Canada's Prime Minister wasn't the only thing absent from the memorials on VE Day. While the outpourings of love and grief for old Canadian soldiers is a sobering reminder of just how far humanity can dip into either depravity or bravery, they also tend to be light on history. Isn't it time we became wary of memorial spectacles that place holocausts squarely in the past and remain stuck in a rote high-school history that sees global militarism as a singular event tied to a long-dead madman?
Victory in Europe Day tends to be much more popular than Victory in Japan Day. Celebrants also generally gloss over one of the Allies' more resounding European victories, that of Dresden, where the air superiority and firebombs of the British and U.S. forces soundly overpowered German civilians' paltry arsenal of fear and flammability. Killing hundreds of thousands of non-combatants to put the uppity Soviets - whose forces crossed the Rhine before Americans or British soldiers - in their place before a summit with Stalin tends to take a little of the shine off.
There's equally little talk of Britain's triumphant arrival in Greece in the latter months of 1944. Greece had finally been scoured of Nazi occupiers thanks in no small part to the guerrillas of ELAS (People's Liberation Army), whom the British were quick to open fire on. While the precise nature of ELAS is still in dispute (the truth probably lies somewhere between Communist junta and democratic liberators), they were a damn sight better than the militaristic Greek monarchy with which the British sided in the ensuing civil war before eventually handing control over to the U.S.
America then took on Greece as a colony, adding it to a growing collection that, even before the war, included the Philippines. England, of course, had India, and France had Algeria. In Algeria, May 8 is known not as VE Day but as the anniversary of the Algerian holocaust. As Europe celebrated liberation and Algerian soldiers returned from the European front, French soldiers and bomber planes fired upon Algerians marching to demand self-determination. Historians put the number killed at 10,000 to 50,000. Such supremacy of the pale-skins tends not to be a talking point when honouring the crusade to liberate Europeans from bigoted foreign rule.
While VE Day marked the end of one ghastly reich, it saw the conception of another. As the American economy emerged from a singular wartime boom with new military communications technology waiting for civilian use, Washington entered the reconstruction industry proper. The World Bank was formed; the Marshall Plan funnelled American capital into a devastated Western Europe; the so-called "post-colonial era" began (meaning that "economic liberalization" was now the proper term, "colonialism" being strictly gauche).
The arms trade, once a dirty secret, now puts food on the table for hundreds of millions. Corporate greed trumps moral scruples more quickly than the Blitzkrieg erased Poland's border, and with just as deadly effect. Past massacres by the Nazis evoke worldwide sympathy, while those in progress in Iraq and Sudan get media blackouts. Since 1945, the quest for global domination has gone from socially awkward to the life's work of countless respectable bankers.
The mottoes "Work Makes You Free" and "To Each His Own" still greet the ghosts forever entering Auschwitz and Buchenwald concentration camps, who wait for someone living to see the irony, to see that the past didn't go anywhere.