Wednesday, May 13, 2020

An Anniversary We'd Like to Forget - But Shouldn't

     "What I don't like about books and movies set during World War II," B said to me the other day, "is that they remind you how bad things can get."

     On Sunday night we were watching a PBS Masterpiece Theater series called The World on Fire which takes place in Europe starting in 1939. The Germans invade Poland. The young English attache marries a Polish girl to get her out of the country -- although he has a girlfriend at home. When the Polish girl meets him at the train station for their getaway, she instead thrusts her younger brother on the train and implores the man to take care of him. There's a soap opera quality to the series -- the girlfriend back in England turns out to be pregnant -- but there's also plenty of killing, torture and intimidation to remind the viewer that it's a soap opera set against a very dark background.

     We recently watched a Netflix show called The Restaurant, which takes place in Stockholm as World War II is ending. The restaurant had collaborated with the Germans during the occupation, and now was having problems adapting to the modern post-war world.

     We also just finished reading Erik Larson's new book The Splendid and the Vile (currently #2 on the New York Times bestseller list) about Winston Churchill leading the fight against Hitler through the Battle of Britain in 1940 and 1941.

     Then I was talking to a friend of mine who said I also had to read In Harm's Way by Doug Stanton, a great tale about the sinking of the U. S. S. Indianapolis in 1945, after it had delivered the atom bomb to a South Pacific airbase, in preparation for the bombing of Hiroshima.

     Why all the sudden interest in World War II? I wondered. Maybe it's just coincidence. But then I realized that last Saturday, May 8, was the 75th anniversary of VE Day, the day the Germans surrendered.

     Soon we'll see the 75th anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, on August 6, which together with the one on Nagasaki brought the war to a quick close. The Japanese surrendered on August 15, 1945, known as VJ Day.

     An estimated 200,000 Japanese, mostly civilians, died as a direct result of the two atomic bombs. Thousands more suffered injuries and met early deaths as a result of radiation poisoning, leukemia and other cancers.

     At the time no one was certain that the atom bombs would even work. So there was a backup plan, called Operation Downfall, to invade Japan and force the end of the war. The American military estimated an invasion would have cost as many as 4 million Allied casualties, including 500,000, or even 800,000 dead.

     I'm not saying that COVID-19 is a tragedy on a scale anywhere near World War II -- although perhaps a disease affects the "home front" more than a war does. And I'm not saying we're lucky that our problems are minuscule compared to what the world faced in the early 1940s . . . because, who knows?

     But I agree with B. Looking back at World War II reminds us just how bad things can get. And so it's up to us to make sure that they don't.

14 comments:

gigi-hawaii said...

Interesting book reviews. I don't read books anymore. If I want more information about any war, I can always google.

Barb said...

Hmm. I may need to read the Eric Larsen book and that show is on my list. I'm preparing to dig into the new book To Wake the Giant by Jeff Shaara about Pearl Harbor. We're big history geeks around here,,,,,,,, when my thirty year old was six, he sat and watched all of The Longest day, without moving. Peed and did it again. Nothing much has changed around here, our first European vacation was a week at Normandy.

DJan said...

That Masterpiece series sounds interesting, but I think I'll skip it. I didn't want to watch the movie 1917 because it was about World War I, but I'm glad I did, it was really good. These days I look for things that are light and amusing, mostly. Thanks for the review, though. There's so much to choose from on streaming content I can't keep up. :-)

Cop Car said...

I think that people who think COVID-19 to be the worst that has happened to the world aren't old enough to recall WWII - or diphtheria or smallpox....

Anonymous said...

I hope everyone's safe and staying safe. I just read that the virus is mutating and getting much more dangerous. I don't want to alarm anyone but it's time to get right with God, cause this is getting downright scary! Stay home and stay safe, guys!

Kay said...

Hmmm.... Looks like we’re all getting that Anonymous spam. I got it on my blog and have seen it on others.

My husband is watching that PBS series and says it’s quite tense. I’m taking a pass. Like DJan, I want to stick to light and happy for now.

Arkansas Patti said...

I was pre-school but do remember the celebration in the neighborhood on VE day. Our neighborhood erupted with boisterous parties. As hard as what we are facing now is hard to comprehend, I am sure WWII was just as hard to comprehend then. The only difference is that Covid is on our soil.

Snowbrush said...

America's public TV and radio is called PBS, but when I think of "Masterpiece Theatre," I think of England and the BBC. Perhaps you could enlighten me.

"What I don't like about books and movies set during World War II, B said to me the other day, "is that they remind you how bad things can get."

I should think that this would be a reason TO watch them (the old adage, "Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it," comes to mind). I also interpret her statement to mean that honoring the stories of others isn't important to her when weighed against, what, her desire to achieve a shallow momentary happiness? It also puts me in mind of having shared a copy of an atheist magazine--one that focuses on religious people's willingness to trample on other people's civil rights--with an atheist friend who said he wouldn't be wanting anymore copies because he found it depressing. His head in the sand attitude caused me to lose a great deal of respect for him because while it does no one good to focus exclusively on misery, to avoid it altogether means to remove oneself from the fray, letting the oppressors oppress in the hope that their oppression won't ever touch oneself.

Janette said...


I think of the time in Yugoslavia with the shooting of civilians in the streets when I think of this way of handling COVID. You take your chances, pot shots. Terrible.
On a different note:
Did you know that the crews of the Enola Gay bombing team were taken to an overlook to see the military amassing to invade Japan? My father in law, who was a flight mechanic, had some pictures of the thousands of tents. They were given a lecture on the numbers predicted- of both sides- to be killed.
When he did speak of it on the 50th anniversary, we were all shocked- since he never told us he had even been overseas! He said he never considered if it was right or wrong, just that so many lives had been saved by a single, horrific act. I guess that is the only way someone can live with the horrors of war.

Tom said...

Hey Snowbrush. The World on Fire, like a lot of shows, was produced by the BBC but aired in America by PBS. I can understand your point of view; but B's a widow, she's suffered enough. And Janette, it's amazing, isn't it, that we think of our parents as just parents ... and then we find out that they did amazing things.

Wisewebwoman said...

In times of stress and anxiety I believe we draw comparisons as in "as bad as" or "better than". In better than, I think of the Spanish flu and the millions of dead. We are not there. And the quantifier is yet.

Uncertainty rules our days. But there is comfort in the deprivation of those war years. I remember the fierce rationing.

XO
WWW

David @iretiredyoung said...

Hi Tom, over the past few years, I have visited Hiroshima as well as the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin. Both were incredibly moving and, as you suggest at the conclusion of your post, a stark reminder that we must never allow such times to be repeated.
Having watched the rise in nationalistic politics and politicians in a number of different countries over recent years, I worry that it is not impossible for such things could be repeated. Even if on a smaller scale, it makes me shudder.

Barb said...

Many British shows appear on PBS including Masterpiece Theater. British shows are a large portion of their content.

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