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Reflections on V-E Day: Are we taking peace for granted?

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U.S soldiers celebrating the end of World War II (image via Twitter).

We are living in the safest times in human history. Shouldn't we reflect and cherish that fact more than we do, writes Lukas Davis. 

"Humility must be the measure of a man whose success was bought with the blood of his subordinates, and paid for with the lives of his friends."

Dwight D. Eisenhower

ON MAY 7, 1945, the German High Command authorised the signing of an unconditional surrender on all fronts: the war in Europe was over. This past Wednesday, the 8th of May 2019, marked V-E Day — Victory in Europe — the 74th anniversary of the formal end of World War II in Europe, when the allied powers defeated German Leader Adolf Hitler and his once invincible Nazi war machine.

The global conflict claimed the lives of millions, of which 39,653 were brave Australians, who stood in the face of tyranny to make the world safe for democracy.  

Yet, 27 years before V-E Day, on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, the previous World War also ended. The “Great War,” as it was called, consumed 17 million souls by the time it was over. However, World War I was never supposed to happen, and few saw it coming. British historian Christopher Clark called the wind-up to World War I 'sleepwalking' into war, and by most reckonings, it was a predictable but thoroughly unnecessary tragedy.

With the visceral horrors of trench warfare, World War I was to be the “War to End All War”. Looking back, we now see the tragic irony and sardonicism of that statement.

Thankfully, in the new millennium, radical declines in violent behaviour has made our lives objectively safer. Harvard Professor Steven Pinker argues that violence has been in decline over millennia and that the present is probably the most peaceful time in the history of the human species.

The decline in violence, he argues, is enormous in magnitude, visible on both long-and-short time scales, and found in many domains, including military conflict, homicide, genocide, torture, criminal justice, and treatment of children, LGBTI people, animals and racial and ethnic minorities.

It is hard to argue Pinker’s thesis. According to the Council on Foreign Relations' Global Conflict Tracker, the Western Hemisphere is, with the exception of the drug war in Mexico, free of conflict. No person alive can remember our Hemisphere to be as peaceful as it is today. Indeed, the share of men and women worldwide who can expect to be exposed to the horrors of war is declining.

Many young Australians have had little-to-no exposure to violence, which is something to be truly grateful for.

At a Parisian commemoration ceremony, local resident Jean-Claude Carrière, 57, reflected on V-E Day, stating:

"We tend to forget things quickly. Europe has lived in peace for nearly 75 years. There’s not a lot of people today who really remember what happened."

Evidently, it is imperative we remember that the peace and freedoms many of us enjoy today are not the historical norm, they are very much the exception to the norm. Yet, are we taking relative peace historical for granted?    

In the lead up to this month’s Federal election, results from ABC’s 2019 Vote Compass reveal what issues voters in the electorate find the most important.

Results show that the environment was the most important issue for Greens and Labor voters, at 63% and 40% respectively, with 44% of Liberal-National Coalition voters rating the economy as their most important issue this election. Conversely, issues of security and foreign affairs were ranked at 0% and 1% by both Labor and Greens voters respectively, and 3% and 0% by Liberal-National Coalition voters.

These results are a sign of our peaceful times and the faith and trust we have in our military and public institutions. Economic and environmental issues facing the nation are undeniably important and deserve necessary political attention, however, it is incumbent we remember, the first, and most important, role of government is to protect the life and liberty of its citizens.   

On the anniversary of V-E Day, as memories of 20th Century global conflicts continue to wane, it is another opportunity to recall important lessons from the past; the tides of history can change quickly, and unexpectedly so.

In our uncertain world, the price of freedom is responsibility and eternal vigilance.

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Reflections on V-E Day: Are we taking peace for granted?

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