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tv   The Meaning of World War II  CSPAN  January 30, 2021 9:00pm-9:48pm EST

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tonight at 10:00 p.m. announcer:e national world war ii memorial host a conference on history. next, david hogan examines the meaning of world war ii and its lasting impact. the friends of the national world war ii memorial provided this video. [captioning performed by the national captioning institute, which is responsible for its caption content and accuracy. visit ncicap.org] [captions copyright national cable satellite corp. 2021] [video clip] mr. hogan: -- mr. hogan: hello and greetings to you all. i am here from the army center of military history. dave hogan is my name. i want to talk about the u.s. army center of military history.
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our web address is on the lead slide. we are the clearinghouse for historical activities. we write official histories. we do historical support work for the army staff and army. we run the army museums, and our brand-new national museum of the u.s. army due to open in virginia later this year. right now we are looking at november, but there are things going on. our website is a great resource for teachers and students to get information on the army, wars, publications, daily posts on social media, facebook, twitter, instagram. a lot of great things for folks
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looking for material on world war ii or the army. i would like to talk about, and in a way this is personal, because i grew up in a place in michigan, the northern midwest. you look back, yeah, world war ii was in the background as kids were thinking about other things. you tend to look back at something and find what you are looking for. cold war stories have everybody diving under their desks in the event of a nuclear attack. world war ii was present. i would like to describe it. like kids, we played war. we were allowed to play with
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plastic guns. we had g.i. joe dolls. i had several, even a french resistance doll. we had memorial day parades, ceremonies at the cemetery were a big deal. the veterans park in which you see there, the american legion and vfw posts. the landscape. if you drive by -- dot the landscape. if you drive by you can see a tank attesting track, where they used to test the shermans before sending them into the field. lots of army shows, service shows, combat, that was popular
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in the 1960's, mikael's navy, and hogan's heroes, which you can still see in reruns. we had the guns that never around, paris burning, and others. -- the guns of -- come up paris burning -- we had several films. when i was 10 years old, it was a big deal when someone passed on. world war ii was there, we had a period, they calm it in american high. i knew from an early age that we have never lost a war in this country could do anything if it
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put its mind to it. a theme that grew insistent in the 1960's as vietnam speak -- reached its peak. world war ii was the perfect war for the u.s., a war we were uniquely situated to fight. it was our biggest war, a war of mass armies, and the u.s. had a large population with a tradition of armed citizenry. the largest armed forces ever mobilized, 16 million people come over world war ii served with the u.s. army. the u.s. was the world's industrial leader. read up to ourselves the arsenal of democracy. indeed, we had so much productive capacity that we were able to end the depression.
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the u.s. had the skills of an industrial society. hitler famously remarked that america could never be rome, because rome was a nation of peasants. he saw the u.s. lacking cohesion, ideals, the type of solidity that brought victory in war, but what hitler failed to see was u.s. military prowess was a logical extension of its industrial power. we had mastered machines. rapid moves across vast distances meant nothing to americans, and this gave birth to the legend of the g.i. could fix just about anything. you look at everyone, they had a guy who was skilled mechanically to make that machine run. it was a war of technology.
