1944: the myth of the 'Good war'

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This year sees the 60th anniversary of some of the final acts of the end of the Second World War. From Washington to London to the beaches of Normandy, one of the central ideological themes of the Allies' commemorations has been the continuity between the 'Good War' against fascism, and the post 9/11 'War on Terror'.

In his radio address on the day of the dedication of the National World War II Memorial in Washington, George Bush said that, "�this Memorial will stand forever as a tribute to the generation that fought that war, and to the more than 400,000 Americans who gave their lives. Because of their sacrifice, tyrants fell; fascism and Nazism were vanquished; and freedom prevailed." (http://www.whitehouse.gov, 29/5/04). Indeed, the construction of the Memorial itself is the result of a long campaign by those in the media who hyped up the mythology of the 'Great Generation' (epitomised by the film 'Saving Private Ryan' and the TV series 'Band of Brothers'). In reply to this campaign, Internationalism - the ICC's section in the US - pointed that "�the media has been intent on demonstrating that wars can be good, wars can be popular, and that war is heroic. They are trying to take advantage of the aging veterans who are reportedly dying at the rate of several thousand a day - the fathers and grandfathers of the current generations of the working class, which has not been ideologically defeated by the ruling class and convinced to sacrifice itself for imperialism - to glorify the "honor" of imperialist slaughter." ('Remembering the 'Greatest Generation': Media campaign to glorify imperialism', Inter 116, Feb/Mar 2001).

For Bush, the same 'great honour' has befallen the sons and daughters of the Great Generation. "Today, freedom faces new enemies, and a new generation of Americans has stepped forward to defeat them. Since the hour this nation was attacked on September the 11th, 2001, we have seen the character of the men and women who wear our country's uniform. In places like Kabul and Kandahar, Mosul and Baghdad, we have seen their decency and brave spirit. And because of their fierce courage, America is safer. And two terror regimes are gone forever, and more than 50 million souls now live in freedom." (ibid). Of course, there are those rivals of the US that are unhappy with the portrayal of the most recent war in Iraq as a "Good War", particularly in France (and also some within the British bourgeoisie). Referring to Bush's planned visit to the Normandy beaches in early June, one of the French Presidents' close advisors is reported to have said, "He'd better not go too far down the road of making a historical comparison because it's likely to backfire on him... [T]he French would not appreciate any public mention linking the events. Photographs of US soldiers torturing Iraqi prisons do not sit well with the image of D-Day heroes." ('Bush warned against comparing D-Day to Iraq', The Guardian, 2/6/04.)

Furthermore, while some may make criticisms of the US in drawing an analogy between the 'Good War' against fascism and the letter day 'War on Terrorism', the underlying assumption remains that WWII was somehow 'different', heroic and above criticism. Indeed, the mythology of WWII is such a key to all current bourgeois propaganda that it is considered insane (or fascist) to be against it! The ICC has on several occasions had to defend the PCI's article 'Auschwitz or the Grand Alibi' against those who accuse it of being somehow revisionist (see 'Nazism and democracy share the guilt for the massacre of the Jews', IR113). However, WWII was different from previous wars in two respects. Firstly in the total ideological defeat inflicted upon the working class since the end of the international revolutionary wave of 1917-24: the bourgeoisie had learnt that to avoid a repeat of October 1917 it had to have the working class fully supportive of the 'national interest'.

Secondly WWII was unique in the unprecedented level of barbarism on both sides. "For five years the world was shaken by an orgy of destruction and unprecedented levels of barbarity. The most obvious expression of this was the Nazi death camps and the wholesale genocide against the Jews, gypsies etc. But this barbarity was seized upon by the Allies at the end of the war to serve as an alibi for their own slaughter of millions of innocent people in the war. This slaughter took many forms: the policy of terror bombing all German cities ("An offensive of extensive bombing could sap the morale of the enemy providing it is directed against the working class areas of the 58 German towns which have a population of more than 100,000..." - Linndeman, Churchill's adviser, March 1942, quoted in International Review No 66); the bombing of cities in France and other occupied areas during the war and after D-day (for example Caen and St Malo were flattened in '44); the carefully calculated atomic liquidation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki; the forced starvation of millions in West Bengal in 1943 - approximately three million died when the crops were taken to feed the troops... As regards the death camps, the Allies didn't mention them until the end of the war, though they knew about them. In fact when then the SS offered to release a million Jews in exchange for 10,000 lorries or other goods the Allies refused. In 1943, Roosevelt made clear the thinking behind such a refusal: "transporting so many people would disorganise the war effort" (Churchill's Memoirs, Vol 10). Thus, the refusal to help the Jews, the starvation and bombing of civilian populations were not signs of moral weakness but part of the logic of imperialism: nothing must get in the way of the war effort." ('Imperialist slaughter dressed up as democracy', WR227, September 1999).

The main idea the bourgeoisie would have the working class believe is that it owes its 'freedom' and 'security' to those imperialist nations who defeated their rivals, that war is a 'necessary evil' if 'freedom' is to be victorious. Again Bush says, "Through our history, America has gone to war reluctantly because we have known the costs of war... Those who have paid those costs have given us every moment we live in freedom, and every living American is in their debt." (ibid.) A freedom which has seen more deaths from imperialist war since World War Two than during it. Every moment where children die from curable diseases and starve while food is destroyed because it can't be sold profitably. Every moment workers receive their redundancy notices and their whole lives and families are thrown into chaos and insecurity. Every moment where mothers hold their babies infected with HIV not knowing which of them will survive the longest. Every moment rainforests are cleared and turned into deserts

What price 'freedom'?

While the bourgeoisie seek to cynically manipulate the remaining veterans of D-Day, encouraging them to relive times they'd much rather forget - capturing on video their tears and sorrow - the responsibility of the communist left is to remind the working class that while millions of workers were slaughtering each other on the beaches of Northern France and elsewhere, there still remained tiny minorities who had remained faithful to the proletarian principles of internationalism. On this 60th anniversary of D-Day we are again republishing the Manifesto of the Communist Left to the Workers of Europe (June 1944). We hope that this Manifesto will speak to the 'New Generation' of how all wars in the epoch of capitalism's decadence are imperialist, that they are never in the interests of the working class. And most importantly of all, the Manifesto points to the Russian Revolution, which was the proletariat's answer to the horrors of the First World War, and is a beacon that proves that the only way to bring permanent relief from the infernal spiral of capitalist war and economic crisis is the communist revolution of the proletariat.

As we said in 2001, "Rather than celebrate the imperialist butchery as the bourgeois ideological campaign tries to do, to genuinely honour the suffering and hardships of our fathers and grandfathers requires that the working class today guarantee that capitalism will never again lead humanity into another orgy of destruction and murder, that the working class today destroy the capitalist system. This generation, and the generations to come, have challenges waiting. There is a real need to fight the most important war, the war against the decadent capitalist system. Such a revolutionary struggle, on an international scale, can develop the basis for a new society freed from the rule of capital and controlled by the vast majority of the population - the proletariat." (Inter 116).

World Revolution is holding a public meeting on the myth of the 'Good War' on July 10th 2004. See here for more details.

Trevor, 3/6/04.

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