75 years ago, millions of people celebrated the Allied Powers victory in Europe. Today, my Embassy and I recognize and honor the shared sacrifice, enduring commitment, and unflinching bravery of the Allied forces, and the resistance movements, in defeating the Axis powers in Europe. People of many countries made great sacrifices and endured enormous suffering in ridding the world of Nazi and other fascist aggression. In honor of this, the “Greatest Generation,” we must recommit ourselves to their legacy by continuing to stand side-by-side to defend freedom and human rights from today’s threats.
Over 16 million Americans, including my great uncle and namesake George Corey, served in the U.S. armed forces during the Second World War. In just the last year of the conflict over half a million American soldiers were killed or injured in Europe. And as we know, the European Theater went far beyond the landmass and skies of Europe. The Mediterranean and Northern Africa campaigns paved the way for eventual Allied victory in Europe. The Allies fought desperately to win the Battle of the Atlantic (helped from 1943 by the use of bases in the Azores), enabling the massive movement of American troops and equipment to Europe. Underground movements were crucial to Allied success, while individual acts of citizen compassion and bravery, including by Aristides de Sousa Mendes, helped some escape the unfathomable horrors of the Holocaust.
During the war, the United States also unleashed the vast strength of its industry and manufacturing power to become, as President Roosevelt said, the “Arsenal of Democracy.” On our home front, millions of Americans produced tremendous amounts of goods for the war effort, including airplanes, jeeps, cargo trucks, tractors, tanks, blankets, boots, cotton, petroleum products, and food. The Lend-Lease program provided material aid to Allies valued at $565 billion (in 2018 dollars), 80 percent of which flowed to Britain and the Soviet Union.
Despite vast East-West differences in ideology and political systems, the Big Three – Roosevelt (later Truman), Churchill, and Stalin – coordinated their strategies against Hitler. On the Eastern Front, millions of Red Army soldiers fought bravely to defeat the evil of the Nazi regime, and the Soviet Union suffered unspeakable losses – 27 million soldiers and civilians.
Of course, misery did not end with the war in 1945. Lives had to be rebuilt and survivors faced utter destitution, the loss of family and friends, and lingering trauma from the war. Cities had to be rebuilt from vast destruction. As part of this rebuilding, countries banded together and created institutions and alliances to safeguard peace, build prosperity and accountability, and promote freedom.
The United States, through the Marshall Plan, provided over $100 billion (in 2018 dollars) to rebuild postwar Europe, preventing the economic collapse that ultimately doomed peace after World War I. We also helped to found institutions like the United Nations and NATO, which continue to serve as the be the bedrock of peace and security today. In the 75 years since the end of WWII, Europe has enjoyed its longest stretch of relative peace in recorded history. The Transatlantic community has prospered. Poverty levels have fallen, and people are living longer, healthier lives.
For many, however, 1945 marked not liberation, but the transition from one form of tyranny to another. During the Cold War, the United States and its Allies, including Portugal, a founding member of NATO, held the line against the Soviet threat after Stalin imposed Communist dictatorships throughout Eastern Europe. These efforts, and the undying aspirations for freedom of the people of Eastern Europe, ultimately brought down the Berlin Wall and overcame the Soviet Union’s attempts to keep Europe divided by force.
In memory of those whose bravery and sacrifice helped secure the freedom we continue to enjoy, we must continue to be vigilant in defending human rights, fundamental freedoms, and the rule of law. We must also work together to deter countries who, through military action, disinformation, or economic coercion, seek to undermine our hard-won democracy. As General Dwight Eisenhower said, “History does not entrust the care of freedom to the weak or the timid.”
In the U.S.-Portugal relationship, we are grateful to the dedicated American and Portuguese servicemembers who serve side-by-side around the world, from Lajes to Afghanistan, to ensure our security. We are also committed to working together to support a strong NATO, combat state-sponsored disinformation and cyber campaigns, and ensure our economic progress reflects our democratic values.