September 28, 2003

WHY WE FIGHT?:

Now Is the Time to Teach Democracy: How can we defend our democratic way of life if we don't even understand it? (Diane Ravitch, Winter 2002, Hoover Digest)

On the morning of September 11, 2001, I was sitting at my kitchen table, enjoying a second cup of coffee and reading the morning paper. A friend called to tell me that a plane had just crashed into the World Trade Center. I live about three blocks from the waterfront in Brooklyn, directly across the river from Lower Manhattan, so I ran to the harbor. Just as I arrived, the second plane crashed into the south tower of the World Trade Center. Along with about six others, I stood there wordless as we watched huge balls of flame and smoke erupting from the two buildings. On that bright blue, cloudless morning, the air in the harbor was filled as far as the eye could see with tiny bits of paper, like confetti in a ticker-tape parade, the paper blown off the
desks of people who worked in the upper floors of the burning buildings. All that day, ashes and soot rained down on my neighborhood. Cars were coated with the airborne ash, and a distinctive sickening smell, something akin to burning plastic, permeated the air. Thousands were killed in the conflagration. They were people of all races, religions, ethnicities, and social origins. Most were Americans, some were not. The hundreds of rescuers who died when the buildings collapsed were trying to save human lives, without distinction to anyone's color, beliefs, or national origin. By day's end, New Yorkers were lining up at emergency centers to give blood or to offer supplies or to volunteer in any way that seemed useful. The outpouring of volunteers was so large that many were turned away. So much for those who have decried the decline of civic participation in the United States. Since the mass murders, educators have been opining about how we must change what we teach our children. We must teach tolerance, they say, as if our children were somehow responsible for what happened because their teachers had failed to teach them tolerance. Of course, we must teach tolerance and we do teach tolerance, but we must not teach children to tolerate those who hijack commercial jetliners and kill innocent victims. We must not teach children to tolerate fanaticism, be it political or religious. Perhaps we could engage in civic dialogues with educators in the countries that the terrorists came from, to share what we know about teaching tolerance. Other educators have said that the events of September 11 demonstrate the necessity for a multicultural curriculum. Again, the implication is that this unprecedented atrocity was caused by a failure in the schools' curriculum, rather than by heartless, inhumane terrorists. [...]

I suggest that what our schools must do is to teach young people the virtues and blessings of our democratic system of government. Our ability to defend what we hold dear depends on our knowledge and understanding of it. If we value a free society, we must know about its
origins and its evolution. If we value our rights and freedoms, we must understand how we got them and what it would mean to live in a society that did not have them. To be sure, our democratic practices are not universal, even though almost all of them were clearly articulated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was endorsed by the United Nations in 1948. It is true that there are many societies that treat women as beasts of burden, many societies that do not choose their leaders, and many societies where the government and religious authorities decide who is allowed to speak and write. There are societies where free public education does not exist, where homosexuals are rounded up and imprisoned, and where our Western legal concepts of due process are unknown.

Some of these societies hate us because they hate our way of life. They think it is decadent. They think we are decadent because we protect freedom of speech, allowing people to read, say, and write whatever they want; because we protect freedom of religion, allowing "truth" and
"untruth" to be taught without any regulation; because we grant equal rights to men and women, allowing women to be educated to the same extent as men and to advance in the same professions. Certainly other generations of Americans understood that these rights and freedoms were part of the American way of life. The members of the "greatest generation," which saved the world from fascism and Nazism, knew that they were defending these rights and freedoms. The Cold War generation that helped to bring down Soviet totalitarianism understood the importance of these rights and freedoms. We do not know what sacrifices will be required of us in the months and years ahead. What we should know is the importance of teaching our children about democracy, freedom, human rights, the principle that every person is equal before the law, and the value of the individual. These are ideas with a long history. Our children need to know them.


It's inherently important for citizens to comprehend the Founding and the ideas that undergird America, but it's also important not to turn history into fantasy. Americans generally had no idea why we were fighting the Germans in WWII and wanted no part of it. Killing the Japanese was popular at home, but really only for racial reasons. When Ike toured Buchenwald, the first concentration camp to be liberated, he snarled at a G.I.: "Still having trouble hating them?" Tolerance and freedom and the like are lovely ideals, but folks aren't big on going to war for them.

