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BC’s Tales of the Pacific | 75th Anniversary of End of World War II

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THANKS to the Covid-19 crisis, one of the most important anniversaries of the modern world has passed with little notice. 

75 years ago, the worst war in human history ended in Europe.

Representatives of Nazi Germany surrendered to the Allies on May 8, 1945 after almost six years of horrible warfare.  The guns of Europe fell silent as survivors counted the cost.  Tens of millions dead, including millions killed in the Holocaust.  Further tens of millions injured physically and emotionally, and hundreds of millions suffering the loss of friends and relatives, property and hope.

One forgotten cost: an estimated 35 million homeless, doomed to wander the fields and streets of Europe until housing could be built and jobs created.  A lot of bombs were dropped during the war, and a lot of homes destroyed.

Because of quarantining, most have chosen to remember the end of the war, not by parades and large gatherings, but by posting pictures of loved ones who lived or died during the war in windows or online.  In Russia, the annual, massive Victory Day parade was replaced by a fly-over by the Russian air force.  Better for social distancing.  Great Britain observed the anniversary by watching a video message by the Queen.  In the United States, the day passed with barely a mention on the evening news. 

Like so many millions of people, my ancestors participated in the war.  My grandfather fought in New Guinea against the Japanese.  My great-grandmother ran an aid station supplying refreshments to soldiers on their way to the front.  An old friend of mine was stationed in Germany at the end of the war and guarded Herman Goering at the Nuremberg Trials.  My other grandfather served on Guam during the Korean conflict, so I guess I did not have much choice in becoming a historian. 

One of the tragic consequences of ignoring the past is forgetting the lessons learned at great cost to our ancestors.  The Second World War taught us much about the nature of evil and power and ambition.  Many errors of the present could be avoided with more study of that horrendous episode.  Did the world learn the right lessons from the war?  When I look at modern Germany and Japan I am encouraged.  But when I look at Russia and China, I wonder if many of the lessons are being ignored.  I find it ironic and tragic that those two countries, two of the victors of the war, are now behaving in ways eerily like the aggressors of the past.  Maybe we don’t learn from others’ mistakes, only our own.

By the time the war ended in Europe, little remained of the Pacific theater of war.  American and Japanese forces were locked in a death struggle for the island of Okinawa, British and Empire forces were liberating what is now Indonesia and Myanmar, yet people were still dying at the rate of 40,000 per day, some in prison camps, others in combat, and still others simply by starvation and the disruption of life that comes with every war.  The sooner it ended the better.

In another four months, Asian nations will observe the anniversary of the end of the War in the Pacific.  Will we still be quarantined?  What will the world look like at that time?  How will Pacific and Asian nations pass this historic memorial?     

 

BC Cook, PhD lived on Saipan and has taught history for 20 years. He currently resides on the mainland U.S.

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