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‘Apocalypse ’45’ revisits harrowing war in the Pacific

Aug 12 2020
Stephen Schaefer | Boston Herald

World War II ended 75 years ago with Japan’s unconditional surrender following the atomic bombing of two Japanese cities, Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

How and why that happened and the moral debates that ensued — and have never ceased – is the focus of Erik Nelson’s Discovery Channel documentary “Apocalypse ’45.”

By letting us see in color, not black-and-white, American combat footage as we hear aged veterans – one 103 – recall that war, “Apocalypse ‘45” tells a harrowing story.

Nelson in a Zoom discussion of the film is joined by: Historian Ian Toll whose definitive trilogy on the Pacific War concludes with September’s publication of “Twilight of the Gods,” Pearl Harbor Museum historian Daniel Martinez and Woody Williams, the oldest living Marine Division Medal of Honor recipient, who is 96.

Much of the revelatory color combat footage had never been previously seen.

Toll chronologically covers the 44 months of the Pacific theater.

“This is extraordinarily good color footage that was not available on the earlier battles,” he said. These are original historical sources and an invaluable record of harrowing chapters of the war.”

“Those guys’ courage!” Williams said of the combat photographers, “They didn’t have a weapon. I’m surprised if we didn’t lose some it would be a miracle.”

The “Apocalypse” event was held on the 75th anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing on Aug. 6, 1945.

“I was on Guam when the bombs were dropped,” Williams recalled. “When they said the war was over, we celebrated.

“Brains went kinda crazy, firing our live ammunition in the air. The thing that made us all elated: We did not have to go fight in a city. They were training us after Iwo Jima to fight in a city after being in a jungle. That gave us a clue we were going to Japan.”

“For the Japanese it’s a regrettable part of their history, a constant reminder to them of nuclear weapons. I’m often asked,” Martinez said, “How do I feel?

“I came to the conclusion early on the dropping of the bomb was a necessary way to end the war.”

Added Toll, “It was necessary to avoid an invasion of Japan which would have been an absolutely terrible event. For our forces and the Japanese.

“Given the circumstances of 1945 I think the harder question is whether it was right to drop on a city rather than a military target. But I don’t think the historical research leads you to an answer. I think it comes down to personal choice.”