Our “greatest generation” was the generation that fought and won the wars of Europe and the Pacific…..the “Good War” (WW2)…..but hiw accurate is the title?
‘‘NO ENGLISH SOLDIER who rode with the tanks into liberated Belgium or saw the German murder camps at Dachau or Buchenwald could doubt that the war had been a noble crusade.’’ Forty years ago the historian A.J.P. Taylor eloquently expressed what has become a universal belief. Other wars are looked back on with horror for their futile slaughter, but the conflict that ended in Europe in May 1945 is today seen as what Studs Terkel called his famous oral history of it: ‘‘The Good War.’’
In one way it will always remain so. A revisionist case, that defeating Hitler was a mistake, would be not only perverse and offensive, but simply absurd. And yet we have all been sustained since V-E Day, 60 years ago today, by what Giovanni Giolitti, the Italian prime minister of a century ago, once called ‘‘beautiful national legends.’’ By ‘‘we’’ I mean the countries that ended the war on the winning side (the Germans and Japanese have some national legends of their own).
Some of these legends are more obvious than others. The French suffered a catastrophic defeat in 1940, and the compromises many Frenchmen made with their conquerors thereafter ranged from the pitiful to the wicked. More Frenchmen collaborated than resisted, and during the course of the war more Frenchmen bore arms on the Axis than on the Allied side. Against those grim truths, Charles de Gaulle consciously and brilliantly constructed a nourishing myth of Free France and Resistance that helped heal wounds and rebuild the country.
The Marshall Plan at the end of WW2 will be covered at a later date….a separate post is needed.