Earlier this month, on May 8, President Donald Trump marked the 75th anniversary of Nazi Germany’s surrender to Allied forces in Europe with a small wreath-laying ceremony attended by the first lady and eight World War II veterans.
Sadly, the coronavirus pandemic necessitated a scaled-down ceremony for a monumental achievement — victory over Hitler’s genocidal vision of a Third Reich across Europe and the unconditional surrender of Germany’s high command.
That victory would not have been possible without the ingenuity, resolve and great sacrifices of everyday Americans and the more than 400,000 U.S. soldiers, sailors, Marines and aviators who laid down their lives to defeat the evils of fascism.
The small wreath-laying ceremony at the National World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C., was appropriately somber. As taps played, the president and the eight WWII veterans saluted the more than 4,000 gold stars that cover the Freedom Wall, each representing 100 Americans who perished in the war.
The scaled-down ceremony had its own grace and profundity. But it also, it seems to us, carried a symbolic significance, and issued a call to action from the Greatest Generation to the generations of today. Before the Freedom Wall, and its field of gold stars, are engraved these words: “Here we mark the price of freedom.”
At a time when authoritarianism is on the rise and “illiberal democracies” across the globe are challenging the economic and civil liberties that formed the foundation of democratic societies and economic growth after World War II, those words, “the price of freedom,” should echo in our hearts and minds.
Now is not the time for small ideas or retreat from America’s 75-year role as the leader of what we once proudly called the Free World. The coronavirus pandemic, while a great challenge to an open society, heightens the need for U.S. leadership and cooperation with our allies to vouchsafe the democratic values of economic and individual liberty we fought so bravely for in World War II.
It is no exaggeration to say that our nation — and the world — is now in the grips of a crisis that could turn the clock back on many of the things this nation and our fighting men and women died for in World War II.
On May 8, 1945, Victory in Europe Day, this newspaper published a front-page editorial titled “Let Us Carry On.” We offer a passage to you now, not because we are proud of its eloquent message, which we are, but because we believe it speaks to our current time and the mindset we will need going forward:
“If the war during these past years has tested our courage to the utmost, it will in the next few years test also our wisdom as citizens of a democracy. If the situation before us now is less desperate, it is more delicate. If it calls for less of momentary supreme sacrifice, it calls for the longer and steadier pull. The war of survival is over, but the war for the salvation and reformation of an enlightened world has just begun.”