The Second World War (WWII) was the worst war in the history of the planet. Nazi Germany, led by Adolf Hitler, brought a terrifying conflict to the world that lasted for six long years, 1939 to 1945. But 72 years ago today, an important part of that fighting ended.
It was VE Day, or Victory in Europe Day.
Axis vs. Allies
The Second World War was a conflict between Axis Powers (Nazi Germany, Italy, and Japan) and the Allied Powers (mainly Britain, France, the Soviet Union, and the USA, though also including Canada and Australia). The war did not technically involve every nation in the world, but very few countries remained neutral, or did not pick a side (the United States was neutral until late 1941, when they joined after being attacked by Japan).
This nearly complete participation of the planet's nations earned it the title of "World War". But in reality, there were three major theatres, or regions of conflict, in WWII: the European, the Mediterranean, and the Pacific. With VE Day, the fighting ended in Europe and the Mediterranean (this included North Africa and parts of the Middle East).
This victory came when Nazi Germany and Italy surrendered to the Allies. At the time, both countries were cornered by advancing forces made up mostly of Russian (Soviet), American, and British tank and infantry forces. In particular, Russian tanks overwhelmed the German capital city of Berlin, leading Hitler to take his own life on April 30, 1945. Seven days later, Rear Admiral Karl Donitz surrendered the German forces to the Allies.
This news led to massive celebrations the following day all across the world. From Britain to France, Canada to Holland, people spilled out into the streets knowing that the war was over.
The Pacific rages on
Sadly, the damage done during the war had left many of Europe's most beautiful cities in ruins. And the loss of life was immeasurable.
Then there was the fact that the war was still happening in the Pacific. At this point, the fighting was mainly between Japan and the United States. As US forces slowly advanced across the ocean toward Japan, even more lives were lost. It would take over another three months for that fighting to come to a close. Japan surrendered on August 15 (officially signing papers on September 2).
The meaning of remembrance
72 years later, it is difficult to understand the devastation of that war. Over 60 million people died—that was around 3% of the world's total population at the time. It is a tragedy that everyone hopes will never happen again.
That's why thinking about VE Day now is so important. We remember what others went through to be reminded of the horrors of war. It is also a time to think about the benefit of diplomacy, or using discussion to solve problems instead of weapons.
And we remember the sacrifices made to try to leave behind a better world. That's why the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa chose VE Day in 2005 for its grand opening. Even on the 500th anniversary of VE Day (hey, it'll happen someday!), there will still be lessons to be learned from its history.