World War II ended seventy-one years ago today. Japan officially surrendered on the USS Missouri a couple weeks later, so some people might consider September 2, 1945 as the official VJ Day. This discrepancy is just one small example of the problems with writing history. Even when the victor writes history, the stories are not simple to tell. For this post, I visited two parts of World War II history that are often oversimplified.
My father was born in a small Texas town on October 7, 1940. Fourteen months later, Pearl Harbor was bombed. My grandfather was drafted; he served stateside near St. Louis. My father and grandmother lived in Oklahoma.
My grandmother never graduated high school, but she understood history. She saved news clippings. She explained which countries fought for the Allies and the Axis. She knew Europe and Asia, though she never traveled off the continent. She hated and feared the enemy… and if the enemy had ever met my grandmother, they would have feared her too. She would have joined the service and killed if she had been allowed to do so. Instead, she worked for AT&T as an operator.
Richmond, California is the home of the Rosie The Riveter WWII / Home Front National Historical Park. On Saturday, the museum held a Rosie Rally similar to the one last year that broke a Guinness World Record. I went this year.
We broke another record.
I almost did not go, because I started to feel sad thinking about my grandmother. My grandmother was a complicated person. She was strong, but unhappy. She survived The Great Depression only to find herself with a toddler who missed his father. When the war started, her family and community were forever disrupted. After the war, she lost her freedom. She knew she was lucky, but she did not feel lucky. She would never have the family or life she wanted.
A year ago today, I visited the USS Hornet Museum in Alameda. The Hornet is an aircraft carrier that is “anchored” in the San Francisco Bay. On August 15th, 2015, the USS Hornet honored the legendary 442nd Regimental Combat Team during a Living Ship Day. The 442nd was a segregated Japanese American unit known for their “Go For Broke” motto.
On the left, is photographer Tom Graves. He has written and photographed a book about the 442nd called Twice Heroes: America’s Nisei Veterans of WWII and Korea. Tom’s book is both important and excellent. I expect that its value will increase as we understand the importance of the 442nd.
Complicated stories can get lost in battle. Perhaps simple slogans are much more useful. “Go For Broke” is a better slogan than a long paragraph about the Japanese American World War II experience that includes relocations camp and decorated army units. “We Can Do It” is a much better motivator than a detailed explanation about working on the home front knowing that your family might be dying overseas.
I think that there is more to the fog of war than we realize. We won World War II, but we could not really celebrate. Before our country could explore how we had interned our own people and segregated soldiers or forced women out of the workplace, we learned about the Holocaust. Did the USA and the USSR decide that a Cold War was easier to process?
I have included the featured photo again at the end.