Home > Books, History > The Moral Ambiguity of War

The Moral Ambiguity of War

October 28, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

I read Anne Applebaum’s review in the current New York Review of Books earlier this evening of Timothy Snyder’s Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin. I started the article while watching game two of the World Series, but soon muted the TV in order to give her my full attention. There’s much of interest, but let me draw your attention to this passage just before the end:

Finally, the arguments of Bloodlands also complicate the modern notion of memory—memory, that is, as opposed to history. . . .

For different reasons, the American popular memory of World War II is also due for some revision. In the past, we have sometimes described this as the “good war,” at least when contrasted to the morally ambiguous wars that followed. At some level this is understandable: we did fight for human rights in Germany and Japan, we did leave democratic German and Japanese regimes in our wake, and we should be proud of having done so. But it is also true that while we were fighting for democracy and human rights in the lands of Western Europe, we ignored and then forgot what happened further east.

As a result, we liberated one half of Europe at the cost of enslaving the other half for fifty years. We really did win the war against one genocidal dictator with the help of another. There was a happy end for us, but not for everybody. This does not make us bad—there were limitations, reasons, legitimate explanations for what happened. But it does make us less exceptional. And it does make World War II less exceptional, more morally ambiguous, and thus more similar to the wars that followed.

If only there were room for moral ambiguity in contemporary political discourse.

Advertisements
Categories: Books, History
  1. No comments yet.
  1. No trackbacks yet.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: