The "Good" War

"There are no, 'Good Wars,' with the following three exceptions: The American Revolution, World War II, and The Star Wars trilogy."
--Bart Simpson

We recently received an alarmed letter from Mr. Bob Feller explaining that we need to send him oodles of cash to "help defend the legacy of World War II from the left-wing revisionists who are trying to rewrite American history." He forgot to tell us just who these left-wing revisionist are, and where we could possibly find some of their heretical ravings. And we knew, of course, that this notion was utter crap. But, we didn't realize how utterly crappy, until we decided to do a little bit of quick research. Consider:

A search of the Seattle Times web archives (of articles since February 1st, 1996) turned up 864 articles mentioning World War II (compared with 434 for the Gulf War, 360 for the Vietnam War, and 171 for the Korean War). Of these, 17 contained views which might be considered critical of American actions during the war: 8 dealing with internment issues, 1 with owed veterans benefits, 1 stating that the British knew of the holocaust as early as 1941 (and may or may not have shared this information with the U.S.), 2 stating that life insurers may have profited from the Holocaust, 1 reporting that a U.S. bank knowingly got Nazi gold as collateral for a 1951 loan, and 2 dealing with Hiroshima. But one of the Hiroshima articles mentioned critiques of the bombing only to attack these critiques, ultimately concluding, "This unrelenting attitude of victimhood colors the Hiroshima Museum and ultimately, for me, drains it of much of its power. For in chronicling the decimation of Hiroshima, any culpability by Japan is glossed over." (10/19/97) In other words, none of the 864 articles could be called truly revisionist, if we take the word to mean critical or questioning of the basic assumptions upon which our participation in the war were based.

A quick scan of the History Channel's programming for the week of July 12, 1998, through July 18, 1998, reveals that at least 50 of its 168 hours of programming (30%) are devoted to World War II, and another 25 hours to war in general (for a total of 45% of its programming for the week [!]). Judging by the titles, none of this programming would be revisionist, although we didn't watch all of the programs, so can't say for sure.

A Metacrawler web search for "World War II" turns up 34 sites, while a search for "World War II Revisionism" turns up 16, and all of the ones in English deal with Holocaust revisionism. The truth, far from what Bob Feller would have you believe, is that, a half-century after the fact, we're still being assaulted with rah-rah World War II sounds, images, and words. It might be interesting to ask ourselves why this is so. One could conjecture that World War II is the last line of American triumphalism. Revisionism has (fortunately) seeped into the public consciousness on issues such as the genocide of Native Americans, slavery and civil rights, the CIA and drugs, post-World War II imperial adventures, the global economy/free trade, corporate welfare/military spending ... one could go on for quite a while, really. Which is not to say that it's at the level it ought to be, but at least it exists. Could it be that, if we stoop to question our motives in waging WWII -- that is to say, if we agree that nothing is sacred -- then we'll begin to question in earnest the most basic assumptions upon which our society itself is built? Well let's not ascribe motives that probably don't exist, but it's certainly something worth pondering. And at this point, if you're wondering why our dearly-held World War II perceptions might need revising, ask yourself why:

...We put fascist/monarchical/colonial regimes back in power in Germany, Italy, and Japan after the war.

...The State Department declared, as early as 1937, that war with Japan was "inevitable", and why a "sneak attack" on a naval base in a U.S. colony in the middle of the Pacific is considered a day which will live in infamy.

...The allies delayed opening up a second front, and why 80% of German casualties occurred on the Eastern front.

...We dropped the bomb on Nagasaki. (The dropping of the bomb on Hiroshima already has been widely debated. But can the second be considered anything other than pure sadism?)

...The allies supplied the oil necessary for the Japanese invasion of Manchuria, and the Italian invasion of Ethiopia. In fact, as late as February of 1941, we were selling more oil to Japan than to Britain.

...We withheld badly needed food supplies from our nominal allies until we could get them to commit to opening up their postwar economies. (In fact, one could make a very good argument that after 1941 -- that is, after the defeat of Germany had been assured -- the real war was amongst the "allies".)

...We sat back and watched as the German and Italian militaries propelled the fascist Franco to victory in the Spanish Civil War.

...General Motors successfully sued the U.S. government following the war for having bombed its munitions plants inside Germany (and why, indeed, there was generally an unwritten agreement between the "allies" and axis to not destroy each others' weapons-making capabilities).

...We were on such friendly terms with pre-war, fascist Italy.

Happily, there is some good revisionist literature well worth looking into. A few of the best sources:

In the meantime, don't let Bob Feller tell you that revisionism is overrunning the media, because it just ain't true. (By the way, we'll send a copy of this column along to Rapid Robert -- in the postage-paid envelope he provided, natch -- and let you know of any response we receive.)

Followup links to this article, from Eat The State!: