Today the world is celebrating the seventy-fourth anniversary of the end of World War II. It was on this date in 1945 that the German High Command surrendered after a bloody battle with the Red Army to take Berlin.
At the end of that war, the most destructive in human history, some sixty million persons were killed. The figures are not exact and vary pretty widely. Millions of others, probably just as much as the dead, suffered serious injuries, loss of limbs etc. the cost of the war in property destroyed runs into hundreds of billions if not in the trillions of dollars.
The war began in 1939. It was started by Germany, in September of that year. The reasons were many. In the first place Germany had suffered a great defeat in the First World War. Some historians today argue that the terms of surrender imposed on Germany by the victorious allies, the UK, France and US were too onerous and humiliating. That, they argue, contributed to the high feelings of resentment by the people of Germany. It developed an irrational nationalism in the population.
In the period between the two wars, Germany recovered quickly. Its nationalism began to grow. Moreover the world was going through a serious economic crisis which also affected Germany.
It was in these circumstances that a demagogue, Adolph Hitler, came on the scene. His nationalistic rhetoric found resonance in the hurt of the German people. Using strong nationalistic ideology, the Fascist party raised the emotions of the people to a fever pitch.
In order to exploit that nationalism to the hilt, Hitler found a scapegoat for every problem that ordinary people faced then and in its previous history i.e. the Jews.
That was only the beginning, the racism of the fascists was later expanded to include the gypsies and then the Slavs.
Added to this Hitler had the support of the nation’s big industrialists and bankers. They saw they would make millions in Germany’s rearmament and in the war itself. With all that going for him he plunged into his scheme of world domination. By then he had convinced the ordinary German people that they were the master race and they could rule the world.
The powerful German Army began taking over all of Europe. When in June 1941 Hitler began his invasion of Russia, he had not only the power of Germany’s Industries and Banks but the industries and other resources from almost the whole of Europe. Many of the conquered countries had to also supply the German army with men.
On the other hand the Soviet Union was in the early stages of constructing the country. It emerged from the First World War weak, the country was in ruins. That was not all the problems they faced. In that weakened state it had to fight a brutal civil war and repulse an invasion by more than a dozen countries that invaded just after its revolution of 1917.
Germany’s surprise attack cost the Russians dearly. More than twenty six million Soviet citizens perished in the war. However the heroism of the Russian and Soviet peoples painted one of the most glorious pages in mankind’s history. The battles: Kursk, Moscow, Leningrad and Stalingrad were all epic, brutal and heroic.
The battle of Stalingrad where, at its height, the life span of a soldier was twenty four hours tells its own story of the intensity of the fight. The heroism was not confined to the soldiers of the Red Army but included the Russian and Soviet peoples as a whole.
It was the civilians that dug the trenches to defend Moscow; they faced inhuman punishment when Leningrad was blockaded for more than nine hundred days. People just died from starvation but refused to surrender.
At this time we must salute the magnificent efforts of the Russian High Com-mand. Marshall G. Zhukov, Rokossovshy, Chuikov and many others, they outfought the German Generals and inspired their soldiers to great feats of valour.
The defeat of fascism was a victory for all the peoples throughout the world. A large contingent of Caribbean men and women joined the efforts of the British and helped in that victory. Many Guyanese were among them. I remember David Westmaas as one who volunteered with the British Army. He was a stalwart of the PPP.
The end of the war saw the emergence of International Institutions. The most important of these is the United Nations. It was set up to see that that never happens again. It took the lesson of the two wars and promoted freedom, respect and equality of all persons.
One of the dangers we face today as we move further away from those events is that the memories of this pain, grief and untold sufferings are being forgotten. The main leaders of our world today have no direct memories of these horrors, many seem unconcerned with history and instead of mutual respect the mentality of might is right is once more predominating. The plight of Palestine is an example of this.
On this occasion of the anniversary of the Great Patriotic War let us re-learn the lessons and return to cooperation and see our world as our common and only home. Let us honour the memories of the fallen by doing whatever little we can individually and collectively to promote World Peace and Justice for all!