The best possible memorial we could build, to those whose lives were cut short by our government's wars, would be to ensure that it doesn't wage any more.
June 6th, 1944 was as memorable for me (at age 7) as it was pivotal to the Century. I awoke to the constant droning of heavy aircraft overhead, flying South to the English Channel and to Normandy, and it went on all morning.
Well, Our Guys made fewer blunders than Their Guys, and so We won the day and the war; but the excitement of battle news quite obscured for me, then and for years to come, the real significance of what was going on. World War Two is a rich treasurehouse of lessons for the human race, and none of them was reported at the time - or is being recalled now, in the TV re-runs of D-Day 1944.
So, half a century later, perhaps it would be useful to review a few of those lessons, hidden as they are in plain sight.
Government = War
Lesson #1 is that if we grant governments the power to do it, sooner or later they will wage war and we ordinary people will be harrassed, starved, bullied, regimented, deprived, brutalized, maimed and perhaps killed - by others equally brutalized and brainwashed, yet who have with us no personal quarrel whatever!
I have no objection to defensive warfare, though I do not trust any government to determine when defensive violence is truly needed and so don't think it should be government that uses it; but WW-II was NOT a defensive war, at least from the viewpoint of Britain and America, the key participants.
It was the British Government that surprised the German one by declaring war on it in 1939, and it was the US Government that provoked the Japanese one into attacking its marauding Pacific Navy in 1941; and when Hitler encouraged his ally by declaring war on the US the next day with casual bravado, he had no credible plans for conquest and no resources spare to achieve it.
In that absence of defensive imperative, it follows that at least for those two nations, WW-II was no more than an exercise of imperial power for its own sake; as was said by the teacher in that brilliantly funny line in the movie "Hope and Glory", the Brits waged it "to keep the pink bits, pink" on the world map.
So if we wish to reduce the incidence of war, we have no choice but greatly to reduce the power of government. That's the greatest lesson of this 50th Anniversary, but you'll not find it broadcast by any of the government-licensed media or taught in any government-operated school.
Death or Glory
Lesson #2 is that once we let them, governments will wage total, maximum war, rather than compromise to save lives. The Normandy invasion, once the foothold had been gained, spelled certain defeat for Germany because of the Allies' huge advantage in men and materiel; yet there would be no compromise. It was death or glory for every one of those governments. Their glory. The peoples' deaths.
Hitler, while certainly one of the Century's greatest monsters, had signalled an interest in peace three years earlier by sending Rudolph Hess to Scotland; Churchill rebuffed him and Hess was the only Nazi war prisoner to be jailed and never released or allowed to talk to reporters. I wonder why.
The Soviet, US and UK governments repeatedly asserted they would settle for nothing short of unconditional German surrender. Many hundreds of thousands of people, including all those Jews exterminated in 1944 and 1945, died because of that blind lust for total victory. There were no peace talks.
Lesson #3: the reason governments wage war is that they are intoxicated by power - not just the thrill of winning a military victory, but by the ongoing thrill of telling millions of civilians what to do, and watching them do it.
War gives them (and did actually give ours, in the 1940s) an excuse to enact far more domestic regulations than in peacetime. They rationed gas, and economists like John Kenneth Galbraith were given the unprecendented power of fixing prices for almost everything We the People bought to eat. He often referred to that era as the most satisfying of his life. He's unusually frank.
Government gave racists the satisfaction of placing then-unpopular Japanese Americans in concentration camps, with the full compliance of the government's Supreme Court. Especially during war, such pesky restrictions on government power as the Bill of Rights can be, and were, swept aside.
Tax collection (tax being the fuel for all government power) was, before WW-II, a properly difficult task in America. Buoyed however by the hysteria of Total War, Congress got away with a "temporary" measure that made collection far easier: they imposed "with-holding" by which what we earn is taken away at source and kept until we each show we're entitled to a refund. Fifty years later, that temporary emergency wartime with-holding is with us still.
At first, it may seem a long leap from Omaha Beach to an IRS 1040 Form, but it's not. It's all part of the seamless web in which we are enmeshed. Randolph Bourne put it well: "War is the Health of the State." The more War - on Nazis, Drugs, Communists, Waste, Guns, Whatever - the easier they can control us.
How to stop them? - take away what they need. They need money, so resist taxation. They need manpower, so don't register for the draft. And they need political support, so don't vote any more for the only two parties that have waged all their wars: the Republicans and the Democrats. Every one of these three key prerequisites is still within the control of each one of us.
|© Copyright Jim Davies 1999|
Jim Davies lives in New Hampshire,
and enjoys contemplating which way is up.
The above is Edition # 54
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