Unlike other commemorative occasions, war anniversaries are perceived differently by various groups depending on which side the group is or was allied to. The World War II is perceived differently by countries across the world and as such, commemorative ceremonies also differ from continent to continent depending with the role specific continent or country played during the war. This is because most of those who participated in the war are still alive, and well able to tell their emotional stories. The oral histories presented by survivor always seem to confront the detachment of younger generation who has no memories of the War.
While World War II commemorative occasion serve to bring people together in Asia, the occasion is surrounded by controversy in the West, especially in the United States. And the big question is, why the controversy now? The answer lies in the very event that took place prior to the end of war, the dropping of Atomic bomb in Hiroshima and Nagasaki by United States. United States victory claim over Japan “entailed irradiating and incinerating men, women and children with a weapon more terrible than any previously known or imagine” (Dower, 2007). The atomic bomb meant triumph to the American while in the eyes of Japanese, it was a tragedy. These two opposing perspective serves to illustrates why World War II is remembered differently in these two different countries.
World War II Commemoration in Asia: Japan
Every year, on August 6th, Japanese gather at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park to mourn lives lost during World War II. Survivors and families of those who lost their lives attend this haunting ceremony to remember the unprecedented death and destructions caused by the war, and especially the Atomic bomb. This is one of the single events that bring large crowd of mourners in Japan as a show of solidarity and patriotism.
The Hiroshima commemorative ceremony is not a single event but actually a series of events which begin with a memorial service in the morning. Flowers, spelling names of countless victims, are offered in a silent ceremony. At exactly 8.15 am, the peace bells are rang. This is done to mark the exact moment when the atomic bomb was dropped in the city of Hiroshima. Japanese at work or home offer one minute silent prayers for the peace of the souls of those who lost their lives in World War II once they bell is rung.
The bell is followed by peace declaration, which is delivered by the Mayor of the city of Hiroshima. It is important to mention here that the peace declaration is sent to every country in the world to convey Hiroshima’s wish and commitment for the abolition of nuclear weapons and the ultimate realization of world peace. According to the current mayor Tadatoshi Akiba, “As long as the need persist, the mayor of Hiroshima will continue to issue peace declaration calling of the elimination of nuclear weapons from the face of earth” (Dower 2007). The continued issuing of peace declaration by sitting mayor show Hiroshima’s genuine efforts to build a peaceful world where no one will ever again experience the brutal devastation like the World War II victims. The peace declaration is followed by vow of peace by children. Hiroshima peace song marks the end of the morning ceremony, where the gathered masses join in silent prayers for peace. Flocks of white doves are released into the sky to symbolize a unified resolution of sending peace to the world.
In the evening, another important ritual is performed to offer prayers for the souls of the World War II victims. During the ritual, small lit lanterns are floated downstream in Motoyasugawa River. This is in relation to the fact that some of the atomic bomb victims jumped into this river as they tried to take cover from the atomic bomb during the world war II. River Motoyasugawa flows by the Hiroshima peace Memorial Genbaku Dome, a world heritage center since 1996.
The significance of Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park cannot be ignored. This was the hearts of the Hiroshima downtown before the World War II. The park was set-up as a remembrance of the city as the first to be bombed by Atomic bomb. The Peace memorial ceremony is held on the park. Thousands of visitor from all over the world visit the park and its surrounding on august 6th to advocate for world peace.
The 2009 Hiroshima memorial ceremony was graced by Japan Prime Minister Taro Aso who joined the over 50,000 people and representative from 59 nations for the 64th anniversary at the Peace Memorial Park. It is important to note that the 2009 memorial ceremony was attended by the largest number of foreign nation’s representatives than any other ceremony in the past. The current mayor of Hiroshima Tadatoshi Akiba led the prime minister in offering flowers and reading the peace declaration.
World War II Commemoration in America: United States
As I mentioned earlier, commemoration of World War II has been surrounded by controversies. The present day political climate seems to deny people the opportunity to use the World War II anniversary to reflect deeply on the events that changed the world forever. A recent attempt by Smithsonian Institution to show case on the effect of atomic bombs that were dropped in Nagasaki and Hiroshima received a lot of condemnations from political figures in Washington (Wilkinson, 2008). Viewer would have been taken through World War II and the events that led to the decision of the United States to use atomic bombs against Japan, and the consequences of the U.S. actions. The ambitious showcase was deemed to be politically unacceptable and anyone who attempted to support the plan was seen as being anti-American. Anyone in America who questions the role of United States in World War II is branded a ‘liberal’ in the United State (Wilkinson, 2008).
