Rhode Island plan to change WWII Victory Day name draws blowback

Democrat lawmaker wants to change the August holiday’s name to “Peace and Remembrance Day.”
The Rhode Island State House

Rhode Island lawmakers are once again mulling a plan to change the name of Victory Day, which commemorates the end of World War II, but the proposal is facing pushback from those who say it would denigrate the sacrifices of the state's veterans.

A proposal filed by state Rep. Jennifer Stewart, a Pawtucket Democrat, would change the August holiday’s name to “Peace and Remembrance Day" which she argues would "ensure Rhode Island acknowledges the millions of innocent civilians who suffered throughout the war."

Stewart argues that changing the name of the holiday would recognize "that the U.S. engaged in racially discriminatory treatment of first and second generation Japanese Americans residing on its mainland" and that "historians have cast doubt on the military necessity of using the atomic bombs."

"By renaming the day, Rhode Island can affirm a commitment to the desirability of peace and the continued need to work for it and remember that in every military conflict in which peace is not achieved, civilian populations continue to suffer and die," Stewart's bill reads.

Stewart, who teaches history and political science at a Providence prep school, said the current name of the holiday "belies the harsh truth that military victories are often built on civilian injury and death."

Rhode Island is the only state still observing Victory Day — known to many as "Victory over Japan Day — as an official holiday. The holiday, which falls on the second Monday in August, is meant to commemorate Aug. 14 — when Japan’s surrender was announced, days after the atomic bombings of Nagasaki and Hiroshima.

But the perennial move to change the name is facing blowback from Republicans and others who say changing the holiday's name would no longer recognize the sacrifice of the state’s World War II veterans.

“I think this is an atrocity that you’re taking away the honor and bravery that those men and women deserve,” state Rep. Patricia Morgan, a West Warwick Republican, said during a hearing on the bill. “What they did was honorable and not something that should be criticized.”

In a letter to the House Committee on Special Legislation, which is considering the bill, John Gallo Sr. of the United Veterans Council of Rhode Island called the proposal an "insult" to WWII veterans "and to the history of World War II."

"While we should forgive the Japanese Armed Force for the atrocities they committed during WWII and we should never forget the bravery of our armed forces and allied forces and honor the service of those that fought to victory in WWII,” he wrote.