World War II had been raging since September 1, 1939. It was without doubt the most destructive war in history. Some say it was simply a continuation of World War I, that had ended in 1918. Others will blame the 1931 Japanese seizure of Manchuria from China, or Italy’s invasion and defeat of Ethiopia in 1935, or Adolf Hitler’s re-militarization of Germany in 1936, or the Spanish Civil War 1936 to 1939, or Germany’s occupation of Czechoslovakia in 1938 as possible beginnings. But, the two dates most often mentioned as “the beginning of World War II” are July 7, 1937, when the “Marco Polo Bridge Incident” led to war between Japan and China, and September 1, 1939, when Germany invaded Poland, which led Britain and France to declare war on Hitler’s Nazi state in retaliation. To me it would seem that the tensions that had begun before World War I, simply never went away. It would seem that there were many world leaders who were power hungry, and greedy for the lands that belonged to their neighbors. And when you look at the Middle East today, maybe not much has really changed.
Wherever you place the beginning of World War II, you would agree that while the Japanese and the Germans may not have been war weary, the rest of the world really was. Before the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the United States had somehow managed to stay out of the conflict. Whether that was right or wrong is a matter of opinion too. Nevertheless, when the Japanese brought the war to our front door, the United States answered with a vengeance. I’m sure the allies were glad to have the reinforcements, but also wondered why it had taken so long for us to get involved. Sometimes, I have wondered that myself, about that and other wars that we have come into just a little bit late in the game.
That said, we got into the war, and I believe that the extra military might that the United States brought to the Allied Forces was the tipping point in the war, because a war that had officially raged since September 1, 1939, was brought to an end on September 2, 1945, when Victory over Japan was celebrated in the United States. Japanese troops finally surrendered to Americans on the Caroline, Mariana, and Palau islands. Representatives of their emperor and prime minister were preparing to formalize their declaration of defeat. In Tokyo Bay, aboard the Navy battleship USS Missouri, Japanese foreign minister, Mamoru Shigemitsu and chief of staff of the Japanese army, Yoshijiro Umezu, signed the “instrument of surrender.” General Douglas MacArthur, commander of the US Army forces in the Pacific, and Admiral Chester Nimitz, commander of the US Pacific Fleet were there to represent the Allied victors.
After the surrender, Mamoru Shigemitsu was found guilty of war crimes. He was sentenced to seven years in prison. Oddly, it was he who had fought for concessions on the Japanese side in an attempt to secure an early peace. He was paroled in 1950 and went on to become chairman of Japan’s Progressive Party. General MacArthur would come up against him again when he was named commander in chief of the United Nations forces in Korea in 1950. For some people, it would seem, that one defeat simply isn’t enough, but that is another story. Today is VJ Day…Victory over Japan Day. It may not be a day that we remember as well as we do D Day, which simply stands for the day designated to storm the beaches at Normandy, or the attack on Pearl Harbor, but VJ Day is in reality as important a day as those others too, because it was the day that ended the world’s worst, and most destructive war.