Thursday, June 11, 2009

D-Day and the "Last Great Good War myth"

Every year June 6th is celebrated in Europe and US as "D-Day" in memory of the day when Allied forces landed in the beaches of Normandy beginning the invasion of Europe. World War II is often referred as the "Last great good war" meaning that forces of good and evil, clearly demarcated, faced of against each other and in an idyllic manner good triumphed over evil. It is no doubt a triumph over murderous ideologies of Nazism and Fascism. However the conflict did not start as a righteous reaction to that, every nation state was drawn into the conflict for their own strategic reasons and the results of the war spawned its own horrors in the form of equally murderous Communism and Cold War conflict.

Churchill was the biggest hypocrite of all. The Bull Dog warrior growled incessantly about protecting liberty all the while philosophically convinced about the "right" to rule over India and other colonies. He famously thundered "I've not become his majesty's first minister to preside over the liquidation of the British Empire".

France's role in Algiers and Africa is more shameful and more repressive. Post-War French repression in Indochina sowed the seeds for Vietnam war. The word "Vietnam" only conjures up images of America's greatest military defeat but little is known widely of its origins in French tyranny. The same France which piously opposes American unilateralism today.

The worst duplicitous actor in war was Stalin. Seeing Chamberlain and the Western world capitulate to Hitler, Stalin and Molotov hurried to sign pacts of "non-aggression" with Germany. Having bought time Stalin consolidated his hold on many nation states around Russia. Then of course when Hitler's Operation Barbarossa hit home Stalin lost no time in defending "liberty". The height of his hypocrisy was when the Red Army sat across the Vistula while Nazi's slaughtered Poles in Warsaw. Stalin's logic was simple "why fight the Nazis today when they are killing people who we would have to kill anyway later".

FDR who understood the necessity of US joining the war was hamstrung by the Congress which wanted to keep US out of "the European conflict". Pearl Harbor changed it. Even then 2 congressmen voted against going to war. The least hypocritical of all nations was US. One could pick beef with US involvement in Philippines.

Much is made of US dropping atomic bombs wiping out hundreds of thousands. As a technology of warfare it was frightening. Mankind was at cross roads with the technology which had immense power to do good or evil depending on the mind which used it. Let me remind the peaceniks that dropping the bomb was a simple decision for Truman. The war in Europe had concluded, Hitler committed suicide, Mussolini was hung, yet Japan remained belligerent refusing to yield. The battle of Iwo Jima had proved that Japan would not hesitate to lose millions to continue fighting. The question before Truman was should he, as US president, prolong the war losing American lives or end it by demonstrating to Japan that he could kill thousands of theirs without losing much. As a good President he chose the latter course. It had the desired effect.

Two more points worth noting are what Japan did in China and the post-war reconstruction of Japan BY USA. Japanese forces unleashed unspeakable horrors in China wiping out entire villages, women were raped and killed by the tens of thousands. Iris Chang in her "Rape of Nanking" superbly documented it. Reading it haunted me for a week. US unlike how Europe treated Germany after World War I decided to rebuild Japan. That Japan became an economic powerhouse is a testimony to not just the Japanese people but also to American magnanimity.

Every nation, god bless the brave millions who died, got involved to defend their own strategic interests and bargained for their own interests post-war. Nothing wrong with that except that lets not pretend it was for some unselfish greater good. Like John Nash showed, we human beings, do what is in our own individual best interest AND the larger group.

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