Blogs > Liberty and Power > The History Americans Don't Want to Know

Jun 5, 2004 1:49 am


The History Americans Don't Want to Know



I have written about this general subject a number of times before (in the second half of this post, and in more detail in this one, for example), and here is Anne Applebaum on part of the history of World War II that most Americans either don't know, or don't want to be reminded of

Of course, the Warsaw uprising isn't as little known as all that: Survivors in Poland have been telling their stories for quite some time. But it is true that the story is little known in this country, and there are reasons for that: It wasn't a story our political leaders wanted to dwell on at the time, and it hasn't been one anyone in this wanted to talk much about since. Among other things, if we really absorbed its lessons, it would be difficult for Americans to feel quite so sentimental about World War II, and quite so nostalgic about the unshakable moral purpose for which it was supposedly fought.

For the story of the Warsaw uprising really is the story of the destruction of Poland's"greatest generation." ..."We believed so much in the West," one of the survivors wistfully told CNN.

But their assumption was incorrect. ...

The Poles were left to fight alone. In the battle, which lasted 63 days, more than 200,000 people died, among them most of the country's intellectual and leadership. The scale of the catastrophe, the psychological, physical and economic damage, is almost unimaginable. ...

For those tempted by the post-Vietnam nostalgia for the"good war" -- a nostalgia which seems to increase as things go badly in Iraq -- it's an unsettling story. But there are many such stories. No less terrible are the tales of the Allied troops who forced White Russians and Cossacks into trucks and returned them to the Soviet Union -- at Stalin's request -- where most were killed. Or the accounts of the mass arrests that accompanied the Soviet"liberation" of Central Europe, while we in the West officially looked away. One of the reasons the survivors in CNN's film speak such beautiful English is that they were all exiles, forced to live abroad after the war.

In fact, for millions of people, World War II had no happy ending. It had no ending at all. The liberation of one half of the European continent coincided with a new occupation for the other half. The camps of Stalin, our ally, expanded just as the camps of Hitler, our enemy, were destroyed. Not that you would know it, listening to Americans reminisce about D-Day, or the children welcoming GIs in the streets, or the joyous return home. Perhaps there is no such thing as an entirely"good war" after all.

I doubt there is any"perhaps" about it. In our own history, probably only the American Revolution was an undeniably"good" and necessary war. But I don't think the same is true even of the Civil War; more on that some other time.

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