The Long Shadow: World War II’s Moral Legacy (4. What the War cost)

[I am posting rough drafts of the chapters from a book I am writing about World War II and its moral legacy. My hope in posting these chapters is that I might receive helpful counsel. So, please, read the chapters and let me know what you think. All comments, questions, and challenges are welcome and will be most useful as I revise the chapters this winter and spring.]

4. What the War cost

Ted Grimsrud —12/31/10

Death and destruction

In the popular story in the United States about World War II, we hear almost exclusively about the positive elements of the War—how we totally defeated the Nazi and Japanese threats, how the United States finally became a committed member of the international community, how the American economy kicked into full gear and lead the way to this decisive victory for democracy and the American way of life.

We may question this story on three levels. First, directly in relation to the popular story—did the War actually accomplish these positive things in such an unambiguous way? Simply to mention one issue—we tend not to realize just how small a role the United States and Britain actually played in defeating Nazi Germany. At least three-quarters of all German casualties came at the hands of the Soviet Union. The Nazi defeat was, if anything, a victory for totalitarian Communism not democracy.

On a different level, what about the aftermath of the War? Have the fruits of the American victory in World War II been as positive as the popular story would have us think? Part Two of this book will provide evidence for questioning just how unambiguously positive the longer-term outcome of the War has been for the United States. Our victory pushed us in the direction of embracing a role of the world’s greatest superpower. That embrace has pretty clearly contradicted the stated purposes of our involvement in World War II—self-determination and disarmament everywhere in the world.

We also would do well to consider a kind of cost/benefit analysis. Certainly, World War II accomplished many positive outcomes. It was beneficial—both in terms of the negative task of defeating these powerful aggressor states, Japan and Germany, and in terms of the positive task of expanding the role of the world’s pioneer democratic society, the United States. And, for Americans themselves, the War was mostly a fairly positive experience. Our economy expanded tremendously, decisively bringing the Great Depression to an end. Masses of people were put to work, many of whom were able to enhance their social and economic status immensely. The war effort fed directly into the tremendous expansion of higher education, of membership in labor unions, and of church membership. Continue reading “The Long Shadow: World War II’s Moral Legacy (4. What the War cost)”