Magazine article Insight on the News

V-E, V-J Day Celebrations Blurred by Historic Myopia

Magazine article Insight on the News

V-E, V-J Day Celebrations Blurred by Historic Myopia

Article excerpt

In his 1989 book, America 1941: A Nation at the Crossroads, historian Ross Gregory asked, "Were they special people - these people of 1941, the generation of the 1930s and 1941s?"

There were petty quarrels and selfish attitudes, but he finds that "at least they had done the big things right. For the most part, those people would like what they saw in retrospect - what it said about their ability to struggle, suffer, persevere, pick the right cause and fight the good fight."

Fifty years ago this month, Hitler was dead and the Third Reich in deserved ruins. Fifty years ago and a few more months and Japan's brutal war of conquest ended in surrender. The war that fundamentally shaped the world in Which we live was over. The manner in which we celebrate these momentous events speaks profoundly about what kind of a nation America has become.

The commemorations of D-day last June, at Normandy and in towns and cities across the nation, were solemn and reverent - an altogether appropriate mood and mode. It may be that those emotional memorials o the hard invasion of Europe depleted America's sense of occasion. The celebration of V-E Day - and V-J Day as it approaches - seem to have less density somehow.

There is also a sense of blurred vision, so to say. For ambiguous instance, President Clinton is preparing to fly to Moscow to celebrate the end of World War II, rather than to England, our closest ally in that horrendous war. Although the United States has an obvious stake in helping Russia and the former members of the Soviet empire fashion stable societies, the president's choice of ceremonial destination is rather disagreeable, even under the fig leaf of a U.S.-Russian summit. The alliance between Hitler and Stalin - the notorious 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop pact - is an enduring blemish on the war against Nazi tyranny, notwithstanding how gallantly the people of the Soviet Union would confront German might thereafter.

As disconcerting as the Moscow trip is the spectacle of America's political and cultural nabobs wobbling over V-J Day. This includes an evident reluctance to call the August surrender of Japan "V-J Day." The Clinton White House repudiated the hesitancy to use V-J Day; here and there in the administration there had been a preference for cumbersome descriptions such as "The End of the War in the Pacific." The White House strangled the circumlocution - after public reaction boiled up.

A more indelible example of historic myopia was the fuss about the Smithsonian's plan for an exhibit featuring the Enola Gay, the B-29 that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. …

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