VJ Day

It’s 74 years today since Victory against Japan was declared. The war in the Far East carries some shocking statistics: 36 million dead, of whom 18 million were Chinese civilians; 200,000 Allied PoWs; 32% mortality among Far East PoWs compared to 4% among PoWs in Europe; the fourth deadliest battle of WW2 was the Ichigo campaign in China 1944, with 1.3 million casualties. Do these numbers surprise you?

RFHG pic
Far East PoWs learn of Victory against Japan,
courtesy of RFHG

The Pacific War is not given the same level of attention as the war in Europe and yet it arguably presented a greater challenge. For example, the terrain and tropical climate supplied an additional enemy in terms of conducting a war, with its poor lines of sight, gruelling physical demands, attendant diseases and difficulties for managing wounds and infections. Land transport links were poor making battle supply, communication, management and support extremely difficult and hazardous. The theatre of battle was spread over a vast area, much of it only accessible by sea, requiring complex logistical planning and long range resource capability. The Japanese fought a lawless guerrilla war rather than a traditional war, so that the Allied forces had no safe rear area and no respite at night. Co-ordination between the air, land and sea forces was critical, quite unlike any other theatre and any previous war. The Japanese Imperial Army did not abide by international law on the treatment of PoWs or civilians. The local languages and peoples did not allow for easy disguise and, along with the inhospitable terrain, made escape more or less impossible.

Let us celebrate the extraordinary endurance of both the Allied Forces and the civilian populations, and honour the dead on both sides. The silence of the combatants, the bamboo curtain raised by the Chinese Communists and our post-war trading and political alliances with Japan have all succeeded in allowing the Pacific War to become unjustly forgotten. Let us rescue the stories of the Pacific War before they are lost forever and commemorate this extraordinary chapter in our history.

4 thoughts on “VJ Day

  1. “The British and American Combined Chiefs of Staff had, ignoring Admiral Mountbatten, their Supreme Commander in South-East Asia, entrusted the overall control of the Japanese surrender to General MacArthur, the Supreme Commander in the Pacific. He decreed that the formal surrender in South-East Asia could take place only after it had been ceremonially completed in his own theatre [and] that no landings in or re-entry into Japanese-held territory would be made until he had personally received the formal surrender of the Japanese Empire. This ceremony was fixed for the 31st August, and thus for twelve days – actually fourteen as it was postponed until the 2nd September – the forces of South-East Asia had to mark time. Admiral Mountbatten decided, in spite of the ban on landing, to fly in help to the prisoners. Our men and those of our Allies were daily dying in their foul camps; thousands were at the limit of weakness and exhaustion. Had he delayed for even a few days in sending supplies and relief personnel, many more would have died pathetically at the moment of rescue. The relief teams parachuted into the camps with magnificent courage, for they were by no means sure of the Japanese reaction to their arrival.” (pages 530-1 in ‘Defeat into Victory’, by Feld Marshal Viscount Slim, Cassell, 1956).

  2. There was no way for them to properly train in the U.S. for the jungle terrain they encountered in New Guinea and a lot of the Pacific Theater. When planes went down over open water, men sometimes drowned because they were never taught how to swim. A bigger problem was the “Europe first” strategy adopted by the military, which meant that Europe got first dibs on all resources. Aircrews in the Pacific were flying old, worn out aircraft early in the war, and that sometimes led to deadly accidents that wouldn’t have happened had they been given new planes. There was a lot of frustration going around, as seen here: https://airwarworldwar2.wordpress.com/2019/04/26/shortages-in-the-pacific-theater/

    • Thanks for your comments – they really add to the sense of the diverse and multiple challenges of the Pacific War. There is a chapter in my book about the Pacific War strategy in 1943 and how it was scuppered by lack of resources.

  3. I totally agree that the Pacific War needs more attention. I showed my university students in Taiwan the film “Flowers of War” about the Nanking Massacre and some short films about the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. To be truthful they already knew much more about the Pacific War rather than the War in Europe. But in the West the focus seems to only be on Europe. MA/Asian Studies/CSULB

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