World War II

World War II is widely known as the last “Good War” especially by United States of America. This statement gained more acceptances with the onset of wars like Vietnam and Korea which proved very unpopular to the American public. But was World War II truly a “Good War”? The second world war had always been considered to be a fight against Nazism and Fascism which represented the unimaginable evils. More than 70 million lives were lost fighting for the cause including the Hiroshima and Nagasaki nuclear bombing which resulted in the nuclear arms race. Though the evil forces of Nazism were defeated, a sobering account of atrocities caused by the allied forces and the unpleasant after-effects proves the opposite and renders the theory of “Good War” invalid.

World War II was the last major war that involved the most powerful nations of the world. These nations dominated and ruled the world and were also called “Great Powers”[1]. On one side, were the “good” forces called Allies, viz., United States of America, Great Britain and Soviet Union and on the other side were the enemy called “Axis”, Viz., Germany, Italy and Japan. The war estimated a death toll of 50 million to 70 million[2] making it the history’s deadliest war and far more casualties were reported in the Allies camp than the Axis powers. Though the Nazi and Fascist powers were defeated for good, did this war produce any other positive outcome? The answer is a sobering no.

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The first cries of “Good War” had emanated from the opponents of Vietnam war who justified their opposition to the unprovoked war on Asian internal affairs by comparing it with the “goodness” of purpose of world war II. World War II was a war that opposed the domination of fascism and Nazism that is best known for the concentration camps and genocide committed. However, the “good” war has the record of many not-so-good details which gave a very devastating aftermath.

Paul Fussel, in his book Wartime: Understanding and Behavior in the Second World War, in 1989, said even those who fought the war “knew that in its representation to the laity what was happening to them was systematically sanitized and Norman Rockwellized, not to mention Disneyfied…. America has not yet understood what the Second World War was like and has thus been unable to use such understanding to reinterpret and redefine the national reality and to arrive at something like public maturity.” The Second World War has been glamorized by movies like “Casablanca”, “Mrs. Miniver” and has displayed the atrocities performed by the enemy camp which were bravely fought by the allied forces but failed to highlight the equal amount of barbaric actions performed by the allied forces. For example, the World War II brought in the air attacks that killed people without discrimination and resulted in the murder of millions of innocents and rendered an equal number homeless. “Of the material costs [of the war], the largest by all odds came from that most appalling innovation in ruthless destruction, air bombardment — especially area raids which were indiscriminate in that no specific target was aimed at. The assault on dwellings ranks as one of the great horrors of the way…. Terror and obliteration air raids were considered successful almost in proportion to the number of people who lost their homes.” the historian C. Hartley Grattan had written in 1949.

In comparison to what the other allied forces suffered, our losses look minimal. Nations like Great Britain, France, and Soviet Union suffered casualties that left a mark for years to come. Estimates of over 20 million soldiers and 40 million[3] civilians across the world lost their lives. There were numerous incidents of war crimes committed by the Allied forces that were suppressed fearing civilian rebellion. Crimes like Canicatti Slaughter that were publicized[4] told stories of horrifying crime that shocked people worldwide. Innocent people died of reasons like explosion, starvation, suffocation. The aftermath had been so horrid that nations world-wide were no more enthusiastic of picking up arms in haste and have kept a low military profile since. For example, Japan, after six decades of strictly no military action is now rethinking on the military front.  It also took a great deal of effort on the part of United States in organizing NATO to combat the Soviet Union Communism aggression.

As millions of civilians were killed in Europe, Asia and Japan, it left an indelible mark on the economies as well. Britain’s economy was ruined to a great extent[5]. Great Britain ceased to be “Great” after the war. China was left bankrupt for years to come[6]. America itself saw huge expenditures to finance the war that resulted in high inflation and introduction of “mass taxes”. $ 4 trillion was spent as direct cost to the nation during the war with five million people added to the tax roll during that period[7]. The then Secretary of Army, Gordon Gray, said in 1950 that America spent four times the direct cost of the war! The fiscal deficits were also very high. According to Bureau of Labour statistics, the budget deficits were over 30% of the GDP at its peak[8]. According to the historian, Robert Higgs, “World War II witnessed the creation of an awesome garrison economy, The United States, at war against countries where statism had violently amok, had taken on much of the enemy’s coloration.”

