By Mel Barger


Special to the Toledo Blade


With its 50th anniversary approaching, V-J Day reportedly may be renamed in order to soothe Japanese sensitivities. Aug. 14 may now be celebrated as "Event in the Pacific" rather than the Victory-Japan which we considered it when I was a sailor aboard LST-555 at Okinawa. Our main concern then was only that we wouldn't have to invade the Japanese home islands.

I'd pretty much forgotten about the V-J term these many years, but thought of it again recently while parking my Honda alongside a Toyota as I went in to buy some Fuji film for my Nikon camera. And I believe V-J should be retained not only in Toledo, but in Tokyo, because it was actually a sensational victory for the Japanese people.

They won big in at least three ways. First, the U.S. success in the Pacific war enabled Japan to shake off the military clique that had led the country into the war with China and the attack on Pearl Harbor. Next, V-J Day gave them a very humane and decent occupation under Gen. Douglas MacArthur. Finally, the Japanese also won big by getting quick access to U.S. manufacturing know-how and to our domestic markets. It was really a fantastic victory, and that Japanese foreign minister who surrendered would have been doing a dance step instead of scraping and bowing if he had known of the good fortune that lay straight ahead.

Then there was the matter of the humane occupation, which is considered one of General MacArthur's greatest achievements. I was in Japan for the first few months of the occupation and saw how relieved the Japanese were when they discovered that their conquerors were really a bunch of easygoing jerks who would rather drink beer than kill the population.

One Japanese college student told me that their greatest fear had been that we would eat their precious food supplies, as Asian conquerors always did. Instead, we brought food. We were even forbidden by our medical authorities to eat any Japanese food, such as turnips, that had actual contact with the soil.

Then, finally, there was the business of opening up Japan to U.S. know-how and markets. Now that the Japanese have such supremacy in the world marketplace, it's hard to recall that they were still considered a junk producer in 1945.

I was working for Aeroquip Corporation (now part of Maumee's Trinova) in the mid-1950s when we concluded licensing arrangements with Japan's Yokohama Rubber Company. Japanese engineers came over and were given complete access to our engineering drawings and other materials.

They launched their production of their own and went on to be-come a major producer. This was their achievement, of course, and we cooperated for profit-making reasons. But it was also part of what Japan won on V-J day, and other U.S. companies cooperated in the same way Aeroquip did.

I should also mention that few of us in the military service carried any grudges toward the Japanese people when we arrived in Japan in September, 1945.

Their docility and deference to authority was astonishing. On a seawall in Wakayama, Japan, we saw that a few Japanese policeman could simply wave their sticks and drive back hundreds of people gawking at a wrecked U.S. ship. So in our minds, we quickly separated the Japanese people from the military clique that had led them into disaster.

And let's hope they don't consider it a threat today that we cling to the V-J designation for the end of the Pacific war. It was really a great victory for them. They should celebrate it in Tokyo.

But I'd bet my Honda they won't.