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September 30, 2007

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The UK has exactly the same problem with World War II (which may explain some of the same tendencies both to glorify war and stress our moral superiority). It's now just about the only historical event that has major political/cultural resonance: everyone wants to be Churchill and fears being Chamberlain. (Though Blair ended up looking more like Anthony Eden).

I think part of the reason the effect is so pernicious is that it convinces 'us' that we would never be like 'them'. We would never commit atrocities, we would never colloborate with wrong-doers. (I'm also concerned that an emphasis on Holocaust education in the UK sometimes reinforces this view: we must stop the wicked Other from doing this, we're not the ones who might do this). It's particularly ludicrous in the UK to think this because we had our own fascists and our own (partial) collaborators (in the Channel Islands).

My father (a World War II veteran) was deeply uncomfortable with "Greatest Generation"-style glorification of the war. He liked having more oral histories and such, but not the propaganda spin put on it all. As nearly as I can tell, most of his fellows in the P-38 pilots' association felt and feel the same way, and the exceptions are pretty much all people active in movement conservative politics. Broadly speaking, it's people who didn't themselves fight the war praising it and commending it to others, so nearly as I can see.

Can we all just pause for a moment and remember just how gob-stockingly singular Hitler was?

Born in 1959, I was brought up on the mythology of WWII, and as a little kid Hitler fascinated with his pure evil.

Later I learned that our role was smaller than my teachers said (USSR responsible 87% of German casualities; Battle of the Bulge a sideshow compared to Kursk, etc). I know that both Stalin and Mao caused deaths in the tens of millions.

But the myth of Hitler's special evil holds up, and he was in charge of the world's best military.

Roosevelt, great leader that he was, both knew that the Americans would not support a war until attacked, and knew that once attacked we would over-react (nothing snide about Americans there, everyone over-reacts when attacked). So when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor he let that rather weak also-ran colonial wannabe be portrayed as a real enemy, and funneled our rage to the target that counted; Hitler. Far more US effort went to the European than the Asian Theater.

Hitler's singularity makes all comparisons to WWII rankle. Saddam was a bad guy, but a 30th rate bad guy. As Hitler was singular, so was Munich. Neo-con evocation of the '30's when pushing their newest hobby horse is sooo tiresome, stupid, self-aggrandizng. Pick your epithet.

Our enemies these days are so pathetic. Osama bin Laden got 3000 Americans in a brilliant attack that targeted a chink in our armor that was fixed by putting locks on pilot's doors. He's a one-trick pony.

And yet here we are, pouring hundreds of billions into a hellhole of no real interest to us, while health care and global warming go ignored. Constitution? Pshaw. Geneva Conventions? Quaint.

In short, I share Publius' frustration. Yes, WWII had to be fought. But even then we fought it so well only by dint of truly superior leadership.

If there is a God, he certainly doesn't meddle in human affairs. If he did he wouldn't have allowed the Republicans to steal the 2000 election. Hundreds of thousands have paid with their lives, and from all accounts the American public has learned almost nothing from the experience.

Can we all just pause for a moment and remember just how gob-stockingly singular Hitler was?

Born in 1959, I was brought up on the mythology of WWII, and as a little kid Hitler fascinated with his pure evil.

Later I learned that our role was smaller than my teachers said (USSR responsible 87% of German casualities; Battle of the Bulge a sideshow compared to Kursk, etc). I know that both Stalin and Mao caused deaths in the tens of millions.

But the myth of Hitler's special evil holds up, and he was in charge of the world's best military.

Roosevelt, great leader that he was, both knew that the Americans would not support a war until attacked, and knew that once attacked we would over-react (nothing snide about Americans there, everyone over-reacts when attacked). So when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor he let that rather weak also-ran colonial wannabe be portrayed as a real enemy, and funneled our rage to the target that counted; Hitler. Far more US effort went to the European than the Asian Theater.

Hitler's singularity makes all comparisons to WWII rankle. Saddam was a bad guy, but a 30th rate bad guy. As Hitler was singular, so was Munich. Neo-con evocation of the '30's when pushing their newest hobby horse is sooo tiresome, stupid, self-aggrandizng. Pick your epithet.

