Total Victory (1945)

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The untimely death of President Franklin D. Roosevelt on 12 April 1945 left Vice President Harry S. Truman to finish the war as commander-in-chief. Hitler initially responded with elation upon hearing the news of Roosevelt's demise. He saw parallels with how Frederick the Great had seemed doomed with the Russians threatening Berlin in 1762. The death of Tsarina Elizabeth saved Prussia, however, because her successor decided to make peace rather than finish the war. Hitler hoped that Truman would prove as malleable as the tsarina's heir, but could not have been more misguided in his optimism. Quite the opposite occurred; Truman held to the policy of unconditional surrender and aided the Soviets in bringing the war in Europe to a decisive end.

Truman did not have the luxury of savoring the victory in Europe for long, as Japan stub-bornly persevered in the Pacific theater. Rather than risking a costly amphibious invasion of Japan, Truman decided to drop the Atomic Bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Soon after the twin catastrophes, Japan offered its unconditional surrender on 14 August 1945. Truman effectively proved his mettle as a decisive wartime leader, although some would eventually question his decision to use atomic force.

Truman's "Total Victory" speech memorialized the sacrifices of Roosevelt and the countless American service men and women who saw the conflict through to a victorious conclusion. He spoke of optimism for the future and a transition back to peacetime life for the whole country. Truman wanted the next generation of Americans to never have to experience the life of the "foxhole and the bomber," fearing that "Civilization cannot survive another total war." Yet his hope for a world at peace would soon be in jeopardy, as relations with the Soviet Union continued to erode. A bipolar world emerged out of the ashes of World War II, rather than the "cooperation among all nations" that Truman desired.

Paul S.Bartels,
Villanova University

See also Unconditional Surrender ; World War II .

I am speaking to you, the Armed Forces of the United States, as I did after V Day in Europe, at a moment of history. The war, to which we have devoted all the resources and all the energy of our country for more than three and a half years, has now produced total victory over all our enemies.

This is a time for great rejoicing and a time for solemn contemplation. With the destructive force of war removed from the world, we can now turn to the grave task of preserving the peace which you gallant men and women have won. It is a task which requires our most urgent attention. It is one in which we must collaborate with our allies and the other nations of the world. They are determined as we are that war must be abolished from the earth, if the earth, as we know it, is to remain. Civilization cannot survive another total war.

I think you know what is in the hearts of our countrymen this night. They are thousands of miles away from most of you. Yet they are close to you in deep gratitude and in a solemn sense of obligation. They remember—and I know they will never forget—those who have gone from among you, those who are maimed, those who, thank God, are still safe after years of fighting and suffering and danger.

And I know that in this hour of victory their thoughts—like yours—are with your departed Commander-in-Chief Franklin D. Roosevelt. This is the hour for which he so gallantly fought and so bravely died.

I think I know the American soldier and sailor. He does not want gratitude or sympathy. He had a job to do. He did not like it. But he did it. And how he did it!

Now, he wants to come back home and start again the life he loves—a life of peace and quiet, the life of the civilian.

But he wants to know that he can come back to a good life. He wants to know that his children will not have to go back to the life of the fox-hole and the bomber, the battleship and the submarine.

I speak in behalf of all your countrymen when I pledge to you that we shall do everything in our power to make those wishes come true.

For some of you, I am sorry to say military service must continue for a time. We must keep an occupation force in Japan, just as we are cleaning out the militarism of Germany. The United Nations are determined that never again shall either of those countries be able to attack its peaceful neighbors.

But the great majority of you will be returned to civilian life as soon as the ships and planes can get you here. The task of moving so many men and women thousands of miles to their homes is a gigantic one. It will take months to accomplish. You have my pledge that we will do everything possible to speed it up. We want you back with us to make your contribution to our country's welfare and to a new world of peace.

The high tide of victory will carry us forward to great achievements in the era which lies ahead. But we can perform them only in a world which is free from the threat of war. We depend on you, who have known war in all its horror, to keep this nation aware that only through cooperation among all nations can any nation remain wholly secure.

On this night of total victory, we salute you of the Armed Forces of the United States—wherever you may be. What a job you have done! We are all waiting for the day when you will be home with us again.

Good luck and God bless you.