March 11, 2004

World War II and American Memory

Posted by Ed

According to an article in tomorrow's Moscow Times, readers in the West have access to 190 biographies of Dwight D. Eisenhower, 65 biographies of Bernard Montgomery, 45 books on George Patton, and only 3 books on Marshal Georgii Zhukov--the Soviet general who almost certainly played a larger role in winning World War II than any of the other men listed above.

That's a shame. I don't, of course, think that it's terribly surprising that American readers are more interested in learning about military leaders from the U.S. and Britain than they are in finding out about the life of a Russian general: I'm sure that Moscow book-buyers can find more volumes on Zhukov than on Patton or MacArthur. Even so, I think that many Americans have a skewed view of the war. Unlike most war-time Americans, we remember the war against the Nazis in far more detail than we can recall the war against Japan; we think of D-Day and the Normandy invasion as the crucial episodes in the conflict, even though the Eastern Front was far more important to the outcome of the war. (Benjamin Schwarz made a similar point in a savage Atlantic Monthly review of one of Stephen Ambrose's books.) In an age when analysts and political leaders love to liken the contemporary situation to World War II, it's especially important for us to remember the magnitude and the nature of our victory in 1945.

Posted by Ed at March 11, 2004 06:41 PM
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