A Victory By Any Other Name May Not Be Right
The Clinton administration’s recasting of V-J Day is being denounced by some Inland Northwest veterans as yielding to the Japanese.
Or, as Spokane resident Jack Donohoe, a Bataan Death March survivor, put it, “a lot of crap.”
As the 50th anniversaries of climactic events of World War II draw near, the administration is trying to use a phrase for the Allied victory over Japan that sounds less onerous.
Japanese Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama will be invited to the “End of the Pacific War” ceremony at Pearl Harbor in early September, the golden anniversary of the signing of the peace treaty.
The term “V-J Day” - which stands for “Victory Over Japan” - does not appear in any plans for the ceremony, nor has it been used by administration officials in discussing events. But U.S. officials deny they specifically have been directed not to use the term “V-J Day.”
“V-J Day. V-J Day. V-J Day. V-J Day. There, see? I said it four times in a row,” a State Department official told The Associated Press recently. But he also insisted that he not be quoted by name.
“It just sounds stupid to me,” said Spokane’s Donohoe. He survived not only the death march, in which thousands of captured U.S. and Philippine troops were marched hundreds of miles to prison camps, but also 2 years in the camps and the sinking of the Japanese prison ship Shinyo-Maru. “Why change history? Why try to gloss things over to try to please those (Japanese) politicians?”
Although it was the end of the Pacific war, Donohoe noted, there was only one country the Allies were fighting: Japan.
Sam Grashio, a retired Air Force colonel and fellow death march survivor, said he cannot understand why the administration would slight V-J Day while still using the term V-E Day - Victory in Europe.
“I think it’s an injustice to the poor guys that are buried over there,” said Grashio. “They’re making us look like the bad guys.”
The proposal may hurt Clinton with veterans groups - already angry over the Smithsonian Institution’s failed Enola Gay exhibit and the removal of a postage stamp depicting the Hiroshima bomb - if it is being done to appease the Japanese, Grashio and others said.
“I’m not so concerned about what they’re calling it,” said Robert Pace, a World War II veteran from Bonners Ferry, Idaho. “I’m concerned about how they’ve cobbled up history.”
Pace and several other veterans said they felt no animosity toward today’s Japanese people. But they felt Americans should not be embarrassed or belittled for the way they fought and won the war.
The administration is apparently making the change to avoid embarrassing Murayama, who is on thin political ice in his own country.
It leaves Clinton open to attacks from conservative commentators and members of Congress, who say dropping the term shows Clinton’s insensitivity to veterans and clumsiness on military issues.
“The only aggressor in the Pacific was Japan. ‘V-J Day’ is honorable shorthand,” said Rep. Bob Dornan, R-Calif.
But some Inland Northwest veterans said if Clinton wants to change V-J Day to something else, that’s fine with them.
Jim Sinnott, founder of the Pearl Harbor Survivor’s Association’s local chapter, said he had no objection to the new name.
“Some guys still feel a lot of animosity toward the Japanese, but why?” said Sinnott, whose son teaches in Japan.
Bill Potwin, a survivor of the Pearl Harbor attack and four years of sea duty in the Pacific, said he has mixed emotions about the change. He’s used to the old name, but the new one might be more appropriate.
“I guess I could go along with it,” Potwin said. “We’re supposed to forget and forgive.”