Monday, August 16, 2010
Remembering the "Good War"
(Above: the USS Hornet, now docked at Alameda, California)
This weekend is the 65th anniversary of V-J Day, the end of World War II.
It's called "The Good War," which is a bitter irony because it was the most horrible war in history. Deaths were estimated at anywhere from 60 million to 100 million. And the overwhelming majority were civilians.So why do we call it The Good War? Because it's one of the few wars in history that, even in hindsight, absolutely had to be fought.
It has been perceived as a case of good vs. evil but even the "good guys" had some skeletons in their closets. The Soviet Union was a brutal dictatorship, Britain had a colonial empire and, after the attack on Pearl Harbor, we imprisoned more than 100,000 of our fellow citizens behind barbed wire because of their ancestry.
But that just shows how truly evil Hitler really was -- he made a monster like Stalin look good by comparison.
As Churchill said when he heard Hitler had invaded Russia: "If Hitler were to invade hell, I would find something favorable to say about the devil the next day in the House of Commons."
The real good guys of World War II, of course, were the men and women who won it, both over there and here at home.
To call them "The Greatest Generation" doesn't even begin to describe the debt we owe them. Hitler predicted his Reich would last a thousand years, and were it not for the heroes who defeated him, it very easily could have happened.
But oh, how they suffered to give us this priceless gift of freedom.
Try to imagine yourself on a B-17 bombing raid over Germany without any fighter planes to protect you from the German fighters, who would attack you all the way to the target and all the way back home.
Or in a foxhole in the Voges mountains of Alsace as German 88 shells shattered the treetops overhead, sending millions of jagged splinters raining down on you.
Or on a Liberty ship in the North Atlantic, a helpless sitting duck for the U-boat wolf packs roaming at will through your convoy. Imagine knowing that if your ship was sunk, the convoy was under strict orders not to stop and pick up survivors.
Imagine yourself on a flattop in the South Pacific, fighting off attacks from kamikazes.
Or as a Marine on Okinawa, waiting for the next Banzai charge from an enemy so tenacious that even even the civilians were killing themselves rather than surrender.
"You assumed you weren't going to make it," says Dr. Gordon Binder of San Francisco, an army field surgeon operating just a few hundred yards behind the front line. "You knew you were going to get killed. It was just a question of when."
Finally, imagine yourself as a Rosie the Riveter at the Kaiser shipyards in Richmond, exhausted after another hard day's work but a little reluctant to go home because a telegram might be waiting for you from the War Department beginning with the words "We regret to inform you "..."
They don't think of themselves as heroes because in their eyes, the real heroes are the guys -- and gals, too -- who never came back.
And they're right, of course. But while we still have some of them with us, let's tell them that in our eyes, they are heroes, too.
Bless them all.