Posted tagged ‘World War II’

Graphic T-Shirts: Remembering the Cost of Wars as the Survivors Perish

June 30, 2015

In the current fashion cycle colorful t-shirts claim space in casual wardrobes across many demographics. Sometimes they have nature-oriented artwork while other times they hail a sporting team’s victory. Some advertise a brand name preference, a favored musical group, or an institutional alliance. The writing could be good-natured, quirky or simply intended to bring attention to the wearers themselves. Occasionally rhinestone-encrusted, cultish or confusing , the clothing is always making a statement, intended or not.

Yet traveling between gates at a U.S. airport, I observed a teenager wearing a t-shirt with a large faded American flag and the phrase “Back-to-Back World War Champs” surrounding the graphic. The patriotic boast viscerally stunned me and my emotions moved from astonishment to shock and then disbelief.   Over the next hour it transformed into dismay as it seemed disharmonious with the upcoming anniversaries marking the end of wars.

July 4th gives birth to the United States of America (Independence Day) and celebrates the freedoms won after the eight years of bitter, guerilla-style civil war within Great Britain’s claimed territory.  (April 19, 1775 – September 3, 1783.)  This is followed on November 7th with Armistice Day, also called Remembrance Day or Poppy Day, which marks the end of World War I and more than four years of trench warfare.

The disharmony stemmed from unstated teachings in my youth that a war’s end is not a prideful bragging contest. Celebrations on Independence Day tend to focus on American values articulated within the Declaration of Independence. I do not recall ceremonies invoking inflammatory language— “Dear Mum, We sure stuck it to you! Love, Uncle Sam” —as one might witness in drunken brawls between rivals after a game.

The Instruments of Surrender in both the European and Pacific theater—and the resulting treaties and agreements—followed suit and pointedly avoided the inflammatory, draconian concessions and punitive terms the winning Allies forced after World War I with the Treaty of Versailles (June 28, 1919). These prizes extracted by the war’s victors were among the contributing factors to the unrest which bred World War II.

Maybe that was why the t-shirt bothered me—it cavalierly dismissed the cost of war. Perhaps further on the heels of another recent post graphically reviewing the causalities of World War II it struck a raw nerve.

Now in fairness, graphic t-shirts are not always philosophical, eloquent or fair; it could just be a t-shirt. True to form though, it made a statement and provoked a reaction as I looked deeper:

Those of the Lost Generation fought in World War I and those of Tom Brokaw’s coined Greatest Generation fought in World War II. As the last survivors of World War II perish from old-age, are we slowly losing this perspective, context?

Then we will lose those from the Korean War (the Silent Generation) and those who fought in Vietnam—also called the War of Southeast Asia. (This included both the Silent Generation and the Baby Boomer Generation.) These servicemembers have different memories of war for they serviced but lacked the popular support and focus found in previous American military conflicts. The clarity of the lessons learned is more muddied.

In a world of rapid communication, instant gratification and seemingly short-attention spans marked more by sensationalism than fact, how do we remember and lessen the chance of repeating these lessons when we lose the physical human link to the past?

A Graphical Look at World War II Losses on The 71st Anniversay of D-Day

June 6, 2015

For some time I have been drafting a post that took a macro, numeric view of war losses during the 20th and 21st centuries.  After reading several good histories on the Pacific Theater in World War II–including With the Old Breed by Eugene B. Sledge–and learning more about the Eastern Front in Russian, I was brutally shocked by the number of Russian soldiers and civilians killed.  I sought context within that war and across others.

I offer a nod to Neil Halloran who eloquently developed the video on the link below with World War II.  The visual depiction is stunning.

Today is the 71st Anniversary of D-Day.  More American lives were lost on Omaha Beach in Normandy France than the entire 13 year conflict in Afghanistan.  This is not to minimize any loss, but rather to put into sharp relief the sacrifice, brutality and lost than many today have no conception of.

– A humbly grateful American

A Time for the Somber

May 1, 2013

I wrote the thoughts below in the days after Osama bin Ladin was killed by US Special Forces.  My original thought was to publish it soon after the emotional noise passed.  I have since grow concerned about the level of publicity being focused on the inner workings of covert US military units, especially the US Navy Seals.  Clandestine special units work best when they are just that; however, this does not exclude the absolute necessity of civilian oversight.  I am disappointed by the recent spate of books and movies that add a romanticized Hollywood spin to the harsh truths of that profession’s actions.   The opening moments of Spielburg’s epic movie Saving Private Ryan, offered an unvarnished look at combat’s brutality to both the Greatest Generation–who fought–and those that have followed.  We seem to be losing the humbleness that generation has shown us in the pursuit of profit.  “Nobody wants to fight, but someone better know how,” is a quote from long ago.  When we must, it should be short, focused and decisive.  These are my thoughts as the second anniversary of his death approaches.


May 3, 2011

I watch the news with a mixture of confusion.  There are celebrations by the uninvolved, criticism from usual corners and passing praise from political enemies, the bravado of those not involved garnering recognition.  I read the words used to describe the killing of Osama bin Ladin.  I hear the fashionable contemporary phrases of “9-1-1” to reference the horrific events in fall 2001 that forever altered my generation.  I watch government officials, describing with astonishing forthrightness, operational details and capabilities in apparent efforts to show transparency.

