75 years ago today, Nazi Germany surrendered to the Allied Forces, and the Second World War was over in Europe. The day became known as VE Day. Along with countless others in the UK today, I watched on the BBC some of the original footage, heard the testimony of those who remember the events leading up to that moment, and found myself thinking three things.
First, I realised that it is impossible for someone like me – born decades after the war, into a European Union where peace was the unquestioned norm – to comprehend the depth and breadth of the suffering that so many endured to safeguard the freedoms we now enjoy. Their sacrifice was so great, and the cost was so high, that it can be hard to see the world’s emergence from those dark times as anything more than a Pyrrhic victory. The restored black and white film, showing scenes of jubilation across the United Kingdom, is so vivid that it seems almost fake – like some computer-enhanced reconstruction that is trying too hard.
But no amount of visual trickery could recreate the relief flooding out from those joyous faces, as they bore witness to the better angels of our nature. And that led to my second thought: There is no limit to what humanity is capable of, when people come together with common cause. In today’s uncertain times one can lose sight of this: stories of political, environmental, and social upheaval around the globe – beamed 24/7 into our phones and into our homes – can leave the impression that discord, disinformation and distrust are inevitable. VE Day reminds us that they are not.
And so to my third thought. Our grandparents gave everything they had to fight for a better world – and if they could do it, we can do it too. The existential challenges we now face – from climate change to rising inequality – may not feel as immediate as the Nazi threat, but if we do not unite to meet them head on our own grandchildren’s future will be just as bleak.
COVID-19 is a warning shot: in a few short months it has shown us just how fragile our socioeconomic system has become. But we know how to fix things. We know how to generate almost limitless amounts of clean energy, and we know how to store it for when we need it. We know how to feed ten billion people without factory farming, how to build zero-emission skyscrapers in a matter of weeks, how to electrify our transport networks to end our dependency on oil, how to restore wetlands to protect us from floods, and how to rejuvenate soils to protect us from famine. We know how to foster the resilience of fragile ecosystems, how to suck carbon out of the air, how to prevent millions of childhood deaths every year, and how to ensure everyone on Earth has the capacity and opportunity to lead a fulfilling life.
We know how to do all of this, and we know that we need to act together, and quickly – just as we did 75 years ago. We just need the will to act.