Eighty miles west of Austin, Texas begins. Twisting country roads lined with exploding colors of bluebonnets and Indian paintbrush wildflowers, and passing by pastures filled with content longhorns lazily grazing, wind up and out of the bustling capital city. It’s another world. It’s the Texas of Hollywood directors’ and foreigners’ dreams. It’s harsh and bucolic and the last place one would expect to find a thoroughly modern American naval museum dedicated to the remembrance of the Pacific theater of World War II, yet that’s where it can be found.
Fredericksburg, Texas, walks a narrow line between kitsch and authenticity. In hills surrounding the small country town, 732 wineries compete for the affection of suburban middle-aged couples and girl groups looking to find some safe excitement. These folks stay in the glut of Airbnbs remade from early German settler homes. I recently stayed in one such cabin that had been “glamified” with gaudy chandeliers and stuffed animal heads mounted on the log walls. It was neighbors with a mishmash of limestone-clad homes, postwar bungalows, and midcentury modern originals. All these butt up against farmhouses backing to pastureland that is sure to be chewed up by further development. One senses that the place is overbuilt and overpriced, but with the influx of Californians seeking authentic Texas, maybe not.
The main drag of the town features crystal shops and places where folks can buy antiques or cowboy hats. German eateries abound. In Fredericksburg, one will find the best massive, overpriced soft pretzels with a generous side of homemade mustard outside of Bavaria. At Altdorf Biergarten, order the apple streusel with Mexican cinnamon ice cream. Surely, this was fed to Odin in Valhalla.
Down the street, there’s St. Mary’s Catholic Church. It is a must-see. The artwork and architecture are simply stunning. There are also multiple old Lutheran churches. The beginnings of a Texas Ranger museum are being built outside the town. Next to it, the first military outpost in the area has preserved quarters for troops.
The star of Fredericksburg, though, might be missed if not for the 10-foot-tall bronze statue of Adm. Chester Nimitz, commander-in-chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet during World War II. He stands proudly looking over the town of his birth. Behind him, a peace garden is open to the public. Facing the street behind that, the National Museum of the Pacific War spans the block. The architects cleverly made the lawn roll like waves of the sea with ports and guns pushing through.
Once inside, the museum’s designers take the visitor from the shock and horror of Dec. 7, 1941, to the eventual Japanese defeat and surrender in August–September 1945.
The museum wends a winding road and around each corner a new misery awaits. One gets the impression that the historians struggled with adequately conveying the truth of the Pacific theater while making the information suitable for schoolchildren. It had to be a daunting task, for the Japanese were nothing short of psychopathic in their single-minded fixation on domination. In my extended family, I heard no racist talk except for of the Japanese. My uncles, who had served in the Pacific, hated the Japanese. A visit to the museum, even with the truth tip-toed through delicately, illustrates why. The unnecessary brutality the Japanese regularly employed makes one feel revulsion for war generally and for those who would prosecute it in this way specifically.
Whereas Hitler’s generals lied to him, the Japanese emperor’s generals lied to everyone, especially the Japanese public. The propaganda was so complete that the Japanese had formal greetings that made their devotion to their leader clear. When the Americans dropped leaflets over Nagasaki and then Hiroshima warning residents to evacuate to save their lives, dutiful Japanese minders scooped them up and burned them. Their lying was integral to their power over their own people, who felt invulnerable and were stunned when the Americans first sent bombers to strafe some Japanese cities.
Controlling the narrative, something American Democrats and leftists worldwide consider a top priority, is a sign of totalitarian weakness. Japan engaged in it. And now, the American government attempts the same thing here. It’s disturbing to see the language the wartime Japanese used and see the same language being used by the American government and the elites now.
A bulbous yellow replica of the bomb dropped over Hiroshima sits alone in a room. By the time the museum visitor gets to this place, the notion that the war could have ended any other way has been dispelled. The bug-infested, torturous environment and implacable, barbaric opponents made the Pacific fighting a misery that too few know about. It needed to end and it needed to end with the fewest lost lives possible. The Japanese very nearly didn’t give up as it was.
The last scene in the last room of the museum features the signing of the surrender documents and the celebrations in America that followed. It was tough to feel jubilant after witnessing so much sorrow. The world owes America a tremendous debt. Specifically, the world owes the young men who gave their lives for freedom throughout the world.
Next door, there’s a smaller museum dedicated to Nimitz. He’s a man of uncommon humility and grace. His unwillingness to trade on his heroism as well as his quiet service for his country seem quaint in our time of narcissistic ninnies flouncing around for clout on social media platforms. Nimitz obeyed his commander-in-chief and won the Pacific, and thus won World War II. He saved the Chinese. He saved the Japanese, though they didn’t know it. He saved the world. We enjoy the freedom this great man secured for us.
Modern Americans are tired of saving the world. They’re tired of the disrespect by the Europeans and Asians and the rest, who were liberated by American blood. Americans are tired of their own warmongering leadership who too carelessly trade the lives of the young. There’s a protectionist desire again. Americans distrust the world elites and they distrust their own elites. And let’s face it: modern America is self-indulgent and knows little of true trouble. Young Americans especially are so disconnected from hardship that they must create turmoil internally — thus the transgender craze and all the manufactured angst about oppression. These children don’t know oppression. One doubts this pampered generation could muster the fortitude to fight for freedom. Now, could they dedicate themselves to a Maoist revolution to convince their neighbors to comply to their cultural whims at the point of a bayonet? That seems like a real possibility.
For a moment of respite from the culture war, visit a real war museum deep in the heart of Texas. Bring your kids. Teach the next generation about German immigrants to America, true hardship, and finish your vacation with a trip to the National Museum of the Pacific War. It’s an unlikely place dedicated to uncommon men on a forgotten battlefield and well worth your time.
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