(WWII) You Had to Be There (1995)

The front cover of this (1995) issue relates to the Japan's surrender and the 50th anniversary of World War 2's end, that was celebrated on September 2, 1995. Perhaps most of you reading this were not even born when the Japanese made their infamous 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor.

As a high school senior when that occurred, I can tell you the news on that December 7th Sunday was a shock. And it didn't get any better during the early months of 1942, when all of our outposts in the South Pacific suffered tragic losses and our valiant servicemen were killed or captured. For those who survived that onslaught, it meant spending the duration as prisoners of war — if they lived through the unbelievably cruel treatment inflicted upon them by their ruthless Japanese captors. I'm not sure if the general public has ever known, or cared to know, the true stories of those inhumane Japanese prison camps. The trend of those times was to “forgive and forget.”

I still recall the bleak outlook of that era and my feeling of concern and solemn resolve that led to joining the Navy to “help win the war.” I remember, too, how those on the “Home Front” did without so that all materials could be diverted to the war effort. Those fearful times inspired courage and resolve and solidified the American people, military, and civilian alike.

They endured strict rationing of coffee, sugar, butter, meat, automobiles, tires, gasoline, women's nylon hose, and many other items. And they bought War Bonds to help finance the war. Women came to the forefront by manning factories and performing defense work previously done only by men. Studs Terkel described it like this, in his book, The Good War: “It was the only time in our history when practically everyone was completely behind the war effort.”

Were they glad when the bomb ended the war and brought loved ones home? You bet they were, but you had to be there to know the feeling!

These WW2 Home Front Posters
are typical of thousands displayed
in defense plants, post offices
and other places, to instill patriotism
and elicit public support of the war.
This was no 40-hour war you watched on CNN News! Television was not even a part of our vocabulary then. Nor were words like computers, calculators, lasers, jets, nor hundreds of other modern conveniences we take for granted today. WW2 was the real thing that lasted almost five years. It took the first three years just to overcome the adversity and turn it around in our favor.

I take strong exception to modern-day historians who would make the United States the “aggressor nation” for dropping the atomic bombs on Nagasaki and Hiroshima. It is easy for those who did not live through the experience to put a hind-sight slant on history. The problem is that they are judging what happened 50 years ago by today's standards and politics. You had to be there!

Now we are the leader of the free world. Then, we were an isolationist nation. Congress passed the Selective Service Act by a single vote only two years before Pearl Harbor, and draftees trained with wooden rifles. The effect of the great 1930s economic depression left our military forces undermanned, poorly armed, and militarily impotent. Our fleet had neither the fuel nor the ammunition for proper training cruises. We were totally unprepared to cope with a Japanese war machine that began its ultimate goal of conquering Pacific nations and island fortresses by invading China four years before their Pearl Harbor surprise raid.

No matter how you slice it, Japan was the aggressor in the war in the Pacific, just as Germany was in Europe, and don't think for a minute their leaders would not have used an atomic bomb to their advantage had either nation possessed such a weapon. You had to live during those times to appreciate the trauma of the experience — rather than simply judge it in retrospect.

If any of these revisionist historians had been among the troops preparing for the long and bloody battle expected in the planned invasion of the Japanese home islands, they might have a better perspective. They would have been grateful for the A-bombs sparing their lives and the lives of untold thousands of Japanese and Americans alike — instead of rebuking this nation for a “dastardly deed” fifty years later.

Before the Japanese officials signed the surrender document on board the Battleship USS Missouri (shown above), thousands of Americans had fought and died as a direct result of the Japanese War Lords' long-planned mission of conquer and control.

Without those two A-bombs, the world might be a different place today. Had the Japanese realized how vulnerable we were after Pearl Harbor, they might easily have taken Hawaii and possibly invaded the West Coast of America. Had Hitler invaded England instead of Russia, he might have won the war in Europe and developed the A-bomb before we did.

The fact is, however, we dropped the bombs, ended the war, and the “what-ifs” don't count. Neither does 20-20 hind sight about what happened 50 years ago. You had to be there!

Historical Footnote: A unique symbol of victory — on September 2, 1945, when Japanese officials arrived on board the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay to sign the WWII surrender documents, the ship was flying the same stars and stripes that had flown over our nation's Capitol on December 7, 1941 — the day Japanese bombers made their sneak attack against Pearl.