In the midst of our current, perpetual war against evil, America is yet again reflecting upon the “good war.” If Clint Eastwood is allowed to recycle those images in “Flags of Our Fathers”, as the author of an alternative history of WWII, why shouldn’t I state my case yet again?
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 U.S. 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”).
And while the U.S. 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. WWII 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, WWII was nothing less than good and bad going toe-to-toe in khaki fatigues.
But, Hollywood aside, neither Ryan Phillippe nor John Wayne ever 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 U.S. first.
Films like “Flags of Our Fathers” and Steven Spielberg’s “Saving Private Ryan” teach us that even if war is hell and the good guys sometimes lose their way, there is still no reason to question either the morality of the mission or the stature of that particular generation.
Revolutionary pacifist A.J. Muste said in 1941, “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 six decades 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.
Mickey Z. can be found on the Web at http://www.mickeyz.net.