It’s More Convenient to Forget Than Remember

On June 6, 2018, the day unfolded like so many others; bright sunshine, scattered cloud, a light breeze. A perfect day to enjoy and to forget, as most people seemed to forget what happened on this same date 74 years earlier.

Back then, the weather was not quite as perfect. It was D-Day, June 6, 1944, the first – and longest – day, the start of a series of battles destined to end less than two years later with the collapse of Adolf Hitler’s Germany.

Before that day was over, 425 thousand young men would be dead – 209 thousand from Allied forces, 216 thousand German. Among the thousands were many U.S. soldiers, sailors and airmen fighting and dying in only the second major great war in which the U.S. fought on the winning side. The first was when they beat the British in the Revolutionary War.

There have been quite a few smaller, but still vicious, conflicts since D-Day began and V-E Day ended the re-conquest of Europe, and V-J Day celebrated the collapse of the final WW2 Axis power, Japan. The hangovers from WW2 victory celebrations had hardly faded when most of the nations “allied” against Hitler’s Germany/Italy/Japan axis joined forces again, this time under United Nations colours, to save South Korea from a North Korean communist invasion.

The Korean War has never officially ended. An agreement to cease fire still holds precariously but there has never been an armistice. The shooting stopped and the United States forces quietly faded south across the north-south border where the U.S. still maintains a strong military presence. North Korea has spent its time since agreeing to the cease-fire while developing nuclear intercontinental weaponry capable of carrying nuclear warheads to U.S. targets.

President Donald Trump – who has often stated it was time his country “started winning wars again” – is (at this writing) planning to meet with North Korea on June 12 to talk about that nation giving up its nuclear capabilities to make the world a safer place. President Trump, having never tested his own courage on a battlefield, has already warned North Korea that the U.S. collection of weaponry holds more nuclear power than NK can dream of and that “my button is bigger than yours.”

His bellicose threat would indicate that nuclear weapon reduction and/or control would not apply to the U.S. and, should war break out, North Korea could be easily obliterated from the face of the earth.

After Korea, the States took a brief breather from big wars, but only briefly. It was soon at it again in South Viet Nam, defending it against invasion from fellow Vietnamese living in North Viet Nam.

If WW2 was “the just war,” Viet Nam must go down as the most “unjust war” ever fought by the U.S. with only minor aid from other nations. It did awaken the nation’s conscience. It did, when anti-war protests reached rebellious heights on the streets of America’s great cities and on many university campuses, generate hope that maybe this once truly great nation was ready to flex its muscle for peace; that its governments would strive to eliminate military action as a problem solver in the future.

The anti-war cries didn’t last; terrorist action made sure of that when hi-jacked aircraft rammed New York’s twin towers killing thousands of civilians going about their daily business. Under attack, the U.S. was soon at war again in the deserts of the Middle East and the wild hills of Afghanistan searching for the organizer of the twin tower bombing and waging war against Isis or al-Qaeda or the Taliban.

As unnoticed as the passing of D-Day on June 6 was news that in Afghanistan, the commanding U.S. General John Nicholson will be replaced sometime this summer by Lieutenant General Austin “Scott” Miller. Miller will be the ninth officer to command the U.S. forces in Afghanistan in the 16 years America has been fighting there. That’s a new commanding officer every two years – with victory always “close” but never won – in the country that has fought Russian invaders to a standstill before sending them home defeated, and decades before that destroyed an entire British Army in the field. The only time in Britain’s vaunted history that it lost an entire army.

Writing recently for Tomgram, Andrew Bacevich posed this question – among many: So the relevant question for our present American moment is this: Once it becomes apparent that a war is a mistake, why would those in power insist on its perpetuation, regardless of costs and consequences? In short, when getting in turns out to have been a bad idea, why is getting out so difficult, even (or especially) for powerful nations that presumably should be capable of exercising choice on such matters?”

Let me confess that my Bacevich quote is just a fragment from his wide-ranging article on what we have learned or failed to learn from great wars and not so great wars; and how soon we forget if we ever did once learn. For full text check (http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/176433/tomgram%3A_andrew_bacevich)

He reminds us of another writer and lover of American history, Gore Vidal, who once wrote of The United States of Amnesia. Comments Bacevich to include us all: “We remember what we find it convenient to remember and forget everything else. That forgetfulness applies to the history of others. How could their past, way back when have any meaning for us today? Well, it just might.”

We all know those who forget or ignore the mistakes of the past are doomed to repeat them. Unfortunately, we seem to elect to high office many leaders unaware of the past or with limited memories. And, the U.S. appears to have elected a president more limited than most when it comes to history, precedent and power.

Maybe someone should whisper in his ear one of former UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s favourite proverbs first voiced by U.S. trade unionist Jesse Carr in 1976, appropriated and repeated by the Iron Lady: “Being powerful is like being a lady – if you have to tell people you are, you aren’t.”

 

3 comments

  1. My Birth Father was in the Royal Canadian Navy
    During WW2. Serving from 1939-1945
    He never spoke about his experiences as it was very traumatic for a 20 year old farm boy, my Uncle
    Was in the Army & another Uncle sold War Bonds
    Their Mother gave them a choice as it was told too me
    Her sons were told “ you have a choice, you can join the Army, The Navy or Air Force but you will serve your Country”
    Really enjoy your Columns, Jim!
    Paula Peterson
    Port Alberni

  2. I do not believe that the leaders we choose for high office are ignorant of the past or have short memories. Like any of us about to make a bad choice they are able to persuade themselves that the facts are a bit different.

    We might attribute this to the triumph of hope over experience.

  3. My husband was in the R.A.F. for 11 1/2 years ( starting as a Boy Entrant in 1938 ) . and after what he saw said he would never voluntary go to war again.. He always hoped that wiser heads would prevail

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