More than the economic effects, it is the aftermath of the destruction of Axis forces that disputes the claim of “good” war. True, the war ended the cruel regimes of Hitler and his likes, Jews were finally safe and lot of colonized nations like China, India, Madgascar found freedom. But not without some disturbing stories. Most of the European withdrawals from the colonized countries were marred by religious conflicts seeded by the imperialist nation. A war that was jointly fought by United States and Soviet Union in the name of humanism and morality actually saw a desecrate relationship that led to “Cold war”[9] in the coming few decades till the disintegration of Soviet Union. The cold war led to the formation of “Spheres of Influence” and as mentioned above creation of NATO and Warsaw Pacts that only threatened the world peace. The “Cold War” between the two saw many wars spiraling in to major ones. The likes of Korean War where South Korea was backed by western forces and North Korea by Soviet Union and China ended in bloodshed and essentially stalemate for the country. China faced bloody civil war which ended with Communal forces in power.

More than anything else, it is the effect on average American that disputes the claim of World War II as the “Good” war. Times like war have always resulted in heartbreak and loss. In American context, it also resulted in curtailing personal liberty, and forced conscription in armed forces. Despite claims by Roosevelt that there would be no war in 1940, roughly ten million Americans were forced to join the battle.

As if this was not enough, America would forever be remembered for the ultimate inhuman act it committed in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The only time atomic bomb was used in the history, America by dropping the “little boy” on Hiroshima and “fat man” on Nagasaki, killed 1,40,000 and 80,000 respectively [10]. There were thousands of deaths even years after the bombing due to radiation effects. Thus ultimate scar on the face of humanism was unheard of and left indelible mark in the hearts of millions across the world. In the name of ending the war, President Truman used Atomic bomb which killed an overwhelmingly majority of civilians in the military base of Japan.  This shameful act  committed by United States of America started nuclear arms race in the world with Soviet Union competing to develop much larger and destructive nuclear bombs that can destroy the world hundreds times over. In the “Cold War” that started off after the world war, the whole world stood on the brink of another holocaust many times thanks to the immature arms race started by the super-powers.

Finally, how can war be called “good” if half the European continent was wiped off? How can a war be “good” if civilians irrespective of race, gender, nationality and reigion were targeted and killed? How can a war where Hitler’s Nazism was replaced by Stalin’s communism be still counted as “good”? Can a war be “good” if the after math meant three starkly divided world, one behind “Iron Curtain”, the second in the clutches of poverty and the third, enjoying the looted luxury? It is a resounding no. The Axis forces that World War II wiped off were certainly evil enough to fight, but the unfortunate events that succeeded the war makes this war what every war stands for – destruction. It just proves no war can be good.

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Bibliography

Hartmann, Frederick H. The relations of nations, pg. 312

Second Source List and Detailed Death Tolls for the Twentieth Century Hemoclysm [121]

George Duncan, Massacres and Atrocities of World War II in the Axis Countries

Dornbusch, Rudiger; Nölling, Wilhelm P.; Layard, Richard G. Postwar Economic Reconstruction and Lessons for the East Today, pg. 117

Harper, Damian. China, pg. 45

Richman, Sheldon, The Consequences of World War II, November 1991, http://www.fff.org/freedom/1191c.asp

Office of Management and Budget, Historical Tables; Bureau of Labor Statistics, Consumer

Price Index; Federal Reserve.

Leffler, Melvyn P.; Painter, David S. Origins of the Cold War: An International History, pg. 318

(1999) The Spirit of Hiroshima: An Introduction to the Atomic Bomb Tragedy. Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum

[1] Hartmann, Frederick H. The relations of nations, pg. 312
[2] Second Source List and Detailed Death Tolls for the Twentieth Century Hemoclysm [121]
[3] “World War II: Combatants and Casualties (1937 — 1945)
[4] George Duncan, Massacres and Atrocities of World War II in the Axis Countries
[5] ^ Dornbusch, Rudiger; Nölling, Wilhelm P.; Layard, Richard G. Postwar Economic Reconstruction and Lessons for the East Today, pg. 117
[6] Harper, Damian. China, pg. 45
[7] The Consequences of World War II by Sheldon Richman, November 1991
[8] Office of Management and Budget, Historical Tables; Bureau of Labor Statistics, Consumer

Price Index; Federal Reserve.
[9] Leffler, Melvyn P.; Painter, David S. Origins of the Cold War: An International History, pg. 318
[10] (1999) The Spirit of Hiroshima: An Introduction to the Atomic Bomb Tragedy. Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum

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