For the last year or so, I have been interested in the causes and effects of the First World War. Really, it seems to encapsulate so much of what went before and to set the stage for everything that came after.
The whole war seemed to be fought on poorly understood, or at least poorly tested, ideals. The Victorian English came to the battlefield with a great “sense of duty.” This duty had become the replacement for the faith they had lost (or cast off, depending on your point of view) during the 1800s.
The Germans, and I admit I am hazier on this point, seemed to fight the war based on their ideals of how the world should become. They felt themselves to be far advanced in the area of ideals and philosophies; they wanted to be the leaders of the new modern age.
So, my reading and studying of the previous eras seem to lead inevitably to the enactment of WWI.
But then the Second World War seems to arise inevitably out of the aftermath of the first war.
The modern age, the age of the flapper and Jazz, the age of disaffection and disillusionment rose out of the failure that WWI turned into. What was the point of the war? What was the point of all those who were killed?
And what was the point of all those that survived?
The loss of faith, then the loss of the sense of duty, which replaced the lost faith, left a tremendous void. What was left? Eat, drink, and be merry. Right?
Maybe. That was part of what World War I taught us, the taste left in people’s mouths.
As for WWII, for me, it has always been about the Holocaust. The terrifying nearness of the “almost’; the genocide attempt on the Jewish people is soul-chilling.
How could so many people have been involved in such wholesale murder? And not even the murders, but also the horrifying conditions of the concentration camps? How do people allow such suffering of fellow humans beings to occur without being aroused to compassion? How could this be?
So my concept of WWII has centered around the idea of “Never Again!” The message of that war was about resisting the kind of acquiescent evil illustrated by the Nazi atrocities.
But I was listening to a novel on tape, Mr. Sammler’s Planet by Saul Bellows. Sammler, the main character, has an opportunity to speak with a Punjabi Indian professor about his experiences as a Polish Jew during the war.
It occurred to me that other cultures might have a completely different image of the war. I know for certain that Chinese survivors of WWII have resentments towards the Japanese. I wondered what Indians would have thought about the war. What would be the general conception of WWII and its results in other countries than the US?
I suppose the idea is not terribly original, but it was original to me. I imagine that the interpretation of the results of WWII and how it affected each individual’s homeland would be very important for understanding the world climate of the 20th century.
I wish I could take a peek into the history books of different nations to know how other peoples saw the events.