On the Bright Side: The Good War

“Because we need stories to live by, because we want to honor our ancestors and our country instead of doubting them.” – Adam Kirsch, New York Times, 2011

 

The events that occurred during World War II do not provoke positive feelings and great memories. It is easy to see war as an all-around negative experience with no good coming of it. In truth, war is one of those enormous phenomena that bring people together, expose courage, and aid in the progression of technology.

In this segment of On the Bright Side, we look at why the Second World War is sometimes referred to as “The Good War” by Americans. This distinction needs repeating: it is in American History that WWII is referred to as “The Good War.” As we move farther away from that era, this nickname becomes scrutinized more severely. Time can also cause us to become detached from the events that occurred, making it easier to accept an optimistic view.

 

THE HYPOCRITICAL WAR

The nickname “The Good War” is generally defined by historians as the ultimate battle of good versus evil where good, the Allied powers, triumphed over evil, the Axis powers. Historically, this holds to be accurate; however, Tim Kelly, a columnist and policy adviser at The Future of Freedom Foundation, would argue that World War II was a hypocritical war. Kelly finds hypocrisy on the side of the Allies in entering the war, their view of the war, and the actions of the Allies during the war.[1]

1 September 1939 – A day that will live in infamy. Germany invades Poland and is forever assumed the instigator of one of the bloodiest wars in history. Kelly reminds us that it was Great Britain and France that declared war in Germany.[2] Although he reminds us that this is no excuse for the aggressive way in which Germany invaded a militarily weak country such as Poland, Kelly takes our attention to the fact that war is two-sided.[3]

To say that World War II was a war of Good versus Evil leaves much to be desired in detail. It is commonly believed World War II was a “conflict between free and democratic nations on the one hand and totalitarian dictatorships on the other.”[4] The US was allied with Great Britain and Russia, a far cry from the free and democratic ways of the United States; and Germany was allied with Finland, a very democratic society.

 

AFTERMATH

Once the war was over and the smoke cleared, Nazis stood on trial for the atrocities committed; yet no other country fell into the hands of justice. Kelly makes this point eloquently: “there was scarcely a crime that Nazi Germany or Japan had committed that had not also been committed by one or more of the Allied powers in the course of the war.”[5]

What’s more is the manipulation of history we see today. In 2011, Adam Kirsch wrote the Sunday Book Review fir the New York Times bringing awareness to the American public of the romanticism found in books today that feature the “democratic heroism of ordinary soldiers.”[6] Although we must be cautious of the perspective through which certain events have been filtered, looking at World War II as “The Good War” is not wrong as long as we recognize the hypocrisy and atrocities associated with it. To choose to look at history through this lens is glorious; and to look at it as a “morally clear-cut conflict between good and evil” is grand.[7]

 

Books mentioned in Adam Kirsch’s Sunday Book Review:

Laura Hillenbrand’s “Unbroken”; Stephen Ambrose’s “Band of Brothers”; Norman Davies’ “No Simple Victory: World War II in Europe, 1939-1945”; Timothy Snyder’s “Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin”; Norman Podhoretz’s “World War IV”; Paul Johnson’s “Churchill”; “Churchill’s Folly: How Winston Churchill Created Modern Iraq”; “Blood, Sweat and Arrogance: And the Myths of Churchill’s War”; “Human Smoke: The Beginnings of World War II, the End of Civilization” (2008); Pat Buchanan’s “Churchill, Hitler, and ‘The Unnecessary War’: How Britain Lost Its Empire and the West Lost the World”; “Churchill’s Empire”; Madhusree Mukerjee’s “Churchill’s Secret War: The British Empire and the Ravaging of India During World War II”; Kurt Vonnegut’s “Slaughterhouse-Five”; W. G. Sebald’s “Air War and Literature” (published in English in 2003 as a part of “On the Natural History of Destruction”); Jörg Friedrich’s “The Fire: The Bombing of Germany, 1940-1945”; A. C. Grayling’s “Among the Dead Cities: The History and Moral Legacy of the WWII Bombing of Civilians in Germany and Japan”; Michael Burleigh’s “Moral Combat: Good and Evil in World War II.”

 

Featured Image: Members of Easy Company, England, 5 June 1944, courtesy of Peter Vidani’s Tumblr Blog “Get Lost in Time.”

[1] Tim Kelly, “Was the ‘Good War’ Really Good? ” The Future of Freedom Foundation, FFF, 05 Dec. 2012, Web.

[2] Kelly.

[3] Kelly.

[4] Kelly.

[5] Kelly.

[6] Adam Kirsch, “Is World War II Still ‘the Good War’?” The New York Times, The New York Times, 28 May 2011, Web.

[7] Kelly.

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