By Ben Chacko
Victory Day, celebrating the surrender of Nazi Germany in Second World War, should be an occasion for international unity. Time zone differences mean a surrender effective from 11.01pm Central European Time on May 8 1945 is celebrated on May 8 in the West and May 9 in the East, but it was the same victory, won by a people’s war in which the “big three,” Britain, the United States and the Soviet Union, played the main military role.
Victory over fascism laid the basis of the modern international system. Britain, the US, the Soviet Union and China coined the term United Nations to describe the Allies in 1942, declaring a “common struggle against savage and brutal forces seeking to subjugate the world.”
To join the UN, a country had to declare war on Nazi Germany, fascist Italy and imperial Japan. International law as we know it flows from the anti-fascist war. That system is under threat as never before. The Russian invasion of Ukraine has become a proxy war, in which NATO weaponry, equipment, training and actual special forces are engaged.
Russia is not the first permanent member of the UN security council to have started a war — the United States, Britain and France have waged wars of aggression against countries such as Yugoslavia, Iraq and Libya — but the Ukraine conflict is the closest we have come to direct war between them.
In the Pacific, the huge US-directed military build-up has another permanent member, China, in its sights, and Britain has been drafted into that theatre too, sending warships to the China seas, signing military accords with Japan, where NATO (supposedly a “north Atlantic” alliance) last week announced the opening of its first Asian office.
With serving US generals talking of war with China by 2025, World War III looks more probable by the month. In its cause, the old adversaries of World War II are rearming. Germany’s €100 billion army budget boost is intended to rebuild it as a major military power. Japan says it will double military spending.
Both countries have long been pressed to do so by the US — indeed, the US blocked a proposed united but neutral Germany after 1945, instead building up a West German military stuffed with Nazi generals (Hitler’s army chief of staff Adolf Heusinger would later become chair of NATO).
Their rearmament today serves the interests of the US. Opposing German and Japanese militarism is not some kind of eternal punishment for their Second World War crimes — though supporters of rearmament in Japan especially tend to deny those.
Japan’s “peace constitution” banning war became an inspiration to other countries, with millions still campaigning to defend it; many Germans likewise held the refusal to deploy soldiers beyond German territory from 1945-89 admirable, the germ of a new peaceful norm for all countries. Now these ideals are being trodden underfoot.
The drive to war involves rewriting the past: the EU adopting a statement blaming our wartime ally the Soviet Union alongside Nazi Germany for World War II, as the Ukrainian government publicly celebrates Nazi collaborators and eastern European governments whitewash local participation in the Holocaust.
In Britain, the Soviet War Memorial Trust’s annual ceremony of remembrance at the Imperial War Museum will not take place for a second year running, given the fallout from the war in Ukraine: though millions of Ukrainians too fought in the Red Army to defeat fascism, and the sacrifice of the 27 million Soviet war dead should never be forgotten.
As monuments to the Red Army are torn down across Europe, fascist movements are on the rise. As the history of the Second World War is being erased, a third world war is being prepared. On Victory Day, we should strike a light against the gathering dark. Honour the memories of all who fell to defeat fascism. Oppose the rewriting of history, and the march to war. (IPA Service)