Zinman, Peterson, Schmitz to commemorate end of World War II

There was jubilation, there was joy, there was a kiss to say goodbye to war. The announcement caught people by surprise, as did the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. But it was an end to carnage and the beginning of new worry.

Aug. 14 marks the 70th anniversary of the Japanese surrender to the United States at the end of World War II. To commemorate that day, the Oliver Archives will host former journalist David Zinman, Greg Peterson from the Robert H. Jackson Center, and Chautauqua Institution historian and archivist Jon Schmitz in a remembrance and reflection. The event begins at 3:30 p.m. today in the Hall of Christ.

World War II had been very much focused on Europe, and the shift to a battle in the Pacific was unsettling, Schmitz said. Most people anticipated that a surge of resources and soldiers would be pumped into the fight with Japan. Suddenly, it was over.

“There was relief that we wouldn’t have to fight the war any further,” Schmitz said. “There was the sparing of the world of the horror that would have been entailed in further battle. But the weapon that achieved the victory would be haunting us into the future.”

Zinman knew the joy. He was a kid, working for The Chautauquan Daily. He took the news flash from the teletype machine at the Colonnade.

“Two words came across: ‘Japan Surrenders,’ ” he said.

It was Old First Night. The Amphitheater was full. Ralph McCallister, vice president and program chair at Chautauqua, was about to begin the evening. Among that audience were many whose children and loved ones were the next to fight in the East.

Zinman had run from the Colonnade to the Amp, flash in hand.

“Ralph McCallister was the Marty Merkley of the day,” Zinman said.

Zinman knew that, if it wasn’t announced at the Amp, most people wouldn’t get the news until the next morning. By the time he arrived, he was out of breath, and he was out of words. The best he could do was hand the slip of paper to a scowling McCallister, a man wondering why he should be so interrupted. But soon his expression changed.

“[McCallister said], ‘Ladies and gentlemen. I have wonderful news. World War II is over.’ People started to hug one another. There was a huge uproar,” Zinman said. “It was as if cannons had gone off in the air. The orchestra played the Star-Spangled Banner. It was something you never forget.”

The end of World War II marked the beginning of the London Charter or the Nuremberg Charter, an agreement for the prosecution and punishment of the major war criminals of the European Axis Alliance.

The end of World War II brought joy. But much was lost.

“There were a lot of guys who didn’t come back,” Schmitz said. “A lot of people.”