Letters to a Lost Soldier - Japanese creativity and destruction, 1945

 Dear Daddy,
(I originally wrote in July, 1945)
I visited the Chicago Art Institute with my friend, Roberta, to see the Masterpiece of the Month. It is a painting by Claude Monet from the Coburn Collection.
Monet painted “The Beach at Saint-Adresse” in France. I imagined the cool air and mist from the water. It refreshed me on a hot, muggy summer day in Chicago. I wondered how the artist created a lifelike scene on a piece of canvas. It looks three-dimensional. The painting is inviting. I wanted to step into it and sail away on one of the beached boats.
We also saw prints by Picasso and woodcuts by the Japanese artist Hokusai. He painted “The Great Wave off Kanagawa.” This is a woodblock print of a wave that I wouldn’t want to step into! I might drown. He also depicted “Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji,” which are more peaceful.
The Art Institute lecturer told us about the Japanese influence on the French Impressionist artists such as Monet, Manet and Degas and also Van Gogh, a Post-Impressionist. It’s shameful the Japanese concentrate on war and killing today instead of art and creating as they did before. Japanese art is different from French art, but all are beautiful. If the Japs showered us with cherry blossoms instead of bombs we would benefit from being bombarded by beauty. Now they are destroying our ships and servicemen and threatening Americans along the coast of California.
I’m glad we have paintings in our home and you studied art and learned about different artists when you were in college. You said the landscape picture in our living room was a replica of a Courbet. You also told me about the French painters who took their easels and brushes and painted outdoors. That would be fun to do when you finally finish your service with the Army and come back to Chicago. We could also go to the Art Institute, as I did with Roberta’s family.
I want to learn about different styles of art and how to use them or create something entirely new. Roberta’s father bought two sets of watercolor paints, brushes and 2 large pads of watercolor paper so we could paint at her house on their back porch. I want to take art lessons when the war is finally over. I would like to learn the best about the Japanese people instead of reading about the worst in the newspaper and seeing the bombing and explosions of our ships in the newsreels.
The docent said that Prime Minister Winston Churchill is a painter and that Hitler also painted pictures. But while Churchill’s paintings are praised, she said Hitler’s application for admittance to the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna was rejected. The Academy said Hitler was a bad painter. She wondered if Hitler’s anger about the Academy’s rejection prompted and fueled his brutality against people and art he didn’t like.
The Japs are brutally torturing POWs. They attacked and killed 2,500 of our sailors and destroyed 18 ships at Pearl Harbor and countless more since December 7, 1941. President Truman approved an order to invade Japan to end the killing and carnage. The nations involved in fighting Japan issued the Potsdam Proclamation demanding Japan surrender unconditionally or face total destruction. The Japanese government refused to surrender, claiming “One Hundred Million Will Die for the Emperor and the Nation.”
What led the Japanese people, who created beautiful art, to bomb Pearl Harbor and declare war against the United States of America? Now President Truman has to decide whether or not to drop the atomic bomb on Japan and end the war without an invasion on the ground. I don’t want to see many people die there. I also don’t want you to die in an invasion.
I pray for you and all the members of our armed forces to stay alive and be happy. I want you to come home to your family and enjoy life. Picnics and painting. Art on the walls. Music with violins instead of military brass bands. I’m praying for peace.