No Such Thing As A Good War

by Dish Staff


With an eye toward recent history, Geoffrey Wheatcroft assails the usual distinctions made between the First and Second World Wars, asserting that “we have returned to fighting a kind of war grimly prefigured not by the supposedly evil Great War but instead by the seemingly noble Good War”:

The myth of the Bad War and the Good War has become very dangerous, insofar as it has conditioned our attitude to war as a whole. The notion that the second world war was finer and nobler than the first is highly dubious in itself, since it sanitises so much, from the slaughter of civilians by Allied bombing to the gang rape of millions of women by our Russian allies at the moment of victory.

And it may be that the sanctification of the later war has had more pernicious consequences than the anathematisation of the former. Any argument that the Great War was uniquely wicked and wasteful is plainly false in statistical terms, and the idea that the Good War was uniquely noble is absurd in view of its moral ambiguities.

Worse than that, the glorification of the second world war has had practical and baleful consequences. It has led us to an easier acceptance of “liberal interventionism”, founded on the assumption that we in the west are alone virtuous and qualified to distinguish political right from wrong – and the conviction that our self-evidently virtuous ends must justify whatever means we employ, lighting up a bomber flare path from Dresden to Baghdad to Tripoli.

(Photo of a pile of bodies awaiting cremation in Dresden, Germany, after Allied bombing in 1945, via Wikimedia Commons)