#2. The "Greatest Generation" Was Better Than Later Generations
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As Tom Brokaw will gladly tell you for the low, low price of $16.95, the Americans who fought in World War II were "the Greatest Generation." The men of that era were, quite simply, special. After all, a man doesn't grow up during the Great Depression and breaststroke across the Atlantic to crotch-punch the Nazi hordes into submission just to wind up some shiftless pot smoking hippie, like their ungrateful kids.
"They birthed the baby boomers because their balls burst with bountiful brawn."
Why It's Bullshit:
The Greatest Generation was just like you, had you been forced to serve in a monstrously destructive war. In other words, they were scared shitless and miserable.
Big emphasis on "forced," because no matter how many times we're told that the Greatest Generation went to war because it was "the right thing to do," it doesn't change the fact that two-thirds of the U.S. servicemen were drafted. But we're told that the Greatest Generation was different from those who've come since, and in a way that's true -- because two-thirds of the men who fought in Vietnam volunteered.
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Only partly because 'Nam's such an awesome vacation destination.
World War II's draft dodging numbers dwarf both Vietnam's and World War I's. Desertion rates between World War II and Vietnam were pretty much neck and neck. And when they weren't dodging or deserting, the Greatest Generation was doing the third best thing: getting completely shitfaced. Soldiers in Vietnam took a lot of heat for drug abuse, but the Greatest Generation was dying of alcohol poisoning so fast that the U.S. Army started putting up warning billboards displaying the "Deaths from Poison Liquor to Date" (G.I.s weren't picky about their booze and often drank methanol -- aka antifreeze). Not to be outdone, creative sailors sometimes swilled the alcohol that fueled torpedoes. When the U.S. Navy caught on and started putting additives in the "torpedo juice" to make the soldiers sick if they drank it, the submariners one-upped them and learned the art of distillation via torpedo engine.
The lesson here is: Never underestimate the resourcefulness of a conscripted serviceman looking to drink away his misery. Drunk finds a way. Drunk ... finds a way.
#1. It Was the "Good War"
Unlike today's wars, where we have only a vague idea of what our soldiers are fighting against (terrorism? Or wait, is it still drugs? Or ... Christmas?), World War II was pretty goddamn straightforward: We were fighting for what was right. Freedom versus fascism. Good versus evil. God almighty versus Hitler the were-devil himself (dibs on the graphic novel idea).
It's no wonder, then, that our military folk haven't seen anywhere near the level of support that was rained upon them during World War II.
Why It's Bullshit:
If people back then really thought World War II was such a good war, it would stand to reason that most American vets would've been met by parades and celebrations upon their return. To the contrary, wounded soldiers returned to find that folks on the homefront treated them like lepers. The truth is that Americans weren't sure what the hell to think about the war, and nearly half the country would've given you a blank stare if you'd asked them what it was all about.
Still, that didn't stop 13 percent of Americans from favoring the extermination of every last Japanese person from the planet. After Japan's surrender, nearly twice that number of Americans said they regretted that the war had ended before the Japanese could be more thoroughly nuked. If history was a Batman movie, this is the spot where Robin would intervene to remind Batman that revenge isn't justice.
But at least when the war ended, the sacrifice was worth it. After all, the Allies did roll up one of the most despicable, murderous dictators in history ... and slapped a bow on most of Europe for Joseph Stalin, one of the most despicable, murderous dictators in history.
If your "Righteous Cause" is represented by blood red, it might be time to rethink your map.
So why does this myth about World War II being a "good war" persist? Maybe because no one wants to watch a war movie about an army of terrified amateurs fighting for a homeland motivated more by hatred than nobility, only to eventually wind up chumming up alongside a brutal dictator. But wait! Stay tuned for the obligatory after-credits scene, it's a real doozy: millions of German civilians displaced, Berlin subjected to the largest mass rape in history, and the Allies ending things much as they'd begun -- with book burnings and censors to rid Germany of everything undemocratic.
"Good war" remains, to this day, an oxymoron.
Be sure to check out how the future will misremember us in 13 Misconceptions About Today from Future History Classes.
Related Reading: World War 2 was different from the movies in a number of ways, including the fabulous Dazzle camouflage that draped every battleship. Prefer your war with a dash of "gut-wrenching creepy"? Read about the Hyena of Auschwitz and other creepy, creepy tales. But wait, there's more! We'll tell you the tale of the magician who helped defeat Hitler.