World War II: 80th anniversary

“We must suffer them all again”

World War IIIt will be eighty years come September 1 since World War II began. I have a strong sense that a lot of folks in the US, in particular, have no idea. It’s in part because lots of Americans are oblivious to history. And if they know anything about WWII, it’s Pearl Harbor, which didn’t take place until 27 months later.

When I was younger, I glibly understood that a reason for WWII was that the victors of World War I treated the Germans poorly. The Britannica seems to concur. “The war was in many respects a continuation, after an uneasy 20-year hiatus, of the disputes, left unsettled by World War I.”

In fact, most of the 1930s felt like a precursor of the Second World War: Japan invading China, Italy taking over Ethiopia, Germany annexing Czechoslovakia, etc.

Or maybe earlier: on November 8, 1923, there was the Beer Hall Putsch, when Adolf Hitler unsuccessfully led the Nazis in an attempt to overthrow the German government. Though it was crushed by police the next day, less than a decade later, Hitler was appointed Chancellor of Germany.

Six and a half years after that, the war in Europe began, as Germany invaded Poland. Britain and France responded by declaring war on Germany. Thus began the deadliest military conflict in history, with at least 50 million killed directly by the war and at least 20 million perishing as a result of war-related disease and famine

I am, as is John Green (no relation), uncertain and afraid about the war then and how it may parallel what’s going on now.

So John thinks about the W. H. Auden poem September 1, 1939. Though Auden later repudiated his own work as overly sentimental, it became quite popular.

After 9/11, this couplet was analyzed on National Public radio:
The enlightenment driven away,
The habit-forming pain,
Mismanagement and grief,
We must suffer them all again

Auden particularly rejected the sentimentality of the last line of the penultimate verse. Yet it is that line that gives me both hope and despair: We must love one another or die.

The lasting trauma of war

avoiding protracted war in the first place

Normandy landingI never saw the movie Saving Private Ryan. Didn’t think seeing the apparently realistic depiction of hundreds of soldiers being shot during the D-Day action at Normandy was something I wanted to experience.

Even 75 years after D-Day, we’re still learning about the campaign. Classified maps and documents reveal the careful planning that went into the invasion, “as Allied commanders orchestrated how to begin liberating Europe from Nazi tyranny.”

Not incidentally, today, members of the Albany (NY HS) Marching Falcons marched along Omaha Beach from Vierville-sur-Mer to St. Laurent-sur-Mer, two towns liberated during the Normandy invasion by American and Allied forces. They’ll also participate in the wreath-laying ceremony at the Normandy American cemetery.

Most World War II veterans didn’t talk about the war, at least not in their twenties or thirties or forties or fifties. But as they got older, some of them were willing to share their stories, no matter how gruesome and devastating. The storytelling is more important than ever. Out of 16 million US veterans of WWII, fewer than a half million were still alive in 2018, with about 348 dying each day.

Meanwhile, for our more recent veterans, Civilians Are Blind To The Lasting Trauma Of War. “Shortly before Memorial Day weekend, the U.S. Army posed a broad question to veterans, prodding them to talk about how serving America ‘impacted’ their lives. [They]…offered a stream of stories that comprise a very different picture [than expected]: suicide, depression, PTSD, poverty, drug addiction, living with physical disabilities and a sense of abandonment from the Army itself.”

There are ways that folks can give back to veterans. The harder task would be finding Ways You Can Support a Veteran Living With PTSD. Veterans have a suicide rate 50% higher than the general population.

“In recent decades, we’ve seen a widening experiential divide between civilians and soldiers in American life. The U.S. has one of the largest all-volunteer armies in the world, and while that may sound good on paper, it’s really not.

“Volunteerism means that military service is vulnerable to stratification by class and race.” Those distinctions, of course, also existed during the draft for the Vietnam war, but the broader point remains true.

“Addressing war’s lasting trauma — and avoiding protracted war in the first place — should be a defining issue in politics right now.”

Z is for survivor Louis Zamperini

Louie Zamperini’s remarkable story of survival garnered new attention in 2010 with the Laura Hillenbrand book Unbroken, which hit #1 on the New York Times best-seller list.

Stuck for a Z topic, the Daughter said, “How about Louis Zamperini?” Of course. She read parts of Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption (2010), a biography of Zamperini by Laura Hillenbrand, for her English class.

Louis, born on January 26, 1917 in Olean, NY to Italian immigrant parents, grew up a troublemaker in Torrance, California. As a child, he was smoking and drinking, stealing and fighting. Trying to impress some high school girls, he joined the school’s track team, and ended up breaking a national high school record, running the mile in only 4 minutes, 21 seconds.

Zamperini competed in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, and even met Adolf Hitler at the 1936 Olympics. He didn’t medal, though he seemed like a sure bet for the 1940 team, but the games were called off because of World War II.

