On May 8, 1945, Nazi Germany unconditionally surrendered to the United States and its allies, ending six years of war in Europe. Victory in Europe (V-E) Day marked the end of a war that would change Europe, the United States and the world forever. American President Harry Truman was also born on May 8, 1884, and he would play a large part in the events following V-E Day.
The cost of the war in Europe was staggering. There were a total of 9 million total deaths out of a population of 84 milion, which was about 10 percent of the entire country’s population; most of Europe was in ruins. The continent would never really regain its prominence as the great powers of France, Great Britain and Germany dwindled or were carved up.
For America, the war would continue in the Pacific for about three more months, but the victory in Europe made ultimate victory against the Japanese nearly assured.
When World War II drew to a close, the next great war had already been put in motion. The dividing line between where the United States and its allies had stopped and where the Soviet Union stopped became what would later become the line between the free world and the world dominated by Soviet-style communism.
The Soviet Union flatly refused to release its grasp on Eastern Europe and negotiations to free those countries failed at the Potsdam Conference, which was set up to deal with Germany after the war.
President Harry Truman said after the conference, “I like Stalin . . . He is straightforward. Knows what he wants and will compromise when he can’t get it.”
Truman’s tune would change, however, and he would soon realize how intransigent the Soviet dictator could be, and the challenge that the Soviet Union would pose to the United States and the free world.
The famous diplomat and political historian, George Kennan, wrote his famous “long telegram” after serving as deputy head of the U.S. mission in Moscow for a few years, describing the great challenge that the Soviet Union would pose to the United States in the years ahead. Kennan laid the groundwork for Truman’s foreign policy.
Kennan said towards the end of the telegram:
Much depends on health and vigor of our own society. World communism is like malignant parasite which feeds only on diseased tissue. This is point at which domestic and foreign policies meets Every courageous and incisive measure to solve internal problems of our own society, to improve self-confidence, discipline, morale and community spirit of our own people, is a diplomatic victory over Moscow worth a thousand diplomatic notes and joint communiqués. If we cannot abandon fatalism and indifference in face of deficiencies of our own society, Moscow will profit–Moscow cannot help profiting by them in its foreign policies.
Kennan’s telegram led to President Truman adopting the containment strategies of the “Truman Doctrine” and would provide the basis for U.S. Soviet interaction until the eventual collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989.
So, as the United States celebrated the end of the bloodiest war in human history and became the preeminent world power, it was faced with a great rival that held views antithetical to those of the free world. Like Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union would also land on the ash heap of history.