Some 77 years ago, on August 15, 1945, Imperial Japan announced its intention to surrender. Subsequently, on September 2, 1945, Dignitaries representing the Emperor of Japan and the Allied Nations gathered on board the USS Missouri and signed the formal surrender documents, designating that day as the official Victory over Japan Day (V-J Day). V-J Day was especially momentous; the gruesome and exhausting Second World War was finally – and officially – over.
World War II is one of the most significant and influential events of the twentieth century. The devastation was incredibly immense and incalculable. Total military and civilian deaths have been estimated at 70 to 85 million, which represented approximately 3% of the global population during that time.
World War II gave birth to the nuclear age. The Manhattan Project and its “devastating climax,” the dropping of two atomic bombs on Japan, led to the nuclear arms race that continues to this very day. Unfortunately, the end of World War II marked the beginning of the Cold War rivalry between the Western Allies and the Soviet Union. Resultant from that “ideological competition,” The United States and the nations of Western Europe formed NATO as a means of enhancing collective security and defense. The United Nations began to function as a world body with one of its goals being the prevention of further war; a goal that has yet to be achieved. The former hostile Axis nations; Germany, Italy, and Japan, are now alliance partners with the United States.
The end of World War II was a time of transition. The war had provided an opportunity for millions of Americans. By the end of the war, the United States emerged as the world’s dominant economic and military power. Women enjoyed employment gains during the war, approximately 6 million women had entered the workforce for the first time, boosting the percentage of women in the total workforce to 35 percent in the manufacturing industry. Despite the opportunities that had opened for women and minorities during the war, antiquated policies and archaic prejudices remained and persisted. By the end of WWII, more than 400 committees had been established to improve race relations. Progress was, and, in many cases, continues to be, extremely incremental.
In 1944, to facilitate the transition of returning Service Members to civilian life, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the GI Bill of Rights into law. This act provided education and training for veterans, paid for by the federal government. Over half the returning Service Members, about 7.8 million veterans, attended colleges and technical schools under the GI Bill. The act also provided federal loan guarantees to veterans buying homes or farms or starting new businesses.
The legacy of World War II is ever-present. It is a legacy of death and destruction, but also, one of hope, sacrifice, determination, and innovation. Some 405,000 Americans sacrificed their lives to ensure our nation’s freedom. An entire generation of Americans and our Western Allies came together to defend democracy and to defeat the forces of aggression, oppression, and tyranny in Imperial Japan, Fascist Italy, and National Socialist Germany.
The sacrifices, hardships, and heroic efforts of these brave men and women must never be forgotten.
John Di Genio