Often, as Americans we are told that World War II was “the good war.” But, is that really the case or is it just an example of the victors writing history to serve their needs?No one is disputing that Hitler and his Axis allies were the epitome of evil. The question is – when your country or fellow allies employ similar, albeit less evil tactics as a means of achieving victory, aren’t we committing ourselves to eternal damnation as well? There ain’t no such thing as a small sin, folks. There is no doubt that Hitler’s treatment of the Jews and other ethnic/religious groups was despicable. But, how different was our treatment of Japanese-Americans? Is completely destroying someone’s life any different ethically or morally than taking someone’s life? How about rounding up 12,000+ conscientious objectors in the United States and putting them in unpaid indentured servitude at often remote camp locations or asking them to volunteer as guinea pigs in medical experiments? How different is that from what our opponents did to refugees and residents of occupied countries?
What about the draft/military service opponents who were routinely tossed in prison multiple times solely because they refuse to kill…or be killed? Exactly, where is the moral high road in that action? Employing the atomic bomb, particularly on civilian targets, hardly qualifies as angelic either.All these questions (and many more) came to mind as I have been reading a number of compelling books that look at World War II from a non-traditional perspective – from that of Peace Advocates, Pacifists, and Conscientious Objectors. Frankly, after reading these thought-provoking books, particularly the landmark text on World War II civil disobedience by Lowell Naeve entitled, A Field of Broken Stones, I am convinced that many of our nation’s military actions for the past century are and have been terribly misguided at best and something much more evil at worst. Other books I have read recently regarding these issues include:
- A Different Kind of War Story: A Conscientious Objector in World War II by Edward Arnett
- Down in My Heart by Williams Stafford
- Refusing War, Affirming Peace: The History of Civilian Public Service Camp #21 at Cascade Locks by Jeffrey Kovac
The courage it took to stand up and say NO to war during this period in our history is hard to match or imagine. The level of criticism, anger, disdain, and outright hatred these brave folks endured was immeasurable for many thought and still believe if there ever was such a thing as a good war, World War II was it. As a peace advocate myself, I often wonder if my inner strength could withstand the pressures of such a time and place.
I challenge all Americans to read such books and conduct research into the contrarian viewpoints of those who oppose war versus gobbling up the militarist and patriotic rhetoric we are so often subjected to in the media. I think you will find yourself questioning a lot more of the babble we are fed on a daily basis and rethinking what it exactly means to be citizen of this nation and of this planet. I love my country, but I do not think that should mean closing my eyes to its sins of the past and of the present. Thankfully, there have been immensely brave citizens from the past who have blazed a trail for the rest of us to follow…should we only choose to open our eyes, hearts, and minds. Peace!