Alexander Cockburn has called D-day a “sideshow,” explaining that W.W.II had already been won “by the Russians at Stalingrad and then, a year before D-day, at the Kursk Salient, where 100 German divisions were mangled. Compared with those epic struggles, D-day was a skirmish…Hitler’s generals knew the war was lost, and the task was to keep the meeting point between the invading Russians and Western armies as far east as possible.”
Of course, this doesn’t fit the “good war” myth (more than just a good war, NBC newsman Tom Brokaw has deemed W.W.II “the greatest war the world has seen”), so it’s down the memory hole.
To borrow from the World Bank protesters, I say 60 years is enough.
Faced with a perpetual war against evil and presidential election pitting one Yale war criminal against another, the time has never been better to challenge the “greatest generation” hype. The next time someone you know speaks of W.W.II in hallowed tones, remind them that:
•The U.S. fought that war against racism with a segregated army. It fought that war to end atrocities by participating in the shooting of surrendering soldiers, the starvation of POWs, the deliberate bombing of civilians, wiping out hospitals, strafing lifeboats, and in the Pacific boiling flesh off enemy skulls to make table ornaments for sweethearts.
•FDR, the leader of this anti-racist, anti-atrocity force, signed Executive Order 9066, interning over 100,000 Japanese-Americans without due process…thus, in the name of taking on the architects of German prison camps became the architect of American prison camps.
•Before, during, and after the Good War, the American business class traded with the enemy. Among the US corporations that invested in the Nazis were Ford, GE, Standard Oil, Texaco, ITT, IBM, and GM (top man William Knudsen called Nazi Germany “the miracle of the 20th century”).
•While the US regularly turned away Jewish refugees to face certain death in Europe, another group of refugees was welcomed with open arms after the war: fleeing Nazi war criminals who were used to help create the CIA and advance America’s nuclear program.
The enduring Good War fable goes well beyond Memorial Day barbecues and flickering black-and-white movies on late night TV. W.W.II is America’s most popular war. According to accepted history, it was an inevitable war forced upon a peaceful people thanks to a surprise attack by a sneaky enemy. This war, then and now, has been carefully and consciously sold to us as a life-and-death battle against pure evil. For most Americans, W.W.II was nothing less than good and bad going toe-to-toe in khaki fatigues.
But, Hollywood aside, John Wayne never set foot on Iwo Jima. Despite the former president’s dim recollections, Ronald Reagan did not liberate any concentration camps. And, contrary to popular belief, FDR never actually got around to sending our boys “over there” to take on Hitler’s Germany until after the Nazis had already declared war on the US first.
American lives weren’t sacrificed in a holy war to avenge Pearl Harbor nor to end the Nazi Holocaust. W.W.II was about territory, power, control, money, and imperialism. What we’re taught about the years leading up to the Good War involves the alleged appeasement of the Third Reich. If only the Allies were stronger in their resolve, the fascists could have been stopped. Having made that mistake once, the mantra goes, we can’t make it again.
Comparing modern-day tyrants like Saddam Hussein to Adolf Hitler and invoking the A Word (appeasement) activates the following historical façade: After whipping the original axis of evil in a noble and popular war, the US and its allies can now wave the banner of humanitarianism and intervene with impunity across the globe without their motivations being severely questioned…especially when every enemy is likened to Hitler.
But it wasn’t appeasement that took place prior to W.W.II. It was, at best, indifference; at worst it was collaboration…based on economic greed and more than a little shared ideology.
U.S. investment in Germany accelerated by more than 48% between 1929 and 1940, while declining sharply everywhere else in Europe. For many US companies, operations in Germany continued during the war (even if it meant the use of concentration-camp slave labor) with overt US government support. For example, American pilots were given instructions not to hit factories in Germany that were owned by US firms. As a result, German civilians began using the Ford plant in Cologne as an air raid shelter.
The pursuit of profit long ago transcended national borders and loyalty. Doing business with Hitler’s Germany or Mussolini’s Italy proved no more unsavory to the captains of industry than, say, selling military hardware to Indonesia does today. What’s a little repression when there’s money to be made?
This is where the most relevant similarities between Hussein and Hitler exist. Despite committing atrocities, both murderers received overt and covert support from the U.S…in the name of profit and capitalism. Make no mistake: The US, with its stockpile of lethal weapons and no shortage of bipartisan leaders dying to use them, has never been in the business of appeasement.
When President (sic) Bush says, “You are either with us or against us,” he’s merely selling old wine in a new bottle.
The first step toward smashing that bottle is to “just say no” to the myth. The 20th century has been called the century of genocide, but it was also a century of propaganda (partially to justify the genocide). Little has changed in the way foreign interventions are aggressively packaged and sold to a wary public…except the technology by which the lies are disseminated.
More than 100 years ago, anarchist Emma Goldman described the national mood at the beginning of the Spanish-American War: “America had declared war with Spain. The news was not unexpected. For several months preceding, press and pulpit were filled with the call to arms in defense of the victims of Spanish atrocities in Cuba. It did not require much political wisdom to see that America’s concern was a matter of sugar and had nothing to do with humanitarian feelings. Of course there were plenty of credulous people, not only in the country at large, but even in the liberal ranks, who believed in America’s claim.”
If the working class is kept unaware of what is being done in their name, rebellion is unlikely. If the average citizen in inundated with images designed to demonstrate that the US government has always acted in a benevolent manner, rebellion appears unnecessary. As a result, justification is crucial for those in power.
Films like Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan are popular attempts at such justification. Even if war is hell and the good guys sometimes lose their way, these vehicles teach us that there is still no reason to question either the morality of the mission or the stature of that particular generation.
Tom Brokaw’s best seller informs those who came of age during the era of Reagan and Rambo that those who came of age during the Depression and W.W.II were indeed “the greatest generation any society has ever produced.”
Thanks to the seductive power of myth, millionaire celebrities like Brokaw, Spielberg, Tom Hanks, and others gain further wealth and prestige by playing the role of corporate/military propagandist to an audience deceived and pacified by jingoistic hysteria and the solace it often provides.
Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels said, “It is not enough to reconcile people more or less to our regime, to move them towards a position of neutrality towards us, we want rather to work on people until they are addicted to us.”
Thus, it is our moral obligation to see through our own propaganda and kick the addictive habit of lazy thinking. We must address the many uncomfortable truths about W.W.II by recognizing on the public relations and media propaganda used by Western corporate states to transform a conflict between capitalist nations into a holy crusade.
In 1941, revolutionary pacifist A.J. Muste declared, “The problem after war is with the victor. He thinks he has just proved that war and violence pay.
Who will now teach him a lesson?” Precisely how and when such a lesson will be taught is not known, but it can be safely assumed that this lesson will never be learned from a standard college textbook, an insipid bestseller, or a manipulative box office smash. The past 60 years have also shown that without such a lesson, there will be many more wars and many more lies told to obscure the truth about them.
Ending this cycle begins with each of us deciding we will no longer buy what’s being sold. Debunk the “Good War” myth and the tenets behind the “War on Terror” will crumble. As Bob Marley sang, “Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery; none but ourselves can free our minds.