Prompted by my current reading — another novel about World War II — and the viewing of yet another film about Winston Churchill’s leadership during that war.
World War II was by no means a “feel good” war at the time it was fought. But it became one, eventually, as memories of a generation’s blood, toil, tears, and sweat faded away, to be replaced by the consoling fact of total victory. (That FDR set the stage for the USSR’s long dominance of Eastern Europe and status as a rival world power is usually overlooked.)
World War II is a “feel good” war in that it has been and continues to be depicted in countless novels, TV series, and movies as a valiant, sometimes romantic, and ultimately successful effort to defeat evil enemies: Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan. Most of the treatments, in fact, are about the war in Europe against Nazi Germany, because Hitler lingers in the general view as a personification of evil. Also, to the extent that the treatments are about stirring speeches, heroism, espionage, sabotage, and resistance, they are more readily depicted (and more commonly imagined) as the efforts of white Americans, Britons, and citizens of the various European nations that had been conquered by Nazi Germany.
World War II is also a “feel good” war — for millions of Americans, at least — because it is a reminder that the United States, once upon a time, united to fight and decisively won a great war against evil enemies. Remembering it in that way is a kind of antidote to the memories of later wars that left bitterness, divisiveness, and a sense of futility (if not failure) in their wake: from Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq.
That World War II was nothing like a “feel good” war while it was being fought should never be forgotten. Americans got off “lightly” by comparison with the citizens of enemy and Allied nations. But “lightly” means more than 400,000 combat deaths, almost 700,000 combat injuries (too many of them disabling and disfiguring), millions of lives disrupted, the reduction of Americans’ standard of living to near-Depression levels so that vast quantities of labor and materiel could be poured into the war effort, and — not the least of it — the dread that hung over Americans for several years before it became clear that the war would end in the defeat of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan.
The generations that fought and lived through World War II deserved to look back on it as a “feel good” war, if that was their wont. But my impression — as a grandson, son, and nephew of members of those generations — is that they looked back on it as a part of their lives that they wouldn’t want to relive. They never spoke of it in my presence, and I was “all ears”, as they say.
But there was no choice. World War II had to be fought, and it had to be won. I only hope that if such a war comes along someday Americans will support it and fight it as fiercely and tenaciously as did their ancestors in World War II. If Americans do fight it fiercely and tenaciously it will be won. But I am not confident. the character of Americans has changed a lot — mostly for the worst — in the nearly 75 years since the end of World War II.