Friday, January 3, 2014

That Good War

We can’t get enough of World War II. Seventy years later, movies and books about it are still a growth industry. If you enjoyed hearing about the family squabble-turned crime against humanity called the Great War of 1914  then you’ll love reading about the Good War.

Not, of course, the horrific concentration camps or fire-bombings, the 26 million Russians dead or the Japanese internment or Anzio Beach or the Battle of the Bulge or even Hiroshima..

We return to those first five years of the 1940’s because we had the moral high ground, American soil was virtually unscathed and we emerged as the dominant world power. Arguably we were the undisputed good guys for the last time and we can’t let that righteousness go.    

Kids my age grew up thinking in absolutes. Teams win or they lose. Pass or fail. Movies were in black and white as if to mirror our minds. The American soldier was tough but humble, scared but brave as he took a bullet for his buddy dreaming of his girl back home or the candy store he would open when the war was over. Decent, ambitious, self-sacrificing……unlike those other guys.

Amazing how suddenly those bestial Nazis and Japs became our new best friends and our former Russian allies became our new enemies. Gee, maybe the world was more complex than our twelve year-old minds ever imagined.

My generation revives these glory years as if they have any relevance to our present foreign adventures. They do not. Since WW II we have engaged in undeclared wars called police action, skirmish, liberation, occupation or regime change. War without end seems to be an acceptable state. Call it anything or better yet, don’t call it anything at all. Forget about it. It’s remote and sanitized. There is no draft. No disruption. It’s business as usual and big business at that.

Undeclared wars are difficult to pin down as to starting date. Our Viet Nam folly can be traced back to the mid-fifties which makes it our longest war but combat troops didn't arrive until 1965. Their predecessors were merely advisers. Some would argue that Afghanistan is our longest war now in it's 14th year and being met with profound indifference by most Americans. 

In the aftermath of our favorite war Western Europe lost its grip on colonial empires. We obliged the French in Indo-China and replaced the Brits in the near-East. What the CIA could not covertly accomplish we now use drones in targeted assassinations. 

Still punch-drunk from that Good War we strut our stuff with muscle, privilege and rectitude. We are envied and resented at the same time. People still flock to our shores as a beacon of opportunity and freedom but I doubt if Americans are held in high esteem even among the Western block nations. We have much yet to learn from Old Europe.

The way of wars is always rationalized. They started it…didn’t they?  The dreaded Taliban suppress and degrade women… if our Saudi allies do not. We need to teach them a lesson in democracy even as our own democracy teeters in disrepair. The ways of peace are deliberation, forgiveness and tolerance. They take more courage.
A smattering of History can be a dangerous thing. Engagement and negotiation are not appeasement. Meeting with Iran is not Munich. Occupation is a violation of sovereignty. Those are not flowers being thrown at our troops as in Paris. This is not 1945. It's time for a different bedtime story.

No comments:

Post a Comment