A Few Thoughts on a ‘Good War’ in Honor of Memorial Day

If I read as many books as I do book reviews, I’d never get anything done. In honor of Memorial Day yesterday I read an essay in the NY Times book review of a selection of books about the Big One, WWII, by Adam Kirsch. He opens with the sad fact that we lose about 1000 WWII vets a day, of the 1.5 who are still among us. He contemplates the distance between those who lived that big war and the rest, and how in time our perceptions edge away from reality…and how it wasn’t always simply good versus evil, like in the movies.

“Operation Gomorrah” was carried out in 1943 by those same brave men we celebrate, and was a week-long raid on Hamburg Germany that killed 40,000 civilians and destroyed the entire city. It’s much easier to celebrate the great Louis Zamperini, who was shot out of a plane, spent weeks adrift in the Pacific, then went on to endure a long stint in a Japanese POW camp. The book about him is called “Unbroken” and has remained on the Times bestseller list for months.

Some writers are even saying that it wasn’t the US at all that won the war..gasp! In “No Simple Victory,” Norman Davis contrasts the war dead: 143,000 US soldiers in the war against Germany with the Soviet Union losing 11 million! Davis posits that it was more a war between these two former allies, who began the war by jointly invading Poland. Two years went by and then they turned against each other when Hitler invaded Russia in 1941. He writes:

“If one finds two gangsters fighting each other, it is no valid approach at all to round on one and to lay off the other. The only valid test is whether or not they deserve the label of gangsters.”