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Robert L. Leight: Around Upper Bucks -- Remembering 1945

The year 1945 is remembered for its momentous events. Seventy-five years ago the Second World War ended with the surrender of Germany and Japan.

The surrender of Japan was precipitated by the destruction caused by the use of atomic bombs to bomb major cities. Two of the leaders of the Allied nations that had defeated the Axis nations were lost. Franklin Delano Roosevelt died and Winston Churchill lost an election in Great Britain.

It was a year of major events. In January Roosevelt was inaugurated for an unprecedented fourth term, along with Harry Truman as vice president. But FDR died on April 12, and Truman became president. Forces of the Soviet Union from the east and the United States and its allies converged on Germany. Adolf Hitler committed suicide and German commanders surrendered in a school house in France, making May 8 VE (Victory in Europe) Day.

President Truman was briefed on the progress of a weapon of mass destruction and authorized the testing of the atomic bomb and the subsequent use of the bomb on the cities of Hiroshima (Aug. 6) and Nagasaki on Aug. 9. Japan signed the formal surrender documents on Sept. 2 (VJ Day).

The United States was instrumental in forming an organization devoted to maintaining peace. The United Nations became an official organization when its charter was signed by representatives of 50 nations in San Francisco on June 26, 1945. It now has 193 members.

On the home front in the United States the war had ended the Great Depression. So many men had been called to military service that women were given opportunities to join the workforce in occupations previously dominated by men. Many consumer goods, such as sugar, coffee, and red meats were rationed, as was gasoline. Unfortunately, some scarce goods could be obtained only on the black market.

In order to combat inflation, prices of a number of foodstuffs were controlled by a federal Office of Price Administration. Civilians were encouraged to purchase War Bonds, which began at $8.75. Those who did not have the cash, could purchase stamps for a dime and past them in a booklet. When 187 stamps had been saved another nickel could be added. The $18.75 bond would be worth $25.00 in 10 years.

Wars always foster innovations, and some would turn out to be important in peacetime. On the campus of the University of Pennsylvania, the first large-scale electronic computer was assembled and began operation. It filled a room 50 by 30 feet and was named ENIAC (Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer). Television had been invented prior to the war, and about 5,000 homes had primitive television sets.

But racial segregation was still the law of the land in several southern states and the District of Columbia. African-Americans and Asian-Americans served in the military, but mainly in segregated units. It was not until 1948 that Truman desegregated the military. Professional sports such as baseball were also segregated into separate leagues. One step toward desegregation in American life occurred in 1945 when a former star college athlete and U.S. Army officer, Jackie Robinson, was signed to play for the Montreal farm team of the Brooklyn Dodgers. Robinson broke the color line when he played as a rookie for Brooklyn in 1947.

The euphoria seen by the end of fighting soon ended. America’s former allies, the Soviet Union and China, had Communist governments and became adversaries in the Cold War, including a “police action” on the Korean Peninsula that continues to blow hot or cold. Former adversaries, Japan and Germany, have become among our most consistent friends. During the past seventy- five years there has not been a world war. At least some of the credit should go to the United Nations.

With the invention of transistors, computers have become smaller and smaller and electronic devices dominate everyday life. A major civil rights movement in the 1960s did not solve the problems of our racial mixture, as seen by current demonstrations.

I was an adolescent in 1945 and had the privilege of living during many years of transitions, but probably none as great as that fateful year.

Robert L. Leight is an educator and a longtime resident of Upper Bucks.