In early May 1945, in ceremonies in the French city of Rheims, and then in Berlin, German forces surrendered. Churchill declared 8 May VE (Victory in Europe) Day. It was a day of celebration in a continent of widespread devastation. It was difficult to recall what ‘old Europe’ had been like when, in September 1939, a small number of large Western and Central European states had gone to war with each other. The ripples and repercussions from the German invasion of Poland that month had spread far and wide. It happened twenty years after what had been the bloodiest war in European history. The war that was now finishing exceeded it in bloodiness. The notion that Europeans would never fight another major war with each other had been shown to be false. Their renewed conflict, however, drew in peoples, subordinate peoples, from across the world whose direct knowledge of Europe was hazy. They had had no option but to fight. The reach of Europe was still worldwide and the war became ‘their’ war, though an inherently ambiguous one. The world map of 1939 showed British, French, Dutch and Italian ‘possessions’ in Africa, Asia and ‘the Middle East’ the product of conquests made over centuries or decades. ‘Empires’ were an ‘established fact’. They expressed power, European power. The world map of 1945 might superficially appear to be returning to ‘normal’. The reality was very different. Ruined urban landscapes and fields without crops suggested that ‘recovery’ would be a long process. The British king, George VI, broadcasting on Christmas Day 1945, acknowledged that young people had only known the world as one of strife and fear. It was time to make it one of ‘joyous adventure’.
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