It is VE (Victory in Europe) Day as I write this. I have been watching the news coverage of the end of the war in Europe 75 years ago, a brutal and bloody war to defeat Hitler and his Thousand Year Reich.
The narrative of the news was in the past tense. I wondered if VE Day was covered mostly out of courtesy to the muse of history. Then, thinking of history, I recalled the Atlantic Charter of 1941. In that document, Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt set forth a commitment to achieving a more just human community after the war was won.
The Atlantic Charter said:
The President of the United States of America and the Prime Minister, Mr. Churchill, representing His Majesty’s Government in the United Kingdom, being met together, deem it right to make known certain common principles in the national policies of their respective countries on which they base their hopes for a better future for the world.
First, their countries seek no aggrandizement, territorial or other;
Second, they desire to see no territorial changes that do not accord with the freely expressed wishes of the peoples concerned;
Third, they respect the right of all peoples to choose the form of government under which they will live; and they wish to see sovereign rights and self-government restored to those who have been forcibly deprived of them;
Fourth, they will endeavor, with due respect for their existing obligations, to further the enjoyment by all States, great or small, victor or vanquished, of access, on equal terms, to the trade and to the raw materials of the world which are needed for their economic prosperity;
Fifth, they desire to bring about the fullest collaboration between all nations in the economic field with the object of securing, for all, improved labor standards, economic advancement and social security;
Sixth, after the final destruction of the Nazi tyranny, they hope to see established a peace which will afford to all nations the means of dwelling in safety within their own boundaries, and which will afford assurance that all the men in all lands may live out their lives in freedom from fear and want;
Seventh, such a peace should enable all men to traverse the high seas and oceans without hindrance;
Eighth, they believe that all of the nations of the world, for realistic as well as spiritual reasons must come to the abandonment of the use of force. Since no future peace can be maintained if land, sea or air armaments continue to be employed by nations which threaten, or may threaten, aggression outside of their frontiers, they believe, pending the establishment of a wider and permanent system of general security, that the disarmament of such nations is essential. They will likewise aid and encourage all other practicable measure which will lighten for peace-loving peoples the crushing burden of armaments.
Franklin D. Roosevelt
Winston S. Churchill
And, after the war, the promises of the Atlantic Charter were kept. We now refer to that Atlantic Charter program in action as the “post-World War II international order.”
The greatest achievement of what the Atlantic Charter proposed is the United Nations. Its preamble sets forth the norms and rules of a fair international order:
WE THE PEOPLES OF THE UNITED NATIONS DETERMINED
to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind, and to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small, and to establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law can be maintained, and to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom
AND FOR THESE ENDS
to practice tolerance and live together in peace with one another as good neighbours, and to unite our strength to maintain international peace and security, and to ensure, by the acceptance of principles and the institution of methods, that armed force shall not be used, save in the common interest, and to employ international machinery for the promotion of the economic and social advancement of all peoples
In recent years, considerable angst has been expressed by many committed to that international order of law, no wars of aggression, growing prosperity for all and human rights that the rise of populist nationalism, small wars, migrations and refugees, growing concentration of economic power and inequality of income and wealth have created a bad inflection point in human history, a turning away from the “post-World War II order.”
The ideals embedded in the Caux Round Table Principles for Business and Principles for Governments cannot be disentangled from those in the Atlantic Charter and the Preamble of the United Nations.
VE Day, therefore, is important today, for us and for the world as the scope of justice which it proposed is still wise and needed.