Live your life as though every act were to become a Universal Law (Immanuel Kant 1985)
30th April 2020
This week on 8th May, Britain will be remembering VE (Victory in Europe Day). It was the day 75 years ago, on which allied forces announced the surrender of Germany in Europe and sparked celebrations around the world. Word of Hitler’s surrender came the day before, which was why my mother headed on that day to Trafalgar Square in London to join the excited crowds. It also happened to be her 21st birthday! However, while crowds celebrated the end of the war in Europe, it was still raging in the Far East and my father was still in Burma and that war would not be over until 15th August.
Of course things didn’t simply go back to the way they had been in pre-war days after VE day. Times were still tough and food rationing continued until 1954. In addition people had expectations that the world could and should aim to be a better place and that lessons from history must be learned.
Probably one of the greatest post-war achievements was the foundation of the United Nations, and on 10th December 1948 it published The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (www.un.org/en/universal-declaration-human-rights). This outlines the fundamental rights that it is believed all humans deserve to be granted. They are regarded as universals, in other words, they are for all people, in all times and all places without prejudice. Such a belief in universals was fundamental to the ethical thinking of the philosopher Immanuel Kant. In order to know what is universally right, we must ask of any rule, is this one which we would want to apply to all people and would it produce the sort of world in which everyone was treated with dignity and respect?
And so the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights provides a set of standards by which the acts of individuals, communities and whole nations might be measured and judged by each other. It was quite a feat and unfortunately it does not mean that everyone abides by the standards set, but there is an agreement that standards exist and we must be accountable if we fail to meet them.
This week all the intended public celebrations for VE day have been cancelled but people are being encouraged to take part in a toast to the ‘Heroes of WW2’ at 3.00pm on 8th May. There will also be commemorations on television and online.
In many ways it could be considered ironic that we will be remembering the liberation from the restrictions and lockdown imposed by war, in our current place of lockdown which is for a very different reason. However, just as people post-war conceived of a better future, perhaps we too can begin to conceive and hope for a better post-coronovirus world.