Thursday, January 25, 2007

Will we be surpised by what we read from WWII? Part One

This war is not a simple matter. Everybody knows that. And yet to judge from the way many people talk about the war, it sounds very simple. “What’ll you bet Hitler gets licked this year? Even money? Two to one?” Just as simple as that.

Only as a matter of fact, most people don’t talk about the war very much. They talk about fuel oil or the meat situation or the Flynn case (cases). They also talk about battles and heroes—how the Russians are giving them hell and what a brave guy Eddie Rickenbacker is. But there’s not really a great deal of talk about the war. It’s not so simple. And there’s so much we just don’t know.

Now the editors of LIFE—like most news-editors and correspondents—work very hard to find out what’s what and then to make it as plain as possible. Editors don’t like to be confused any more than anybody else does. When we are, which is more often than we like to admit, we try not to confuse our readers by our own confusion. So the newspapers and LIFE try to make everything as simple as possible. But this doesn’t prevent the people from being confused. Of course it doesn’t. Because, of course, if something just plain isn’t simple, Associated Press dispatchers won’t make it so—nor homey editorials either. Nor fireside chats. Nor silence.

LIFE has no apology to make for the great volume of material about the war which it has given to its readers—nor for the editorial comments by which we have sought to point up the various issues and problems, great and small. But this article will attempt to balance up the accounts, as of this date, by a candid effort to summarize what is not clear in the situation.

We start with the basic question: are we going to win the war? “What!” you say. “Is there any doubt about that?” Probably 90% of the people—or even 95%--haven’t the slightest doubt about that. But how did they get so sure about such a big fact? From their leaders, of course—and from the news they read and hear. Besides, it isn’t patriotic to think anything else. If the British had been able to imagine defeat—in 1940—they might have been defeated. But there was something else that the British did imagine. They were brave enough to imagine their destruction—literally dying in their homes before surrendering. So for them it was Victory or—death. That was the measure of the courage that stood at the pass of civilization.

The Chinese, many of them, at the beginning of this war, actually thought they had no chance of victory—at least in their lifetimes. But, fighting on, they rose to ever more magnificent heights. They chose almost certain death rather than more appeasement, concession and compromise.

But it’s different for us Americans. The threat to our homes and shores, however great it may have been, is now indefinitely postponed. Beyond any reasonable doubt, Admiral Yamamoto will not dictate peace in the White House—neither he nor any other foreigner. So the alternatives before us are not Victory or total defeat. The alternatives before us are something else. What are they?

If we editors are partly responsible for the general belief that we are certainly going to win the war, it is time for us to correct the testimony so that opinions will not be based on any misunderstandings.

Are we going to win the war? So far as we can see the answer is—maybe yes and maybe no. And what we’ll try to do here is to define the two maybes.

Life February 15, 1943 (I originally had in November 30, 1942, which wasn't correct.)

to be continued in a future posting, possibly two or three postings.

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