My thoughts: Chapter 16, "A People's War?," focuses on World War II. In this chapter Zinn addresses the notion that WWII was a people's war. Wars have been prominent in other chapters of this book, so it was interesting to explore if World War II was different. Were the people as united for the war privately as they were publicly?
I'm typically somewhat cynical, particularly when it comes to politics, and I initially thought some of Zinn's cynicism was oversimplification:
"Roosevelt was as much concerned to end the oppression of Jews as Lincoln was to end slavery during the Civil War; their priority in policy (whatever their personal compassion or victims of persecution) was not minority rights, but national power."While it is not disputed that the direct impetus to enter the war came from Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor, and likely that attack would have drawn the U.S. in at any point, the collective events and atrocities before the attack are still significant, and I wanted to think Zinn dismissed them too easily. By the end of the chapter, however, I was convinced. Ultimately, isn't war about not thinking of people equally? Is it possible to support a war and not have an emotional disconnect? Roosevelt knew millions of Jews were being killed, but they weren't significant enough to enter the war for.
As someone who leans toward pacifism and isolationism, I struggle with these issues. The United States has failed to intervene when we've known thousands of people are being killed. As an increasing isolationist, I think there are strong arguments for not intervening, and the overwhelming domestic problems and soaring deficit are particularly compelling ones. I can justify not fighting those wars, but I cannot justify the wars we have chosen to fight. While part of me thinks World War II was a war worth fighting, it's harder to believe that knowing the reasons I would have fought for weren't the ones compelling our leaders to enter.
I have long been fascinated by conscientious objectors, and I would likely be one if our country ever made an equal, non-sexist military draft. In World War II, there were three times the number of C.O.'s as in World War I. Most startling: "of every six men in federal prison, one was there as a C.O." Perhaps even though this was worth fighting in some ways, it was so close to World War I that there was an understanding of the realities and atrocities of war.
Other startling statistics that shouldn't be startling: "one nighttime fire-bombing of Tokyo took 80,000 lives. And then, on August 6, 1945, came the lone American plane in the sky over Hiroshima, dropping the first atomic bomb, leaving perhaps 100,000 Japanese dead, and tens of thousands more slowly dying from radiation poisoning." These attacks were devastating and unnecessary. As J. Muste said in 1941 "the problem after a war is with the victor. He thinks he has just proved that war and violence pay. Who will now teach him a lesson?"
Something in this chapter struck a deep, emotional chord with me, and I cried as I read much of this chapter. It's the kind of chapter that takes my fascination with history and utterly depresses me because I lost more faith in humanity as I read it. The closer this book gets to the years of my life, the more sad it makes me at how far we haven't come. The chapter ended with the Cold War, which I studied extensively in school, and the Korean War. I think it's fitting I already planned to spend my day reading Toni Morrison's new novel, Home, about a black Korean War veteran and his difficult re-entry to racist society.
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