With 60 years of perspective, there’s no doubt in any American’s mind that World War II was a just and necessary war. President Bush recently had the gall to suggest we are now engaged in the same sort of conflict, a comparison that sent more than one commentator spinning into fits of quivering indignation.
But anyone who has studied history, instead of merely imagining it, knows that the nation was as divided about entering World War II as it is today about the continuing conflict in Iraq. In 1941, more than two years after the globe erupted into flames, millions of Americans were convinced we should mind our own damned business.
“Why should we interfere in squabbles thousands of miles away?” people asked. “Let them sort out their own affairs.”
No less a hero than Charles Lindbergh deplored the thought of American servicemen dying in a war that he, and so many others, were convinced could not be won. The other side was too strong, Lindy assured his country. Why sacrifice good men in a lost cause?
More than half a century later, long after the death camps were liberated, tyranny crushed, and liberty re-established in Europe and Asia, Lindbergh and his isolationist allies finally come across as the short-sighted fools they were.
But not then, not then. Opponents of our entry into the war included a determined opposition party, which happened to be the Republicans at the time, along with scores of respected media pundits. They reflected the mood of a large part of the country.
In the end, even after Pearl Harbor, we would not declare war on Hitler until he was stupid enough to declare war on us first. Had he not, one wonders whether we would have ever mustered the will to do the job we look back upon with such pride today.
Has anything changed in 60 years? Not much. The President is entirely correct.
For World War II had little to do with defending America’s shores. A Japanese fleet that bombed and ran, and an Austrian megalomaniac without a naval fleet posed no actual threats to New York or San Francisco.
Yet they did manage to threaten America, because this country is more than a collection of cities and farms on an isolated continent. Hitler and Togo attacked mankind’s soul and that is what America is really about.
This nation is but a hollow shell if the ideals upon which our country was founded and for which generations have died are allowed to whither. America is much more than an isolated, self-serving nation. It’s a shining, glorious ideal.
Sixty years ago we battled states determined to destroy that vision, who considered democracy an abomination and who marshaled all of the resources of their nations to destroy liberty’s threats to their perverse goals.
Today we fight a different sort of enemy, one that doesn’t have a capital city, nor any factories in which to produce its own armaments.
Instead, this enemy scatters itself through civilization like so many cancer cells, recruiting every disillusioned, bitter, dark soul to accomplish the same sorts of purposes that the Nazis held so dear.
Though our brave troops struggle to return Iraq to the Iraqis–for the first time in over 30 years–and though the overwhelming majority of Iraqis support our efforts, the shadowy enemy gleefully kills the very people and destroys the very national treasures they claim to fight for.
Our forces stand tall, as they always have. Should you read what they have to say, you know that they’re touched by the people they are there to protect. That’s no surprise, for the soul of the everyday Iraqi is no different from the soul of the everyday American.
And our troops are distressed by the cynical, self-aggrandizing reports that seek to turn this into something other than another battle for liberty. They want nothing more than peace, and the chance to see their families–and the families of those they defend–thrive once more.
Does that sound like World War II? It should. This nation has, once again, reluctantly chosen to wield its bloody sword for liberty’s sake.
We should thank God–and those brave men and women–that it might still be so.
Rich Trzupek is a recepient of the 2004 Phillips Foundation Fellowship and is currently working on a project examining the effect of environmental regulations on small to mid-sized businesses.