It’s great that Rhode Island celebrates a late-summer day off but not-so-great that we chalk it up to winning the war in the Pacific.
Every year I engage in this fool’s errand of seemingly advocating against a day off from the grind that celebrates how great my grandfathers’ generation was. (Last year I wrote about how the two atomic bombs the United States dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki may well have saved his life.) And if there are two things that are undeniably true it’s that the Ocean State is well served by an August holiday and that my grandfather was great.
However, that doesn’t mean we should take the day off because my grandfather and his generation were great. Nor is the US victory over Japan necessarily an example of the Greatest Generation’s greatness. I think the reasons for having a holiday are fairly obvious. The reasons for not bestowing such an honor on the end of our war with Japan are more complex. Both fronts of World War II ended because of two of the most epic battles of all time, and if you ask me one represents the very best of what it means to be an American and the other represents the very worst.
Storming the beach at Normandy represents the very best of what it means to be an American. More Americans were willing to die for other sovereign people’s freedom than the Germans could fire ammunition at. That is, at its essence, how we beat the Nazis.
Conversely, this is the essence of how we beat Japan: we hired a guy – ironically enough, a German – and holed him up in the desert to invent a contraption that would allow us to destroy entire cities with virtually no immediate human risk. We could now kill without consequence. It’s a very efficient way to win a war, but if something is worth killing for it ought to also be worth dying for.
The entire world remembers the end of the war between Japan and the United States as a cautionary tale of just what kind of unbridled destruction technology can inflict. It’s not so much that it we shouldn’t celebrate World War II and its veterans – there are certainly no shortage of occasions for this – it’s that the tool that brought about the victory is a much more worthy of remembrance than the victory itself.