September 2, 2022, the 77th Anniversary of VJ Day

The location was significant: Tokyo Bay, the vast harbor of Japan’s capital city, the home of the Imperial Palace. The place was the deck of the “Mighty Mo,” the battleship USS Missouri.

The decks of the Missouri were crowded with hundreds of sailors and Marines, men who had fought the great battles of that war against the Imperial Japanese Navy and Army forces for most of four long years, both on the seas and on the shores of many Pacific islands. There, too, were the military brass representing nine allied nations.

The ship, huge and symbolic of the power of the United States, lay anchored there in the bay, waiting for the Japanese surrender delegation to arrive.

Photo: YouTube/NBC News

The long war, indeed, the bloodiest, most costly war in human history, was over. What would follow, no one could know, but the world was exhausted. So much suffering had been endured, and so much had been sacrificed to the menace of war. Those who had forced that carnage of that war on the world, the Nazis and the Japanese Imperialists, had finally been defeated. The Germans had surrendered a few short months earlier. Now that reality had come home to the Japanese.

The Japanese delegation arrived and came aboard the Missouri in silence. They had been thoroughly defeated, and now they would be at the mercy of their enemies. Fear of the unknown, despair, and shame must have come aboard that mighty warship in the hearts of every one of them.

Photo: YouTube/NBC News

The ceremonies were simple, even austere. The Supreme Commander of the allied forces, General Douglas Mac Arthur, gave a sober, thoughtful speech. What he said turned out to be the exact words needed for such a historical moment. The words were simple but powerful. Two words he used stood out. They revealed the noble desire of the victors and shed a small light of hope in the hearts and minds of the defeated. The two words were “justice” and “tolerance.”

MacArthur, for a short period of time, would now be the interim leader of occupied Japan. Those two words from him would shape the manner in which he would govern. They also revealed the character of those who had won the victory. For those who bore the guilt of starting that terrible war and who now bore the shame of loss, those words, in the words of one of the Japanese delegates, “turned the deck of the Missouri into an altar of peace.”

Photo: YouTube/NBC News

On that day, September 2, 1945, 77 years ago now, the painful realities of WWII were still raw and fresh. There was reason enough for thoughts of revenge, but because of MacArthur’s words and his subsequent actions during his time of leadership, the world could begin the long, slow process of healing. In time, Japan would become a strong ally and a friend.

Let us never forget the sacrifices in blood and treasure that were suffered by people and by nations across the entire world during WWII. Let us also remember and recognize the still present need to practice the call to justice and tolerance that MacArthur spoke of that day. For the truth is that the world still needs to develop the habits of that thinking and practice today.

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