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 28, 2003 12:19 PM
Comments

Why is it so important now? Wouldn't it always be important? Like right after the U.S. liberated Kuwait and helped create a thriving Democracy, where all are equal? Like the U.S. said it would? That seems like an obvious example.

Posted by: Jimmy at September 28, 2003 12:54 PM

Well, the Japanese did sort of attack us. I think that got folk's attention, and maybe mattered more than the race angle. Race alone wasn't enough to make people wild about Korea or Vietnam.

Posted by: Twn at September 28, 2003 12:56 PM

Jimmy:

I can honestly say that I never heard anyone say that's what we would do or did do in Kuwait.

Twn:

The Germans were sinking our ships too, but no one wanted to fight with them.

Posted by: oj at September 28, 2003 12:58 PM

Hmm. To create a thriving Democracy in Kuwait we would have had to force it on them -- there wouldn't have been any 'helping' them. Your interest in using force to establish democracy is duly noted.

Posted by: Twn at September 28, 2003 1:00 PM

Maybe to be just argumentive I will defend Jimmy to the extent that the implication of remarks (remarks by Bush administration spokesmen) leading up to the first gulf war would have led some people think that the Kuwaiti royal family was in some way an enlightened Monarchy, with the intention of proceeding to "liberalize" after the removal of Iraqi forces. I did not believe it at the time and yet I felt that Administration was always making unctuous statements to pretend for whatever reasons that deep down they were just like Democrats.

The present Bush administration does the same thing when they use the term "compassionate Conservatism". It also has the same result of alienating Republicans and Democrats at the same time.

Posted by: h-man at September 28, 2003 4:24 PM

OJ, I'm not sure I can agree with you that Americans didn't want to fight Germans. Anecdotally, my father was so pissed off at the Germans from his assiduous reading of the world news pre-war, that he lied to get into the Army and with the compliance of a slightly larcenous old Army doctor at Fort Ethan Allen, he got into the Big Red One before Pearl Harbor. He knew that the coming conflict would have to involve the obvious parties and would be world shattering. He had to be a part of it. He summarized his feelings at the time to me in the fifties. He said: "You just can't stand by and watch a bully while he beats up a little guy." How quintessentially American. A simple sentiment, perhaps, but I doubt atypical.
I also agree that Bush I never said we would create democracy in Kuwait, only liberate the country from Sadaam.

Posted by: jerry dodge at September 28, 2003 6:00 PM

h-man:

Find a quote from a Bush official in 1991 where it was proposed that post-war Kuwait would be a democracy.

Posted by: oj at September 28, 2003 6:33 PM

Mr. dodge:

However noble your father's sentiments they were quite rare at the time. FDR and the Democrats got annihilated in the 1942 mid-term election by portraying the GOP as isolationists who didn't want to fight. Opinion polling throughout the war showed majorities against fighting Germany at all.

Posted by: oj at September 28, 2003 6:37 PM

Jerry:

I am sorry I never met your father.

Posted by: Peter B at September 28, 2003 7:28 PM

Orrin: That being so, why didn't Congress force FDR to, at the least, fight a strictly defensive operation against Hitler's U-boats, if not outright withdraw from the European theatre and focus all our efforts on the Pacific?

Posted by: Joe at September 28, 2003 7:48 PM

Actually, I think I could answer my own above question in part; because Hitler removed the option of staying out entirely by declaring war on us right after Pearl Harbor. As a lot of WWII historians have said, that was the worst mistake he ever made.

Posted by: Joe at September 28, 2003 7:51 PM

Well, Hitler & the Nazis were convinced the U.S. was a decadent mongrelized culture, weak-willed and tremulous. Too addicted to our comforts to fight over anything. Kind of like some other clowns we've heard from recently.

Posted by: Twn at September 28, 2003 8:54 PM

Joe:

Of course, FDR had already declared war on Germany in all but name on 12/09/1941. Hitler reacted, rather than lashing out irrationally as is usually portrayed:

http://www.seattleu.edu/artsci/history/us1945/docs/chat19.htm

Posted by: oj at September 28, 2003 9:43 PM

I can't buy the notion that Americans were not behind war with Germany. My parents were of the greatest generation, and I have early, early memories of the extended family around the piano singing such oldies but goodies as "Over There," and "Columbia, the Gem of the Ocean," and seeing a lot of tears. The row of pictures on the piano was of men (and a couple of women) in uniform, including one a my uncle John, an American volunteer in the RAF as of 1939.
And they all fought Germans, not Japanese. Remember that Americans don't much like war, and consequently are very harsh with those who make war necessary, including bouncing the rubble of cities like Dresden after it was militarily significant to do so. Pray tell, where is the evidence of "anti-war" sentiment vis-a-vis Germany after December 8, 1941?

