Week 5: WWII, Empires and Resources

Reading:  Foner, Chapter 22, "Fighting for the Four Freedoms: World War II, 1941-1945"

World War II and the Cold War:  America and the World of Global Conflict

As with the First World War, the entry of America into World War II was reluctant but ultimately transformative of the outcome of the war.  The war also had profound domestic consequences.  Much of the modern infrastructure of the Western states was built and developed as a consequence of the war and its immediate aftermath.  For women at home the war transformed daily life as millions entered new trades or were relocated.  Young men of military age became military migrant workers and were uprooted to serve overseas.  Many of those who returned relocated in new states often at long distances from their former homes.  

The Second World War is also a war between empires over resources.  From the 1930s Japanese, British, French, American overseas empires were in regional conflict, and continental empire expansion waged by Germany, and to a lesser extent Italy, that came into direct conflict with the Soviet Union's empire in East Europe and Asia.  

Empire is a dangerous concept and manifestation of power for it racializes or denigrates those who are on its borders or regions it conquers and occupies.  We know from the history of the 20th century that the ideology of sustaining empire relies upon racist assumptions of identity and difference and these are used by totalitarian or authoritarian states in acts of genocide and mass killing of civilian populations in an effort to depopulate areas that are desirable for recolonization by the conquering nation. 

The Holocaust, Genocide, and other War Crimes against Civilians

Among the most extensive studies of the rise of anti-semitism and the Nazi state's institutionalization of the Holocaust is the 2 volume study by Saul Friedlander, Nazi Germany and the Jews: The Years of Persecution 1933-1939, Volume 1 (2009) and The Years of Extermination: Nazi Germany and the Jews, 1939-1945, Volume 2 (2009).  

In 1945, General Eisenhower ordered the filming of the devastation uncovered at the death camps run by the Nazis that led to the deaths of millions of Jews, Gypsies and dissidents.  This film is viewable at the Internet Archive link here.  This film should be required viewing may be used against any and all holocaust deniers.

Further research into the devastation of civilian lives prior to and during World War II reveal staggering numbers and the horrific costs of total war.  The ideologies of empire and racism that promulgated world war were directed against minorities and civilian populations in states and regions that were targets of acquisition.  The attrocities of the Japanese in China and Southeast Asia demonstrates that this was an ideological crisis of the appeal to fascism and nationalist-racial ideologies that were features of imperialism and war. The subjugation of captured women into prostitution as "comfort women" or starvation is well documented. The Soviets committed mass attrocities and war crimes in their propagation of the war in Central Europe. Nor can the Allies escape responsibility for war crimes committed in the murder of captured or surrendered soldiers and rape of women.  

Several sources on the impact of these wars may be appreciated.  

On the destruction of cities during World War II, including Tokyo, Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Manila, Dresden, among many others, there is an extensive literature by scholars, notably by German and other European historians.  See:  
  1. Bas von Benda-Beckmann, German Historians and the Bombing of German Cities: The Contested Air War (Amsterdam University Press, 2015)
  2. Hermann Knell, To Destroy a City: Strategic Bombing and Its Human Consequences in World War II (2003)
  3. The Fire: The Bombing of Germany, 1940-1945 by Jörg Friedrich and Allison Brown (2006)
  4. Firestorm: The Bombing of Dresden, 1945 by Paul Addison (2006)

No comments:

Post a Comment