Our enemies these days are so pathetic. Osama bin Laden got 3000 Americans in a brilliant attack that targeted a chink in our armor that was fixed by putting locks on pilot's doors. He's a one-trick pony.

And yet here we are, pouring hundreds of billions into a hellhole of no real interest to us, while health care and global warming go ignored. Constitution? Pshaw. Geneva Conventions? Quaint.

In short, I share Publius' frustration. Yes, WWII had to be fought. But even then we fought it so well only by dint of truly superior leadership.

If there is a God, he certainly doesn't meddle in human affairs. If he did he wouldn't have allowed the Republicans to steal the 2000 election. Hundreds of thousands have paid with their lives, and from all accounts the American public has learned almost nothing from the experience.

What example did warmongers use before WWII?

They're messing with our ships at sea and enforcing claims on thrones of other countries seemed popular

Two things:

Burns' series is anything but a celebration, just like Saving Private Ryan was anything but a celebration.

Even Band of Brothers was not a celebration.

There may be a small portion of our population that celebrates war, but it remains very small.

Talking about the courage of the people who sacrificed (and in that war it was just about everybody) is not the same as celebrating the event itself.

I think you get confused at times. War in many ways is uniquely able to bring out both the best and worst in people. Those who do the best may deserve celebration, but not the war itself.

And despite Bush's attempts, there is no connection between WWII and Iraq in any way shape or form.

The military is not unambiguously good, nor is war, but I know of nobody (despite the moralizing of some) who think either or both are.

Antedote

I just want to say this about the "greatest generation": they're the ones that raised the baby boomers. And, they - _not_ the boomers - were running things in the '60's, when everything supposedly went to hell.

Correspondingly, the "greatest" were not in charge during WW2 - that would be their parents' generation.

I actually think the Burns' series is tne nutritional equivalent to Cheese Whiz.

Hasn't ANYONE seen the old UK's "The World at War?" which I still think is the BEST documentary on WWII, although it's state of the art TV from the 1970s....

To be fair, Burns claims his documentary shows these horrors. My critique, however, relates to the public conceptualization of WWII, not so much Burns’ documentary.

On the one hand there is the desire to learn from experience. On the other hand there is the lazy tendency to become attached to comforting, self-flattering stories. This is universal.

The closer we look at WWII the greater the awareness that war is a horror to be avoided unless absolutely necessary. So maybe Burns assists this process.

But the lazy tendency to live in the realm of comforting stories is a hazard for us all, even if it is raised to a high art by Bush and his fable-mongering constituency.

Alphie: Remember the Maine.

I have no problem with this series and I don't think it glorifies war.

Should anyone wish to compare the Adventures of Bush with WWII ask them gently if their ration cards are holding out, do they need extra sugar? Commiserate with them that they can't get a new car till the war is over and comfort them with the words "Who needs a new car, gas is rationed as well". Give them handy tips to get that Victory garden growing better. Compliment the ladies on that straight line they drew down the back of their legs to simulate the seam of a stocking.

Remind them that sacrifice involved the entire natiion down to the last man, woman and child.

Can we all just pause for a moment and remember just how gob-stockingly singular Hitler was?

Exactly, which is why I laugh, mockingly, when anyone tries to make Hussein or Ahmedinejad or anyone with a technologically deficient war machine and a small economy into a major threat, regardless of how big their egos are. At the start of WWII, Hitler was the leader of the baddest effing war machine on the planet, and had a powerful economy to drive it with. The US escaped with as little pain as we did because we were protected by oceans, not because we were ready for the threat at the time. And we didn't even get directly involved for the first couple of years.

We need to force some perspective on our fellow citizens at times, and we need to make sure that anyone who tries that "we should have stopped Hitler after Mein Kampf, so we should stop this little nobody now" argument is ridiculed into oblivion.

War is war and propaganda is propaganda. This is brought home easily by pointing at the inconvenient fact, that if you want to glorify the US role in WW2, you can hardly object to the glorification of Stalin's role and everything that went with it in WW2, since he was the major ally and without the Russians it would have been impossible to win it.

Like the great struggles of the 20th century, the war on terror demands every element of our national power. Yet this is a different kind of war. Our enemies are not organized into battalions, or commanded by governments. They hide in shadowy networks and retreat after they strike. After September the 11th, 2001, I made a pledge, America will not be -- will not wait to be attacked again. We will go on the offense and we will defend our freedom.