Posted by: Lou Gots at September 29, 2003 9:33 AM

My take,

Hatred of the Germans was like hatred for a
brother or cousin gone afoul. It can come
to blows the hatred could never be as deep as
it was for the Japanese who share no religious or racial kinship
with the Americans.

Orrin a more empirical test would be to interview
bombers who were responsible for incinerating
German cities as well as others who did the same
to Japan. Would you expect a slight degree more
sympathy for the innocents below in one country
vs. the other?

I think our war commanders always knew that
Germany would ultimately surrender (knowing
there would be mercy) and that Japan wouldn't
without a doomesday weapon.

Posted by: J.H. at September 29, 2003 10:43 AM

J.H.:

That's an excellent test and the military fought against the indiscriminate bombing of German cities by fist the Brits and then us, but no one batted an eyelash when LeMay incinerated Tokyo (on the other hand, even many military guys opposed the A bomb).

Posted by: oj at September 29, 2003 10:55 AM

J.H.:

The other problem was that FDR's demand of unconditional surrender had made it impossible for Germans to surrender. Even regular military men who opposed Hitler and the Nazis couldn't be sure they'd not be executed.

Posted by: oj at September 29, 2003 10:58 AM

It's kind of odd that people were, on the one hand, devotees of a religion of love and caring, and, on the other, absolutely opposed to actually doing anything about it.

The upper Midwest was reluctant to fight Germanic cousins, as were people like Mencken, who could not raise a fist against Germans as Germans, and Lippmann, who quailed at denouncing German culture.

The pro-Germanism of the American elites in the late 19th-early 20th century was extreme. Owen Wister was one who had the scales fall from his eyes. Read "The Pentecost of Calamity."

But most of them had a hard time getting over it and enjoyed feeling superior and smearing anyone who said anything bad about Germans as Germans as falling for "Vansittarism."

It was a complex situation. Most Americans were terrified of going to war with Germany, having been told by Lindbergh that we would be slaughtered in our beds.

People like my father became professional military men not because they wanted to but because they realized they had a job to do first.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at September 30, 2003 1:32 AM

Harry:

Right. American elites--unions, the professions, academia, Hollywood, Eastern liberals, etc. --were swept up by pro-German feeling. All those histories that show it was socialism and communism that was ascendant among them are just a clever cover. Too bad McCarthy missed his chance by not going after all those Vansittart cells in the State Department.

Funny how all those late 19th century Americans were screaming "Vansittart!" at dissenters when the man didn't make his appearance in history until the 1930's.

Posted by: Peter B at September 30, 2003 4:23 AM

And Vansitartism was a disaster. Setting aside whether it made sense in the long run to fight Germany at all, it blinded FDR to the reality that there plenty of Germans -- especially in the military -- ready to get rid of Hitler if we'd help. Instead, we insisted on unconditional surrender which forced them to keep fighting.

Posted by: oj at September 30, 2003 7:46 AM

C'mon - the German Army was not going to kill Hitler. What do you think the Gestapo and the SS and all that was there for? Why did Saddam have 3 or 4 layers of Republican Guards? Why did Stalin obliterate the Russian officer corps in the mid-30s? Get real, the only attempt to kill the corporal was 4 or 5 years too late. And in 1939 and 1940, most of the German general staff was probably as spellbound as the rest of the nation. Success does that, you know. Especially with generals who were just as political as staff weenies today. Guderian might have done it, but when they were winning the war, why bother? Remember, the black shirts did in the brown shirts back in 1934.

Posted by: jim hamlen at September 30, 2003 11:26 AM

I thought they were there to protect Hitler from Germans who wanted to get rid of him, isn't that the point?

Those enemies included his intelligence chief, Canaris, best general, Rommel, leading theologian, Bonhoeffer, etc. On July 20, 1944, Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg planted a bomb at the Wolf's Lair which killed several and seriously wounded Hitler. The Home Army rose up and went to arrest Goebbels, but it turned out Hitler had survived. General Stuelpnagel had already arrested the Nazis in Paris. But Rommel had been hurt in an air attack and his replacement in France, Field Marshall Kluge, would only go along if the Fuhrer was dead. When Stuelpnagel pled: "The fate of the nation is in your hands", Kluge responded: "It would be so if only that swine were dead."

