29 May 2008

It's like I read their mind

Crooked Timber and LGM both have threads discussing this essay by Edward Lengel in the Washington Post about the American memory of World War I. Quiggin writes:
In any case, in the long run, the absence of this most bloodily futile of wars from historical memory has been a huge boon to the war party. With a historical memory of war dominated by the “Good War” against Hitler and the Axis, it’s unsurprising that Americans have been much more willing than the citizens of other democratic societies to accept war as part of the natural order of things.
Commenters at both sites have mentioned the persistence of Southern militarism as a counterexample to the notion that having a massively destructive war on your home soil is a tonic against thirst for more war. Of course, the South needed the myths of the Lost Cause and Yankee aggression to prop up the apartheid state for the next century. Certainly interwar Germany didn't have any trepidation in the immediate aftermath of the war thanks to the prototype dolchstosslegende.

Anyway, I think the key difference is that the causal relationship between the wars is what has been lost in the United States. One commenter points out that the period between 1914-1945 should be referred to as a second 30-Years War. The war party--and its enablers in popular history--want to excise any contextual factors that helped spawn extremist ideologies in interwar Europe so they can imagine wannabe Hitlers and Mussolinis popping up out of the blue all over the world. It's the same motivation that keeps any causal analysis deeper than "hating us for our freedoms" shunned from any discussion of 9/11.