Lost in the Valleys of History: The Power of Photography from the Second World War

18 Mar

U.S. Marine PFC Paul E. Ison runs through Death Valley on Okinawa.

“Abandoned in the void that exists between history’s two most enduring photographs rests the war’s closing battle. Bereft of one dramatic moment caught on film, neither the Okinawa campaign’s staggering loss of life and ships nor its impetus in ending the war could create an enduring place in our shared memory.”

This quote is from my thesis, which is nearly finished. The Okinawa campaign (1 April – 22 June 1945) suffers in our shared memory for many reasons. Two of history’s most dramatic photographs were taken just before and after the Battle of Okinawa–the flag-raising on Iwo Jima (23 February 1945) and the atom bomb’s mushroom cloud of dust and debris over Nagasaki, Japan (9 August 1945).

When we think about the end of the war in the Pacific, or the war itself, two images come to mind: The Flag Raising atop Mount Suribachi, Joe Rosenthal’s iconic photo; and the photograph taken by a Bockscar crew member seconds (approximately 18-20) after the second bomb, “Fat Man” was delivered at Nagasaki, Japan. Pilots and crew of the B-29 Bockscar stated that the shock waves from the blast reached their aircraft with a violent shudder–one they had not felt before.

The Okinawa campaign had few photographs recognizable for their sense of drama. Just three are listed on the National Archives website. To view history’s more memorable images, check out the National Archives World War II Photos here.

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Posted by on March 18, 2013 in WWII in the Pacific


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