A war for meaning
Remembering World War II through the crisis in Ukraine
Yesterday I wrote about memories of the U.S. entry into World War II, a blogger’s idiocy, and what all that might tell us about Russia’s war in Ukraine and the West’s response. Here is the conclusion, which I’m putting out as a regular Friday newsletter for paid Racket subscribers. You can sign up for full access here:
So we’ve dispensed with the idea that U.S. support for the countries fighting active Nazi invasions increased the danger facing anyone else in Europe, including Jews. And given that Japan chose to attack the U.S. fleet and airbases on December 7 and 8, 1941 — and that Hitler made his own reckless and unnecessary decision to declare war on the United States in the days that followed — the question of whether the Roosevelt administration was right to go to war in the event becomes moot. Which is another reason why World War II is a war Americans love to talk about: unlike, say, Vietnam, Iraq, the Philippines, Haiti, etc., it’s a war we were ultimately forced into, in two different ways.
But could the U.S. have helped prevent the war by changing course years earlier? Possibly. U.S. imperialism, particularly in the Pacific Rim and China, inarguably heightened the great-power rivalry with Japan. It was not a coincidence that the war started for the United States in three of its Pacific colonies: Hawai‘i, the Philippines, and Guam, along with the uninhabited airstrip of Wake Island. U.S. officials had been aware that a major war could start at any time over any of those, especially the Philippines, for over 30 years. The collapse of the Qing Dynasty in 1912 and the outbreak of the Chinese Civil War in 1927 — events in which both the U.S. and Japan played central roles — created chaos that heightened those odds.
The picture is complicated by the existence of, you know, other countries and other people. While
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