The Torch: A Symbol of Friendship?

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The New York World’s Fair of 1939- such a marvel stood as a symbol of friendship, peace, and unity across the globe. Despite being a period of war and unrest, the 1939 New York World’s Fair was able to bring people together with grand exhibits and expressions of friendship depicting a future filled with peace and harmony. One such expression of comradery came from something called the Torch of Friendship and the related Japanese pavilion.

Though the torch seems to represent peace at a glance, it does not appear to be as deep a symbol of peace as it may look. Initially, I thought it was a lovely exhibit. Reading at the surface level, I thought it was a grand and beautiful display of attempted friendship. Miss Japan (Akiko Tsukimoto) was there to escort and pass along the torch, and when she arrived fireworks lit up the sky. To conclude the event, more than 100 doves were released in what was said to be a grand display based on harmonious relations. Yet, reading further into it and knowing the events that would soon follow, the likely motives of this display and the torch itself are less obvious.

If you follow the links that I have provided above, one talks directly about the Torch of Friendship and the other talks about the Japanese pavilion and what ultimately happened to it. My focus here is on the one about the torch, as I think this is an important sign of the world at the time and what would come in the next few years. While I suspect that the writer is correct in stating that this was a propaganda campaign from Japan, especially given that he is a World’s Fair historian, I suspect that there was more to it. Such a grand display of peace may have also been a genuine attempt at maintaining harmonious relations with the United States, particularly given conflicts with China. Japan likely wanted to ensure that the United States would not become their enemy just yet.

Unfortunately, even if only one is correct, this means that the torch was not necessarily a symbol of peace; rather, it would be much more accurate to call it a symbol of war and strategy. Given that the world was in the midst of the second Sino-Japanese war and beginning World War II, I would say this is an accurate depiction of the real world at the time.

This actually leads to some broader ideas and questions about the 1939 World’s Fair’s purpose and related implications. Given the future-oriented theme that heavily focuses on world peace, as many others have likely said before me, harmony between the nations was likely one of the major goals. To many, I suspect the world felt like it was falling apart. The fair offered a spark of hope in an otherwise hopeless looking situation, and it served to inspire people to want that peace. While there were certainly other reasons such as the economy and perhaps even somewhat putting the United States on a pedestal, I think peace was the main focus given the war-stricken world of 1939.

I have also provided a link to a brief article about the Japanese pavilion, as it explains when and why the Japanese pavilion was taken down. Of course, after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the United States was quick in their attempts to remove the enemy from American soil (in more ways than one). Unfortunately, this explains why only a photo of the Japanese pavilion is provided in this blog post and not an image of the torch. Pictures of the Japanese pavilion are already difficult to find because of the razing of the Japanese pavilion, and despite my searching I have yet to find an image of the Torch of Friendship. Should anyone find a picture of it, I would love to see it for myself!

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