So. This is about amnesia.
Or lack of long term memory.
We Americans certainly have a pattern of historical amnesia on occasion.
And the day I am going to refer to edges upon an amnesia moment.
Known most for this picture to the right.
VJ Day is the day that Japan officially surrendered to the US and ended World War 2.
Of course everyone has seen the picture but if you think about it (beyond the obvious joy of two people – regardless of whether it was staged or not) it is a peek into a world none of my generation knows.
A world that believed total victory was possible. A world that said large sacrifices needed to be made to gain large things (democracy, freedom … stuff like that). A world that said you made hard decisions that often in retrospect may look not as black & white as you would like but in the moment achieved what needed to be achieved.
The Cold War (a 50 year silent war) was on the horizon.
This is a world difficult for any of my age group or younger can fathom.
It was on August 14th in 1945 that Americans were greeted with a two-word newsflash, “Japan Surrenders” World War II was over.
(note: it was August 15th in Japan, but, because of time zone differences, it was August 14th in the US.)
Most of us greeted the VJ Saturday as a day away from the office. Just a weekend day that gave us an opportunity to spend time with family, to shop or just relax.
It should have been a big day for remembrance.
August 14th marked the end of a conflict that claimed more human lives than any in history.
Many people believe that WWII ended with the dropping of the two A-Bombs on Hiroshima on August 6th and Nagasaki on August 9th but the Japanese did not immediately surrender after these attacks. In fact, there were Japanese rebels who wished to prolong the war
All Americans should take time to remember days like V-J Day and remember the men and women who fought to preserve the precious freedoms we almost lost.
War brought America together. Our military and citizens performed heroically, sacrificing on the home front as well as in combat. Political and personal disagreements were set aside. Output from our factories soared as the country became the arsenal of democracy in this global conflict. Americans united and labored as one, working toward a single goal: victory against the forces of totalitarianism and racist ideologies.
Victory would come, but it was hard won. On May 8, 1945, Germany capitulated. Then, following the atomic bombs dropped on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan surrendered on august 14th.
There is urgency to addressing our historical amnesia. WWII veterans are dying at the rate of 800 a day, according to statistics from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. This year there are 1,981,216 surviving veterans in the USA. In 2020 there will only be 269,721. Those who experienced V-J Day are leaving us.
Nowadays, it seems VJ Day celebrations are muted mostly because as we look in retrospect we tie the end of the war with the Air Force B29s, Enola Gay and Bockscar, dropping Little Boy and Fat Man, the atomic bombs on the essentially civilian targets of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The bombs killing over 200,000 people, including many women and children.
What’s done is done and don’t think for a moment that the Japanese wouldn’t have dropped a couple on the Allies (Americans and/or America) if they had them.
War is an ugly. And WW2 was all that. But one cannot suggest that the Allies should have sacrificed hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of their own troops in an invasion of Japan in order to spare Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
But. War is about winning (within a morality structure) with the least expenditure of your own soldiers and people. Period.
Oh. I would also like to point out, even without an atomic bomb, the Japanese managed to kill more innocent Chinese civilians at Nanking alone than the two atomic bombs together.
Now. Historical amnesia is a scary thing. Because in generations and cycles and recurring actions (recurring mistakes) and memories it means we forget. And if we forget it means we are more likely to do again. Sound silly when you talk about something like a war the size of World War 2? Hmmmmmmmmmmmmm … not really.
At the end I have some casualty graphs.
I sometimes believe World War 2 is becoming just a phrase.
As time goes by the true extent of that conflict (versus say a 9/11 which admittedly did happen on our home land which WW2 did not) is stunning in comparison. It may not be fair to compare 3000 to 1 million but numbers are numbers are numbers.
And if we do not remind ourselves of things like this on occasion we are doomed to make similar mistakes in the future and allow it to happen all over again.
Why? Because, of course, it could never happen to us (or so we say to ourselves).
Thus, while we may be a forward-looking people, I encourage all Americans to pause and reflect on the sacrifice of the Hero generation. The GI generation.
Remember V-J Day. Remember all remembrance days of World War 2 and the Korean War.
Seek out a GI veteran (heck. any veteran actually) and thank him or her.
They really did change the world.
To end this.
Some historical numbers to remember. Many many people took part in World War 2 and sacrificed a lot for us to be living the lives we lead today.
And we shouldn’t forget what they did … for us.