World war II veteran US National Park Service/Flickr

The End of 1945

Much of the post-World War II consensus no longer survives: Few people can muster enthusiasm for the UN, the European dream is in crisis, and the social-democratic welfare state is being eroded more and more every day. But today, seventy years later, we would do well to remember why that consensus was forged in the first place.

NEW YORK – On May 8, 1945, when World War II in Europe officially ended, much of the world lay in ruins. But if the human capacity for destruction knows few limits, the ability to start over again is just as remarkable. Perhaps that is why mankind has so far managed to survive.

No doubt, millions of people at the end of the war were too hungry and exhausted to do anything much beyond staying alive. But, at the same time, a wave of idealism swept across the wreckage, a collective sense of determination to build a more equal, peaceful, and safer world.

That is why the war’s great hero, Winston Churchill, was voted out of office in the summer of 1945, even before Japan surrendered. Men and women had not risked their lives simply to return to the old days of class privilege and social deprivation. They wanted better housing, education, and free health care for all.

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