I agree. What is going on is kind of like the Cold War, but different still. The strategy involves advancing freedom in the Middle East, similar to what happened in Eastern Europe in the 80's and 90's. It's going to be a long twilight struggle, as they say, and may go on for generations.

DaveC, exactly how many troops did we have in Eastern Europe in the 80's and 90's.

Of course I disagree with thie line: "Like the great struggles of the 20th century, the war on terror demands every element of our national power."

Firstly because the threat wqe face today is minimal compared to then and Bush obviously also disagrees with the second part.

The strategy involves advancing freedom in the Middle East, similar to what happened in Eastern Europe in the 80's and 90's.

Right: I forgot how in 1989 the US invaded Poland, overthrew General Jaruzelski, imprisoned and tortured thousands of Poles, and called this "advancing freedom in Eastern Europe".

Hitler became the true danger somewhere between 1935 and 1938. Hitler was until then still willing to back down in case of resistance by the Western powers. Munich was the turning point in a way because after that the military shelved its plans for a coup (at least until 1944). Even in September 1939 an attack from the West would have ended the show within reasonable limits of expenditure. After that, no chance.
In other words, there was no need for haste but also no justification not to smell the trouble brewing.
Btw, Nazi Germany lacked the means for a true war of attrition and was only able to hold out so long because it acquired a few of them in the early stages of the war. The successes were only possible by mobilizing faster and permanently being one step ahead of the opposition (Norway would have been a disaster had the British shown up merely 12 hours earlier etc.)
Today even a Hitler at the height of his (military) might would be no true opponent to even the smallest nuclear power. Even if he acquired half a dozen nukes, that would not save him, should he try to take the world on. As long as no Hitler takes the reins in the USA, Russia or China all the terror possible will be localized (bad enough but no comparision to WW2).

The strategy involves advancing freedom in the Middle East, similar to what happened in Eastern Europe in the 80's and 90's. It's going to be a long twilight struggle, as they say, and may go on for generations.

For which you and your children will sacrifice exactly nothing, yet will demand that others sacrifice their very lives, you coward.

magistra,

Empires are built on genocide.

Roman, British, Spanish, United States, German/NAZI, Japanese, etc; these empires have embraced mass death with calculated eagerness, to benefit themselves.

We reminisce about WWII because there were ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys’ back then. The ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys’ put uniforms on men and competed to determine the outcome of the conflict and the face of civilization.

Our current opponent holds an ideology more oppressive than the Nazis. Because they are not particularly sharp as a group, it is easy to dismiss them. But the real threat isn’t to our physical security, it is to our freedoms and the rule of law.

They don’t use tanks and airplanes, they use the demographic weapon, the oil money weapon, and the threat of violence. Ask any of the non-Muslim members of the Lebanese parliament for color commentary.

5:33 "The only reward of those who make war upon Allah and His messenger and strive after corruption in the land will be that they will be killed or crucified, or have their hands and feet on alternate sides cut off, or will be expelled out of the land."

“Our enemies these days are so pathetic.” Dismissing the threat of Islam to the ideals of Western Pluralism is a mistake. A logical and ethical strategy is isolation and containment. The other historical options have been Ataturk, Tito, Milosevic, and Hussein. Maybe we could just roll over and adopt a system of government that executes gays, subjugates minorities, and beats women who are found outside without their husband.

8:66 "Now hath Allah lightened your burden, for He knoweth that there is weakness in you. So if there be of you a steadfast hundred they shall overcome two hundred, and if there be of you a thousand (steadfast) they shall overcome two thousand by permission of Allah. Allah is with the steadfast."

They are on a mission from God.

Isolation and containment, or we’ll be even more reminiscent.

We reminisce about WWII because there were ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys’ back then. The ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys’ put uniforms on men and competed to determine the outcome of the conflict and the face of civilization.

Were the Russians good guys back then?

Our current opponent holds an ideology more oppressive than the Nazis.

That's a tall order.

