Saturday, June 20, 2009


(My folks never really stopped my from reading what I wanted. Even if they ended up scratching their heads over some of my choices. I read The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich and everything I could find on the war before I was even out of high school. Imagine my surprise when I realized that the war was about a third over before the United States was even in it.)

London, Coventry, Warsaw, Krakow, Rotterdam, Eindhoven, Caen, Cherborg, Carentan, Stalingrad, Leningrad, Kiev, countless villages in the Ukraine alone, Cologne, Berlin, Hamburg, Dresden, Bastogne, Nanking, Singapore, Manila, Tokyo, Hiroshima, Nagasaki: a partial list of European and Asian cities wholly or partially destroyed during World War II. Whole populations displaced or worse; caught between the hammer and the anvil when their villages were captured before they could escape. Except for the Japanese Americans forced into relocation camps for the duration of the war most Americans slept safely in their beds. No bombs, no artillery shells, no tanks, not even blackouts for most of this nation. Worry yes, for sons, brothers, husbands, fathers serving overseas but we were safe. Safely buffered by two great oceans.

We’ve been watching the seventies PBS series “The World at War” again. Over and over I’m reminded how lucky this country has been and that too many of us just don’t realize it. Perhaps too many of us have never realized it. The United States not only came out of the Second World War on the winning side; this country emerged virtually unscathed. Sorry, a few shells fired at Fort Stevens on the northern Oregon coast and a few balloon born incendiary bombs on the southern Oregon coast just don’t cut it. These were the only places in the continental United States to come under enemy fire during the war. Yes, freighters were sunk in sight of eastern coast communities just after Pearl Harbor. Some hadn’t realized that they needed to ditch the lights already. Other were back lit by the lights of coastal cities in a country that hadn’t caught up with a world that had been at war for over two years.

Yes, our industrial might helped win the war. And we shipped what we could to the Soviet Union. But, the convoy losses didn’t even out until the middle of ’43. By then the Russians had rebuilt and rearmed and were on not only on the offensive but driving the Germans back. And what the Germans hadn't destroyed as they advanced in '41 and '42 they destroyed as they retreated.

While Europe and the Soviet Union were faced with rebuilding their cities, burying their dead and cleaning up the wreckage of battle after battle our cities and industrial infrastructure were virtually untouched. The Europeans rebuilt cities and buried their dead. We bought new cars and refrigerators and as memories dimmed and those who fought aged and died we somehow convinced ourselves that we were blessed by providence and deserved our good fortune. That we had some special immunity or grace simply because we were AMERICANS.

To hear our side tell it in the history classes America won the war single handed. I suspect the Russian history books have the same bias. They certainly deserve a little more credit than the Cold War granted them. They managed to survive Stalin and the Germans. No mean feat that. I suspect the British history books might be a little more balanced; after all the western allies turned the island into a floating supply depot and the biggest damned aircraft carrier the world is ever going to see.

Now we’re watching Big Pharma, Big Insurance, the lobbyists, the talking heads, a bunch of gray haired suits and our own fears feed the centrifugal forces that separate us from each other instead of bringing us together.

Goddess, pass the chocolate. Lots and lots of chocolate. Like Lisa, I swear I'm working on candy but this just wouldn't go away, in spite of liberal infusions of chocolate.


Cynthia said...

This comment may not make much sense to anyone but me, but here goes. Americans are truly spoiled when it comes to personal safety and avoiding the horrors of war. That is one thing I appreciate about living in the South. For many native southerners, the cultural sense of being the battleground of a war, a defeated nation and a country that had to physically, economically and emotionally rebuild itself is still there. Though it's fading because of time and because one of the central issues of the war put the south on not just the losing but the wrong side of the issue, it is still present. The people I know who are still seriously in remembering the Civil War and honoring its participants do it for those reasons than some faux romantic plantation fantasy or racially motivated hatred. I can still remember the impact of realizing that some of the monuments at Shiloh were there because they marked mass graves and just what that really meant. Though far from being the main reason, it can be argued that the effect of the Civil War is one of the causes for the South still being one of the poorest areas in the country, even after all this time. The impact of war is long lasting, and we want to forget that and gloss it over in the power and might of being America. our size and our location sharing really only two borders with other countries contribute to a sense of security, but the greatest physical devastation this country has ever known came from internal division. We can't forget that.

Kathy said...

There is no question mark in my mind following 'Special Grace'. America has been blessed many times over.

None of should forget that and all of us should pay close attention to those that suffer the horrors of war and unrest.

Truly, this is one very grateful American.