The power of moral standing

The power of moral standing

The end of war in Europe

by J. R. von Salis

With a sense of inexpressible relief, the peoples of the old continent heeded the message of the war’s ending. And it is well understood that the people when hearing this message on the memorable days of 8 and 9 May 1945 were filled with gratitude and were seized with a solemn and joyful mood. Finally, the god of war had to abdicate after an exceedingly terrible time of absolute rule, and leave the field to friendlier deities. The European humanity had spent five years and eight months under the despotic laws of a total war. In her proclamation to the Dutch people, the brave Queen Wilhelmina said that there were “no words in our language” that could express her feelings of gratitude for the liberation of her people who had been enslaved and harassed for so long. Why should we Swiss not be allowed to rejoice together with the Dutch from the bottom of our hearts? Did they not give free reign to their joy despite all hunger, poverty, suffering of all kinds and mourning for the victims of the ruthless oppressor? Have the Danes and the Norwegians not done the same? Did the chairman of the English House of Commons not thank in all modesty – not for the “victory” – but for the “salvation from the hands of the enemy” in a thanksgiving service? Have the people of Paris just like the people of Moscow, who had suffered every privation, terror and bitterness to the breaking point of that long war, not given way to an exuberant festive joy? Who could be so stone-hearted and blame them for that? Certainly, only those blasphemous cynics might do that who parroted the last, desperate propaganda from Dr Goebbels’ devil’s kitchen, which reads as follows, “Enjoy the war; because peace will be terrible!” Enjoying the war meant to rejoice that every day thousands or even tens of thousands of soldiers and civilians fell victim to this war, that towns and villages were razed to the ground, that entire peoples were left defenseless to the worst oppression, that countless people in concentration camps had to suffer the most cruel tortures and the most terrible death.
It is not likely that the majority of the German people will consider peace more terrible than war, even after a complete defeat. That the bombings ended even before the war ended, was perceived as a relief by the population in those areas of Germany that were occupied by the Allies. Now, for the time being, everything has ended for these German people. Everything was wrong, what they had been told and what they were indoctrinated with, and they have been cheated of everything by a leadership that was characterised as “genial” and praised as “infallible” and “unique”. “We have reckoned with everything from the outset” was one of the most famous sayings of Hitler. So probably also the demise. Never before had a policy been as adventurous and unrealistic as the one that pretended to be the most superior “realpolitik”. It is a perfect illusion, indeed the greatest utopia to want to establish a policy solely on the basis of power; because pure, unlimited, completely amoral and material power will never last. It calls for counter-forces, for other powers, and only that policy is truly realistic, which applies the standard of reasonable criticism, which realises the presence of other peoples, currents, and ideas and reckons with them, and which knows that although the power of amoral mindset in the world is enormous, the moral powers may, however, intervene as an unpredictable, but sometimes unexpectedly powerful factor arising in the course of human history.

Excerpt from: J.R. von Salis. “Kriegsende in Europa”, Mai 1945 in: J.R. von Salis. Krieg und Frieden in Europa. Politische Schriften und Reden 1938–1988. Zurich 1989; first published in: Neue Schweizerische Rundschau of May 1945

(Translation Current Concerns)

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