"Our current opponent holds an ideology more oppressive than the Nazis. Because they are not particularly sharp as a group, it is easy to dismiss them. But the real threat isn’t to our physical security, it is to our freedoms and the rule of law."

As a description of Bush and his followers, I think this is a little overwrought.


"hey don’t use tanks and airplanes, they use the demographic weapon, the oil money weapon, and the threat of violence. Ask any of the non-Muslim members of the Lebanese parliament for color commentary."

Hopefully those non-Muslim members will be honest enough to talk about the massacres in Lebanon committed by non-Muslims. Otherwise I might have to dismiss their comments as one-sided and dishonest.

And lawdy, how our enemies do breed.


"“Our enemies these days are so pathetic.” Dismissing the threat of Islam to the ideals of Western Pluralism is a mistake. A logical and ethical strategy is isolation and containment. The other historical options have been Ataturk, Tito, Milosevic, and Hussein. Maybe we could just roll over and adopt a system of government that executes gays, subjugates minorities, and beats women who are found outside without their husband."

How about the threat of Islamophobes to the ideals of Western Pluralism? What's the ethical strategy for dealing with them?

Were the Russians good guys back then?

Yes. There's a number of movies from early on in which the Russians are the heroes, helping take on the nasty Germans.

Of course not. We have always been at war with Eastasia.

“Islamophobe”

‘Islamosavant’ is a better word. Having spent time in Saudi Arabia, I have no fear of Islam whatsoever, especially no irrational fear. As a matter of fact, I’ve tried and failed to institute it in my own home.

The belief system wouldn’t be bad for me at all. I could take a few more wives. That would be bearable because I could order them to shut up and, if they didn’t, I could send them to their rooms and scourge them. If they still give me lip, just repeat “I divorce you.” three times and get a younger replacement. The ‘temporary wife’ and ‘sex with slaves’ provisions are also interesting.

Western pluralism is overrated. Just think about it. No more Ellen Degeneris, Oprah out the window. A Queer Eye for the Straight Guy reunion with cranes and ropes. No more Will and Grace.

Finally justice for Democrats Barbara Boxer, Diane Feinstein, Herb Kohl, Carl Levin, Russ Feingold, and Frank Lautenberg. We’d probably be able to watch a day-long ceremony. Heck, it might even be mandatory.

I could do without pork, music, and dancing. None of this wining and dining crap. Doing without beer might be tough, but I know how to make it at home and I’m really sneaky.

I’m a little worried for some of the commentators on this website though. Call it taking one for the team.

Funding for the war has been made possible by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and viewers like you.

The thing that always bothers me about the "Greatest Generation" stuff is that, individually, the WWII vets did nothing substantially different from what the US vets from Korea and Vietnam did. They fought and followed orders and did their best to survive with varying levels of success on all of these. I don't see why a 19 year old farmboy from Iowa shooting a Garand at a German or Japanese soldier who is shooting at them is inherently more noble than a 19 year old farmboy from Iowa shooting a Garand at a North Korean soldier (or a 16 at an NVA soldier) who is shooting at them.

Bill, you make it sound so appealing. Perhaps when bin Laden arrives on the Atlantic coast, flanked by 10 million elite Fremen jihadi warriors, we should all just go ahead and surrender.

You laugh, fangirl, but if the Sardaukar couldn't handle Fremen on sandworms I'm not sure our military could either. Nothing short of a tactical nuke would stop those monsters.

Well, groundwater would, come to think of it, not to mention the fact that there's an ocean between us. And they say we can't count on the Atlantic to protect us anymore.

I really think that a big part of our problems is there are a bunch of self important people in Washington (the bad one) who really want to re-live WWII.

But that time has been consigned to the past. The great conventional wars are over, not to return for some time.

Funding for the war has been made possible by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and viewers like you.

::chuckle:: I always smile when they say "corporate funding for 'The War' has been provided by . . . "

The strategy involves advancing freedom in the Middle East, similar to what happened in Eastern Europe in the 80's and 90's.

Yeah, Dave, but that ain't what's happening.

It ain't what's happening because freedom isn't "advanced" by blowing shit up and then inserting stuff you like better.

It ain't what's happening because, as it turns out, "advancing freedom" is only one of several objectives that are in play.

It's going to be a long twilight struggle, as they say, and may go on for generations.

