Summary: On Memorial Day we remember the sacrifices by those who fought in America’s wars. But let us also remember the victories they won. None greater than in WWII. Here the eminent historian Martin van Creveld reminds us of what people expected for the post-war world. We did much better than that, showing what we are capable of doing in the future.
When after many battles past,
Both tir’d with blows, make peace at last,
What is it, after all, the people get?
Why! taxes, widows, wooden legs, and debt.
— Francis Moore in the Almanac’s Monthly Observations for 1829. We did much better.
By Martin van Creveld
From his website.
7 May 2014
Posted here with his generous permission.
Seventy years ago, World War II in Europe came to an end. No sooner had it done so — in fact, for a couple of years before it had done so — people everywhere had been wondering what the post war world would look like. Here it pleases me to outline a few of their expectations that did not become reality.
Communism sweeps through Europe
In 1945, much of Europe — and not just Europe — was devastated. Tens of millions had been killed or crippled. Millions more had been uprooted from hearth and home. Scurrying about the continent, they were desperately seeking to rebuild their lives either in their original countries or elsewhere. Entire cities had been turned into moonscapes. This was true not only in Germany (and Japan), where British and American bombers had left hardly a stone standing on top of another, but in Britain (Bristol, Coventry), France (Caen, Brest), Belgium (the Port of Antwerp), the Netherlands (Rotterdam and Eindhoven), Hungary (Budapest), and Yugoslavia (Belgrade). Transportation and industry were in chaos.
With unemployment, cold — the nineteen forties witnessed some of the harshest winters of the century — and even hunger rife, many expected large parts of the continent to go Communist.
In fact, it was only Eastern Europe that became Communist. And then not because its inhabitants, war-ravaged as they were, liked Communism, but because Stalin and the Red Army forced it on them. Many west-European countries, especially France and Italy, also witnessed the rise of powerful left-wing parties. So did Greece, which went through a civil war as vicious as any. None, however, succumbed to the red pest. By 1950 production was back to pre-1939 levels. By the late 1950s, though eastern countries continued to lag behind western ones as they had begun to do as early as 1600, most of the continent was more prosperous than it had ever been.