes the history of this period may not judge us kindly.