By the time the end of war in Europe was announced 70 years ago today, it was already old news. Germany signed the surrender terms on May 7 in an act witnessed by 17 journalists under an embargo that would allow the Allies to make simultaneous announcements the next day. But after the signing, Gen. Dwight David Eisenhower ordered Germany to broadcast to its people immediately that the Nazi regime had surrendered. Once Associated Press reporter Edward Kennedy heard the news was out in Germany, he saw no reason to honor the embargo and, evading military censors, filed his dispatch (the Los Angeles Times ran the resulting story).
The surrender, though, had been expected. The Nazi regime was crumbling under relentless pressure from the west and the east, and most people recognized the only issue was timing. Similarly, Japan was reeling in the Pacific Theater, and the journalism of the day reflected the sense that the conflagration that had raged across three continents was nearly at an end.
The Times editorial board wrote about the German capitulation — "End of the War in Europe," the headline read — on May 8, the day Kennedy's AP story was splashed across the paper's front page. The editorial is marked by a sense of doggedness, and fatigue, yet not much elation, likely reflecting the continued fight against Japan, as well as the deep costs of an effort that touched all strata of society and that for a time turned the nation's industrial heart into a war machine.
This is the editorial:
History may chronicle two "VE-Days."
The war in Europe ended yesterday with unconditional surrender of all German armed forces by Adm. Doenitz, but the official announcement of its ending by President Truman, Prime Minister Churchill and Premier Stalin does not come until today.
At a time when official Washington was still silent the British information office let the cat out of the bag with the statement that Tuesday "will be regarded as VE-Day" and the setting of times for official broadcasts by Prime Minister Churchill and King George VI.
This confirmed, for all intents and purposes, the first announcement of the war's end made by the German radio and followed quickly by a very evidently completely authentic Associated Press dispatch from supreme Allied headquarters at Reims, France, giving details of the surrender.
For scoring this, one of the most notable news "beats" in history, the Associated Press promptly was suspended from all European filings from points under Gen. Eisenhower's control, although Gen. Eisenhower did not deny the news agency's dispatch was in accord with the facts. Later the ban against the Associated Press was lifted but Edward Kennedy, the man who secured and wrote the history-making news for the Associated Press, is still forbidden to send any news from France. This we believe is most unfair. Kennedy apparently secured the great news through enterprise and if there had been any question as to the propriety of releasing it censorship should have intervened before the news was processed and not afterward.*
All doubt about authenticity ceased when King George VI announced at 3:30 p.m., P.W.T.,** dispatch of a telegram of congratulation to Gen. Eisenhower.
The actual surrender of Germany took place, it is noted, on the 30th anniversary of the sinking by German torpedoes of the great British liner Lusitania — a piece of criminality which started a chain of events which put the United States into World War I.
The surrender announcement from Adm. Doenitz was preceded by a broadcast from the same source to all submarine commanders ordering them to cease fighting and return to port, saying that "continuation of the struggle is impossible from the bases that remain."
One of the most interesting reactions to the Nazi surrender came from Tokyo, where Foreign Minister Togo declared that the Japanese Empire "finds itself at variance with the war aims of Germany" and charging the Nazis with an "extreme violation of the tripartite pact" since the surrender was entered into without consultation with Japan. Togo based this statement on the attempt of Himmler to surrender to the western Allies and of Adm. Doenitz to make peace with England and America and continue the war on Russia.
Togo did not go so far as to threaten war on Germany because of this breach of faith, but he evidently felt highly outraged.
If Japan should now declare war on Germany, it would precipitate an interesting situation.
With the war in Europe definitely over the pursuit of war criminals there becomes one of the interesting phases of the subsequent developments. Reuters sent out an unconfirmed report that the bodies of Propaganda Minister Paul Goebbels and his entire family — suicides — had been found in a Berlin air shelter. But there was no trace of Hitler's body and there has been no mention of Himmler or Goering recently. The Russians profess again to believe that Hitler's disappearance is a Nazi trick and that he is still living.***
The top Nazis have very little chance of escaping, though in the present confused state of Germany they could no doubt drop out of sight for awhile. There are too many people in all parts of the world with scores to settle with the Nazi leaders to permit them to make a permanent getaway.
In our rejoicing over this complete victory, approximately 11 months after our landing in Normandy, the people must not forget that there is another foe to deal with. Japan, though she is evidently beaten, shows no sign of giving in. Her armies must be defeated as utterly as those of Germany. That is now the task before the United States and it allies.
On to victory in the Pacific!
* In details that emerged later, Kennedy evaded the censors using an unauthorized phone line and decided not to inform his editors about the embargo, fearing such a note might somehow tip off the censors.
** Pacific War Time.
*** Hitler, in fact, was already dead.