Hawaii’s World

By A.A. Smyser

Thursday, July 1, 1999

America’s freedom

I immensely appreciate Tom Brokaw's book naming my generation "The Greatest Generation" -- the one that saved the world.

No personal bragging is involved. I was one 140-millionth of the U.S. war effort by population count, one 12-millionth by uniformed service count and on ships that were about one 5,000th of the U.S. fleet, now down to around 350.

My performance was close to average -- no medals for valor, just theater ribbons to testify the Navy had indeed shown me the world.

Our troopship delivered GIs or Marines to six invasion beachheads, but left to them the dirty work of landing under enemy fire.

We also made some personnel deliveries to Africa, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Iceland, and took surrender-acceptance forces to Korea and North China.

Among troops we carried, the 45th Army Division from Oklahoma and several Marine divisions were gung ho for combat.

The other Army divisions shared my mood: This has to be done and we'll do it. There was no moral ambiguity about needing to win the war. A Nisei term I learned later was important to us, too: "No make shame."

The collective U.S. civilian and military war effort is what needs to be remembered -- not just for its all-embracing enormousness, but for the overwhelming public support it had. And for its success in stopping Adolf Hitler from taking over Europe and the Japanese military from keeping coastal China and Southeast Asia under totalitarian rule.

It would have been an immensely more dangerous world if they had won. More terror. Still more bloodshed. Hitler killed millions more of his own people than were killed by war -- and would have kept at it had he won. Mao Tse-tung later did the same in China.

Another dictator we didn't stop was Josef Stalin of the U.S.S.R. We needed him as an ally. The Soviet people paid for it by living with fear, murder and gulags for decades thereafter.

It somehow sounds trite to say that freedom is not free. But it isn't. If America's World War II generation hadn't paid the price, and hadn't had brilliant leadership, today's world would be a much, much more fearsome place.

It is too early to finally judge Kosovo. My bias is that it was executed badly but achieved an admirable objective, at least symbolically -- a union of America and most of Europe to say that ethnic cleansing isn't tolerable at places where we can stop it. If we can expand that zone, Africa, too, may benefit one day.

As World War II faded into the past and moved outside the memory of more and more people now alive, I feared its great lesson might be forgotten -- that people might underappreciate that freedom is not free.

I am reassured by the immense popularity of Brokaw's book, of Steven Spielberg's D-Day movie, "Saving Private Ryan," and of other books and movies recounting the tragedies and triumphs between 1935 and 1945 in the battles against totalitarianism.

I'll have a happy Independence Day.

A.A. Smyser is the contributing editor
and former editor of the the Star-Bulletin
His column runs Tuesday and Thursday.

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