2015.05.04 70 Years of Gratitude

Today, on May 4th, the older generation of Danes may line their windows with candles at dusk. They do this in commemoration of the "Five Dark Years" that ended when the German troops in the Netherlands, Northern Germany, and Denmark surrendered on this evening 70 years ago.

Some of the bigger cultural divides are not between geographical countries but between generations. That is one of the reasons historically accurate television programs have such lure: when done well, they can make a younger generation more aware of the conditions their parents and grandparents grew up with.

For Danes, the 1970's television series Matador (Monopoly) has for several generations been a stable in describing the social hierarchy, the Depression era, the WWII occupation, and the bigotry.

For this specific day, this snippet from the May 4th, 1945 section of the series is worth watching. It is unfortunately in Danish without subtitles. (For any immigrant to Denmark who wants to understand the Danish psyche and cultural reference points, the subtitled series is available on DVD.)

To most Danes who experienced WWII, America could do no wrong. Those of us who grew up during the Vietnam War era but living in the shadow of the Iron Curtain had a more ambivalent attitude.

Vietnam was real and on the news all the time; the threat from the Soviet Union was hypothetical. But when the Soviet fleet on training missions in the international waters of the Danish straits turned to make landfall on Rügen, the German (then East-German) peninsula two minutes flying-time to the south, the threat seemed very real. What if they had turned in the other direction?

A new generation has grown up in the post-Soviet era when we all hoped some sanity would finally prevail in international relations. Too many people have been killed in armed conflicts - and yet it is a steadily decreasing number on the grand historic scale as Steven Pinker reminded us in this Wall street Journal article. Regrettably, it may need an update.

The World may not be as stable as we wish for. But as much or little as we may like NATO and the EU, Western Europe has never before in recorded history been through this long a period without some country being at war with its neighbor.

70 years of peace. That is surely something to be thankful for.