Louis Zamperini enlisted in the Army Air Corps in September 1941, cheating death several times as a B-24 bombardier. His missions included a famous December 1942 air raid on Wake Island. .

On May 27, 1943, Zamperini and his crew were participating in a search and rescue mission over the Pacific when their plane suddenly lost power to two of its engines, careening into the sea. Zamperini and two others were the only ones of an 11-man crew to initially survive.

One of the trio, Francis McNamara, perished after 33 days at sea. Zamperini and Russell Allen Phillips drifted for another two weeks before being captured by the Japanese Navy near the Marshall Islands.

Zamperini was tortured daily as a POW. Over the next two years, he also suffered from disease, exposure, and starvation. The Japanese tried to use him as a propaganda tool, but once he agreed to read a message telling his parents he was alive, he refused to cooperate any further.

After the war, he used alcohol to fight the nightmares. Zamperini says he was saved from his post-war trauma after witnessing a sermon by the evangelical preacher Billy Graham in 1949.

In 1950, Zamperini returned to Japan for the first time since his liberation to address some Japanese war criminals. He shook hands and embraced many of his old camp guards. He became an inspirational speaker, and he wrote two memoirs, both titled Devil at My Heels (1956 and 2003).

Zamperini’s remarkable story of survival garnered new attention in 2010 with the Hillenbrand book, which hit #1 on the New York Times best-seller list. Louis became a celebrity all over again when he charmingly made the rounds with Angelina Jolie, who was directing the film Unbroken, based on the book, starring Jack O’Connell as Louis, which was released on Christmas Day 2014.

Louis Zamperini died from pneumonia on July 2, 2014.

There’s a movie sequel to Unbroken, Path To Redemption (2017), with Samuel Hunt as Zamperini and Will Graham playing his grandfather, Billy Graham.

For ABC Wednesday

J is for Japan, the US and World War II

The visit by Abe to Pearl Harbor comes after many years of debate in the U.S., Japan and elsewhere about how the two nations should come to terms with the legacy of World War II

I was thrilled by a pair of events addressing the historic Japan-United States enmity of the 1940s.

In May 2016, then-President Barack Obama visited Hiroshima, the first American commander-in-chief to do so since the US dropped an atomic bomb on the city over 70 years earlier.

While criticized by those on the left and the right, I thought it was an important gesture. “As he promised, the president did not apologize for the U.S. bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945, which killed an estimated 215,000 people. He laid a wreath at Peace Memorial Park in Hiroshima and embraced a 91-year-old survivor of the nuclear attack.”

During his 20-minute remarks, “Obama said, ‘Why do we come to this place, to Hiroshima? We come to ponder the terrible forces unleashed in the not so distant past. We come to mourn the dead … their souls speak to us and ask us to look inward. To take stock of who we are and what we might become.’

“In the Hiroshima museum’s guest book before his speech, the President wrote that he hoped the world will ‘find the courage, together, to spread peace, and pursue a world without nuclear weapons.’‎” Most of the elderly survivors, I imagine, did not foresee an American President in their midst, in that place.

Then, in December 2016, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe offered his condolences for his country’s attack on Pearl Harbor. “‘We must never repeat the horrors of war again, this is the solemn vow the people of Japan have taken,” he said. The Prime Minister was accompanied by President Obama, making the visit the first by the leaders of both countries.

“Mr. Abe paid tribute to the [2,400] men who lost their lives in 1941 at the naval base, many of whom remain entombed in the wreckage of the USS Arizona, sunk by the Japanese that day, and vowed reconciliation and peace.

How did this come about?

“Just as was the case when Obama visited Hiroshima earlier in the year—as the first sitting U.S. President to go to the site of the atomic bombing—the visit by Abe comes after many years of debate in the U.S., Japan and elsewhere about how the two nations should come to terms with the legacy of World War II.”

Mr. Abe never actually apologized, but as one elderly Pearl Harbor survivor noted, the Prime Minister’s presence was even more important.

Hiroshima and Nagasaki

Dwight Eisenhower (1963): “Japan was already defeated and that dropping the bomb was completely unnecessary, and secondly, our country should avoid shocking world opinion by the use of a weapon whose employment was, I thought, no longer mandatory as a measure to save American lives.”

HiroshimaRuinsLargeMy sixth grade teacher, Paul Peca, who died four years ago, believed that the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan on August 6 and 9, 1945, respectively, was necessary in order to end World War II in the Pacific.

He said, and the conventional wisdom supported the claim, that the kamikaze fighters were doing severe damage to the Allied troops and that the war needed to end quickly.

Regardless, I was never convinced that the United States should be the first country to drop the bomb. The sheer devastation, not just immediately but in the aftermath, troubled me.

On this issue, I was affected greatly by two pieces from the arts. One was the 1983 documentary Atomic Cafe. “Disturbing collection of 1940s and 1950s United States government issued propaganda films designed to reassure Americans that the atomic bomb was not a threat to their safety.” It reviewed quite well.
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