Posted on May 8, 2020

Americans Fighting for Two Victories in World War II Only Got One

Ansley L. Quiros and James Strasburg, Washington Post, May 8, 2020

Americans often think of the end of the Second World War as a moment of jubilant triumph — a time of ticker tape parades, large crowds gathering in New York City’s Times Square cheering the Allied victory and exultant strangers embracing. The war stands out as the United States’ defining and ascendant moment, one that represented the global vindication of democracy over fascism and the triumph of good over evil.

Yet the actual reality on the day the United States triumphed on the European front — Victory in Europe Day 75 years ago — complicates such recollection.

The brutal, often racialized war in the Pacific waged on unabated, and for many Americans, war on another front continued as well: the struggle against racism and discrimination at home. As news of V-E Day arrived, nearly 120,000 Japanese Americans, many of them U.S. citizens, continued to sit in internment camps scattered across the American West. And for black Americans who had mobilized for double victory, victory against fascism abroad and Jim Crow at home, V-E Day was a humbling reminder that the promise of democracy and freedom still remained elusive.

Tragically, the second victory for which they fought has never truly been won. Even as we engage in another global fight, this time against a deadly virus, the realities of racism and inequality remain stark. On this anniversary of V-E Day, we need a Double Victory once again.


When V-E Day came, The Courier celebrated the noble service of all those who had helped “hasten” the “German surrender.” But they knew this was just one victory in a much longer struggle.

Courier columnist and leading black sociologist Horace R. Cayton Jr. wrote “the real fight for democracy has only begun.” Americans may have won the war against Hitler, Cayton recognized, but the progress against racism at home had been far more incremental. Black citizens in the southern states, he pointed out, lived under conditions all too close to “Nazi fascism.” We must destroy the “Hitler that lives in us,” Cayton asserted.

Some white Americans acknowledged this reality too. “The Nazis aren’t licked yet,” Protestant divine G. Bromley Oxnam argued. The “seedlings” of Nazism — racial and religious prejudice — continued to grow even within American society. Upon returning from the front, black servicemen were frequently attacked, and even lynched, for wearing their uniforms. Black veterans, too, often found themselves left out of postwar federal programs like the GI Bill.


Many black veterans, notably Medgar EversJackie Robinson and Hosea Williams, joined the NAACP and became increasingly outspoken about racial inequality in America. Their efforts produced important gains. In 1948, President Truman signed Executive Order 9981, which abolished discrimination in the armed forces on “the basis of race, color, religion or national origin.” {snip}


But even then, while new laws, like the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, created legal defenses against the most overt forms of racism, its legacies persisted. Wars on crime and drugs targeted minority neighborhoods and created a mass incarceration state that became “the new Jim Crow.” White flight and resistance to “forced busing” kept America’s cities and schools segregated. Federal policies perpetuated a racial wealth gap, and urban neighborhoods continued to see the “residue of redlining” in uneven economic growth and limited access to jobs and health care. The victory remained incomplete.


Today, on the 75th anniversary of V-E Day, we should remember the Double V campaign and those Americans who believed a more democratic, just and equitable world had not yet fully been secured even as they fought for it. Their courage and devotion might inspire us to continue such work, which remains as urgent and necessary today as then.