To which I can only reply, horse apples. Just to keep it safe for work.

The only "twilight struggle" going on is Americans coming to grips with the fact that they can't tell everyone else in the world what to do.

The reality is, we never could. Get used to it.

Thanks -

And, for the record, every single person I know who participated in WWII, or even just lived through that time, is of the opinion that war is to be avoided if at all possible.

Every one. And over the years, I've known a lot of them.

Thanks -

capelza: Remind them that sacrifice involved the entire natiion down to the last man, woman and child.

An antidote to that particular romanticization, and many others about the era is Studs Terkel's The Good War.

Two quick points and a rumination:

If DaveC. is indeed a coward, I'm happy for that. Better joining the rest of us in shooting his mouth off than getting his butt shot off in Iraq, a pointless war, notwithstanding various measurements of worldwide terror, which is a problem, but in the eyes of the Republican elite, not nearly as much of a threat as universal health care.

I view this in the same light as long ago demands for Sebastian to sign up and fight in Iraq without telling and hoping no one's asking. I'm glad they ask and I hope he would tell, because the grief of losing Sebastian or DaveC. is more than I care to bear.

May my son be a coward or gay as long as this alien Republican Party and the callow hero George Bush have any say over anything any time.

After that, if my son chooses, or is genetically inclined to be a coward or gay or both, I'll join him in the first and figure in the second that there's little enough love in the world as it is, so who cares if there's a little extra love directed in ways that the President of Iran denies watching on his motel cable hookup.

Bill:

Your 4:07 pm comment is great in its expression and I hope you continue to express here, but I would answer you as Ringo Starr answered the poncy Brit stiff upper lip veteran of the Big One who protested a little light-hearted Beatle debauchery by gasping, "I fought in the War!", in a _A Hard Day's Night_: "I'll bet you're sorry you won!"

Because if I'm not mistaken, the Third Reich leadership was completely against the British Invasion, except for Freddie and the Dreamers.

Of course, there's always Belize, to where Bill Gates and Warren Buffet forgot to move, not to mention Wlady Plaszczynski, Emmet Tyrell the Eighth, and that Regnery piece of lard from the American Expectorator who figure staying in America and whining about taxes, deficits, and God knows what is more remunerative than lighting out for various tropical paradises where crime is a problem and low-wage sugar growing makes up 50% of the exports, and folks hit the streets to either protest tax hikes or support them, you know, just like here.

I am regretful that Tyrell and company have given up the monthly update about who is blowing whom in Arkansas, but I guess ignoring body counts in Iraq takes up column inches.

Yes, there is a rumination, but the "quick points" were a little wordy so we'll all have to do without.

John Thullen: I view this in the same light as long ago demands for Sebastian to sign up and fight in Iraq without telling and hoping no one's asking. I'm glad they ask and I hope he would tell, because the grief of losing Sebastian or DaveC. is more than I care to bear.

Exactly.

In one episode of The War, it was stated that US expenditures during WWII, adjusted for inflation, totaled 3 trillion dollars. This statistic was supposed to overwhelm us with how costly it was. What astonished me, though, is that it was just a little bit more than the Iraq war is projected to cost us.

they use the demographic weapon

They're having BABIES at us? Is there no end to their treachery?

Anything good on WW2 would have to be based on the well-known line from Nietzsche about what happens to those who fight monsters.

There are plenty of photographs of civilians incinerated by firebombings and A-bombs, but very, very few people in the U.S. have seen them.

Of course, one runs into the Moral! Equivalence!!! argument, "we weren't as bad as the Nazis," etc. Which fits into the kind of mind that opens a high-school history textbook, weighs one photo of stacked corpses at Dachau against one photo of seared corpses at Hiroshima, and concludes that "equivalence" is being alleged.

But the alternative would appear to be a collective forgetting of just what we did in the name of winning "The War."

Anderson: Never forget that, in WWII, we were the Unambiguously Good Guys.

Also, my experience (though far more limited) is the same as russell's. In fact, I'll go further: the people who won't shut up about WWII are invariably the people who weren't involved.

There's a terrific article on the way the 90's commemorations of WW2 helped lead to the war on terror by Chris Hayes here:
http://www.chrishayes.org/articles/the-good-war-on-terror/

Highly recommended.

