An example of a correct decision

How to end a war.

While here in Hawaii, my family and I visited Pearl Harbour and relived that “day in infamy” (as described by President F. D. Roosevelt) when the Japanese attacked this sleeping island in the early hours of a Sunday morning in December 1941.

I will write about the Japanese attack later in the year. But for now I want to fast forward to the end of the war.

Permanently moored in Pearl Harbour, with her guns watching over the USS Arizona memorial, is the USS Missouri or as she is affectionately known, “The Mighty Mo”. The Missouri has a special place in the hearts of Americans because in one vessel we have the story of the emergence of the US as a global super-power.

The Missouri fought in World War II at Iwo Jima. It was responsible for direct fire onto Tokyo and was heavily involved in the final battle for Okinawa.

It fought in the Korean War and in 1955 it was decommissioned. In 1984, President Reagan decided it was time to upgrade her and after being out of action for nearly 30 years and a $400million + overhaul was recommissioning and served in the Gulf War.

But the Missouri is a creature of the past. In 1992, she was retired as the last battleship in the US Navy. The US does not build battleships any more. Technology and economics have overtaken warhorses like the Missouri. She now sits as a reminder of a by-gone era.

What I want to talk about is the event that cemented the Missouri’s place in world history. In 1945, the Japanese surrendered and World War II was brought to a close. On 2 September 1945, the deed of surrender was signed on the deck of the Missouri (stationed outside Tokyo).

The signing was presided over by General MacArthur.

Before the document was executed MacArthur gave a speech which included

It is my earnest hope and indeed the hope of mankind that from this solemn occasion a better world will emerge out of the blood and carnage of the past – a world founded upon faith and understanding – a world dedicated to the dignity of man and the fulfilment of his most cherished wish – for freedom, tolerance and justice.”

And with those words ended the bloodiest war in human history. Over 80 million people were killed in World War II. This not only included the lives lost in theatres of battle in Europe, Africa, Asia, the Atlantic and the Pacific but also the holocaust, the significant losses in Russia, over 200,000 killed in Japan by the atomic detonations etc.

I believe it is important to remember how the US and the Allies reacted after the war. Unlike the retribution meted out in the Treaty of Versailles, after World War I, the plan was to invest significant sums of money to rebuild Western Europe and Japan. The plan to assist Europe was called the Marshall Plan and it involved the US giving $12 billion (current value $120 billion) in economic support to help rebuild Western European economies. It included reducing trade barriers, upgrading plant and equipment and adopting modern management strategies etc.

Economic aid was also provided to Japan.

An ulterior motive for the plan was no doubt to prevent the spread of Communism.

History shows that leaders often fall victim to repeating the errors of their predecessors. But this is one shining example of a correct decision. A difficult decision, particularly when constituents were baying for blood. An example of strong leadership in an emotional setting.

It was also a counter-intuitive decision, as good decisions sometimes are. Rather than grind your enemies into the ground and witness their humiliation; invest in them and build them up.

Historians are quick to dwell on folly and error but we should not forget what began on the Missouri and continues today as Germany and Japan remain strong stabilising influences in their respective parts of the world.