Tuesday, May 8, 2012

May 8 is V-E Day

Today is as easy as yesterday was difficult: It's the 67th anniversary of Victory in Europe Day, the day on which the unconditional surrender of Nazi Germany is commemorated. This surely provides adequate cause for celebration.

There's a new book to read this year about V-E Day, too. Ed Kennedy's War: V-E Day, Censorship & The Associated Press is the posthumous memoir of the senior Associated Press correspondent who broke the story of Germany's surrender to a grateful Western world -- and got fired on account of it.

The release of the book has generated a number of stories about Kennedy's scoop (e.g., AP, Huffington Post, Newsday). Basically, Kennedy was one of 17 correspondents flown in to witness the German surrender on May 7, 1945 at 2:41am in a schoolhouse in Reims, France.

All the journalists were warned that news of the surrender would be embargoed until Allied Headquarters authorized the release. The reporters figured it would be a matter of just a few hours, even minutes -- good news is meant to be shared -- but, eventually, the Allies decided to try and keep the lid on for 36 hours,


Our gallant Soviet ally wanted its own surrender ceremony; they planned theirs for Berlin. The wartime alliance was already crumbling into the Cold War, but top American and British military commanders were anxious not to contribute to the faster deterioration of the relationship.

Kennedy went along with the embargo until he heard an announcement, made at 2:03pm on May 8, by the Germans, from Flensburg, a city already in Allied hands (meaning that the broadcast had to be approved by the Allied military censors). When Kennedy learned of that announcement, he went to the chief American censor and appealed for the right to break the story. Permission was refused.

Kennedy found an unmonitored military phone and called London anyway. The story was on the AP wires within minutes and political authorities got on board with the good news. Meanwhile, in Moscow, "Uncle Joe" Stalin was not pleased.

In the surrender instrument, the Germans were required to cease hostilities by 11:01 pm on May 8. The need for some delay is understandable -- word has to be given to commanders in the field -- and the collapsing Nazi armies were no longer the model of Germanic efficiency that they may once have been. But the sooner combatants knew that the shooting is supposed to stop, the sooner people would stop dying. Getting the word out about the surrender was, in that sense, a matter of life and death; holding up the news so that the Russians could stage their own photo-op was therefore not a great idea, and, in a sense, downright cruel.

The AP has now apologized to Kennedy's family (Kennedy died in 1963).

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