Friday, August 15, 2008

63 Years Ago Today: V-J Day

This photograph, taken in Times Square by Alfred Eisenstaedt for Life Magazine is probably the most iconic image associated with V-J Day in American lore.

It would be next to impossible to try to recapture in words the euphoric abandon suggested here. Did anyone harbour lingering doubts about the sincerity of Japan's capitulation? Just nine days earlier, the world was thrust into the atomic age when the Enola Gay dropped its payload (nicknamed Thin Boy) over the skies above Hiroshima. An encore performance over Nagasaki sealed the surrender. Just a few months prior, the war had ended in the European theatre. And abruptly, on August 15, 1945, it was all over in the Pacific theatre too.

All over, that is, but the accounting, the roll call, the debriefing, the demobilization, and the reconstruction. All over, except for dealing with the ghosts of Guam, the Philippines, and Hong Kong. All over, except for the haunting memories of prison camp brutality, and of the infamous Bataan Death March. All over but the Taps.

Six long years for the British and Canadians. Four long years for the Americans -- in a time when such a war as this was not to be prosecuted by half measures, and demanded the full participation and sacrifice of the country as a whole. After all that, who could fault these Times Square paraders and revellers for their moment of euphoric abandon? Today was about the thrill of victory and its accompanying relief. There would be plenty of time afterwards to come to terms with its costs; plenty of time afterwards to heal the wounds, treat the scars, mourn the losses and honour the fallen.

63 years ago today was V-J Day. Two weeks later, on September 2, 1945, the Articles of Surrender were signed. The Second World War was over. In Times Square, a sailor and a nurse sealed it with a kiss.

Photo credit: Alfred Eisenstaedt, Life Magazine.

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