LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Reflections on the end of World War II

Seventy years ago, on Aug. 14, 1945, World War II ended after almost six years of fighting. The surrender of Japan on that date brought to a close a long struggle between the Axis powers (Germany, Italy, Japan) and the Allied powers (the British Empire, the Soviet Union, the United States [and others]).

World War II was a catastrophic event of enormous magnitude. Forty-five million people or more died in the conflict, while hundreds of millions more suffered unimaginable horrors and unspeakable brutality. Millions of men died on the battlefields, while hundreds of thousands of civilians in Britain, Germany, Russia and Japan perished in the massive air raids conducted day and night by hundreds of bombers and fighter planes.

Casualty statistics vividly disclose the far-reaching nature of the conflict, as well as the enormity of human suffering. Consider the terrible losses revealed by the numbers listed in the following paragraphs.

Great Britain was the first country to face the brunt of the war as she faced the Nazi onslaught in late 1940 before the United States and the Soviet Union entered the conflict in late 1941. The first massive air raid occurred on Sept. 7 when a German Luftwaffe force of 320 bombers and 600 fighter planes bombed London, igniting over 1,000 fires and killing several thousand people.

During the Blitz and 1942, 1943 and most of 1944, London was the victim of hundreds of air raids, as were a number of other British cities. During the entire war, 60,000 people died in the raids, while 86,000 were seriously wounded.

The Germans under Hitler started the war, but the Allied air forces exacted a terrible revenge on the Third Reich during the following years. In the Battle of Berlin during late 1944, over 33,000 tons of explosives were dropped on the city, reducing it to a mass of rubble. More bombs were dropped on Berlin than on England during the entire war.

During the conflict, Allied raids killed 300,000 civilians, including 75,000 children. In addition, 800,000 were badly wounded, while over 7 million were left homeless.

The Soviet Union suffered the greatest losses in World War II. Russian casualties were staggering in numbers.

Between 8 million and 9 million Russian soldiers died on the battlefield, while over 18 million were wounded.

Statistics indicate that between 16 million and 19 million civilians died during the conflict.

World War II casualty numbers include 6 million Jews who died in the Holocaust. The chaotic conditions brought about by the war and Nazi propaganda aimed at anti-Semitic elements in German-occupied Eastern Europe facilitated the execution of the Final Solution.

On Dec. 7, 1941 — the “day of infamy” — Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. Caught by surprise, the United States quickly mobilized the greatest war effort in history. Between 1942 and early 1945, U.S. forces regained lost territory in the Pacific islands, New Guinea and the Philippines. During the struggle, Japan lost over 1 million soldiers, while air raids on Tokyo and other Japanese cities resulted in the loss of over 300,000 civilians. Massive fires destroyed thousands of building, many of flimsy construction.

World War II ended in the single most horrendous event of human history. On Aug. 6, 1945, an atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, killing at least 75,000 people. A second bomb dropped on Nagasaki on Aug. 9 resulted in 40,000 deaths. The Emperor agreed to surrender “unconditionally” on Aug. 14, thereby ending one of the worst wars in human history.

The United States was the “arsenal of democracy” during the war, providing armaments, tanks, ships and airplanes to the Allied Powers. American military forces also furnished much-needed manpower to the ballet-weary and diminished forces of the British Empire. Eleven million men were drafted in the United States during the war; of these, 291,000 were killed, while over 600,000 were wounded.

We should not forget World War II. Nations and peoples who forget history do so at their own peril. We should also pray for peace and support the efforts of the peacemakers. After all, a third world war will result in the inevitable destruction of human civilization.

Harold W. Hurst

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