May the Fourth and War

Today is the 4th of May. In one way it is another day to wake up, live through and finish up again. In the Netherlands this day is not another day. In the Netherlands this day is a day to remember for the victims of World War II. The 4th is for the dead and the 5th is for freedom, more specifically the “liberation of the Netherlands.” As an individual born and raised in the Dutch culture these days have a lot of meaning.

I once mentioned that as a child I read many books about history and warfare. The Old Testament and World War II have been important factors in that process. War is a complex phenomenon and winners and losers are not simply winners and losers at all. There is more to war than meets the eye and mind. Therefore I feel obligated to write about these topics and their relationship. 

On the 4th of May the victims of the war are remembered. 1945 is already 70 years ago. As I get older years feel shorter but intense events and decisions stick out like towers in the distance. For the people who lived and survived 1945 May was the month the German occupation ended. The war was not over though.

In the memories and stories the war lives on. Additionally the fighting in Europe continued on German soil as the allied forces and Russian forces attacked from left and right. Even after the German forces formally surrendered to the allied forces and Russian forces after Berlin was ravaged the war was not over.

In Europe the trails of death, destruction and military parasitism were everywhere. Western Europe was reduced to poverty in some parts and rebuilding required a lot of time and energy. Even when the Marshall Plan injected financial capital and innovation into recovering Europe, wealthy and mighty Europe was still in the past.

Outside Europe the old colonies were also affected by World War II. A weak motherland gives local leaders the opportunity to rise up and take power. That also happened in the old Dutch East-Indies. After Japan surrendered to the U.S. forces the old Dutch colonies were in a state of chaos and the Dutch state was not in control. The “Politionele Acties” made the situation worse and after more overseas warfare the East-Indies became the republic Indonesia. In the end the Dutch state lost its old colonies in South-East Asia.

In the Netherlands the social detestation towards everyone who seemed German was present for quite some years. The Dutch city administrations and city officials were often spared the scrutiny of anti-German sentiment. Thing is, the biggest ally of the Germans in the Netherlands were the city administrations that had up to date records. Majors of cities and villages were either pro-Germany or tried to compromise.

To this day people who have a relative who was pro-Germany during the World War II occupation tend to stay silent. The silent shame hides a history that is preferably ignored by many. Many people simplify war in winners versus losers and good guys versus wrong doers. It is not that simple.

World War II is a culmination of centuries of diplomatic and armed conflict in Europe, mostly Western-Europe. There was a fickle balance of powers and a powerful nation led by the right head of state could disturb the balance of power. After Napoleon was finally defeated in 1815 Europe was still full of tension. Fast forward to the Crimean War, Imperialism, World War I and a Germany reduced to the Weimar Republic in 1919. Europe was still tense.

On this tense stage a new movement swept through the world. Communism and socialism were popularised and interpreted as doctrines and ways to create a fairer society. The German socialist party and Adolf Hitler in Germany came up. Hitler’s party promised and delivered thus the German socialist party gained in influence. Fast forward to 1933 and Weimar made way for a new socialist party that boosted Germany’s economy. In short when a politician promises and delivers he wins loyal support and more propaganda is a matter of time.

In 1939 an economically boosted Germany took land and the U.K. allowed it. The balance was disturbed again and within a year the horrible Nazi agenda became frighteningly real. The Nazi leaders, not only Hitler had plans to establish a new large empire or “reich” like that from old history led by strong and decisive leaders. Medieval Europe has had quite a few large empires. Inspiration and examples were present.

In 1945 a once thriving continent was ravaged. Many parts of the world, particularly the old colonies were also affected and the post-colonialist period was about to start. From ruins in Rotterdam to corpses in China, the world before 1939 was gone and World War II had taken its toll. Victims were everywhere and people had to start over.

In war everybody is a victim. Winners might win the territory but lose people and resources. Additionally the winners have to either rebuild or waste their new territories. To rebuild or waste, both come at a cost. The loser might surrender and has lost territory, people and resources. The loser is to rebuild or waste what is left of a place once called home. Again, everything comes at a cost.

Collaborators are not always traitors either. Some people choose a side to protect their loved ones and hope for the best. Some people go with their principles and choose a side for which they want to fight. Sometimes protection and principles can complement each other. In the end actions speak louder than words. Some people were punished at Nuremberg and some people were publicly humiliated on Dutch streets.

What I have written here is merely a concise summary with many missing details. Today the Dutch people remember the victims who died and tomorrow the freedom that followed after liberation. The war though was not something that simply happened. Many factors played a role and the scale of World War II was more global than regional. Never forget that wars start and end with people. People are influenced and have their reasons. Decisions are made and parties mark their borders.

World War II is still among us. Think of Anne Frank, Kurt Vonnegut and the many reminders that still linger…