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And Now For Something Completely Different: The Greatest Victory

A look back on 75 years ago and a look into the future.

Celebration For Japan’S Surrender

For many fans, the offseason can seem an eternity as we wait for the first kickoff to start off the new season. However, as this particular offseason dragged on, with a world wracked by the most formidable pandemic since 1918-1919, racial tensions the highest since the mid-1960s, and economic struggles the worst since the dark days of the early 1930s, Texans fans felt justified looking to hold on to the most positive of memories.

To lift their spirits, fans could recall the greatest wins in the relatively short lifespan of the team. Was it the first game, when the team upended the more storied Cowboys to the north? Perhaps the “80 for 80” game, when the team clinched its first division title and playoff berth? Maybe you go with the first playoff game against those same Bengals, where Arian Foster and Andre Johnson went off and J.J. Watt introduced himself to the world with the pick-six? Maybe it is more recent, such as when Deshaun Watson somehow escaped two blitzing defenders to complete the catch-and-run that set up a game-winning field goal against the Bills, capping a 16-point second half comeback to win the Wild Card Game? All worthy contenders for greatest victory in team history.

Yet, as we approach September and the start of the season, there is a chance to revisit perhaps a greater and far more significant victory. On September 2, 2020, it will be the 75th anniversary of V-J Day (Victory over Japan Day). On that date in 1945, representatives from the Empire of Japan formally surrendered to the Allies, led by the United States, thus bringing about the end of the most devastating conflict in world history.

Japanese Surrender Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images

In ranking victories for the United States, perhaps there are none that will ever trump this achievement. The U.S. is no stranger to great achievements, and victory in warfare is not alien to this country. Yet there is something about V-J Day that stands out to highlight the pinnacle of victory for America, and arguably, the moment when America achieved its greatest success. At that point in time, America stood alone as the unquestioned power on the planet. Militarily, technologically, economically, culturally...by almost any measure of power, the U.S. held the #1 ranking in all the polls. The moon landing was a great moment, and the final defeat of the British at Yorktown could be a more significant win for America. However, in the greatest and most terrible of competitions, the U.S. came out on top, with no ambiguity and no chance that the defeated would haunt America in the immediate future.

The mythology fits so easily. The United States, forced into a war it didn’t ask for after a devastating and dastardly attack at Pearl Harbor, suffered some early body blows, pushing it towards a corner. United behind a cause and bringing its economic, military and martial might to bear, it managed to overcome three powerful adversaries. It managed this all while carrying the rest of the world on its back, pushing the boundaries of endurance and science to vanquish the worst of villains and achieve a total and undisputed victory. In short, V-J Day represents the best of America, what this nation can achieve when it must.

Not my grandfather’s specific plane, but one of many B-29s on Tinian. This one, a bit more well-known.
Personal photo/Author

Of course, the reality is far more complex and at times difficult to digest. Even with the decisive victory culminated in Tokyo Bay, the US nor the world could find complete peace. The sudden demobilization placed a brutal economic burden on the nation. Much of the world remained in ruins for years and the stage was already set for perhaps the next, and possibly the last, World War for humanity. The “unified” United States faced all sorts of fault lines—from racial, socioeconomic and political that never truly disappeared, re-emerging in difficult moments after the war. Even the ways and means the country used to get to that moment in Tokyo Bay, especially the devastation of whole population centers and the use of nuclear weapons, do not always speak of heroism and purity.

However, as we in America face one of the toughest years in recorded history, when it seems as if everything that can go wrong can and will to an unprecedented degree, we thirst for hope. We want things to get better, and we will look to anything that shows either how to solve the current problems or reflect on successes in the past. Hence, why the appeal of V-J Day stands out in the American mind. It shows that yes, we have overcome before, and we can do it again.

Tokyo Bay, September 2, 1945
Personal Photo/CRM

As we reflect on that day 75 years ago, I wonder what my grandfather my have thought. He was on board one of many of the airplanes that flew over Tokyo Bay that fateful day. A top turret gunner on a B-29, he saw a great deal of the Pacific Theater, from the China/India/Burma Theater, to flying out of Tinian, which is where the planes that delivered the atomic bombs departed from in August 1945. My grandfather spoke little about those days, much like many who fought at that time. Still, his photos and mementos survive him.

USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay, September 2, 1945
Personal Photo/CRM

Maybe V-J Day isn’t all we made it out to be, but it is still a significant victory nevertheless. In a time when figuring out what is a win is exceeding difficult, it helps to have something to look back upon with pride. Maybe the final victory over 2020 won’t be something as glamorous as V-J Day. Maybe there will be no mass celebration in the streets across the nation and the world. But I remain hopeful that we will survive and thrive after 2020, much like people could move forward after 1945.

If nothing else, maybe we can just hope for a long-sought after Super Bowl for Houston...for if 2020 has taught us anything, it is that nothing is out of the question.