But the alternative would appear to be a collective forgetting of just what we did in the name of winning "The War."

Anderson: Never forget that, in WWII, we were the Unambiguously Good Guys.

Our enemies in WWII were Germany, Japan, and Italy. All were fascist governments. Germany and Japan, in particular, had overrun and more or less enslaved much of Europe and the Pacific Rim, respectively. Both were astoundingly cruel, ruthless, merciless regimes. No joke.

It sounds kind of cartoonish to talk about them this way, until you think about what they were actually like. They believed they were superior to their neighbors, believed that it was therefore their right to make their neighbors their vassals, and believed that it was their destiny to take and own as much of the world as they could grab. They were systematically cruel SOBs.

So, you know, in context, we actually were the good guys. Not just us, but everyone who stood up to the fascists.

None of that obscures the things we did to win. WWII was total war. There was no courteous discussion of battlefield etiquette. If we lost, the world as we knew and valued it was, in fact, truly lost. So we did whatever we had to do. In general, that amounted to throwing thousands and tens of thousands of our loved ones into a meat grinder. It also amounted to killing our opponents, man, woman, and child, in their thousands and hundreds of thousands, without mercy.

There was nothing glorious about it. It was ugly, brutal, dehumanizing, horrific, and violent. Folks who were on the business end of it never, ever, ever, ever, ever got over it. I know guys who still have nightmares. There was, however, no choice.

Everyone involved hated every minute of it, and couldn't wait until it was finally, finally over. Everyone knew someone in uniform, and lived with the daily anxiety of waiting to hear if someone they loved was gone forever. Everyone lived with privation. Everyone put their life on hold for the duration.

It was not glorious. It was dreary, endless, anxious, frustrating, wrenching, niggling hell, and everyone was damned glad when it was over.

It sucked. At least, that's what the folks I know who lived through it all say.

Osama Bin Laden is not Hitler. Al Qaeda is not the Axis. The Muslim nations of the world, and the 1.5 billion Muslims who live in them, are not the fanatic followers of Hitler, Tojo, and Mussolini. By far, in their vast majority, they're folks living their lives, just like you and me.

We do not need a generation of total war, or even tepid war, or much of any war at all, to conquer Al Qaeda.

Bin Laden's in Pakistan. Send in whatever Marine Expeditionary Force is required and squash him like the bug he is. Invite Musharraf to participate, or invite him to stand aside, and then get the damned thing done. If we were actually serious about insuring the safety of the US, instead of "changing the face of the Middle East" or whatever the hell it is we're trying to accomplish in Iraq, that's what we would do. It's not too late.

The Middle East will change its own face. It doesn't need, or want, our help. At least not in the form we're providing it in Iraq.

Other than Al Qaeda, there is no organization with either the interest or capability to go toe to toe with us. Beyond OBL and Al Qaeda, it's 100% police work.

2007 is not 1937. If that takes all the air out of your balloon, you need to find another hobby, because war, real war, is no joke.

Sorry to go long, thanks for your patience.

Thanks -

So, you know, in context, we actually were the good guys. Not just us, but everyone who stood up to the fascists.

Yes, I know.

There was nothing glorious about it. It was ugly, brutal, dehumanizing, horrific, and violent. Folks who were on the business end of it never, ever, ever, ever, ever got over it. I know guys who still have nightmares. There was, however, no choice.

I know that too, hence my remark.

I know that too, hence my remark.

Anarch -

Thanks for your reply. No criticism intended on my part.

It's hard to read intent over a wire sometimes.

Thanks -

Also:

"A true war story is never moral. It does not instruct, nor encourage virtue, nor suggest models of proper human behavior, nor restrain men from doing the things men have always done. If a story seems moral, do not believe it. If at the end of a war story you feel uplifted, or if you feel that some small bit of rectitude has been salvaged from the larger waste, then you have been made the victim of a very old and terrible lie. There is no rectitude whatsoever. There is no virtue. As a first rule of thumb, therefore, you can tell a true war story by its absolute and uncompromising allegiance to obscenity and evil."

-- Tim O'Brien, "How to Tell a True War Story"

Fair enough, russell :)

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