While Canadians visit Juno Beach at Normandy with pride and Americans visit Omaha and Utah Beach, there are no such places of unalloyed national pride associated with the Second World War for the French, the Germans, the Austrians, or the Italians.
George Weigel, the papal biographer, once asked his subject what he learned from the Second World War. Pope John Paul II answered instantly: "I learned the experience of my contemporaries: humiliation at the hands of evil."
The moral of the war story for so much of Europe is just that: humiliation and evil.
When a German thinks about World War II, he does not think about the "finest hour" but of national shame. A Frenchman does not think of triumph in a noble cause but of defeat and collaboration. Austrians bought their safety at the price of their honor; Italians needed, as it is wickedly observed, to "be liberated from their allies." The low countries were crushed; the Iberians and the Swiss declined to participate. Russia suffered terribly to win the war and then inflicted further suffering on her own people and throughout her empire during the peace.
The Holy See, too, felt the pain of humiliation, with the tiny Vatican City State surrounded. The Church felt compelled to moderate her voice to preserve the neutrality upon which her freedom depended. It was a defensible policy but there was no glory in it — there was only humiliation in the face of evil.
Indeed, with the exception of Poland — which fought bravely and lost — and Britain — which fought bravely and won — the moral of the war story for Europe was that, as John Paul is fond of saying, "nothing is solved by war." The subsequent Cold War only reinforced the view that war brings more evils in its wake and further underscored the impotence of free Europe to combat evil in its own neighborhood.