World War II remembrance 
in the USA

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Classe(s) : Tle ES - Tle L - Tle S | Thème(s) : History and remembrance
Corpus Corpus 1
World War II remembrance
in the USA




Some 16 million Americans served in the military during World War II. They truly thought they fought for freedom. However, from the 1980s, historians and different ethnic groups have begun to describe WW II differently. Is WW II still “the Good War”?

1 1945-1985: a shared remembrance

A The Pacific Ocean theater

 For the United States, the Pacific Ocean theater was the most important place during WW II. In December 1941, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor forced the United States into war. The turning point of the war is the defeat of the Japanese at Guadalcanal in February 1943.

 By April 1945, although the war in Europe was nearly over, the Pacific Ocean theater was yet to experience its deadliest days. From April to June 1945, in Okinawa, US troops fought a bloody battle (140,000 Japanese militaries and civilians casualties). The two atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki brought the war to a close*.

B The “Good War”

 Americans used to call WW II the “Good War” because it was presented like a conflict between free and democratic nations on the one hand and totalitarian dictatorships on the other hand.

 In 1984, Studs Terkel published the interviews of several American WW II veterans in his book “The Good War”: An Oral History of World War II.

C “V-J Day”

 For many years, “Victory over Japan Day” or “V-J Day” commemorated the anniversary of Japan’s surrender to the Allies on September 2nd, 1945, which ended WW II. The holiday was celebrated in the USA with whistles, car horns and flags.

 But many V-J Day celebrations fell out of favour* over the years due to concerns about their being offensive to Japan. Progressively, the name was changed to “Victory Day”. In 1975, it was abolished.

2 Since 1985: the appearance of different memories

A A debate around Japanese Americans

 On the West Coast, some White Americans had persecuted Asian immigrants and especially Japanese Americans after the attack on Pearl Harbor. In February 1942, the pressure on President Roosevelt became so great that he felt compelled to order the internment of 112,000 Americans of Japanese ancestry to ten inland “relocation centres”.

 In 1988, Congress finally voted for the Civil Liberties Act to apologize on behalf of the people of the United States for the internment of Japanese Americans and provide compensation.

B A delayed* tribute to Native Americans

 Marines were “elite” fighters and welcomed Indians because of their warrior reputation. Navajo Marine Corps signal units encoded messages in their native tongue. The Japanese were never able to break that code.

 In 1986, the historian Alison Ricky Bernstein wrote a thesis about the part of Native Americans during WW II. In 2002, the movieWindtalkers by John Woo told the story of the Navajo Code Talkers.

C Difficulty to celebrate

 In 1995, President Bill Clinton referred not to V-J Day or Victory Day but to the “End of the Pacific War”.

 The National World War II Memorial, opened to the public in 2004 in Washington DC, reflects the difficulty for the country to cope with* the different memories of WW II. It is a slab* of granite with 4,000 gold stars; each star symbolizes 100 American casualties. This monument was criticized for its anonymous soviet style.

  • delayed = tardif
  • a slab = un bloc
  • to fall out of favour = perdre en popularité
  • to bring something to a close = mettre fin à quelque chose
  • to cope with = surmonter