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the u.s. was used to pageantry, prepared for the role science would play in war, radar, sonar, rockets, or the atomic bomb. even the similarity to a so-called attack, a motif in our history that stuck around in the culture. the overwhelming response to the unprovoked attack, no ambiguity. they were clearly guilty of aggression, and we could respond in righteous unity to that aggression. indeed, world war ii was the most popular war in the history of the country. if anybody had doubt about the justice of the allied cause, we discovered the concentration camps. eisenhower said at least now soldiers will know what they
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were fighting against. it was also a conventional big unit war, using our full power, so to speak, real fronts, lines marching across the maps. you could follow it. we are where to point our weapons. the enemy forces had uniforms. it had a satisfying outcome, the enemies completely vanquished, no ambiguity, then we build a stable friendly democracy that left of the u.s. is the most powerful nation on earth. so it is no wonder we have this fascination with world war ii. it gave rise to the legend of the greatest generation. one person talked about the memory in the u.s. during the 1980's and 1990's, as the
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veterans die off and world war ii becomes more in the realm of memory. three of the godfathers of the big war, the good war was used in other senses, but these three are widely identified with a good war ideology. stephen ambrose, historian, the bride prefer that to dwight d. eisenhower -- the biographer of dwight d. eisenhower. he promulgated the thesis of the sons of democracy, that the sons of a consumer society of a decadent culture, supposedly, yet somehow able to defeat to tele terry and his, who were supposed -- to tele terrien --
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totalitarianism. tom brokaw talked of an age that came of age during hard times with fathers losing jobs. then, went to war, beat the fascist dictators, came home, built a great economy, stood against the soviet union, and even rebuilt their enemies at the end of the war, showing the time-honored values, duty, honor, faith, integrity, hard work. in a sense, history as a morality play. finally, steven spielberg, film producer, saving private ryan, which he intended as a salute to the greatest generation. those who had seen it will
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remember tom hanks admonition to go home and turn his survival from the combat of world war ii. a lot of this grew out of the notion that teddy roosevelt advocated during the late 19th century and early 20th century and became part of popular culture, that war builds character. it was a terrible thing to endure, but it turned boys into men. that was his message. furthermore, the world war ii, a lot of people went through it, it had a purpose, a time when issues were clear. there was an evil enemy out there. as time passed and memories faded, also a time when folks could look back and look at it
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as a time of discovery and adventure, which you see in something like south pacific, lands, exotic places, where people were not used to going. but was it such a good war? there are a number of people who came up with in the late 1980's and 1990's who were at odds with this picture. one was an english professor at the university of pennsylvania, former platoon leader in world war ii, with a reputation as an intellectual crank, but he had some interesting comments to make. it was still a war, and therefore stupid, sadistic, and dependent on the innocence of youth.
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since then, he said it has been sanitized beyond recognition. he referred to this presentation of world war ii. it left lasting scars and was a big war. he would subscribe to the notion of war being 90% boredom in 10% terror. michael adams referred to bombing, ptsd syndrome, discrimination, a selfish homefront, the internment of japanese americans as reasons to question why his title ended up being more sarcastic and descriptive. a professor at m.i.t. wrote a
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book on race more, about the dehumanization of the japanese by american media. were our troops so much better that we simply overwhelmed the enemy? according to one person you see pictured there and another person, the germans had much more fighting power and showed them to be better fighters in the field then we were. we had inferior tanks, torpedoes , and shoes that cost many gis their feet. mistakes, the bombing which killed hundreds of american gis, the accidental bombing by american heavy bombers. the reference to murphy's law,
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that it does apply. and for others, the notion that u.s. save the world comes her, particularly for the soviets and the british. from the british point of view, they held the line while the u.s. was getting ready. from the russian point of view, they feel they defeated the nazi army, and other theaters were a sideshow. both sides, the british and the soviets, had lost heavily in their homelands were heavily damaged. in the end, after it was all done, was the u.s. more secure? we were left with the atomic age , no royal navy to shield us anymore. it had decreased in size and impact.
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in the age of modern technology, no ocean shield protected us as in the past. while we were the most powerful nation in the world in 1945, somehow we did not feel like the most powerful nation in the world. both sides had something to say in this good war/bad war debate. i don't think the greatest generation would deny that war is hell. the discrimination, the segregation, even tone brokaw -- tom brokaw would admit that. racism did exist. the americans were not above taking japanese ears as trophies. it went both ways. the japanese had their own race war. after pearl harbor, americans thought there was an obligation to conduct savage war.
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world war two did have implications for the civil-rights struggle. because after world war ii, when the u.s. was confronting communism, it could no longer justify race segregation and discrimination and claim it was the best in liberty and freedom at the same time. it is no accident that the civil rights movement came hard upon the end of world war ii in the post-war era. there is no way to come to a conclusive answer on combat performance, who had the best units, the best fighters. you can find evidence both ways on that one. but it is true that american technology was not always the best. the tanks were more reliable and maneuverable than the germans, they did not have the armament and firepower.