The NY Herald Tribune, The Nation, and other Western journals celebrated the resulting reprisals, saying that Hitler was doing the Allies work for them. No propaganda use was made of the near coup except by Stalin.

Posted by: oj at September 30, 2003 11:52 AM

Well, why didn't one of those mighty generals skewer the swine earlier? If the Germans wanted respect after losing WWI (and collapsing competely in the post-war miasma), they could have secured it for quite a long time had Hitler been killed (along with the chicken farmer and the rest) around 1940, or even 1937. But I suspect the appetites of most every German at that time were just too strong. And that is partly what Eisenhower was talking about.

Posted by: jim hamlen at September 30, 2003 3:39 PM

jim:

Yes, they'd rather have won the war. But when it became obvious they wouldn't those conservative, often religious, military men wanted to save the country from the Soviets, so long as we'd let them surrender with honor. We refused to even consider it.

Posted by: oj at September 30, 2003 5:28 PM

Orrin:

What do you think "surrender with honour" would have meant? And doesn't the fact that the Allies had promised the Soviets a gazillion times they wouldn't do a spearate deal mean something, especially since those conservative, religious Germans were awfully slow in finding their moral anchors.

Posted by: Peter B at September 30, 2003 6:22 PM

Peter:

The Generals put a pill in the Fuhrer's head and turn over the country so long as they aren't prosecuted for war crimes themselves. Then they help us fight the Soviets.

Exactly what is it you think we owed Stalin, who'd slaughtered the entire Polish officer corps in the Katyn forest?

Posted by: oj at September 30, 2003 6:31 PM

I don't think we owed that scumbag a farthing. I am half-attracted to your thinking that the West missed a grand opportunity in the late forties. But the combination of our own ideals of democratic accountability and the fact that they were committed, if duplicitous, allies and the fact that we had told all our troops that Germany, not the USSR, was the enemy and asked them to die for us, and the fact that popular opinion was understandably sympathetic to unspeakable Russian suffering makes this a hoary issue. Medievel princes could change allies and enemies at the drop of a hat, but modern Western democracies?

Also, Katyn Forest was hardly well-known at the time of which we were speaking. Were we really supposed to take the Nazis' word for it?

Posted by: Peter B at September 30, 2003 7:08 PM

Peter hit the nail on the head.

Amateurs talk strategy. Profesionals talk logistics.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at September 30, 2003 10:00 PM

Peter:

It was very well known by the government, but they covered it up so that the American people wouldn't turn on the Soviets. You imagine us to be so noble yet we were complicitous in the Soviet takeover of Eastern Europe--how do you square the two?

Posted by: oj at September 30, 2003 10:37 PM

Square it! I can't square it. FDR's blindness about the Soviets is well-known and he had lots of company throughout the West. The thirties weren't called the "low, dishonest decade" for nothing. It is still with us, which is why the left still panders to leftist horrors and I assume why this site exists.

I just don't see your argument that, because we failed to comprehend the Soviet menace, the Nazis weren't a threat. In December 1941, it was by no means clear the Germans would lose to the Soviets. Even sixty years ago, the Western Hemisphere wasn't that isolated.

Posted by: Peter B at October 1, 2003 6:05 AM

Peter:

Boy, you are up early.

If we had followed OJ's recommendation, Nazi Germany would have lasted far longer than it did.

There are many long completely unpredictable long term effects of that unchosen path.

But one is very predictable. The Final Solution would have been well and truly Final.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at October 1, 2003 8:50 AM

Yes, but the Soviet Bloc would have lasted less long. Fair trade off.

Posted by: oj at October 1, 2003 8:57 AM

Peter:

If it's possible to maintain such a global empire in the modorn age, why don't we just take over the world and run it for people then?

Posted by: oj at October 1, 2003 9:13 AM

"The Pentecost of Calamity" was published din 1915. The University of Chicago was established explicitly to bring the German model of higher edcuation to America.

Pro-Germanism was the religion of American elites up to World War I, and of the rightwing until 1945.

The '30s were indeed a low decade, and nothing in them was lower than the pilgramages made by upper income Americans and Englishmen to Berlin and their squeals of terror and delight to be fussed over by Nazis.

