Europe has been largely peaceful since the end of World War II. The shock of that conflict was simply too great. But with memories of the violence now fading and nationalism on the rise, it is far from certain that peace will remain the status quo.
By Dirk Kurbjuweit
September 05, 2019
“The war changed everything.” This statement by the late British historian Tony Judt contains the kernel of modern-day Europe. It was the war that made possible an extended period of peace. Things had to get extremely bad before they could get good again. For the last 75 years, there has been peace on the Continent, with just a few exceptions.
Now, this Europe finds itself in crisis. It is no longer the Europe where national thinking is slowly dwindling. It is no longer the Europe that is growing together step by step. It is no longer the Europe in which all countries seem to be committed to democracy forever. The direction of European history would seem to have changed – shifting away from convergence and back to delineation.
What does that mean for the most important of all questions, the question of war or peace? At the moment, it doesn’t look at all as though the long period of peace is going to come to an end. There is no reason for alarm. But if the direction of European history is changing, we should take a close look at what that could mean. Not in the immediate future, but in the long term. History is a snail that persistently crawls along its path.
Exactly 80 years ago, the war that changed everything began — on Sept. 1, 1939, with Adolf Hitler’s Germany invading neighboring Poland. Almost six years later, more than 60 million people around the world were dead as a result of the violence, huge portions of the Continent were destroyed, millions of Europeans had been forced from their homes and millions more were plunged into poverty. A state of shock reigned.
It was the moment at which the direction of history shifted, moving in the right direction at the time. Europe managed to break through the inevitability that old rivalries necessarily ended in war.
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