When you visit the World War II museum in New Orleans on Memorial Day weekend, just before the D-Day anniversary, you get a strong sense of the courage of the American soldiers and their officers, the willingness of the American people to sacrifice for victory and also a lot about why we fought. To some extent, it’s a battle we still fight today.
There’s a desire by some to whitewash why we were in World War II in the first place. The extreme left provides a cynical view, claiming we only fought because we “bullied” Japan into attacking us, something our leaders always wanted as an excuse to build some sort of empire. But as I tell my students, we’re pretty bad at empire building. We had every opportunity to colonize the world after WWII, but preferred alliances, economic trade treaties and voluntary troop arrangements for protection of other countries, as opposed to Pax Americana replacing Pax Britannica, the French Empire or whatever our enemies were plotting.
The extreme right falsely claims it was a war against “big government,” ignoring the big government we created to win a two-front war, something that military historians will tell you is pretty tough to do. They also cover-up the Nazi white supremacy and racist arguments our enemies used in propaganda to subvert democratic governments, win other countries to their cause, dehumanize other races and manipulate anti-Semitism into the worst atrocities in humanity. Anyone telling you otherwise is trying to repeat that horrible history.
Here’s something else our history books leave out. WWII transformed a lot of thinking in America. From desegregating the defense industry during the war to doing the same for our armed forces after the war, we realized we wouldn’t win by adopting the backward thinking of our enemies. Our sports and education institutions and our politics would follow afterward during the Cold War, a contrast to the totalitarian tactics of the Soviet Union.
I was with my son, as he’s playing for mom’s LaGrange Academy Academic Bowl team, competing for nationals. I told him that this side trip wasn’t about memorizing old and outdated facts so he and his teammates (several Academy parents brought their sons and daughters to that impressive museum as well) could buzz in faster. This WWII fight is their fight as well.
And that unfortunate need to refight those old battles is taking place in education institutions. People will claim that slavery was better for African-Americans than freedom. Leaflets are being passed around college campuses showing white sculptures and falsely claiming “white culture is under attack,” when it is these propagandists leading the attack. Holocaust denials are making a comeback. And white supremacy rallies are taking place or being planned for campuses. Today’s students will need to be armed with the facts to take on these revisionists on both sides of the ideological spectrum.
There’s one other thing you’ll notice in the museum: how many whites fought shoulder-to-shoulder with African-Americans, Hispanics, and Asian-Americans against Adolf Hitler and his white supremacist Nazism. American whites gave their lives to combat someone who pretended to want to crown Caucasians as king. Whites then could see the writing on the wall, that such propaganda was a trick to provide authoritarianism in the name of hate, and it was something worth stopping. Let’s pray that the Americans of today come to the same conclusion.
John A. Tures is a professor of political science at