The Sunday New York Times' special section commemorating the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II was truly overwhelming.
Reading "lesser known stories" about the war that illuminated larger themes moved me emotionally the way movies or music do.
Tom Hanks' excellent introduction emphasized the sacrifices average Americans made to win the war. During the Depression and war years, U.S. citizens coped with diminished prosperity and limited consumer goods.
Countering nostalgia about "the good war," Hanks also evokes the horror of battle. One of our finest actors, Hanks shows that he's also an outstanding writer.
The section looked at the liberation of the Nazis' concentration camps, the firebombing of Tokyo, the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, Japan's colonization of Korea, the heroism of Indian and Nepalese soldiers in Britain's war effort, the horrible racism that black U.S. soldiers encountered when returning home, and the sickening internment of Japanese-American citizens.
Wonderful photos accompany the stories, and document the war's end and other major events.
My favorite stories were two uplifting ones: Ace Times sportswriter Jere Longman's profile of the Dutch track star Fanny Blankers-Koen, who won four gold medals at the 1948 Olympics in war-ravaged London, and writer Christina Brown Fisher's story about the Six Triple Eight, an American battalion of black women who diligently performed the duty of sorting mail for troops on the battle lines.
I've been a fan of fellow Louisianian and LSU alum Longman's work for years, especially when he's returned to his native state for stories.
A veteran of covering the Olympics, he displays his historical grasp of the Games in his piece on Koen, who dominated the first Olympics held since the 1936 Games in Hitler's Berlin. She competed in those Games too, drawing inspiration from U.S. star Jesse Owens, who also won four gold medals.
After the deprivations of the German-occupied Netherlands during the war, the 30-year-old Koen, the mother of two children, won the 100-meter and 200-meter sprints, the 80-meter hurdles and anchored the Netherlands' gold-medal-winning 4x100 relay team.
Fisher's story focuses on the Six Triple Eight's dynamic leader, Charity Adams, and her skill in organizing the battalion's mail-sorting mission. The article highlights Adams' successful battles against racism and sexism. She truly is one of the war's unsung American heroes.
Another of my favorite Times writers, Tokyo bureau chief Motoko Rich, contributed a moving story about the 88-year-old Katsumoto Saotome, a survivor of the Tokyo firebombing.
Saotome, who has devoted his life to documenting the horror of the bombings, carries no bitterness toward Americans. Rich's profile is a testament to the human spirit.
Rich, like Longman, is one of the veteran Times writers who have distinguished the newspaper's coverage for years. I first enjoyed Rich's stories when she covered the New York publishing industry before she moved on to general news. Rich is one of those rare reporters who can cover a range of stories, with outstanding writing ability as well as in-depth reporting.
The editor's introduction to the section says "these are tales that debunk the myths that have usurped the conflict's history, stories that haven't yet been enshrined in our collective memories."
That's overstated; the articles don't so much debunk myths as give deeper perspectives. And while stories like Koen's and the Six Triple Eight's are new, others re-examine well-known events, such as the fire-bombing of Tokyo.
While the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki have received more attention, the fire bombing of Tokyo and other Japanese cities has received extensive coverage through the years.
The Hiroshima and Nagasaki attacks have been castigated as morally questionable, but the bombing of Tokyo hasn't received the same moral scrutiny, even seen as heroic.
Serious moral questions are raised in the Times' re-examination of the bombings, particularly the American strategy of incinerating civilian areas.
Gen. Curtis LeMay's "Operation Meetinghouse" campaign shifted from the previous strategy of dropping high-altitude bombs targeting war-production facilities.
In the revised campaign, American bombers dropped low-level devices loaded with napalm on residential neighborhoods of mainly wooden residences. LeMay later led America's bombing of Vietnam, an echo of the campaign against Japan.
Another myth undermined is that American soldiers gave beneficial treatment to Jewish Holocaust victims. An article by Jennifer Orth-Veillon documents mistreatment of Jewish concentration camp survivors by U.S. troops.
The most heart-rending articles uncover the terrible abuses of Japanese-American citizens not only during their wartime internment, but after the war's end.
With the "Unsung History" section, the Times fulfills its promise to show how lesser-known stories give greater understanding of the war. The dramatic photos and typography demonstrate that print can have dramatic power unmatched by an online screen.
The section proves the validity of Hanks' message, "We are still living the legacy of World War II."