Back when newspaper texts were set by hand or linotype, printers had what they called “second coming” type. It was the largest font they owned, reserved for events as momentous as the second coming of Christ.
Nowadays when electronic typesetting allows layout editors to change font sizes with the click of a mouse, there is probably much less excitement in the newsroom than there was when printers had a rare opportunity to pull open the drawer holding the second coming type.
A friend has given me a newspaper with its one-word headline in second coming font. The letters, all upper case, are nine centimeters (just over 3.5 inches) high. The newspaper is the Philadelphia Inquirer of Aug. 15, 1945, and the one-word headline is PEACE.
That was the word the editors chose over “Victory.” Other newspapers around the world probably did use that word. The American military newspaper, Stars and Stripes, did. Philadelphia (the name means “brotherly love”) went for the more heartfelt emotion, relief.
The headline should probably be read with a sigh. That word, Peace, spoke for all, no matter what “side” or “no side” they were on.
Seventy-five years ago, the surrender of Japan ended World War II, the most extensive, most destructive war in history. It is estimated that 70-85 million people died from military action, genocide and disease and famine caused by the turmoil of war. That was about 3 percent of the world population at the time.
Those millions were not numbers. They were individual men, women and children. They were sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, spouses and friends. They were saints and sinners. They were heroes, cowards and villains. They had hopes and fears. They had talents and needs. Even if they died at the same time as many others in bombings, battles, sinkings or extermination and POW camps, they died one by one, as we all do. Most were missed and mourned.
Besides news of the war and its end, the front page carried the weather forecast (showers followed by clearing and cooler) and over text in a box at the upper left of the masthead where the name of the newspaper appears another, italicized, headline, “Let Us Thank God.”
“To Almighty God for this blessed peace restored to a war-torn world, a grateful people offer devout thanksgivings. Thank God, we say, the war is over at last. The guns are stilled. The bombs plunge no longer on their missions of death. Mothers and wives and sweethearts can breathe with unfettered hearts. Our loved ones will be coming home. An evil enemy has been crushed. But there are many who are not here to rejoice with us this great day — because they gave their lives so we could have this day. Give them our prayers, our undying gratitude, our promise to cherish forever the ideals they freely died for. And for peace with victory, let us thank the All-Merciful God.”
Below the fold (newspaper-speak for the bottom half of the page) is a report of the sinking of the American cruiser USS Indianapolis. The article reports that the warship had delivered the atomic weapons that were used over Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The ship was returning to its base at Guam from the bomber base at Tinian Island when it was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine. The headline says, “U.S. Cruiser Sunk With Every Man Lost or Wounded.”
So, on one page of one newspaper, we see a joyful announcement of longed-for peace and a prayer of thanksgiving. But we see as well a portent of the major military threat of the post-war world, nuclear weapons.
Today, 75 year later, that front page still describes our world. We hope for and find relief in peace, we give thanks when we find it. But we also know that a threat born of that war remains.
Last November, Pope Francis came to Japan in part to answer critics of his declaration that even the possession of nuclear weapons is immoral. He spoke in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the places where the bombs delivered by the Indianapolis were used.
In Hiroshima he said: “With deep conviction I wish once more to declare that the use of atomic energy for purposes of war is today, more than ever, a crime not only against the dignity of human beings but against any possible future for our common home. The use of atomic energy for purposes of war is immoral, just as the possessing of nuclear weapons is immoral, as I already said two years ago. We will be judged on this.”
If we hope to one day be able to say prayers of thanksgiving for a peaceful world without the threat of atomic weapons, those of us from nations where we have some say in governance must speak up and vote to remove them from the world. Catholics must apply pressure to the Church’s managers to become leaders in following the pope’s teaching.
If we succeed, then we can finally thank God that World War II is truly ended.
Father William Grimm is the publisher of UCA News based in Tokyo, Japan. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.