Friday, June 6, 2014

The Good War

The further a war drifts into the pages of history, the better it is remembered.  That is certainly the case with World War II, which has been called The Good War because the allied forces were able to defeat the axis of Fascism that threatened the make up of Europe.

D-Day is for Americans and Europeans what Victory Day is for Russians.  The successful invasion of Normandy eventually brought an end to the war, but the Germans were already back on their heels after the defeat they suffered at Stalingrad.  This was a German army clearly on its last legs, and while we finished them off, Soviet forces claimed much of Eastern Europe as their spoils.

The number of deaths as a result of this war was absolutely staggering.  An estimated 50 million people died.  60 per cent of the deaths were civilian, as city after city was laid to waste.  It was only after the defeat of Hitler that we were able to see the carnage.

But, D-Day is a day of remembering heroic moments and even re-experiencing them as Jim "Pee Wee" Martin did.  The spry nonagenarian relived his jump from 70 years earlier on "Utah Beach," recalling to a bevy of reporters what it had been like before.

Many persons believe this was the "Greastest Generation" for having lived through Depression and War.  It doesn't take much effort to read into the margins and discover that this generation wasn't much different than any other. The United States was a deeply divided country which deferred most of the difficult decisions to the next generation, i.e. Civil Rights.  But, the fact that this generation won the war made the men (and women) seem larger than life.

We are blessed with so many indelible images of this generation from the famous kiss at Times Square (which came after V-J Day) to Rosie the Riveter.  The Navy had John Ford make a documentary of the Battle of Midway.  Countless other documentaries filled the screens, making World War II the first war to be directly broadcast back in America, focusing on the more glorious aspects.  It wasn't until afterward that films like The Best Years of Our Lives appeared, showing the downside of coming home, but even this film is remembered in heroic terms.

It is not to diminish this defining moment in World War II, but if this day was "world changing" then why did it take so long to see something positive come out of the war?  No sooner did we celebrate V-E Day a year later than we saw the world plunged into a Cold War that would spawn proxy wars all around the globe, notably in Burma and Vietnam.   Dictatorships lingered on in Greece, Turkey, Spain and Portugal.  Africa began to burst at its colonial seams, giving rise to fratricidal conflicts throughout the continent.  The United Nations was formed to try to address these conflicts, but it was relatively powerless to do anything about them, since the Soviet Union was given a unilateral veto just like the United States.

It was only in the late 1980s that we began to emerge from all these post-WWII conflicts to have a brief moment of peace.  It seemed we could finally enjoy the post-war society the defeat of fascism had promised more than 40 years before.  Alas, no sooner had we embraced this moment than we found ourselves plunged into a new conflict in Iraq, with the United States equating Saddam Hussein's regional ambitions with that of Hitler, threatening the stability of the Middle East.  As Chris Hedges noted, war is a force that gives us meaning.  We don't seem to appreciate the benefits of peace.

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