Remember Tom Brokaw’s “Greatest Generation” schtick about World War II veterans? I found the saccharine salute sickening. My maternal grandfather, who had served as an army doctor in the hellish fighting in New Guinea, died last of all my grandparents, at the age of 86. After contracting malaria and being shipped home in 1943, he had PTSD the rest of his life, for which the Veterans’ Administration denied him benefits. He was never the same jovial man after the war that he had been before, according to my grandmother, and like so many of his generation, he couldn’t or wouldn’t talk about what he’d seen and done. He was a good father, but who knows how that shadow over his life passed from him to my mother, and from my mother to me, and on to my own children? And this despite the fact that we are all inexpressibly lucky Americans.
Everything was swept under the carpet by the “Greatest Generation,” including the memory of how most of the country had been deeply opposed to getting into the conflict until Pearl Harbor and Hitler’s declaration of war on America. That was why the original “America First” movement, spearheaded by the famous aviator Charles Lindbergh, had been so popular—including his rabble-rousing assertion that the only people who “wanted war” were the British, Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administration, and the Jews. One-third of Americans were telling pollsters they stood ready to support an antisemitic movement in America, so why would they want to fight Hitler? It appears that many Americans sympathizing with a fascist enemy nation is not a new phenomenon.
Go back and watch “Casablanca” again. Released in 1942, the movie seems to take place in the first week of December 1941, mere days or even hours before those Japanese Zeros appeared over Hawaii. As the casino owner Rick Blaines, Humphrey Bogart says, “If it’s December 1941 in Casablanca, what time is it in New York?… I bet they’re asleep in New York. I bet they’re asleep all over America.” Yes, they were, and now they’re sound asleep once again as European hostilities set off another world war. And that’s despite our own country’s weird relation to these events. What is the actual connection between Trump fawning all over Putin, Trump trying to extort Zelenskyy, and the outbreak of the war? Just what the hell were Trump and KGB Agent Number One talking about in late 2018 when the president kicked the translator out of the room? Why don’t all the conspiracy-addled millions focus on that stuff, for a change?
The world is still on the edge of a broader, possibly nuclear conflict. Criticize President Biden however you want; you try walking the line between giving the Ukrainians what they need to survive and triggering World War III, while the sainted Europeans keep buying Russian fossils fuels like there’s no tomorrow, which at this rate, there may not be. A friend of mine who has remained in Ukraine writes of the war, “I believe that it is all that matters. Till you remember that there is a war and talk about it, everything will [seem to] be all right. People begin to forget about it. No one wants a problem that can’t be solved quickly.”