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Posts Tagged ‘World War II’

The president wrapped up his address Tuesday night by asking Americans to pray for the victims — both human and environmental — of the BP oil spill. I thought it was a strange way to end his first Oval Office address during a national emergency insofar as praying makes the situation appear too big for conventional solutions. As though all that remains between us and a sea of oil is the Hail Mary.

This morning it occurred to me that this was the only thing he could really ask Americans to do.

Why? Simply stated, it doesn’t require any effort to silently invoke spirituality while stopped at a traffic signal or while chewing a gluttonous mouthful of Double Down. Actually, I take back that second part. I can’t imagine doing anything other than suffering a massive infarction while eating a Double Down.

Instead of prayer, the president could have asked us all to make sacrifices towards the goal of weaning ourselves off of fossil fuels. Maybe he should have asked for sacrifice. It probably wouldn’t have hurt. But it would have been mostly ignored.

Americans simply don’t do “national sacrifice” anymore. During World War II, Americans were asked to ration everything from sugar to oil to cheese — even shoes. Those days are long gone. Today, we’re asked to go to Disneyland or the beach. Or we’re asked to pray. (It’s difficult to imagine the modern right-wing, for example, accepting the rationing of anything at the behest of the current president when most of them refuse to fill out a U.S. Census form. More on that presently.)

The BP oil spill has been a daily reminder of our toxic relationship with decomposed dinosaurs. On just about every blog and every cable news show, we’ve watched in shock-horror as 75,000,000 gallons of oil spew from the top of the Deepwater Horizon’s blowout preventer. We see it. We cringe. Some of us shout, “Why, oh, why?!” Others curse Tony Hayward and BP. Maybe some of us curse President Obama or former President Bush. A clear majority of Americans are pissed off, and they’re taking it out on everyone except themselves: the ones actually buying the oil.

Once we’re exhausted with blaming and yelling, we climb into our oversized cars, crank up the air conditioner, drive to Burger King and order a ammonia-washed beef sandwich the size of a baby — while mindlessly idling at the drive-thru.

As the president pointed out last night, scientists, experts and politicians alike have been urging us to make the transition to clean energy and away from fossil fuels. In the last ten years alone, we’ve endured the largest terrorist attack on our soil and subsequently fought two wars, all prompted by American intrusions into the Middle East to satisfy our collective petro fix.

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E.J. Dionne | Truthdig | Oct 4, 2009

Barack_Obama_meets_with_Stanley_A__McChrystal_in_the_Oval_Office_2009-05-19

At a White House dinner with a group of historians at the beginning of the summer, Robert Dallek, a shrewd student of both the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, offered a chilling comment to President Barack Obama.

“In my judgment,” he recalls saying, “war kills off great reform movements.”

The American record is pretty clear: World War I brought the Progressive Era to a close. When Franklin D. Roosevelt was waging World War II, he was candid in saying that “Dr. New Deal” had given way to “Dr. Win the War.” Korea ended Harry Truman’s Fair Deal, and Vietnam brought Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society to an abrupt halt.

Dallek is not a pacifist and he does not pretend that his observation settles the question against war in every case. Of the four he mentioned, I think the Second World War and Korea were certainly necessary fights.

But Dallek’s point helps explain why Obama is right to have grave qualms about an extended commitment of many more American troops to Afghanistan. Obama was elected not to escalate a war but to end one. The change and hope he promised did not involve a vast new campaign to transform Afghanistan.

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controlsframestoryAmerican photographer Julien Bryan arrived in Warsaw by train on September 7, 1939, two days after the Polish government and the Yank press corps had exited the capital and just two days before the city was cut off by advancing German forces. Bryan spent his nights huddled with others in the American embassy basement; by day, shooting for the next two weeks, “I had the siege of Warsaw all to myself,” he later wrote, “but I wasn’t too happy about it.”

The photo was taken after a strafing by Stukas on September 14. In it, a 10-year-old girl mourns her younger sister, who was killed in the attack. Recalled Bryan, the elder sibling “leaned down and touched the dead girl’s face and drew back in horror. ‘Oh my beautiful sister,’ she wailed, ‘What have they done to you?'”

Bryan exited Warsaw on September 21. The German army entered the city on September 30. World War II was one month old.

Error: The dead girl is in fact 10-year-old Kazimiera Mika’s older sister.

Perhaps not as well known as that other picture of children caught up in the horrors of a murderous and cowardly attack from the air, but every bit as telling.

For more photos by Julien Bryan of this incident and a commentary in Spanish (don’t worry if you don’t read Spanish, the pictures tell the whole story), click here.

Warning: Some readers may find these pictures distressing.

World War II: 70 Years and We’re Still Fighting

Truthdig, September 1, 2009

The Germans invaded Poland on this day 70 years ago, and so began what many consider the greatest conflict in human history. An estimated 60 million people would die, including 27 million Soviets and 12 million Jews, Gypsies, gays and other victims of the Nazi holocaust. Most of the dead were civilians.

The war radically altered the cultures of its participants and the map of the world. It created two superpowers that would fight over the ashes of Europe and the kingdoms of Asia for a generation.

World War II continues to captivate, though it has become a tragic pop culture caricature (with a few notable exceptions). The nightmares of combat are now fodder for dozens of video games while Hollywood has made an art—and business—of flag-waving. Heroism and glory survive in our cultural memory better than fire bombings and ovens and the countless horrors of war. Perhaps that’s why we have had so many since. —PS

Related: The BBC reports on Poland’s commemoration of the anniversary. Truthdig contributor and WWII veteran Gore Vidal on empire and history. Daniel Ellsberg reflects on the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Chris Hedges writes on the horrors of war. Robert Scheer on the permanent war economy.

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