Editorial: V-E Day at 75

Almost lost in the never-ending pandemic news cycle was the 75th anniversary of V-E Day on May 8, recognizing Victory in Europe Day.

That day offers a history lesson, not just in home classrooms, but within every American household.

Three-quarters of a century ago, it was celebrated for the first time. Celebrated is the key word, as the Nazis signed an agreement to surrender unconditionally May 7. Many of us have seen that famous photo of a sailor kissing a nurse in Time Square when the news was announced.

Thousands of French people celebrated at the Arc de Triomphe in Paris and Londoners danced in the streets.

Editorials in the aftermath underscored that “the war is only half won.”

Even the casual historian could not have forecast that the world would again face a threat of such scope.

Yet here we are. All of us. Sharing feelings of vulnerability while gripped in the coronavirus pandemic.

Some of President Donald Trump’s critics winced at his declaration of himself as a “wartime president,” characterizing it as a campaign ploy. But we are indeed at war, even if the enemy is invisible.

The virus is as surreal as the concept of a madman’s fantasies of global domination.

When Adolf Hitler’s armies surrendered a week after his death, he was characterized by the Associated Press on many of news pages as “a sinister Barnum of war,” evoking the name of circus impresario P.T. Barnum. Barnum, “The Greatest Showman,” was born in Bethel, launched a Danbury newspaper and become synonymous with Bridgeport, where he once served as mayor.

Heightened emotions of the day steered such rhetoric in newspapers. The same news story deems Italian Prime Minister Benito Mussolini a “sorry lackey” and judges Hitler’s propaganda as “razzle-dazzle.”

There were far more sobering observations of the unfinished business that lay ahead: the immediate work of completing the second phase of the war, and the international work of setting up a system so that future peace might be assured.

Military and world leaders, soldiers and the everyman knew the war was not over yet. That would not come until Japan surrendered more than three months later.

This war against COVID-19 is more opaque. There can be no date to mark its end. We must remain as steadfast as our predecessors in 1945.

The United States could not act alone 75 years ago, nor can we now.

The heroes of those days are mostly gone now, but our need to salute them must remain undying. There will be no large public gatherings to honor the sacrifices of the more than 400,000 members of the military who died during World War II. Nor will those who died before or since be given the recognition we have delivered every year until now.

They earned moments of dignified silence, even if limited to the privacy of households.

It’s an appropriate time to also ponder today’s heroes. They are not overseas, but around each corner, in supermarket aisles, fire and police stations, in every hospital and ambulance.

Celebrate them together. Display the flag. Talk to someone who witnessed the war’s end. Reflect on sacrifices.

And remember this history lesson: We must be cautious of false endings.

—Hearst Connecticut Media