Inside the Capitol

Monday, August 08, 2011

8-15 Japanese surrender freed Bataan vets

Syndicated Columnist

SANTA FE -- Recent discussion of a Manhattan Project National Park and the use of atomic bombs on Japan make recognition of Japan's surrender 66 years ago today seem appropriate.
Japan announced its surrender to the Allied Powers on August 15, 1945, thus ending World War II -- except for the paperwork. This sometimes is called VJ Day but President Harry Truman decreed that September 2, the official document signing, would be observed.
In 1945, winning the war was cause for great celebrations in every city, town and village throughout the nation. The same was true in all the allied nations.
Next to the flag-raising on Iwo Jima, the most famous picture in the world may be of a sailor kissing a nurse on Times Square during New York City's celebration on August 14.
Confused about the dates? Was it August 14 or 15? It was August 15 in Japan but Aug. 14 in the United States. There's that messy thing about the International Dateline between us.
The event isn't celebrated anymore. Neither is the date of the German surrender. We don't like to rub the nose of two present allies in the dirt on an annual basis.
At high noon on August 15, Japan announced its acceptance of the Potsdam Agreement demanding complete surrender. Official confirmation was announced by President Harry Truman at 6:10 p.m. that same day, which was August 14 here.
I remember the day well. I was a seven-year-old, staying with my grandparents, on Melendres Street, in Las Cruces. At about 4:30 p.m., my grandmother and I heard many sirens and car horns. She said she had been hearing on the radio all day that the war might end soon.
We sat on the front steps to hear all the celebrating around town. I knew it meant that the fathers of some of my friends would be returning to Deming from Japanese prison camps. It was a joyous occasion.
What I didn't know was that boys who had just graduated from high school had been drafted and would soon be on their way to the Pacific to prepare for an invasion of Japan.
They had great reason to celebrate. U.S. military leaders estimated that we and our allies might lose as many as a million troops during the invasion. Japan would suffer even greater losses because of the number of civilians who would be killed.
We learned later that Japanese military leaders were trying to recruit a million kamikaze fighters to give their lives in suicide missions to repel our attack.
Another reason we don't commemorate the day when our last worldwide war ended is because of another commemoration that occurred last week and has occurred every year for a great many years.
Our decision to use the bombs was controversial. How could we have done such a horrible thing?
The bombs killed no more people than the saturation bombings of Tokyo and other Japanese cities we were conducting from Tinian Island every night.
But these bombs were different. They were bigger and they released radiation that brought disfigurement and death to many more people.
They were scary enough that even though many other countries now have nuclear arsenals, the weapon hasn't been used again in over 60 years of international strife.
But in 1945, we were aware that both Germany and Japan were working on nuclear devices. Germany didn't get its first bomb finished by the time it surrendered.
But a few days before, a German submarine slipped into the North Sea and out into the Atlantic, headed for Japan with all the makings Germany had assembled up to that point.
Fortunately the U.S. Navy intercepted the sub early in its voyage and diverted its cargo to the American nuclear program. But Japan was still in the war and with a little more time, it might have its weapon ready to use against us.
MON, 8-15-11

JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)



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