The unvarnished story is not glamorous.  The US deployed a venerated clandestine team to accomplish a difficult task within a defined set of parameters across international borders.  This mission included the capture or killing of a specific individual.  He was shot, his body removed and buried.

Elaborations to fill airtime and hyperlinked articles will embellish this thread.  These will be furthered by news agencies striving to stay current and be relevant in today’s society.  A new phrase or two will be grasped upon by audiences who crave details with the instantaneous sense of understanding provided by social media.

Are we collectively seeking the meaningful details?

I appreciate the thoughtfulness with which his body, a man violently ideologically opposed to the US, was cared for.  “A society can be measured by how it treats its dead,” it was once said.  If the United States wishes to lead by American values, the respectfulness and sensitivity shown to honor the Islamic traditions is noteworthy.  Irreconcilable debates will ensue over its exactness by an unsatisfiable few.  I wonder what the moderate majority sees?

It is not what we do when it is easy, but rather when hurt and in a position of strength, that shows our true mettle. Practicing these values when convenient to “win hearts and minds” is shallow, hollow.  If American values are cherished, are they ingrained in our actions, our intentions, as a whole?

In a world of violent games, graphic movies, and instant connectivity, what has the gravity of this action imparted to us?  Were our actions consistent with our stated aims and our values?

I believe yes.

Reflections: The USS Missouri

December 3, 2011

As I approached the Navy checkpoint to Ford Island on January 7, 2010, I was still trying to fathom that an island existed in the middle of Pearl Harbor, HI. This great harbor appeared too small to hold the history this area proclaims. This day I was to witness one of its treasures, the USS Missouri (BB-63), travel from dry-dock to its moorings. My US Air Force sponsor sat next to me as we crossed the bridge and I caught sight of the Arizona Memorial. My thoughts wandered back to the ceremony, a scant thirty days prior, commemorating the heroism and losses of that day.

Before embarking on this trip I researched the USS Missouri’s history. It was the last of four Iowa-class US battleships built and is the only one remaining. She was ordered on June 12, 1940, commissioned June 11, 1944 and decommissioned March 31, 1992. The nickname, The Mighty Mo, pays tribute to the strength of the vessel and the men with whom she earned 11 battle stars. She saw three wars: World War II, the Korean War, and the Gulf War. Perhaps the Mo is attributed to MO, the abbreviation for Missouri, as the last four battleships were named after states. Perhaps this attribution is to another meaning lost in common memory but cherished by those that served with her. Should our memories lose these details that bring richness to life, may we not forget the larger points and meanings of history past. As I read more, I saw through adult’s eyes, not the child of high school history class, the furious naval and air battles across the Pacific. Stepping back further to view World War II as a whole, I saw the cost of conflicting ideologies struggling for co-existence or supremacy.

My grandfather was a P-38 pilot, 34th Photo Reconnaissance Squadron. The European theater, with the Army and Army Air Corps, is my primary reference for World War II. Milton Bradley’s abstract simplification provided enjoyment as a child; however, it and my readings could not prepare me for the massive physical scale of sea power. The brutal effectiveness of the naval maneuver “Crossing the T” took new meaning as Mo’s silhouette came to bear. The ship’s narrowness was surprising to me. Its relative size can be read about but did not prepare me for a ship almost the length of three football fields yet only about 100 feet wide. Watching the USS Missouri slide into its mooring awed me in a way the static monument cannot.

The primary, traditional armaments of the Iowa-class battleship, the 5” and 16” guns, had been augmented with modern defensive and offensive firepower for deployment to the Persian Gulf before being decommissioned. My childhood’s four-peg representation insignificantly describes the raw military power for which only the Stratofortress seems a timely, adequate comparison.

Scheduling for the day did not permit an on-ship tour to view the plaque commemorating September 2, 1945. This day marked the signing of the Japanese Instrument of Surrender in Tokyo Harbor and the end of World War II. I plan to return and walk through the history, spoken and not, steeped into the teak deck. On that visit I hope to view it beyond that of a tourist inundated with tidbits, the needles of a single tree. I hope it is with a reverence for, and a desire to explore, the forest of difficult choices made during that time. Do I display that responsible decisiveness in my life today? Do I willingly get lost in an endless thicket of instant distraction? Do I understand the lessons learned and paid for with the lives of millions? As the world becomes increasingly interdependent, these questions wander about my mind.

The age of the Battleship may have ended due to the advancement of airpower, newer technology and a changing world. As I scan the harbor, the Navy’s new weapons sit in the shadow of what once defined naval power. The USS Missouri is a small part of the ingenuity, determination and mettle of Brokaw’s Greatest Generation; the greatest tribute I can provide is to carry the baton of their values epitomized through actions. Eleanor Roosevelt held in her wallet a prayer whose eloquence summaries that charge for me: “Dear Lord, lest I continue in my complacent ways, help me to remember that someone died for me today. And if there be war, help me to remember to ask and to answer “am I worth dying for?”

As I leave Ford Island humbled, I catch sight again of the Arizona Memorial now silhouetted with the USS Missouri; The Mighty Mo’s bow stands watch over the fallen Sailors, guns raised in silent salute. I am struck by the honor paid both to the beginning and end of the US military involvement in World War II: a stark reminder of the cost and strength of the American spirit. May we never forget the words of Thomas Jefferson: “Eternal vigilance is the price of freedom.” What do I choose to do today with that freedom?

– A Grateful American