The sad article in the L.A. Times about our fading legacy in the Pacific brought many things to mind, especially for someone whose father fought in that theatre. From the time that FDR, with the usual British connaivance, decided to put the main emphasis on the European theatre, World War II in the Pacific has always been “second best,” and the legacy of deteriorating monuments–Pearl Harbour excepted–is a classic example of this.
But this is a mistake.
I finally got to watch the entirety of Victory at Sea, the epic documentary of World War II’s naval and amphibious battles. It was my father’s favourite television show, and now I know why. Set to Richard Rogers’ music, it’s a compelling view; it puts the war in a different perspective, one what was originally watched by veterans whose memories were fresh. Although it covered naval action in both theatres, because of the nature of the war the series leaned more on the Pacific.
This series, along with others and other research, has convinced me that World War II in Europe was the war of the past and World War II in the Pacific was the war of the future. Our world made a turning point and no one really sensed it, although it’s more obvious now than then.
In the European war, the horrors of the Nazis (to say nothing of “Uncle Joe” Stalin) were bad, but the combatants at least the shared legacy of European, Christian civilisation. (And yes, contrary to what others say, the Holocaust was a classic breakdown of same.) The various constituents of the Old World still had enough national spirit to fight for themselves, but it was the last throw. Europe, having drowned itself in blood twice in a half century, had had enough, and its unwillingness to effectively resist those who would overrun it, either the Russians after the war or the Islamicists now, was the result of that.
In the Pacific, we saw the elements of every confrontation we’ve had with the non-European world since. The Japanese were driven by fanatical shame-honour; they fought to nearly the last man in every amphibious invasion, and then came up with the kamikaze suicide planes. We saw the same suicidal tendencies (and the goal of taking the enemy with them) with al-Qaeda, along with the fanatical shame-honour that characterises the Middle East. Before the war Japanese school children were drilled to become soldiers, much like their Palestinian counterparts today. The Japanese brutality, although less sophisticated than its German counterpart, was harsher in many ways, and it’s poisoned Asian geopolitics since.
We fought guerilla wars in jungles, which should have been proper preparation for Vietnam but wasn’t. And finally Asia is becoming the centre of the world. The colonial and semi-colonial states such as China, the Phillippines, Singapore, Malaysia (Malaya,) Thailand, Vietnam, Myanmar (Burma,) India and Japan itself are now significant players on the world stage.
But we still focus on Europe. The example of the referenced article underscores this: the European monuments are kept up while the Pacific ones rot. Our élites still are too focused on Europe, its opinion and its way, and that sadly includes the Imitation European in the White House. We need to take our race-skewed glasses off and look across the Pacific–and while we’re doing it, not forget the sacrifice of those who fought there so many years ago.