Saturday was a landmark anniversary: the 75th anniversary of V-J Day (Victory over Japan.) There’s some dispute about the actual date: Japan surrendered on August 15th, but because of the time difference, that was August 14th in the US. And September 2nd is officially referred to as V-J day because that’s when Japan signed the surrender document, ending World War II. But whichever day you prefer, it must be remembered and commemorated, especially this year. The number of living veterans of the war in the Pacific is dwindling; and this year, because of the coronavirus, public events were not as large or widespread as these heroes deserved, and their advanced ages meant that most couldn’t leave their homes to be honored.
We must remember V-J Day not only for the sacrifices and heroism of our military, but also to ensure that the conditions and actions that led to the horrors of World War II never happen again. Today, there is a vast coordinated effort to erase and rewrite the history of the United States, and to cast this great nation’s heritage as nothing but racism, oppression, and colonialism. That is a scurrilous lie. Yes, there are dark passages, but no other nation in history has ever strived so hard, or sacrificed more blood and treasure, to advance justice and free people from bondage, both here and around the world. In the 1940s, the United States and the Allied coalition literally saved the world. And having defeated the most dangerous foe of all time, we didn’t act as conquerors or colonizers. We left only enough troops to oversee the rebuilding and keep the peace, while most of our military came home, shed their uniforms, and went on with their lives.
At that link is a story about some of the veterans of the Pacific campaign who are still with us 75 years later. But I noticed that the writer has also internalized, perhaps unwittingly, some of the attempts to rewrite history to cast America in a negative light. The article describes the atomic bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki as the point where “nuclear weapons were first -- and so far, solely -- used in anger…”
There’s no question that those bombings were horrific in their destruction and loss of life, and they certainly carried a sobering lesson that we should avoid ever using those weapons again. But it’s flat wrong to assert that they were “used in anger.” They were used in war, which is a very different thing.
It was a war we didn’t start or seek; Japan thrust it on us with the attack on Pearl Harbor. Even after Germany surrendered, Japan’s military leaders refused to stop fighting, and they still had a 2-million-man military to defend their homeland. A D-Day-like invasion of Japan was predicted to cost at least a million casualties. Truman faced one of the most difficult choices of any President in history: use the awesome power of a nuclear weapon – which wasn’t even fully understood at the time – or keep fighting island by island, door to door, for who knows how long or at what cost of lives on both sides. Here’s some more background on what he was facing.
Far from being made in anger, that was one of the most agonizing and carefully considered Presidential decisions ever made. Historians can argue forever about whether it was the right decision, but they don’t have the lives of millions of people hanging on the outcome of their debate, as Truman did.
Finally, as we salute American heroes of World War II on the 75th anniversary of V-J Day, here are some photos from commemorative events that were held in Great Britain and Japan.