Bannister: Resonance of V-E Day should not be glossed over in this political climate


Edmund Bannister, Columnist

This past Sunday, May 8, was Victory in Europe Day, the 71st anniversary of the unconditional surrender of Germany in World War II. More than seven decades ago, the representatives of Western Allies and the Soviet Union signed the German Instrument of Surrender, bringing to an end one of the most terrible conflicts in human history. That day millions of people poured from their homes and offices, flooding places like Trafalgar Square in London and Times Square in New York City in an unprecedented display of euphoria. The suffering, toil, grief and upheaval endured over the previous six years had come to an end.

Today, the anniversary of our victory over the tyranny of Nazism seems to have been all but forgotten. When I mentioned the anniversary to several friends at Northwestern, they confessed to me that they were completely unaware of the commemorative day. They wondered out loud, as did I, how such a monumental event could have passed so silently.

V-E Day is a holiday that cannot fade into insignificance. It isn’t merely a day to recognize the tens of millions of soldiers and civilians who died during World War II; it is also a day to celebrate the triumph of good over evil and a positive reminder of our collective ability to confront and overcome seemingly impossible challenges.

During World War II, Americans both in and out of uniform committed themselves to defeating the scourge of fascism. Millions of American men walked to recruitment offices to volunteer to fight. Millions of women began working in steel mills, factories and warehouses to feed the war effort. Every soldier and civilian seemed willing to give their money, labor and even their life. My American grandparents remember these events clearly, as do my British grandparents, who survived the London Blitz in 1940.

In the present day, there is a great deal of doubt and cynicism about the future of America and of the world. We face economic and political challenges that, at times, seem insurmountable. Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, the presumptive nominees for president of the United States, have the most negative poll ratings of any candidates in recent history. The partisan divide seems to be ever widening, and racial, class and cultural tensions constantly threaten to tear us further apart. In liberal environments like NU, veterans issues and military service don’t hold the same position of esteem that they might in conservative places. But we should never allow pivotal events like V-E Day or Veterans Day to become partisan holidays.

Now more than ever it is important for us to look back at moments in history that remind us of who we are and what we can accomplish if we work together. Patriotism is often dismissed as a crude or meaningless impulse, but in the right moments and at the right times, it can be a powerful tool that reaffirms the values and pride we all share as Americans. Although we may never be able to recreate the atmosphere of Times Square 71 years ago, taking a moment to commemorate it can foster unity, positivity and faith in the future. If our grandparents and great grandparents could fight and survive crises World War II, who’s to say our current problems can’t be solved?

As young people, we should all take time to hear the stories of our grandparents. We should reflect back on what events like these mean, both from historical and personal perspectives. World War II and its end 71 years ago still have a great deal to teach us, not only about the nature of human evil, but the nature of courage and goodness as well.

Edmund Bannister is a Weinberg freshman. He can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected].

The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.