LosingTheWar.doc

And hugged one another they swarmed in the streets

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and hugged one another, they swarmed in the streets all through the summer night telling strangers how frightened they’d been and how glad they were it had finally ended. No one could stop talking; every new face that appeared in the crowd was an excuse to ask if they’d heard and then start telling their stories all over again. As the darkness of the night settled in, they began turning on the lights the way they hadn’t done in years. Above the streets people in high windows ripped down their blackout curtains with exaggerated gestures of disgust, the crowds cheering them on. They tore the masks off their car headlights, and the streets suddenly danced with countless crazy shadows. In great glowing cliffs, the skylines of the cities switched blazingly to life. Unnoticed at the fringes of the crowds, the people who’d spent the war in windowless government rooms ordering blackouts and rationings drifted out, for just a little while, to enjoy the luminous summer air. And everywhere were amazed children, some carried in their parents’ arms, all staring in wonderment at the brilliance and fearlessness of the night and at the way the faces of grown-ups all around them were suddenly lit up with joy. Some had spent all of their lives within the shadow of this mysterious oppression, the war, and now it was miraculously gone — and it was as though they were seeing for the first time what the world was supposed to look like. But if we remember this, we have to remember that one group didn’t cheer along with the rest: the soldiers in the battle zones. They were too astonished. They’d had no inkling that the war was so close to its end. Up until the last moment, the armies of the Allies believed that the war was still only half over — because after the defeat of Germany the invasion of Japan was still to come. The troops in Europe were preparing to be shipped to the other side of the world, while the troops already in the Pacific were waiting on their island bases for the immense mustering of forces to begin. Instead, without a word of warning, their commanders one August day gathered them in formation and announced that the war was over and they could go home. Some of them did celebrate, and some prayed. But many just sat down where they were and stared in disbelief. On battle lines and in evac hospitals, in construction battalions and naval convoys, they all felt that same shocking hush, that stunning worldwide silence. It was over. The barrages had stopped, the planes would stay motionless on the airfields, the tanks could be allowed to freeze in place like ancient monuments. It was over. That endless, tormenting tension, that permanent despairing exhaustion brought on by years of adrenalin and reflexive terror — they could let all that go now. It was over.
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And for the first time since the war began the soldiers had the sudden freedom to reflect on the mystery of what had happened to them.
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