Today marks a significant milestone in history. Seventy-five years ago, the Nazi German government signed the Instrument of Surrender at 9:30 pm local time, with it going into force at 11 pm local (Central European) time. As a result of that late hour, Western Europe tends to celebrate VE Day on May 8, while Eastern Europe celebrates on May 9.
Ordinarily, this would have been a day of special celebrations all over Europe and North America. It still is–but they’re just a little different.
In Great Britain, there have been flyovers by the Red Arrows (the RAF’s aerial performance squad), fluttering banners, socially-distanced neighbourhood get-togethers (and a singalong with Vera Lynn singing “We’ll Meet Again”), a piper playing on the cliffs of Dover while Spitfires fly overhead, and an address by the Queen. In Berlin, Angela Merkel laid a wreath at the Memorial to the Victims of War and Dictatorship. In France, Emmanuel Macron laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Wreaths were laid in Ottawa and Canada as well. In the United States, oddly enough, I could find little evidence of anything marking the date, other than some individual stories told by surviving veterans–perhaps a sign of just how far inward the US has turned in the face of the pandemic. On the other hand, the US was still heavily engaged in the Pacific when VE Day came, so their war was far from over.
It’s easy to draw the parallels regarding the “war” we’re now fighting, but it should be remembered that the devastation wrought by the Second World War was entirely human-made. The virus knows no morality, no ethics. It does not pick its victims based on their worth to society. Both the good and the horrible catch it and recover…or catch it and do not. It knows no borders. The way to fight it is not with guns, but with caring and compassion at the individual level, and with science at the world level. We understand that people will die. Our responsibility to each other is to make sure that number is as small as possible, to look around at the world and know that each person is facing their own battle against the same unseen adversaries–albeit with differing equipment– and that ignoring it will not make it better. Wishing it were not so will not make it better. But caring and compassion will make us better as humans. The virus cannot touch love.
In the meantime, I am inspired by those who do things that only two months ago no one would have thought possible. To commemorate the 75th anniversary of the end of WWII, the Baltic Sea Philharmonic–an orchestra of young musicians from all of the countries surrounding the Baltic Sea– made one of those virtual performance videos that have started to appear everywhere–but they took it to a whole new level by performing a substantial excerpt of the first movement of the Shostakovich 7th Symphony–with 108 musicians. I was lucky to catch it when it streamed live this morning, and am hoping a YouTube link will be posted soon. (UPDATE: Here is the link!)
It gives me renewed hope that the seemingly impossible can be accomplished through community. We have gotten through dire times before–and through this, music leads us, together, through the darkness.