United States reluctant to acknowledge that it played a major role in the World War II is an issue that has been on the table in the last half of the century. It was after years of heated discussion that U.S. agreed to finally honor and remember those who fought in World War II, with the opening of World War II memorial. The memorial was opened in April, 2004, and is located at the Washington mall.
World War II veteran Roger Dublin was the man behind the idea of the mall back in 1987. The issue was brought before congress that same year by Marcy Kaptur, democratic representative form Ohio. The discussion took several years before it was signed into law by the then president Bill Clinton. The memorial is built on a 7.4 acre land, and all the funds that were used in the building came from private contributors. Construction began in September 2001, taking three years to complete. The World War II memorial was put up to honor the 16 million American who served in the World War II.
Americans remember World War II by visiting the memorial monuments in Washington DC with major events starting from may 23rd through May 25th. May 23rd is known as Navy Memorial Day, where a select dignitary is invited to hold a wreath-laying ceremony at the Navy Memorial. The event is graced by guest speakers and live performances. May 24th features free public concert at the U.S. capitol at the evening, where U.S. actors and performers are the main guests.
The National Memorial Day Parade marks the climax of World War II Memorial celebration. United States war Veteran from all over the U.S. States join the marching band in a parade that start of “ at the corner of 7TH street and constitution Avenue and proceed northwest along constitution avenue past the white house, ending of the 17th Street” (Wilkinson, 2008). These parades are sponsored by the World War II veterans committee. Those who attend the event are treated to patriot air shows and floating helium balloons.
World War II Commemoration in Europe
In Europe, the temptation by those who survived World War II, to forget about the war is high than the urge to remember and pass the history to younger generation. This is in great contrast to how memories of war are perceived in Asia where people keep the memories close to the heart. Memories of World War II event are seen just as fixed rituals especially when tourist gathers at the sites of major past war battles.
Although citizens from former Soviet and British Empire celebrate the war as heroes, France, Germany and Italy will never have that pride because of the outcome of the war. Each country in Europe perceives the war differently because of the part they played either as allied forces or axis of evils. After 64 years, Britain has started new exhibition showcasing World War II events at the London Imperial War Museum. The exhibition is open to the public, giving the younger generation a chance to learn the role played by the Britain in World War II.
The urge to forget World War II is evident in the way European countries have been ignoring the past. It took European countries 70 years to come together and remember the event that took place during World War II. Leaders from 20 European countries gathered on September 2009 in Westerplatte, Poland to remember the begging of World War II. This was the first time that Germany, led by Chancellor Angela Merkel, and Russia, led by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin were meeting to discuss the most horrific war in the history of the world.
During the meeting, Polish Prime minister, on whose country the war started, conveyed his wish for the World to remember September 1, 1939, as the day when the war started. Interestingly, Tensions still remain high between European countries from both sides of the war. Russian continues to justify the 1939 Nazi-Soviet Non-Aggression treaty which led to the partitioning of Poland between the Soviet Union and Germany. This being the first time that Germany was remembering World War II, the Chancellor was very cautious with the choice of her words, taking into consideration the brutality that Germany Nazi had on Jews. She was quick to condemn the endless suffering that was sparked by Nazi.
War anniversaries are perceived differently, by different group of people. The lens through which World War is perceived in Europe is far much different from Asia and America. This is because countries played different roles in the war. In Asia, especially Japan, the World War II commemoration is an event that brings people together. Asian seizes the commemoration ceremony to show solidarity and patriotism as they console victims and relative of those who suffered from the war. In Japan, big crowd of people led by the city Mayor gather at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park to mourn lives lost during World War II. In the United States the commemorative occasion is surrounded by controversy. United States reluctant to acknowledge that it played a major role in the World War II is an issue that has undergone major discussion. It was not until 1994 that president bill Clinton’s administration signed into law, a Veteran bill, paving way for the building of World War II memorial in Washington. The memorial ceremony is a three day event that brings American families together in remembering all those who took part in the war. In Europe, the temptations to forget about the World War II are far much greater than the urge to remember. There have been no major set events in most European countries to remember the war. There has been new development though in the recent past when for the first time, leader’s from20 European countries met in Poland to remember the victims of the World War II. This was the first meeting that brought leaders from nations that were on both sides of the war together. Most leaders expressed the need to remember the war as a way of fostering world peace.
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Dower, John. “Trimphal and Tragic Narratives of the War in Asia.” Asia History in pespective (2006): 19-24.
Fowler, Jonathan. “Leaders to remember WWII, 70 years after outbreak.” 2009. Web.
Office of Japan Prime Minister. “What’s up Around the Prime Minister.” 2009. Prime Minister of Japan and His Cabinet. Web.
Wilkinson, James D. “Remebering World War II: Pespective of the Loosers.” Peace Jounal (2008): 65-89.