Wicker: World War II adversary has become a valued partner

Published 8:41 am Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Carl and Gayle Long tied the knot in 1939 in the pastor’s study at Tupelo’s First Baptist Church. Carl was a salesman who supplied grocery stores, and Gayle taught in a local school. Two years into their marriage, Pearl Harbor changed everything. Like so many young Americans of that generation, Carl answered the call of duty and left behind the love of his life to serve his country. What followed were years of service, sacrifice, and prayer.

The Longs made it through the war and had one child, Gayle, who became my wife. Their surviving letters record Carl’s service on the USS Monrovia, the bloody Battles of Tarawa and Okinawa, the terror of kamikazes taking aim at American ships, and the hardships of a young couple living through mankind’s deadliest conflict. Theirs is the story of countless Americans who gave so much to defend our country in World War II.


America turned an enemy into a friend

Sept. 2 marked the 75th anniversary of the American victory over Japan when Japanese officials surrendered on the deck of the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay. Present at that ceremony were military leaders, dignitaries from around the world, and Gen. Douglas MacArthur, who would lead the occupation of Japan. But noteworthy were the Americans who could not be there —  the 405,399 men who died in the war and the 670,846 who were wounded. With the signing of the terms of surrender, hostilities came to an end. The United States had become a superpower, and the world had changed significantly.

History books are filled with examples of victors taking revenge on the people they conquered, but the United States set a different example after World War II. One of MacArthur’s first acts following Japan’s surrender was to prohibit Allied personnel from assaulting Japanese people or eating scarce Japanese food. Japan was allowed to keep its emperor as a symbolic leader.

America helped rebuild Japan from the wreckage of war and installed a new constitution that transformed Japan into a modern democracy. Our presence and aid helped prevent communism from taking root in the country, and our two countries even forged a bond over baseball, America’s pastime.


Alliance with japan makes us safer

To this day, Japan hosts more than 54,000 U.S. military personnel and their families. These forces have helped maintain stability in the region and countered threats from China and North Korea — keeping conflict far from American shores.

This large military presence has also protected our vital trade relationship with Japan. Americans have come to enjoy Japanese products from high-tech electronics to sushi, and Japanese consumers spend billions of dollars each year purchasing American oil, medical equipment, and computers. In fact, Japan was Mississippi’s fifth-largest export market in 2018, and 15,000 Mississippi residents are employed by Japanese-owned companies like Toyota, Nissan and Yokohama.

Our relationship with Japan is not perfect, and I have been troubled in recent years by Japan’s unfair justice system. Japan’s wrongful arrest of Greg Kelly, a Nissan executive from Tennessee, threatens to undermine business relationships between our two nations.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe recently announced he will be retiring, and I hope his successor will restore a strong respect for the rule of law and continue to prioritize our alliance.

The world is more secure and prosperous because of the U.S.-Japan relationship, and I hope our ties can strengthen in the years ahead.


U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) is the senior senator representing Mississippi in the United States Senate.