FRIDAY, AUGUST 14—For most American families—especially those with relatives who recall the Second World War—August 14 is a celebration of the end of a global conflict that cost more than 50 million lives.
The memory of that war varies widely, now, depending on a family’s perspective. It may be a proud if solemn moment to mark with the dwindling number of American veterans of that conflict. Earlier, we reported on this vanishing wave—500 WWII veterans now die each day—and on efforts to connect with those men and women still among us.
Or, this milestone may be a reminder of the Holocaust. Among the final death camps to be freed were Dachau by the Americans on 29 April, 1945; Ravensbrück by the Soviets on the same day; Mauthausen by the Americans on 5 May; and Theresienstadt by the Soviets on 8 May. The summer of 1945 was another heart-breaking chapter in that tragedy as thousands of the men and women “liberated” from the Nazi camps died of the typhus and malnutrition that were widespread at war’s end.
For many, the war’s end also brings memories of Hiroshima, Nagasaki and the effects of nuclear weapons. This week, we report on the Hiroshima anniversary here; and global peacemaker Daniel Buttry writes about lives transformed by Hiroshima in this OurValues series—plus Buttry adds some musical reflections in InterfaithPeacemakers.
AN AMERICAN HOLIDAY?
Americans traditionally recalled the end of World War II over a two week period, each year, including the anniversary of the initial announcement of Japan’s surrender on August 14.
For three decades since the late 1940s, “Victory Day” (or “Victory Over Japan Day”) also was linked to the September 2 signing of surrender documents by Japanese and American officials. Because Germany had surrendered earlier, this also marked the end of World War II. In 1975, the federal observance of Victory Day ended as relations with Japan improved and the original holiday was widely regarded as encouraging hostile feelings toward Japanese.
Only Rhode Island maintains the original holiday, which it marks on the second Monday of August. In 1990, the Rhode Island General Assembly passed a resolution explaining that the holiday is intended to celebrate the end of the long and tragic war, still marked as an official holiday because Rhode Island sent a disproportionately large number of servicemen to the Pacific in WWII.
The famous photograph, The Kiss, has prompted years of conflicting claims about the identities of people captured in this image that defines the vast celebration of war’s end. In his own words, photographer Alfred Eisenstadt wrote:
In Times Square on V.J. Day I saw a sailor running along the street grabbing any and every girl in sight. Whether she was a grandmother, stout, thin, old, didn’t make a difference. I was running ahead of him with my Leica looking back over my shoulder but none of the pictures that were possible pleased me. Then suddenly, in a flash, I saw something white being grabbed. I turned around and clicked the moment the sailor kissed the nurse. If she had been dressed in a dark dress I would never have taken the picture. If the sailor had worn a white uniform, the same. I took exactly four pictures. It was done within a few seconds. Only one is right, on account of the balance. In the others the emphasis is wrong — the sailor on the left side is either too small or too tall. People tell me that when I am in heaven they will remember this picture.
That day, millions kissed. Countless men and women also wept—as is evidenced in other photographs captured that day around the world.
One reason The Kiss is so iconic is the universal nature of the emotional moment—so universal, in fact, that many women and men have claimed they were in Eisenstadt’s frame that day. Wikipedia has a long overview of all these claims. GodSigns columnist Suzy Farbman wrote about the life and death of the man who most likely was the sailor in The Kiss.