1945 is just two years away from the year of my birth: 1947. I have parents now, since they got married last year. I have two sets of grandparents, aunts and uncles and even some cousins. Three of my cousins are older than I am and we visited them every summer of my life, until I went away to college.
1945 is the war, the war, the war. This is not much different from the last two years, except that it is like March in a temperate climate. No matter how much it snows or how strong the bitter winds, you know that it is almost over and that spring is around the corner. At least, that is how I felt as I read book after book about THE WAR.
But I suspect for Americans, not to mention Europeans and Japanese, it was an exercise in hanging in there, being short of almost everything and dreading to find out that another one of your loved ones was dead. There was good news for the Allies as the year went by. Hitler had pretty much lost in Russia and was losing right there in Germany. FDR died on April 12 and Vice President Truman took over, but Generals Patton, Eisenhower and MacArthur were on a roll and didn't miss a beat. By April 30, the defeat of Germany was so complete that Hitler committed suicide and the remains of the German Army surrendered unconditionally on May 7. War ended in Europe on VE Day, May 8. The United Nations Charter was signed on June 26, excluding Spain. This had been FDR's main concern in the last months of his life: planning for peace and finding a way to prevent another world war.
In July, the first atom bomb was tested in the New Mexico desert, proving that we had the ultimate weapon. Less than a month later an atom bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, Japan, on August 6 and three days later on Nagasaki, wiping out both cities and killing over 100,000 people. World War II ended on August 14 as the Japanese capitulated, signing an unconditional surrender on September 2.
There were 45 million dead including 10 million from the Nazi camps. Even now, 61 years later, I feel a sensation of dread. Victory is victory, but I don't feel that it was sweet. Having created the hugest, most destructive war in the history of earth, having created a weapon capable of wiping out mankind, the peoples of earth destined themselves to live under a cloud of potential annihilation. I have lived my whole life under that cloud.
Most of the books I read from 1945 were about World War II in some way or about war and imperialism in other times. There were also books about women getting a new awareness of themselves as human beings and Blacks getting a new awareness of needing rights. These are both products of the war, because women went to work and Blacks went to war. Actually, women also went to war and Blacks also went to work making war materials.
In film, "Going My Way" won Best Picture, Best Director (Leo McCarey) and Best Actor (Bing Crosby.) "Gaslight" took Best Actress (Ingrid Berman.) Popular songs included "Sentimental Journey," "Rum and Coca Cola," "There! I've Said It Again," and "On the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe." "Carousel" was the top musical comedy and bebop was the latest jazz craze.
Vitamin A was synthesized, but the big news in science and technology was the first atom bomb being successfully detonated outside Alamogodo, NM. At some point in my childhood, growing up in Princeton, NJ, I was taken by a German friend of my parents to meet Oppenheimer. I remember a very sad and troubled man, who had no idea how to atone for what he had helped create.
The United States federal government tried to make the transition from a war-time to a peace-time economy less drastic than after WW I, but according to my parents, it was still tough and economics were confused. My dad was discharged from the army in the spring of this year, right after the war in Europe was won. His last duties involved renegotiation of government contracts and traveling to companies around the US.
When my parents left Philadelphia, where my dad had been stationed, they moved their belongings to his parent's home in Pittsburgh, PA, and then took a trip in the family car to visit old friends at Valparaiso University, their alma mater, and in Grand Blanc, MI where my mom used to teach. Then Daddy went back to work for US Steel in Pittsburgh and they moved in with his parents. My dad missed out on all pay raises while he was in the service and returned at his former salary.
My mom began the battle with her mother-in-law, which went on for as long as they lived in Pittsburgh. They ran the house together while my dad and grandfather went to work and brought home the income. I have a feeling that those four years of living with her in-laws were some of the unhappiest years of my mom's life. It was a classic case of no woman being good enough for my grandma's first born son, plus the fact that my dad was very close to his mother. My grandma and grandpa were alcoholics after 5:00 pm every day, which was shocking to my mom. The two women had differences about cleaning, cooking and raising babies. But more about that later.
I get the feeling that there was plenty of confusion in American life in this year and the next, as soldiers came home and re-entered civilian life. In the literature of 1945 there is nothing about the bomb, but I predict that will come in the next few years along with all the Holocaust literature. Though Americans must have generally felt that they did the right thing in putting a stop to Hitler and fascism and Japanese aggression, though they must have been proud of helping to win the war, already in meetings of world leaders it was becoming apparent that though Russian was one of the Allies during the war, they had a different plan for the future than the United States did. The Cold War, which will be a major topic in the 1950s, began right away even if it was not yet called by that name.
The stage is set for rapid change. Never again will the United States practice isolationism. The map of Europe was changed once again, but the countries, no matter what they were called, were in ruins. Other strong issues were prejudice against Jews and Blacks, fear of Communism and economic reorganization. My dad and possibly my mom were aware of antisemitism and racism and not in favor of either. Especially my dad had picked up plenty of ideas about these areas of life in college from reading several liberal Christian publications. My sisters and I were raised to abhor intolerance of other religions and racial prejudice. I found these ideas in the books of 1945.
The big question was, where do we go from here? It has been the question of my lifetime and many have come up with possible solutions and scenarios. I have been involved in several of these. Having now read the fiction from 1940 to 1945, I am beginning to see the ways that history and my parents' views set me on such a path.