You can say, correctly, that the Webbs and Shaw were self-deluded by evil masquerading as good. The Lindberghs and Mitford were more straightforward; they just worshippped evil.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at October 1, 2003 11:19 PM

Lindbergh fought the ideology that briefly fooled him. FDR put the one that he bought into in control of hundreds of millions of people. There's nothing wrong with making mistakes, but you are obligated to rectify them. The better man did his.

Posted by: oj at October 1, 2003 11:26 PM

Looking back upon the war with germany-I hear there were particularly lower amounts of concentration camps in germany than what we hear of today!!-and that the number of fatalities back then are rather low, when compared to the number which were piled up from wars- were we lost our men-americans..as in Vietnam-does media coverage expand and sometimes exaggerate upon the actual numbers-to make the war bigger or worse than what they are? and why is it that americans ARE such bullies?-we can't even win our own wars here in our own country??I would really appreciate a response-not only for my growth-intellectually-but spiritually also-

Posted by: Jenni at April 4, 2004 1:10 AM

jenni:

Well there were indeed camps in Poland rather than Germany, but it was still Germans killing Jews, gypsies, Christians, homosexuals, Communists, etc.. I don't think any serious scholar disputes that about 7 million were murdered.

In Vietnam we lost less than 50,000--about the size of two big Civil War battles. That's not to minimize our losses, but they were minimal.

Not sure which war you mean here in our country--we beat the British twice, the Mexicans, and the South. Who's left?

Posted by: oj at April 4, 2004 9:01 AM

I was merely making a referal to our overall very thriving and hungry appetite for self destructive wars-here in our country-yes..the drugs,starvation,Hell our own country is borderline communist,prostitution-of women and children,child molesters being set free after minimal time in prisons,while the individuals who really are in need of mental help and are asking for it-are locked away and hidden in a grotesque world we've created(prisons,rapes,deaths:further deterioration)-and for what-the mere power struggle,money over people,politics over morals-you know this country doesn't set well with me at times-you know the same actions,taking place in other countries-happens here as well-we have interrogators,torturing of people,politicians who have people killed -the difference is they don't get caught...Do they look better? Not to ME!!-I know better than to think.They cover up well-pinning the murders on innocents,ruining their lives to keep up their pearly white smiles.Same, as in all those third world countries, where our grand united states exploits their wrong,our wonderful leaders are playing the same game...their just a little more advanced and coy at playing chess than the others,and they have taken more pawn and sacrificed a man here and there.Did you know,or atleast,have you ever read about the main ruling families in the world-they control things-the most powerful families-I believe the last time I read anything about them,it was approximately 7 or 8 I believe-Ever read of the Bilderberg Meetings?-held every 6 months??-originally first begun in Holland-a very secretive time all the great and powerfuls meet for 3 days-enemies included...to discuss what??To play chess I say!I just believe there's much more going on than mere politics-atleast not the politics we all love to sit around and discuss.Do you think your vote really counts??I mean come on it is true-who wins the war writes the war!!Thankyou for your input Oj-I do not mean to offend anyone-this is an opinion and discussion-to learn and share-I would absolutely love to have some feedback on this....Thankyou

Posted by: at April 5, 2004 12:36 AM

Don't fall for that Bilderberg guff--they're just a front for the Illuminati.

Posted by: oj at April 5, 2004 1:01 AM

You know just one last little message to leave you with-In my posting my opinion-obviously I am not wanting only the chance to voice my opinions on certain things,but also to be enlightened and corrected on anything of which I am misinformed-I have done alot of reading...but of course just about any ol' crazy thing you can think up in your head-you probably have a good chance of finding umpteen books written on proclaiming it's true-and such-thankyou for the little feedback-I wouldn't consider it falling for a bit a guff-but more less listening and questioning something that very possibly could be real-hell,it does make sense!I'll never be so politically elated that I could say"I know.I've been there.It was nothing!"-You know?-Guess the same thing could be said for the lochness eh?Well-just trying to learn a little and have a little fun doing so-thanks OJ........jenni

Posted by: at April 5, 2004 2:28 AM

You know what you should do, if you're serious, go volunteer on a political campaign the Summer/Fall. Any thought that the whole thing is a brilliantly orchestrated plan will go right out the window.

Posted by: oj at April 5, 2004 2:36 AM
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