Jewish World Review May 6, 2005/ 27 Nissan, 5765

Wesley Pruden

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A timid, grudging Churchillian choice | Our kissin' cousins across the sea are counting the last ballots of their national parliamentary elections this morning, and those are ghosts hovering over the counting stations.

Two days hence, the British celebrate V-E Day, commemorating Victory in Europe, and this year the observance marks the 60th anniversary of the day that most of Europe counts as the end of World War II.

The fighting in the Pacific, which would continue for another three months, was regarded by Europe as a footnote to the war, understandable but blind to reality. But since most Americans regard December 7, 1941, as the date of infamy marking the beginning of the war that exploded in Europe in September 1940, we're even. We held our big dance in the streets in August, after the atomic bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki persuaded Japan to quit and the war was finally, really, truly, and at last over.

The confluence of the British election, in which Tony Blair was prudent to sprint at the end of the campaign to preserve his government, and the anniversary of V-E Day was perhaps mere coincidence, but for those of us who lived through World War II, it's a reminder of how much smaller than our grandparents many of us on both sides of the Atlantic have become.

Sir John Keegan, the eminent British historian who is the defense correspondent for London's Daily Telegraph, recalls the afternoon of May 8, 1945, when Prime Minister Winston Churchill addressed the hundreds of thousands massed in celebration before him.

" 'This is your victory,' [Churchill] cried. 'Everyone, man or woman, has done his best. Neither the long years, nor the dangers, nor the fierce attacks of the enemy have in any way weakened the independent resolve of the British nation. God bless you all.'

"Some in the crowd shouted back: 'No, this is your victory.'

"At the far end of Whitehall in Trafalgar Square and at Piccadilly Circus, the crowd was dancing and singing. American soldiers were exulting with British and Commonwealth servicemen, and the ordinary people of London, to celebrate what five years earlier had seemed an unattainable outcome. Then, with the German armies bursting into France and driving the defenders before them into rout, Churchill had stated his aim to the House of Commons, as 'victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory however long and hard the road may be.'

"The road had been harder than even he had feared. Fifty million people had died, much of Europe had been destroyed, millions had been driven from their homes and were wandering the highways of Europe, displaced and starving."

The British — weary of war, tired of resolve and independence, and frustrated by continued rationing of everything — threw Churchill out of office months later in an act of colossal ingratitude that is still difficult to understand from this side of the Atlantic (and a puzzle still to many of his countrymen). But there was no flinching while the bombs and bullets were falling and flying.

A majority of our British cousins are weary of the war against them today, but the difference is that they have been reluctant and grudging in defense of their security from the beginning. Like a lot of people here, they prefer to deal with the threats to their safety by insisting that "it ain't so," like children pulling the covers over their heads to shut out the bogeyman.

Naturally, the frightened and the frustrated take their anger out on the man who insists on looking head-on at danger. Michael Howard was the best the Tories could put up against the prime minister, and the most memorable thing he said during the campaign was that Mr. Blair "lied" about Iraq. Like John Kerry insulting George W., he nevertheless insisted that he wasn't necessarily against the war against Islamist terror and savagery. "But what the people of our country have to focus on," he said, purloining rhetoric from Pollyanna and Dr. Pangloss, "is the opportunity to have a brighter, better tomorrow."

That's possible only absent Islamist terror, and as if to underscore that very point, terrorists yesterday set off homemade grenades at the British Consulate in New York City. But not to worry. The grenades were piddling, and the British have other consulates.

The voters told Mr. Blair last night not to worry, either, but gave him a considerably smaller margin than he won in 1997 and 2001. The results, remarkable first because Labor had never won three elections in a row, were historic because they establish Labor as something close to the nation's "default party," the position long held by the Conservatives. Our cousins are not who they used to be, but, timid and grudging, yesterday they made the Churchillian choice.

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JWR contributor Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Washington Times. Comment by clicking here.

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