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we had torpedoes at the start of the war that did not function correctly and cost the americans dearly in early naval battles. yes, the role of the soviet union in britain was crucial, but the u.s. was fighting a two ocean war, holding on against germany and japan, atlantic and pacific, europe and pacific, only think u.s. was fighting in every theater, except the eastern front. it may not have made the americans feel more secure at the end of the war, but there was a feeling that world war ii was a legitimate cause. we could ask if they had one and what with the world look like today? by no means is it a foregone conclusion that we would
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win, until very late. so what do we choose to look at? what images do we think that when we go back and look at world war ii? images that tell us about people and their attitudes. certain images, certain memories do affect the americans. it affected the american view. the munich meeting in the fall of 1938 between adolf hitler and prime minister chamberlain. france agreed to give czechoslovakia, and hibler said this is my last territorial demand. within a few months, hibler annexed all of czechoslovakia in preparing to invade poland. the impact on the u.s. was
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tremendous in terms of how we viewed foreign policy. in the 1930's, we had been an isolationist country, with the idea europe was somebody else's problem. disillusionment with world war i , a crusade gone sour, a perception strengthened concluded world war i was no one's fault and had no real purpose. it seemed that more was terrible. it never solved anything, that never again should we fight a war, and both sides were at fault, and this created a moral equivalence. the tendency to seek german claims as justified, and willing to cut a deal for peace. chamberlain was applauded on both sides of the atlantic.
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world war ii changed that for the u.s. munich became a code word for sellout. there was a feeling that u.s. had not been responsible, head not taken an active role, had not drawn a line in the sand. and that there is such a thing as a good war. evil does exist. and from now on, every pacifist, and the argument has to deal with the hitler question, it affected the u.s. all through the postwar, korea, vietnam, and most recently iraq. now it competes with the vietnam syndrome, the notion that u.s. is not the world's policemen and we can impose our way of viewing things, fighting everything we don't like around the world. you look at the debate over
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iraq, those saw a contest with people, no room for compromise, others saw the u.s. involved in a meaningless war and in others internal affairs. pearl harbor, everyone but john belushi in animal house knows this one, it used to be we could hide behind oceans, the atlantic and pacific, but after world war ii, the u.s. felt it was vulnerable, that technology could span the oceans, even as the most powerful nation in the world, we have insecurity. even as we expand our definition of security to encompass the world, places, people that could hurt us, to guys meeting in a basement putting together an explosive device that can hurt us. pearl harbor created a fixation
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with the idea of surprise attacks, and the importance of intelligence and the cia to warn us of those attacks. the odd thing is that, even with world war ii, the threat never really reached the western hemisphere. it seemed more imaginary than real. they never attacked the western hemisphere, unless you include saboteurs and incendiary balloons, maybe if you include hawaii, but not an attack on the american homeland. perhaps because these attacks were more imaginary made it more terrifying. there was a bit of a respite at the end of the cold war, but not for long, then 9/11,
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strengthening the tendency to look back to world war ii. the arsenal of democracy, the faith in the american productive capacity leading to victory, this relief in america and bigness, our ability to turn out massive amounts of armaments, weapons, and materials where necessary. the axis powers had their own myth that we overwhelmed him because we had more materials, resources, troops. in truth, there is some truth to that. being vulnerable -- not being vulnerable, made the u.s. able to produce a lot for itself and its allies to keep them going. when we fight later wars, korea,
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vietnam, the gulf war, the war on terrorism the ability to produce lots of weapons is not so important. we need more political/cultural acumen, work with hearts and minds. another famous image of world war ii, a photograph central to our movie culture, unity, all for one patriotism, including a mix of people, including one native american. it showed that the u.s. can accomplish anything, underlying the cold war consensus, a comforting notion of national unity that we are all together and unified.
