When I read about the death of the last British World War I veteran, I wonder if in 20 or 30 years time World War II will similarly be reduced the level of historical curiosity, where the death of the last veteran is a mere human interest story. As it stands, World War II remains prominent in our consciousness, but in the process World War I has been forgotten.
World War II is the biggest war in human history and will, God willing, remain so. It also is tied up in a moral narrative that sustains liberalism. W e know more and more about one aspect of the war because the Holocaust is front and center as an indictment of the Western World; the various military and foreign policy lessons of the war are assuming less and less significance. The Pacific Theater is nearly forgotten, other than as proof of American “racism” in dropping the nuclear bomb on Japan. So long as the narrative of the evil Western World persists, the human rights violations of the Nazis will continue to be given top billing, while the gallantry of the Allies, the evils of the Soviets, and the human suffering from the war in general will be suppressed. It is unfortunate that our historical memory is so shallow that the most recent world war obliterates the memory and lessons of all of its predecessors, and even its own lessons are simplified and channelled into a single narrative designed to advance the cause of liberalism. We all are supposed to learn that appeasement and short-sighted and selfish nationalism led to Chamberlain’s capitulation and thus allowed the Holocaust, but we never learn the evils of hair-trigger alliances and transnational loyalties that set the powder keg off in the Great War, nor the similar mass murder committed by Communists during war and peace.
Our leaders and our educated classes have fewer and fewer reference points in making decisions about complex matters. Obama’s shallow understanding of history is the perfect complement to Bush’s “One Note Johnnie” fear of appeasement. I should hope that neither the Great War, nor World War II, both of which are great testaments to the capacity of man for evil and the costs of war, become so forgotten or misunderstood as simple lessons about “resisting aggression,” that anyone should be inclined to repeat them.