This article has me really annoyed. It’s not the subject of the article, another documentary on World War 2, one that is somewhat revisionist, looking at the war in the greater context of the 20th Century.
It’s the comment at the bottom of the article:
“And once again, it is demonstrated that nothing is sacred – not even World War II. “
This instance highlights the problems that I have with the popular aspects of military history, and probably to some extent, why the subject has a very difficult time in the broader academic field – big, blockbuster books, films and television projects go a very long way reinforcing the idea of the ‘Greatest Generation’ or the ‘Last Good War’, essentially sterilizing the image of the Second World War.
Ken Burns, in his recent documentary, The War, looked at the war not as the last great war, but as one of the most horrible conflicts that the world has seen to date. He looks at a number of aspects of the war, from the bombing of civilians, the atomic bombs, the concentration camps, everything. Even before this, its been largely my impression that War is bad. There are good outcomes to warfare, especially in the case of the Second World War, don’t get me wrong. The Allies were able to take out the military states, some of the worst that we’ve ever seen, and end their regimes. I highly doubt that this documentary says otherwise.
In the context of the 20th Century, we have been embroiled by conflict. The First World War leads directly to the Second, and I would suspect that given a hundred or two hundred year’s time, it will be viewed as one extended conflict. The Second World War led to the Cold War’s confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union throughout much of the century, as well as sparked major conflicts such as the Korean and Vietnam Wars. In that context, it’s hard to see an overall success of the second World War, other than the dispatching of Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany.
We did ally ourselves with Joseph Stalin, who is arguably worse than Hitler. When it comes to numbers, Stalin wiped out more people than Hitler ever did, and because of his help, we were able to in the Second World War. We couldn’t have done it without them – Stalin’s forces kept numerous German divisions tied up in a two front war that sapped manpower from places where it was needed. And Americans did their share, as hard as it is to admit for some. Bombing campaigns were directly targeted against civilians, ship yards, factories, all in the effort to end the war. Necessary? Yes. Horrible? Yes.
What really bothers me is that this reviewer, and likely, veterans and random viewers alike, don’t take this into consideration, and because of the labeling of the Second World War as the ‘Last Good War’, people are reluctant to see it as anything different.
In my studies in history, I’ve found that there is nothing sacred in history. Nothing. Everything can, and should be looked at, turned on its head, interrogated intensively and smacked around a little. There are so many reasons for the Second World War that it’s impossible to find any pure, clear end goal without a number of other smaller motives. Did Truman drop the bomb to end the war with Imperial Japan? Undoubtedly. Did he do the same to hit Russia on the nose and think about what was next? Most likely. Things of this magnitude have numerous facets, not an easy to digest reasoning that will explain itself within the span of a short American attention span.
This is why I don’t like popular history – it starts up way too many misconceptions and turning the public around to the actual story is like turning a huge ship around – it takes a lot of time and energy, with a lot of resistance. World War II shouldn’t be, can’t be and isn’t a sacred topic. Because when that happens, and history and the truth is covered up, it’s not history at all, it’s a story.