World War Two, Will it Ever End?
I’ve made some allusions to this line of thought, but recently it has clarified further as my perspective has changed. I’ve really been trying to “pull back” so to speak and look at what is going on in the USA and the world from a more long term all encompassing view, instead of focusing on current events with little or no context as, alas, seems to be the norm. It’s been an interesting exercise, and I’m going to attempt to put into words my thoughts on this subject, feedback appreciated. I’ll start and the beginning and try and build on that.
OK, for starters, the USA experience in World War Two was extremely unusual in any sort of historical context. We had one of the world’s major powers fight long and hard in the greatest war in history, without suffering any of the worst consequences of war. Our homeland was never attacked, the fighting all took place far from our shores. And our armies never suffered any major calamities like those that befell most of the other participants in the war. I mean, yeah, Pearl Harbor was a huge shock to the nation, but fewer than 2500 died. The USA lost about the same number on D Day. Our worst loss was probably the Philippines campaign in 1941-42, and even there total US casualties (which includes wounded and captured) were only like 100 thousand or so. Or to put it in perspective, our war dead were about 400,000 with fewer than 2000 civilian dead. Germany lost nearly 10 million dead, Russia over 25 million, Japan nearly 3 million, and even the UK had nearly the same number of dead as the USA with a considerably smaller population. And that includes tens of thousand of dead British civilians in the Blitz.
In the USA though, the whole war was one giant patriotic party. Sure, there were hardships due to rationing, but nothing like the suffering elsewhere. The whole country was infected with patriotic fervour, it’s pretty safe to say the American population pulled together in a way unlike ever seen before or since. Only one congresswoman voted against the war, and not because she opposed the war, she just felt that there had to be some Americans who didn’t support the war, and thought that in a democracy they should have a voice. She was of course pilloried and lost her re-election bid. More importantly though, the war was fantastically profitable for American industry. It was also an amazing boon for the American military establishment, never before had the military grown to such an amazing size, both in actual scope and in the various segments of American society it penetrated. And politicians benefited enormously too, let’s not forget them.
My point here is that politically, militarily, economically, and culturally for the USA World War Two was unprecedented. Or almost unprecedented, a case can be made that the US Civil War was somewhat similar. In fact the US Civil War was in some senses the very first modern war, and laid the groundwork for much that followed. It was also the first war where technology got way ahead of application, but I digress. The big difference between the Civil War and World War Two though was the aftermath. After the Civil War, like in every other American war until World War Two, the troops went home and the Army was reduced to a skeleton force ready to be re-inflated if needed.
This didn’t happen after World War Two. Yes, a fair number of the troops did go home, but the enormous world wide USA military infrastructure remained intact, with American forces stationed in large numbers in Germany and Japan. This in fact was the first war where American forces occupied a major modern nation state, unlike previous wars where we were occupying countries the likes of Philippines and Cuba. The result was that the American military machine carried right on, and with Germany and Japan vanquished, they needed a new enemy. And as luck would have it, Stalin and Mao obliged, and the Cold War was on. Now I’m not going to go into whether or not the Cold War was justified or whether it was a cause or an effect of America’s failure to demilitarize after World War Two; irregardless, the American military and political elite embraced the Cold War with unbridled enthusiasm, and carried right on with a World War Two mentality. Hollywood carried right on too, there must have been a million World War Two movies made in the decades after the War, and the myth of the “Great War” was born. And continues to this day.
While there was brief talk of a “peace dividend” after the fall of the Soviet Union, the World War Two mind set continued unabated in the military and political sphere. And then along came 9/11, and what can I say, it was manna from heaven for those infected with the World War Two myth. They didn’t just unconsciously adopt the myth of World War Two, they consciously invoked the myth to launch the “War on Terror” that is the linchpin of American policy both domestic and foreign today.
So what’s wrong with that one might ask? During World War Two we defeated one of history’s greatest monsters and liberated millions of people from brutal occupation? Isn’t that something to be proud of? Well, yes and no. In any event the point of this post was to try and illustrate how on a certain level we have so internalized World War Two that we have made it a central point in our national identity. And I have some major issues with that, the biggest is that by so closely identifying with World War Two, we treat all problems the same way we dealt with with World War Two. In a very real sense America and its military are still fighting a war that ended 65 years ago! I posit that this is a very bad thing, may ultimately destroy our nation … and is the topic of my next post.
(The above image: “Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima” is a historic photograph taken on February 23, 1945, by Joe Rosenthal. I’m claiming it as Fair Use under US copyright law. It is beyond any doubt an historically important image, it is not being used for profit, and its use here in no way interferes with the copyright holder’s commercial use of the image. Credit and copyright: Joe Rosenthal / The Associated Press. The flag raising was not staged, that’s an ugly rumour that has persisted since the war because Mr Rosenthal misunderstood a single question someone asked him. What can I say, be careful when answering a reporter’s question, the results can haunt you the rest of your life.)