On May 8, 1945, millions of civilians and armed forces personnel exuberantly celebrated on the streets of London. After years of nightly blackouts to lessen the threat of bombing raids, public buildings like Buckingham Palace and the Houses of Parliament were lit with floodlights. Church bells rang out across the country, tugboats on the River Thames sounded their horns, and Union flags and bunting decorated buildings everywhere.
May 8, 2015 marked the 70th anniversary of Victory in Europe Day, or VE Day—the day the carnage and horrific events of six years of warfare officially came to an end in the European arena. In his speech to the nation that day, Sir Winston Churchill, the wartime Prime Minister of Great Britain, praised the fortitude and stiff upper lip of a population unified in the face of war. "I say that in the long years to come not only will the people of this island but of the world, wherever the bird of freedom chirps in human hearts, look back to what we've done and they will say 'do not despair, do not yield to violence and tyranny, march straightforward and die if need be—unconquered.'"
Over the intervening years how well has Britain lived up to this lofty rhetoric? Are the people of Britain today setting the same powerful, stalwart example of unity in the face of external threats to the freedom and well-being of the nation? So much has changed since 1945.
After World War II, everyone's hope was for a rapid return to pre-1939 conditions, in which Britain enjoyed world power status. But this was not to be. Britain, exhausted and depleted by all the effort involved in her defense of freedom and democracy, was on the verge of bankruptcy. The Lend-Lease program sponsored by the U.S. from March 1941 to assist its allies with food, oil and materiel abruptly ended in September 1945. This was replaced by the Anglo-American Loan Agreement in July 1946, but now the relationship became one of patron-client, with America calling the shots. One of the conditions of the loan, charged at a controversial two percent interest, was the ending of Imperial Preference, in which sterling currency and trade within Britain's dominions and colonies predominated. Sterling would no longer remain the world's reserve currency and barriers to global trade were to be dismantled. British interests in the Pacific were to be ended, favoring the development of U.S. power in the region. Britain's days of being a world power were now truly over.
For the population of Britain, many restrictions like the rationing of the war years continued, even until 1954. The sustained aerial bombardment during the war had focused on major cities and industrial regions. Key places where the trade and transportation infrastructure was now needed, had to be re-established rapidly as the economy got back on its feet. In 1947, U.S. Secretary of State, George Marshall proposed the European Recovery Program (ERP), or Marshall Plan as it became known. He was convinced economic stability would provide political stability in Europe. Much of the Marshall Plan's $13 billion worth of loans were used to buy manufactured goods and raw materials from the U.S. and Canada, with Britain commanding the largest share of more than $3 billion.
Looking back, the positive economic effects of the plan may have been less than the political ones. The ability of allied European governments to somewhat relax their austerity measures and rationing improved the general morale of their citizens and brought more political stability. Subsequently, without evidence of extremely strong public discontent, any potential foothold for communist political ideas was minimized. The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) was established in 1949 to focus on the freedom and security of its member states in this North Atlantic region. NATO can trace its roots back to the strong trade relations established under the Marshall Plan.
Ultimately, with the benefit of 70 years of hindsight, the Marshall Plan can also be seen to have kick-started European integration—something many European leaders could see at the time was required to ensure peace and increased prosperity. The Organisation for European Economic Cooperation (OEEC) was started in 1948 by Robert Marjolin of France to administer the Marshall Plan funds. Ultimately the European Economic Community (EEC) later established in 1957 would draw on valuable experience gained with the OEEC structure and organisation.
Today, 28 member states of the European Union are still undergoing economic and political growing pains on a major scale as new EU memberships spread eastwards. Germany's influence is increasing step by step as the influence of other Western European nations declines.
Today Britain is chronically weak and burdened by mountainous debts, despite a nascent recovery in the economy. Her armed forces are but a faint shadow of what she possessed after World War II. Since Britain joined the E.U. her capacity to govern herself has been vastly eroded, leading to deep divisions and wrangling as to whether or not the country should remain part of the E.U.
Britain is now faced by internal, existential threats to the U.K. itself, brought about by wrangling related to how best to recover from the country's deep economic malaise. Following the outcome of the recent general election in which a slim majority Conservative government attempts to govern, the prospect of Scotland breaking up the U.K. has become a serious possibility. David Cameron, recognizing this disunity threat, stated in his first speech as the re-elected Prime Minister, "We will govern as a party of one nation, one United Kingdom." At the same time the German newspaper Die Zeit pointed out, "Mr. Cameron's promised referendum on EU membership could drive the Scots and the English even further apart" ("Election 2015: Stability at the top as David Cameron keeps key Cabinet ministers in—as it happened" Daily Telegraph, May 8, 2015).
It is ironic that VE Day in 2015, intended as a national celebration of unity and victory, should follow immediately after one of the most divisive general elections in living memory, in which disunity has predominated.
Sir Winston Churchill asked another thought-provoking question in his VE Day address in May 1945: "When shall the reputation and faith of this generation of English men and women fail?" Where today are leaders of Churchill's stature? Read "Churchill: A Lesson in Leadership" on page 18 of this issue.
From what we see in today's news, Great Britain has been massively diminished by both internal and external factors since Churchill uttered these words. She risks becoming Little Britain, a dis-United Kingdom, inward-looking and shorn of her previous standing in the world, unable to govern herself and increasingly even to defend herself or her interests, facing an uncertain economic future.
You need to learn why all this is happening and what God prophesies for the years ahead. Read our powerful booklet The United States and Great Britain in Prophecy and request our reprint article "Resurgent Germany—A Fourth Reich?" for more biblical background on these modern day events.