Historians Available to Discuss World War II's End for 70th Anniversary

Ron Milam is an associate professor of U.S. history with a specialty in military history. Aliza S. Wong is an associate dean and associate professor and director of European studies in the Department of History. She specializes in the history of World War II in Europe.

Pitch

World War II ended in Europe with the German surrender on May 7, 1945. The United States threatened Japan’s destruction if it did not surrender, but the war continued in the Pacific until the U.S. dropped atomic bombs on two Japanese cities, Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945, and Nagasaki three days later. The Soviet Union declared war on Japan on Aug. 9.

Japanese Emperor Hirohito announced the final surrender on Aug. 14 in the United States, which was Aug. 15 in Japan because of time difference. The surrender document was signed Sept. 2, 1945.

Texas Tech University’s Ron Milam is an associate professor of U.S. history with a specialty in military history. Aliza S. Wong is an associate dean in the Honors College and associate professor and director of European studies in the Department of History. She specializes in the history of World War II in Europe. As the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II approaches, Milam and Wong can speak about the end of the war and its ramifications.

Experts

Talking Points

  • The end of the Second World War in Europe often is represented as a moment of liberation, a moment of freedom, a moment of victory by democracy over fascism.
  • Even as the Second World War neared its end, while the Allied Forces gained in strength, territory and spirit, the Resistance Movements evoked hope, defiance and sacrifice. Sides were already being chosen for a new war, the Cold War that loomed around the corner.
  • The Potsdam conference on July 26, 1945, called for the unconditional surrender of Japan or they would face “prompt and utter destruction.” 
  • Even within the U.S. Cabinet, there was disagreement about the use of the atomic bomb.
  • After the bombs were dropped, the U.S. began an occupation of Japan, along with a commitment for defense of the island that continues to this day.

Quotes

  • “By the final years of the war, the popular movements against the fascists had taken on new dimensions. Partisans and resistance fighters from all over Europe had found commonality in the fight for common decency, human rights, liberty, and sovereignty,” Wong said. “Historians recognize while certainly the military campaigns of the Allied Forces were essential to the end of armed conflict in WWII, just as crucial were the social, cultural, political and popular movements that shifted the course of the war.”
  • “In the midst of post-war chaos, people celebrated the end of the war, the end of fascism, the end of dictatorship, the end of conflict,” Wong said. “Even as Europeans still suffered from hunger, destruction and indescribable loss, the end of the war was a release from the tragedies of the six years from 1939-1945. The reality of the immense costs of war, however, was still to be uncovered.”
  • “As Europeans celebrated in the streets at the announcement of Nazi surrender, the Soviet Union and the United States began to consolidate their systems of control and containment,” Wong said. “The first few years of European politics in the post-war period were heavily influenced by the United States and the Soviet Union as tensions began to rise between the two superpowers. The Europeans had finished with one war, only to become involved in another conflict for the next 44 years.”
  • “Unbeknownst to the world, the United States had tested one and built two atomic weapons in Los Alamos, New Mexico and had shipped them to islands in the Pacific to be used if President Harry Truman ordered it,” Milam said.
  • “Within the Truman administration, there was controversy about the use of the bombs, but the president believed a ground invasion of the Japanese mainland would cost the lives of hundreds of thousands of Allied soldiers and Japanese civilians and ordered their use,” Milam said.
  • “To this day, historians argue whether the use was necessary to end the war, or if their use had more to do with demonstrating to the Soviet Union that we had these incredible destructive devices, ushering in the Cold War,” Milam said.
  • “Thus began the atomic age, with significant construction by many nations of nuclear weapons that would change the way the world views conflict,” Milam said. “Yet, no other nuclear weapons have ever been used by any country to resolve territorial or ideological issues.”

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