September 2, 1945: Japan Surrenders

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A fascinating newsreel of the surrender ceremony aboard the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay.  Note that MacArthur hands pens after he signs to General Wainwright and General Percival.  Both men had been prisoners of Japan for most of the War, and their gaunt skeletal presence at the surrender ceremony was a tribute to the Allied POWs who had been treated with a brutality scarcely believable.  MacArthur’s closing remarks deserve to be remembered:

Today the guns are silent.  A great tragedy has ended.  A great victory has been won….

As I look back upon the long, tortuous trail from those grim days of Bataan and Corregidor, when an entire world lived in fear, when democracy was on the defensive everywhere, when modern civilization trembled in the balance, I thank a merciful God that he has given us the faith, the courage and the power from which to mold victory.  We have known the bitterness of defeat and the exultation of triumph, and from both we have learned there can be no turning back.  We must go forward to preserve in peace what we won in war.

A new era is upon us.  Even the lesson of victory itself brings with it profound concern, both for our future security and the survival of civilization.  The destructiveness of the war potential, through progressive advances in scientific discovery, has in fact now reached a point which revises the traditional concepts of war.

Men since the beginning of time have sought peace…. Military alliances, balances of power, leagues of nations, all in turn failed, leaving the only path to be by way of the crucible of war.  We have had our last chance.  If we do not now devise some greater and more equitable system, Armageddon will be at our door.  The problem basically is theological and involves a spiritual recrudescence and improvement of human character that will synchronize with our almost matchless advances in science, art, literature and all material and cultural development of the past two thousand years.  It must be of the spirit if we are to save the flesh.

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  1. Thanks much, Don, for posting this great video. In my opinion, MacArthur would have made a superb president. There was a special aura about him and he was one of the most beloved military leaders in history.
    To personalize this, I have a good friend — Charlie Marquardt, who lives in my hometown and is now 98 years old. Charlie’s hoping to make it to 100 and has been through a rough patch in recent days and hospitalized. I visit him often and thought he was a goner two weeks ago but he has since bounced back and is in rehab. I love that man. Anyway, I blogged about him on my website and here is the portion of my piece that’s relevant to the topic at hand:
    Charlie is from good hardy stock and from what Tom Brokaw called “the greatest generation.” A Navy gunner’s mate on the USS Tennessee during World II in the Pacific, Charlie and tens of thousands of other Americans in uniform fought gallantly and many lost their lives or limbs in defending this great nation against the sworn enemies of freedom. During, 1944-45, the Tennessee, which had been damaged along with other U.S. battleships in the 1941 Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor, and its crew saw a lot of action including key battles at Leyte Gulf, Surigao Strait, Iwo Jima and Okinawa.

    The Tennessee fired more than 150,000 projectiles, took a few kamikaze hits including one near the end of the war in 1945 when a Japanese suicide plane hit the ship, killing 22 men and injuring 107. “We were in some fierce battles,” Charlie told me back in 2002. While some of the men died or were injured nearby, Charlie came away with a couple of perforated eardrums from the noise of the big guns. “We were in the turret most of the time. Up on deck, there were smaller weapons. I recall seeing dismembered arms and legs up there. There are some things you never forget,” he said during my 2002 interview with him.

    Marquardt and his fellow sailors witnessed the formal Japanese surrender Sept. 2, 1945, held aboard the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay. The Tennessee and its nearly 1,200-member crew earned a Navy unit commendation and 10 battle stars for World War II service.

    There are no finer people than our World War II veterans and as the years fade and every day we lose more of them, Americans today should always remember their enormous sacrifices with everlasting gratitude.

  2. In her 1957 social/political article “Honoria” Taylor Caldwell chronicles the rise and fall of the fictitious country she calls “Honoria”. She ends the article with a very foreboding rebuke of society. “It is a stern fact of history that no nation that rushed to the abyss ever turned back. Not ever, in the long history of the world. We are now on the edge of the abyss. Can we, for the first time in history, turn back? It is up to you.”

    Caldwell, one of my favorite writers (Dear and Glorious Physician (St. Luke) and Great Lion of God (St. Paul), along with Pillar of Iron (the life of Cicero), also penned this:

    “The nature of human beings never changes; it is immutable. The present generation of children and the present generation of young adults from the age of thirteen to eighteen is, therefore, no different from that of their great-great-grandparents. Political fads come and go; theories rise and fall; the scientific ‘truth’ of today becomes the discarded error of tomorrow. Man’s ideas change, but not his inherent nature. That remains. So, if the children are monstrous today – even criminal – it is not because their natures have become polluted, but because they have not been taught better, nor disciplined.” – On Growing Up Tough, chapter The Purple Lodge

  3. My uncle (RIP) was a fine man. He served as a machinist’s mate on liberty ships engine rooms. He was a young man and a bit wild.

    His brother was getting married over a weekend and he had a pass to be at the wedding. So, he took a train and went. He didn’t calculate the travel time and returned late for his ship’s sailing.

    He was given “captain’s mast” punishment fined and busted, and assigned to another liberty ship.

    The ship he missed was the USS Mount Hood on which all hands were killed in an ammunition explosion in Manila Bay.

    “Greet them ever with grateful hearts.”

  4. MacArthur Joe was a great man with great flaws, his greatest flaw being his vanity. Overall I tend to be an admirer, but I can assure you that there are people out there, including some World War II veterans, who become red with rage at the mention of his name.

    His finest moment was his “shogunate” in Japan where he took a completely defeated nation, on the verge of millions dying of famine, and, more than any other man, helped transfrom it into a peaceful and prosperous land. It was a miracle, and he does not get nearly enough credit for how skillfully he managed it. His greatest moment was when he had millions of tons of food shipped from the US in 1945-1946 to feed a starving Japan. By this time Americans knew fully how our POWs had been treated at the hands of the Japanese, and shipping food to that country was deeply unpopular. MacArthur stated that the Japanese people and their well-being were his responsibility and he was not going to see millions of them die on his watch of starvation. Reacting to criticism in Congress of feeding Japan, he sent off this blunt missive:

    “Starvation breeds mass unrest, disorder and violence,” he cabled Washington. “Give me bread or give me bullets.”

    It was MacAthur’s finest hour.

  5. Yes, Don, I am aware of his vain side and egoism but his other virtues shone through.
    Here’s a poem I carry around in my wallet:

    MacArthur was so inspired by Samuel Ullman’s poem that he popularized it and kept a framed copy in his office while Supreme Allied Commander in Japan. He quoted it so often in his speeches that it became known as “MacArthur’s Credo.”

    The Poem:

    Nobody grows old by merely living a number of years.
    People grow old only by deserting their ideals.
    Years wrinkle the skin but to give up enthusiasm wrinkles
    the soul.

    Worry, doubt, self-distrust, fear and despair . . .
    these are the quick equivalents of the
    long years that bow the head and turn
    the growing spirit back to dust.

    Whether 70 or 16, there is, in every being’s heart the love of
    wonder, the sweet amazement of the stars, and the star-like
    things and thoughts, the undaunted challenge of events,
    the unfailing childlike appetite for “What Next?”

    You are as young as your faith, as old as your doubt,
    as young as your self-confidence, as old as your fear,
    as young as your hope, as old as your despair.

    So long as your heart receives messages of
    beauty, cheer, courage, grandeur and power from
    the earth, from man and from the Infinite,
    so long are you young.

    When all the wires are down, and all the
    central places of your heart are covered with
    the snows of pessimism and the ice of cynicism,
    then, and only then, are you grown old indeed,
    and may God have mercy on your soul.

  6. Years ago, I read Manchester’s American Caesar. I was on the road and got it in each night before I hit the saloon.

    I think MacArthur was self-absorbed and consciously striving for arete – personal perfection (I think). As all classical, tragic heroes hubris was another flaw. I guess that became the “fatal flaw” when the General thought he could make Truman blink.

  7. Shaw, many great military men had hubris, which is self-confidence to the max. Patton was one, Rickover another. I’d rather have a general or admiral with an inflated self-importance than a more reserved man (Ike?)

  8. Joe,

    You’re right. Generals should be supremely confident.

    I can’t understand how I remember stuff Brother Anthony taught in Freshman Ancient Lit. in 1968, and I can’t remember . . . what was the topic?

    Even more amazing because: In school I was drinking more than thinking; and I misspent most of the last 40 years in banking.

    As I remember, the “formula” in Greek tragedy was the hero was undone (tragedy means it doesn’t end happily/well) because his over weaning pride caused either the gods or the people to ruin him.

    And, I think it was this: Whom the gods would destroy they first make mad.

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