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the frustration that we were not became apparent in the vietnam war. when you look at american wars over history, there has been more dissent than unity in american wars throughout history . somehow this image seems biblical. we have climbed the mountain. the flag serves as a religious motive beyond a national symbol, vision, unifying, god, country. the holocaust, a chilling portrait of human nature and that people -- and of evil's effects. for so long, we had had faith in
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our better angels in progress, under laid western civilizations faith that it was superior and moving ever upward. now, after world war i then world war ii, there was more doubt the never. what made the holocaust even worse was that it was done by germany. germany was part of western culture, literature, poets, composers. it's systematic execution -- its systematic actions had this impact, how could a civilized people be capable of such a step? thus, we resolve never again, and genocide justifies
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humanitarian intervention in places like the balkans. even liberals are more willing to intervene abroad as isolationism is put in eclipse. furthermore, after a period of anti-semitism, world war ii gave anti-semitism a bad name and increase the likelihood that americans would support israel in the post-war period. then there is the atomic bomb. we still have controversy over its use. was it necessary? was it dropped to end the war or impress the russians? those of us who remember the smithsonian controversy of the 1990's, that was referred to by one person, the smithsonian institution, the dispute was it
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tried to -- when it tried to put on a more critical interpretation of the bombing. most americans still believe the use of the bomb to be justified and it was used to end the war, gave him pride in superior american technology but also that in the future we had better be on the cutting edge of technology, leading to the fixation we currently have in the military and our leadership that we never fall behind in terms of military technology. the search for a technological solution, even a panacea, and when we do fall behind, as was the case with sputnik in 1967, there is much alarm in american society. when we put the atomic age together with the holocaust, it
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creates incredible nervousness, the genie is out of the bottle. the realization that once others get it, it can be used on us, and with the growing danger of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, how do you stop it? it probably did make another world war unthinkable. we probably would have had one by now if it were not for nuclear weapons. in korea and vietnam, there was a careful use of force. defense intellectuals like doctors with a prescription respond with the right dose of violence to send the message you are trying to send. the disaster in vietnam proved a war is not that easy of a thing to manage. so, we have talked a lot about
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the myths of world war ii. a myth has a bad connotation in our culture. it implies the untrue. that is not necessarily the case. a myth usually has some truth, but it does reinforce solidarity and meaning. they served us well in world war ii. we live in a different world, more cynical about our politics. most people in 1940's america worshiped franklin d roosevelt. much more diverse society, and intellectual world that warns us there are no truths, just perceptions and mental constructions. war itself has changed. it does not lend itself to the big unit war.
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we quickly liberated iraq, but we ended up stuck there perhaps because we were attracted to the big one. paul wolfowitz claimed the lessons of world war ii were let go with the invasion of iraq. the changes in the meaning of war itself, now it can be a war against climate change. it can be a war against a pandemic. how do we in this age of uncertainty, nebulousness, problems that don't lend themselves to solutions, how do we maintain it? one cold war thinker, the father
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of christian realism in the 1930's and 1940's, a man of his generation, he took a hard look at human nature, the sin and evil within all, and recognizing the need to stand against it. he believed in ethics and foreign policy, but also argued the need for humility, the sense of irony, the limitations, knowing perfect humans seek ideal solutions. no one recognize the irony of power more than him, and no one could appreciate the ironies of the 20th century, world war i, world war ii, iraq, the struggles against climate change
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and the pandemic that we face today. thank you. >> hi, i will try reading some of these questions. there are some storm problems. one person wrote i love the focus of the talks. my essay is to assess world war ii brought out the best and worst in humanity. high with love to find an essay on this to share with 10th graders. can you suggest anything? mr. hogan: uh, yeah, in the one particular source? i think i talked about, the things i am thinking of offhand are probably a little involved for 10th graders.
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i wrote an essay on american attitudes towards war in 2011. that gets into a lot of intellectual history concepts that might be heavy for a 10th grader. i would have to think about that one, actually, that particular point for that level. when i grew up, i loved american heritage histories of world war ii, but today, it probably would strike people as a little too triumphalist in the classroom. >> the next question is from melanie grant. is the museum on it or adjacent? she is trying to figure out how
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hard it is for the public. we took our teachers to the national museum of the marine corps a few years ago. mr. hogan: yes. it is right off the fairfax county parkway. it is not, you don't have to go into the post to get into the museum. it has a separate access road. i think it is still on fort property. it is between u.s. one and interstate 95. it will be pretty accessible. when it opens. [laughter] >> great. thank you. what process do you use when
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researching and writing official histories? how often do you revise them? do you feel confident in providing multiple perspectives? mr. hogan: well, official histories, we tried to give a full, comprehensive, and balanced story. we are not there to argue particular agendas. so i would say it is a little more than a straight chronicle. it is pretty heavy going for some folks who are not really interested in it, but we will do commemorative campaign pamphlets that are shorter and more accessible. the one thing i want to emphasize is we do not writing for history. we are not an adjunct to the
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public affairs office for the department of the army. we call the shots as we see him. we are motivated by the question why, why particular decisions were made, without casting blame or casting dispersion on individuals in any case. i could go into this a lot more, but i hope that answers the question. how often do we revise them? not really. we won't go back into the green books. i can tell you that. >> ok, a question from david. what are your favorite world war ii films in terms of telling it right? >> i always liked band of brothers. i think it was very well done.
