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CONCLUSION q Q Americans who experienced World War II quarreled over its meaning while it was fought and for decades after it ended. Citizens from various backgrounds took justifiable pride in their victory over evil regimes and felt their achievement was worth all it had cost. Some readily embraced the idea that war bred character rather than tragedy and heroes rather than victims. They explained their own excursion into vicious actions as something that was thrust upon them against their will by wicked forces in the world. The traditionalists used this memory of the war to perform virtue and a;rm a righteous identity for all Americans. However , heroic memories were grounded not only in traditional interpretations of the war experience but in the power of a political ideal that helped to hold together the American national experiment itself—personal independence. The extensive celebration of individual Americans from the war generation served not only to ennoble their deeds but to restore faith in the central political dream of the nation itself, a vision that was damaged by the realities of the war. How could one invest faith in any human being if humans had within them the potential for cruelty? The experience of war ratified this dim view of the soul of mankind . The heroic American memory of World War II denied it.1 Millions of soldiers and common people throughout the nation did, in fact, question the heroic myth. In books, films, local memorials, and political movements , Americans unwilling to be assuaged by patriotic honors, reluctant to let go of internationalist dreams, angered by their treatment as second-class citizens , and haunted by the horrors of warfare challenged the self-satisfaction of the romantics. These loyal Americans demanded that their losses be acknowledged , their exploitation be compensated, and the democratic implications of the struggle be fulfilled. They also saw in the unprecedented brutality of World War 236 t h e “g o o d w a r” i n a m e r i c a n m e m o r y II a reason to wonder whether those that suggested that Americans were somehow immune to the darker impulses of the human soul could be believed. The gradual victory of tradition over both critical and even humanitarian perspectives was not an easy one. For years, countless numbers of soldiers and civilians expressed their dissatisfaction with the war and much of what it entailed. Soldier-writers castigated military leaders who seemed indi=erent to their best interests and maintained disparaging perspectives on the conflict and the damage it brought. Leading veterans organizations tended to sidestep questions about the harm the war brought and sought to uphold an ideal of a powerful and armed nation ready to go to war again and vanquish enemies. The di=erences in these views came to head in 1951, when millions of people cheered for Douglas MacArthur and others made it clear that they were not willing to follow leaders like him again in a quest for total victory. In towns and communities throughout the nation, critics insisted time and time again that memorials should reflect the sense of loss many felt and not simply the triumph. Hollywood itself felt compelled to register many of the doubts and regrets citizens felt for years after 1945 even as it took time to celebrate the American victory. At the end of the twentieth century, as many nations in the world were forced to come to terms with evil actions that haunted their past, Americans were more inclined to use their laudatory memory of the war to rea;rm the noble sense of who they felt they were and to blunt e=orts to analyze the complex record of their past. By then, however, most of the key witnesses had passed from the scene.2 The war years were also marked by intense racial conflict. Military bases and home front cities became sites not only of war mobilizations but of deadly con- flict and fighting. While postwar monuments and movies had little to say about such discord, the legacy of racism from the war era was never forgotten, and it eventually helped to propel powerful movements for social justice and equality at home. Although the public remembrance of the war often clouded from view the legacy of the fight for universal rights, a rising tide of minority claims for justice and compensation certainly kept alive aspects of this liberal dream...


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MARC Record
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