To study history is to study war. American history itself is largely broken down into wars: the Revolutionary War, War of 1812, Mexican War, Civil War, Spanish-American War, World War I, World War II, the Cold War conflicts of Korea and Vietnam, the first and second wars in Iraq, and Afghanistan. Buried between all these are wars of westward expansion and the subjugation of indigenous peoples. War has inflicted needless death, misery and suffering at every turn. War has also brought about an incredible number of civilization's technological advances. War has banded people together and split them apart.
World War II is unique on many levels. The sheer carnage and brutality is overwhelming. Technological advancements of that era produced a war unlike anything that could have unfolded a few short years before or after.
Leading up to WWII, as aggression was being stirred up by the Axis powers, Americans were divided in debate over how to respond. The more popular option was to not respond at all. But on December 7, 1941, all debate immediately flew out the window. That's where WWII stands out from the crowd. Never before or since has this country been as truly united as it was during World War II.
Anyone I've talked to from the greatest generation has sung a similar song: They had no idea how long it would take, how events might unfold, nor whether or not they would survive it, but no one questioned the outcome — victory. This applied not only to those that enlisted to fight, but to those on the home front that drove the rivets, planted the gardens, collected the scrap metal, organized the blackouts and used their rationing coupons without complaint.
We were, and still are, an imperfect nation. Entire groups of Americans were segregated into second-class status, deprived of the opportunity to fully participate in the American dream. Although it would be easy to assume that these citizens might have shunned the notion of fighting for such a hypocritical nation, their response was every bit as patriotic as the rest. This was their country. The promise of liberty was something worth fighting for. The entire nation stepped up to do so.
All gave some. Some gave all.
In the opening scene in the movie Patton, the infamous general, in addressing his troops, tells them that when their grandchildren ask what they did during the great World War II, they wouldn't have to say, "well, I shoveled [manure] in Louisiana." Truth is, had such shoveling been an integral part of the war effort, there would be no shame in having proudly done so.
My interest in WWII stems from my father Charles Arnett's service in the 492nd Bomb Group. As America mobilized for war, he was working in a copper mine in Morenci, Arizona. He unsuccessfully sought a war-essential draft deferment. As my brother Mark points out in his documentary Baby Boomerang, had our dad remained working there, his documentary would have been titled "Copper Mining: The Key To Victory!"
The post-war political climate in this country has been tumultuous, to say the least. The ebb and flow of movements, ideals, visions and causes tend to be divisive in nature, if not disturbingly counter-productive. Each day, as we are bombarded with "the news" the unwavering unity unfurled during World War II becomes all the more alluring. It goes beyond mere nostalgia. It seems to me to be something of paramount importance for our country to regain. I hope it won't take World War III to do so.