Seventy-five years ago today, President Harry S. Truman addressed reporters gathered in the Oval Office of the White House: “I have received this afternoon a message from the Japanese Government,” he began, in announcing that country’s wartime surrender. Japan’s admission of defeat effectively ended World War II, and the relentless, state-sponsored murder of 6 million European Jews and others by the German Nazi regime, in pursuit of Adolf Hitler’s evil idea of Aryan supremacy.
The following day, on Aug. 15, 1945, millions of Americans — military members and average citizens — spilled onto streets in cities and towns across the United States in a bittersweet celebration, marking the end of a terrifying period in world history. Yet, while they rightfully cheered the demise of the Nazi empire, millions of Black Americans were living in segregated conditions, marginalized by local and state Jim Crow laws meant to rob them of their rights to vote, get an education, hold down a job and simply pursue happiness, as we all were promised in the Declaration of Independence.
After Japan’s surrender, The Sun’s editorial board wrote in praise of the country’s leaders, military personnel and efforts at international cooperation. But it included, to the board’s shame, a claim that the world was now purged “of the obscenity of glorified race hatred and of sadistic debauchery.” It was an appallingly ignorant assessment, both regarding the daily bigotry many Jewish Americans still faced, and the country’s ongoing, disgraceful treatment of Black Americans — more than 1 million of whom were at the time serving in segregated units of the U.S. Armed Forces. It would be three more years before President Truman would sign an executive order desegregating the military; nine more years before the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Brown v. Board of Education that segregation is unconstitutional; and 19 more years until the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was signed into law, outlawing racial discrimination in the workplace, at the voting polls and in public facilities.
Today, 75 years later, we still grapple with prejudice of many kinds: against a person’s religion, sexual orientation, gender, political party, economic status, education level and, most notably, skin color. We are far from hatred-free and are often at war with ourselves. Yet we again have what appears to be a “magnificent generation,” as The Sun’s editorial board called the young people of 1945, on the rise. Today’s young adults and their supporters are also taking to the streets — but to decry racism, police brutality, environmental abuses and inequities of all stripes. May they lead us to a place where The Sun’s words of Aug. 15, 1945, which follow below, will one day be true.
New World, Aug. 15, 1945
The Japanese surrendered because they had to. Their bid for domination of the East, more foolhardy than Hitler’s bid for domination of Europe, turned out to be what all sane men knew it was certain to be — the beginning of their own destruction.
It is too soon for us to count the cost of our own survival and final victory. The reward is worth the cost whatever that may turn out to be. For generations at least the world is freed from the kind of threat to which the Germans and the [Japanese] gave form. Whatever form the new world may take, it will be purged, at least, of the obscenity of glorified race hatred and of sadistic debauchery.
Most of our boys can now come home. Those who cannot come home are part of the price we have paid. May their memory never fail us, for they are the chosen of a magnificent generation.
Let us give thanks that when this testing came, we were equal to it. Let us honor the men who led us in the struggle beginning with Franklin D. Roosevelt. Let us be proud that the man who brought the war to a conclusion, President Harry S. Truman, is an unassuming American with so much in common with the uncounted millions of us. Let us remember the Navy and the men who manned it, without whose resourcefulness we should not have been able to carry the war either to Hitler or to Hirohito. Let us remember the army and the brave humility of General Eisenhower, a soldier who turned out to be a great man. Let us remember General Marshall and Admiral King and General MacArthur and Admiral Nimitz. Let us remember all these and the officers and men who served under them and died under them that we might see this happy day.
We can be thankful, too, that we face the difficulties of the new Era now upon us better prepared than appeared possible when the Japanese struck in December, 1941.
In those simple days we were still regardless of our own strength in the world and the duties and obligations which that strength imposed. Half of us, at least, looked upon Britain with hardly less suspicion than we had for Germany. Russia was an unknown land feared for her potentialities for evil, China a sentimental abstraction. Today Britain is our closest ally, China our great hope. But we know beyond question that the future of the world and of our own country depends upon our friendship with Russia. It is something to have acquired so much wisdom.
Actually, we have done more to recognize our place in the world. We have taken positive and well defined steps to define it and other positive and well defined steps to order it. We have assisted In the drafting of the first Charter of the United Nations and our Senate has ratified that Charter, all but unanimously. Instead of facing the world with a tariff wall so high that intercourse is all but prohibited, we have agreed to trade with the world on a more rational basis than we have traded since we were a weak agricultural people. We have pledged billions of our wealth in a cooperative effort to achieve fiscal stability among the nations. These undertakings, too, have had the wholehearted support of our elected representatives, regardless of party.
As important as these things, perhaps even more important, we have abandoned some part, at least, of our doubt of the Russians. We know, of course, that many issues will arise between ourselves and them. They will be difficult issues which only wisdom and patience can solve. But we also know that they have learned, as we have, some of the art of compromise; that they have learned, as we have, some of the art of teamwork. That is no small foundation on which to build.
Difficult days are ahead of us, days which will lack the singleness of purpose which only war can provide. We have complex problems to confront in the management of German affairs and Japanese affairs, dreary problems, almost endless problems. We have the responsibility, in large measure, for the reconstruction of the countries of Europe. A major part of China’s difficulties will be our difficulties, too. We must use up much of our energies in these assignments.
We have, in addition, that whole bundle of domestic issues which we sum up in the cold abstraction “reconversion.” The word is almost meaningless but it implies the welfare of almost all of us — farmers, workers, business men, industrialists, professional men. It means happiness or misery for millions of husbands and wives and their children. Here our course is still to be charted, and here past mistakes, forgotten during the exhilaration of war, will come back to haunt us. Here our emotions will warp our judgment unless we have uncommon fortitude and patience.
But if we have patience, and if we have fortitude, these problems to can be solved. It can be a brave new world if we will it so.