Wednesday, October 03, 2007

WWII and America's self-image

Publius speaks words of wisdom in discussing the new Ken Burns documentary on WWII:

WWII (as conceived today) tends to reinforce the image that America is an unambiguously good actor. One of the most dangerous tendencies in American thought is to treat foreign policy as a morality play in which we represent the Platonic ideal of good. To be sure, I love America. I love Big Macs and Elvis Presley. I believe in our underlying institutions, and I’m thankful that I was born here. I love my parents too -- but it doesn’t mean they’re perfect. You can criticize your parents even while you love them. The same is true for America.

No matter what you think of America, it’s done some terrible things in its history -- even in WWII. Putting aside the atomic bomb, there’s the fire-bombing of Tokyo. And Dresden. Beyond the war, there's the fact that we had state-sponsored apartheid for practically all of our history. That’s not to say America doesn’t have its good sides too. Of course it does. The freedom to write this blog is but one example.

The point though is that we need a measured, more realistic view of our selves and our own goodness. We need more humility. The lack of humility -- i.e., our excessive self-confidence in our goodness -- is one reason why Iraq was such an easy sell. For too many people, when our military does it, it can’t be wrong. (This view often stems from conflating emotional attachment to individual soldiers with support of the broader military policy itself. It's important to keep these distinct though).

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