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saving private ryan, of course, that was a big part of the publicity, how realistic it was, and a lot of people watch that first half-hour with that in mind, but in terms of, after the first half hour of saving private ryan, it strikes me like any other world war ii movie. there was one professor who wrote something a number of years back that pointed out you could go to an old 1960's movie about a marine landing in the pacific, and that would be gory, too. battleground, which was made in the late 1940's.
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that was made with a lot of people who participated in world war ii, and there is a greedy realism that i find attractive. i actually don't like -- do like midway. but i couldn't stand pearl harbor. if for nothing else, the battleships looked like they were made of papier-mâché. i could go on and on. [laughter] >> i am not seeing any other questions. anybody? oh, here. if you average it out, how many hours of reading goes into your writing? mr. hogan: well, let me put it to you this way.
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i am currently doing a biography of omar bradley. i started it in october 2011. i made it about north africa and sicily. i have been writing chapters as i go along, but i have spent the last year and a half or so just researching north africa and sicily. there is so much that goes into it. probably the proportion is much greater for me in terms of research than it is writing. i write relatively fast. that, sometimes i think i pay the price, but i also come if
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you look at the proportion, i would say maybe 80%, 90% is research and organizing. >> ok, and we have a hand raised. gordon? you can ask your question. >> a comment, if anybody has used saving private ryan in the classroom? i know our system got excited about the r-rated movies, and with the language -- i'd tell you what. one of the first times i showed it, the landing scene, quite a lot of language in that part, so as i was showing it, you can't really understand a lot of the language in their first, but when it gets to a really bad
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part, i just hit the mute button. i thought i was being really clever. the close captioning came up. the kids just busted out laughing. you could tell exactly what they said was the closed caption came up. it didn't really bother anybody, but it was hilarious. i thought if you were going to do that, you might want to practice or check it out. we had to get permission ahead of time. the kids busted me on that one. they thought it was hilarious. it is a tough line. >> i can imagine. mr. hogan: i hope the superintendent didn't call you on the carpet. >> he did not. the kids just went on about it. mr. hogan: yes. >> any other questions?
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well, we have david with us. oh, oh. shane was just mentioning that they have to do something before the course starts, for the class, i'm sure that something good to have. any other questions? or should we close it up for the day? oh, what have you written that is the most unknown but should be taught in high school? mr. hogan: what have i written? um, well, i did a pamphlet a few years back on the history of the army.
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i have also done commemorative pamphlets on the civil war and the overland campaign. that sort of thing. it would be interesting to hear how some of those pamphlets would go over in a high school setting. i tend to like to get into intellectual and cultural background when i write these broader things, but i think there are ways, and you folks, you are finding ways to bring cultural history into the classroom, and you could just experiment with it and see how that goes. in terms of what else i have written? well, some of it is utilitarian.
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i have written things on rangers, oss, american support for the guerrillas in the philippines. a lot of the, you know, a friend of mine has written a book, a number of good books, but he has written a very good book on american interactions in asia when gis went into asia, and their response to the culture. that might be something that people could pick up and use in a setting. the whole business of, i would be very curious, in fact, if you could give out my email to the
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class, i would be curious your ideas about how we approach this audience, because my tendency has been to write for professional military education and scholars, so it would be nice to get a broader audience. ♪ announcer: you are watching american history tv every weekend on c-span three. today, we are brought to you by these television companies that bring c-span to viewers as a service. announcer: the c-span cities tour explores the american story. we have been to more than 200 communities across the station. our staff is staying close to home due to the coronavirus. next, a look at one visit.

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