We have talked before about how to present the history of WWII without falling into the trap of thinking it was all about liberating the Jews. Not that the Holocaust isn’t an important topic or that we should avoid teaching about it, but it wasn’t the primary reason for the war and presenting it as such seems a serious distortion.
Well, today I was reading the most recent Guardian Weekly and an editorial caught my attention. Peter Wilby argues precisely this point and goes on to show how presenting WWII as being motivated by humanitarian concerns has affected later foreign policy debates, or at least the public justification of foreign policy decisions. A few extracts to entice you to click the link:
… the war was not fought for humanitarian or democratic ends. Britain fought Germany for the same reason it had always fought wars in Europe: to maintain the balance of power and prevent a single state dominating the continent. America fought Japan to stop the growth of a powerful rival in the Pacific.
Romanticising the second world war has led us into foreign policy traps ever since. We look for new crusades against new Hitlers and new Mussolinis. We yearn to cheer our young men into “good wars”, to fight wars once more against the simple badness of fascism. Blair thought he could detect a national interest in fighting Saddam because he was so anxious to emulate Churchill and defeat “evil”. Hitler was monstrous: but we fought him, not for that reason, but because he was trying to make his country a rival, using force where necessary.
Exactly. Didn’t that guy Marx say something about those who don’t understand history…