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Monday, August 14, 2006


talking WWII

posted by russell at Monday, August 14, 2006 permalink View blog reactions
This is an expansion of my comments under Razib's "wrong reason" thread. Nothing I will say here is particularly new or original. It's all been noted by others, here and elsewhere.

I'm happy to repeat these simple points, once again, because they are true, and because by repeating them enough it might be, perhaps, possible to counter the flood of inflammatory rhetoric that we hear, day after day, from folks who are in whole-hearted agreement with the current direction of US policy.

Lots of folks like to compare our present situation with WWII. They like the feeling of moral purpose associated with WWII. They like the clear and unambiguous distinction between good guys and bad guys. They like the memory of the US as a the champion of liberty and the savior of the free world.

Let's compare what we, as a nation, faced at the outset of WWII, and what we face now.

More below...
Our enemy in WWII were the major fascist states: Japan, Germany, and Italy. Japan and Germany, our primary enemies, were extraordinarily powerful nations. They commanded enormous military power and economic might.

Japan and Germany were committed, as a matter of both ideological principle and fact, to an aggressive campaign of military conquest of their neighbors. They were also engaged, explicitly, in the enslavement or extermination of the peoples they conquered. They were aggressive, enormously powerful nations, motivated by a cruel and authoritarian ideology.

Who is our enemy now?

Our direct enemy is Al Qaeda. They like to kill Americans. They will kill as many as they can. They have a very good operational praxis, they've provided tens of thousands of guys with good military training, and they have a lot of money to spend.

What they don't have, remotely, is the means to defeat the US. They cannot conquer us militarily, they cannot occupy or rule us, they cannot defeat us in any meaningful way. They can kill Americans. That's it.

Let's be crass for a moment. Humor me.

9/11 -- just under 3,000 dead.

WWII -- a little over 400,000 military deaths. 11,200 civilian deaths. 3.2 of every thousand people in the total US population were killed.

Do you know 300 people? If we were as far into WWII as we are into the "global war on terror", one of them would be dead.

As an aside -- if you think I am taking the threat of terror lightly, I can assure you I am not. From my little town of 20,000, four were killed on 9/11. My cousin, who works on Wall St, went missing for much of the day. He turned up when he walked across the bridge to Brooklyn and phoned home. I don't take it lightly.

However, this is not WWII.

Allow me to put a point on this.

There are a lot of folks who like to invoke what they see as the moral purpose of WWII to support our current foreign policy.

During WWII, the total population of the US was about 130 million. During WWII, over 16 million -- well over 10% -- of the population was in uniform. There were over 400,000 military deaths, and over 11,000 civilian deaths.

Relative to today's US population, that would be about 35 million people in uniform, over 900,000 -- almost a million -- military deaths, and over 25,000 civilian deaths.

Who among those claiming a "moral equivalence" to WWII is putting on a uniform?
Who is sending their son or daughter into harms way?
Who has a gold star in their window?
Who has willingly submitted to, or even suggested, rationing of any luxury good, gasoline, metals, or any other material necessary to prosecuting a war?
Who has given up butter for margarine?
Who is collecting tin foil wrappers from gum and candy bars?
Who is buying war bonds?
Who is putting off the purchase of a vehicle, a washing machine, a couch, a television?

In short, who is making any sacrifice, of any kind, to support what they claim is an existential fight for the survival of this nation?

Of those who wish to claim the moral purpose of WWII for our current adventures, I see few or none who are actually willing to step up and call for anything remotely -- remotely -- like the level of commitment or sacrifice that our parents and grandparents willingly shouldered during WWII.

Comparisons to WWII are a rhetorical device intended to build popular support for an agenda that has nothing whatsoever in common with that of WWII. At best, those who make the comparison indulge in cheap nostalgia. At worst, they exploit the memory of real sacrifice and commitment for, let us say, less worthy ends.

This is not WWII. If it were, every able bodied American below the age of 40 would be in uniform. If it were, we would gladly walk, take public transportation, or ride our bikes to work. If it were, the industrial infrastructure of this country would be dedicated to producing material essential to the war effort, rather than creating consumer goods.

None of the above is true. So I say folks that want to talk WWII are just blowing hot air.

I, personally, would like them to shut up and deal with what is, actually, before us, here and now.

My father, stepfather, and father-in-law spent their youth overseas fighting, often in conditions of extreme deprivation. My uncle's bones are still somewhere in Germany, noone knows where. My mother in law spent the war years building Corsairs in Akron OH. My mother, grandparents, aunts and uncles spent the war years buying war bonds, raising their own vegetables in victory gardens, and living with rationing, bad food, and other minor but real forms of deprivation, to support the war effort.

Want to claim the moral mantle of WWII? Do as they did. Otherwise, I will thank you to show some humility and dummy up.

Thanks -


thanks so much for discussing this. I can still hear the call to battle after 911, "go shopping, go to Disneyland, buy stocks--that's how you can help!"



One of the purposes of the attack on the World Trade Center was to damage the US economy and financial stability... the obvious response to that is to keep on consuming to get confidence in the economy back up again. So, I don't see how all that was an illegitimate reponse to the attacks...


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Nation-Building was founded by Aziz Poonawalla in August 2002 under the name Dean Nation. Dean Nation was the very first weblog devoted to a presidential candidate, Howard Dean, and became the vanguard of the Dean netroot phenomenon, raising over $40,000 for the Dean campaign, pioneering the use of Meetup, and enjoying the attention of the campaign itself, with Joe Trippi a regular reader (and sometime commentor). Howard Dean himself even left a comment once. Dean Nation was a group weblog effort and counts among its alumni many of the progressive blogsphere's leading talent including Jerome Armstrong, Matthew Yglesias, and Ezra Klein. After the election in 2004, the blog refocused onto the theme of "purple politics", formally changing its name to Nation-Building in June 2006. The primary focus of the blog is on articulating purple-state policy at home and pragmatic liberal interventionism abroad.