Certainly, September 2, 1945, stands as one of the most monumental days in modern times, as judged by the number of monuments that followed.
On this day 75 years ago, Japanese officials boarded the battleship USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay, and signed the documents of surrender that ended World War II.
Later that same day, and 2000 miles to the southwest, the seeds of a future and longer war that would also involve the United States began to sprout.
The United States forced Japan into submission after a long and bloody war for control of the Pacific. The Allied command and Japanese haggled for several days over the terms of surrender after the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki before Emperor Hirohito determined that capitulation to the Allies beat having much of the rest of Japan obliterated as well. Not everyone agreed.
On August 15, rebels attempted a military coup by taking control of the Imperial Palace and burning the home of Prime Minister Kantaro Suzuki. The uprising ended quickly, and the Emperor announced the surrender to the Japanese people, telling them, “We have resolved to pave the way for a grand peace for all the generations to come by enduring the unendurable and suffering what is insufferable.”
President Truman put General Douglas MacArthur, Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers, in charge of the surrender. MacArthur established September 2 as the date of the ceremony, giving other Allied brass the travel time necessary to attend.
Truman chose the USS Missouri, named for his home state, as the ship where the signing would take place, moored among over 250 Allied ships in Tokyo Bay.
After the Japanese officials signed the surrender, MacArthur signed representing the United Nations and Admiral Chester Nimitz for the United States.
World War II officially ended. Quietly, though, the groundwork for another war began several hours later, and one that haunts many Americans to this day.
Ho Chi Minh, a communist leader in Vietnam, declared independence from France, initiating what would become a 30-year-long quest for a united Vietnam under communist rule. He led the fight against the French for nearly a decade before defeating them at Dien Bien Phu in northwest Vietnam in May 1954 – some 10 months after the fighting involving American forces ended in Korea.
The French sought peace talks in Geneva, Switzerland, and the sides agreed to split the country in two, with Ho in control of North Vietnam and Emperor Bao Dai of South Vietnam.
In the late 1950s, Ho organized the Viet Cong to infiltrate and attack the South. U.S. advisors backed South Vietnam. By the mid-1960s, nearly 400,000 U.S. troops were fighting in Vietnam in a war that caused deep divisions and fomented tremendous social upheaval at home. By the time it ended in 1975, more than 58,000 Americans lost their lives there, and Ho finally achieved his goal of one communist Vietnam.
Thus, September 2, 1945, stands as a monumental day in history.
Monuments and memorials to World War II now adorn small towns and big cities across the nation and world, from courthouse parks to state and local government properties, to the National Mall in Washington, DC.
Nationally, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall, also on the Mall, is arguably the most emotions stirring of them all. Many states – including California – and cities etched their own tributes in stone.
Indeed, one war ended. The machinations of another began.