Monday, May 09, 2016

The First Full Day of Peace in Europe

On May 8th 1945, at the end of the Second World War, combat ended in Europe with the Germans accepting unconditional surrender in Rheims, France.

The human death and destruction caused by World War II is almost beyond understanding. About 75 million people died in the war, including about 20 million military personnel and 55 million civilians.

Britain was poised to fall, and the British knew it. After 1939, the English were waiting for the Nazis to drop mustard gas and incendiary bombs prior to a massive invasion in which millions of people would be displaced or killed.

As it was, Britain could no longer feed itself. Population growth had long since outpaced the ability of British farms to feed it, and food imported from Europe and America supplemented the daily fare. With Europe at war and supply lines across the continent and across the Atlantic under siege, food was rationed and shortages of everything made it difficult to put a meal on the table.

 And, of course, there were no ration coupons for dogs and cats. Newspapers reminded folks that animals would not be allowed in the air raid shelters.

Finally, in September of 1939, the message went out from the Home Office that the best way forward was to euthanize (kill) pets in preparation for the inevitable. In a single week, Britons were panicked into killing over 750,000 of their pets with a captive bolt gun or a shot to the brain. Employees of the People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals alone euthanized 300,000 animals.


jeffrey thurston said...

One of the best depictions of the dogs' plight in London during the war is in "Gravity's Rainbow" near the beginning. I know you don't like to argue but I think that 75 million dead in WW2 is an exaggeration. 50+ million is a better guess- and they're all guesses. All the gigantic numbers come from countries like the USSR and China within which most of the fighting occurred. Plus or minus a few million isn't even blinked at by historians- they just don't know. Even in today's micromanaged world we're usually way off in counting casualties- usually politics and perception get in the way of rationality. If the Wiki article on WW2 casualties states that there were between 60 and 75 million dead then I am confident that NO ONE really has any idea and that probably casualty numbers from most countries have been inflated. Before victimhood was considered a virtue most countries downplayed their losses but now it's all the rage and politically functional to have been aggrieved. Historiography doesn't match the numbers. If the USSR lost 12-65 million to Stalin's terror (yes- those are figures I've read in various books) and 26 million more died in WW2 then half the population would have been gone in 1945...

Amy Nexus said...

While I take issue with the way most pedigree dog breeding is currently handled, it's a fact that many wonderful breeds that originated in the UK would not have survived long after WWII had they not been imported to the US. The dog fancy here invigorated their stock for many years because the breeding populations hit such a low point in the UK.