Post by firstname.lastname@example.org
I volunteer at a museum in Washington DC (if anyone's travels take them
there, please drop me a email and I would love to meet up with you). As part
of that I frequently have two minutes or so of undivided attention from
someone aged 10-25 or so. Most of them don't really understand World War Two
(I have gotten questions like 'who were we fighting?', 'who won?', and
'why?' from visitors.) What should I be emphasizing to them? Right now I try
to focus on the scale of the war, as I think that that is hardest for people
today to understand, but what does the group feel?
One of my favorite ways to try and explain the scale of World War Two to
teenage/20's visitors goes like this: Between September 11th, the war in
Iraq, and the war in Afghanistan the US had a total of around 10,000 people
killed over the past twelve years. That was about the average MONTHLY losses
for the US over their FOUR YEARS in the war. And the US made out the best of
any major country in the war: the Soviet Union's average MONTHLY dead over
their four years in the war was greater than the US's TOTAL dead over the
war. The Soviets dead was something like if the entire current population of
Texas was killed in four years of war.
Many of our visitors now were born after the Cold War- I myself barely
remember it (I was 7 when the Berlin Wall came down)- for whom deaths on the
scale of World War Two are, fortunately for the world, simply
incomprehensible. Something that I thought would be interesting for the
group to discuss is how the popular understanding of WW2 is going to change
as a generation who knows WW2 mostly from terrible Hitler analogies on cable
news and Godwin's Law increasingly takes control. What needs to be
remembered about the war? What lessons should we all hold in our hearts?
What should people who do public history (like me) be emphasizing?
To such an audience you have to distill WW II to a few points. Points
they can understand, see in context and have a chance to benefit from.
The last is only the case if a point helps to understand the present
world. Usually that is done by the explanation of state borders, power
blocks and state people attitudes to others. Leave all this stuff to
history teachers. Better you go on a level not in most history books.
I think you should follow the way you already suggested.
Present a graph "Total Deaths" per state, in % of population and
in % Civilians
Put that in context with
US Civil War, WWI, Korea, Indochina, Kuwait, Iraq, Afghanistan
I expect you will see a rise in % civil deaths with WW II as main jump.
That is a main result and lesson of WW II. It was the first large war
were the killing of civilian population was an objective before and
during the war. The nazis planned to kill about 30 Millions in the
east and got close to that number.
They killed people who initially were friendly (Ukraine, White Russia)
or people who did not know why they were killed at all (Jews, Gypsies).
It was only possible because Germany was the most modern organized state
in the world then. Mass media, extensive security services, well trained
military, police, bureaucracy and industry made it possible. Today in
the west all this elements are even more effective than then.
In the west was no intention for mass killings of civilians. But beginning
with the nazi bombings of Warsaw and Rotterdam the air war brought a
continuous escalation on civilians deaths. At the end moral standards
shifted enough to see Hiroshima as an accepted way of war. Before WW II
it would be considered an unthinkable crime. After it and still today
it is felt a necessary application of military technology. And it is
not the only one that focuses on civilians. Thats a cultural heritage
of WW II too.
Another WW II heritage is a large military spending in peace time. It
may best be visible at the USA federal budget since 1800. It gave rise
to the "Military Industrial Complex" of what President Eisenhower warned
in his last speech. Born in WW II this complex shaped the culture of
the West afterwards and still today to keep itself alive. During the
Cold War it came close to wipe out most of mankind in a single day.
Post by email@example.com
From a point of economic development weapons are a zero value product.
They hamper the productivity of a state. Used in a war they even
destroy productivity of past generations. Nevertheless be assaulted by
a nazi like state weapons are the only chance to survive. To gave
mankind a chance out of that the US government under FDR created the UN.
Its a heritage of WW II and not much appreciated in the USA today.
The most unwanted truth about WW II was how easy it was to foresee it.
Hitler wrote a book on his intentions and was mostly quite open about
it. Around 1930 in Germany people had voting posters with the slogan
"Who votes for Hitler votes for the second world war!" That the West
allowed Nazi Germany the break the Versailles treaty and rearm was
the certain way to WW II. Unlike WW I, WW II can not be called an
accident. It was open malice. Some think the western public (incl.
Germany) then was more educated than today. Maybe. Let them imagine
what that could mean for this century.
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