A ‘New Good War’?

World War II is known as the “last good war.” I believe that this oxymoron serves two purposes: to distinguish the noble fight against Nazism, fascism and the Japanese expansionist militarism of that period from postwar conflicts like Korea and predominantly Vietnam, but also from more recent warfare, like that in Iraq. In much the same spirit, military operations by the European powers against rebels from the colonies are being characterized as having an ambivalent, if not a clearly dilapidated, moral basis (e.g., France in Indochina and Algeria).

The second purpose that the phrase “last good war” appears to serve is to highlight the fact that it is about a war against violently anti-democratic and inhumane forces. The fact that the Americans and the British torched the civilian German and Japanese population with aerial bombings or that the Soviets (who were almost allies with the Germans until 1941) committed crimes of the greatest cruelty when they invaded Germany, was not enough to besmirch the “good” name of World War II.

It was a war which united nations and people with otherwise huge differences. Decades later, with the Europeans having “unlearned” to fight and with the pacifistic anti-war climate of the 1960s still dictating the tone, the French National Assembly welcomed with applause the news that the “mastermind” behind the attacks in Paris fell dead at the fighting in Saint Denis. I fully understand the French members of parliament. And I am thinking that we may be talking about a “new good war” against forces of darkness – quite literally. But this war is not going to be “clean.” There will not be any borders or specific countries to occupy, there will be no Geneva Conventions or prisoners, and in the Internet age of parallel wars and of barrages of misinformation, and with a conspiracy fever that did not exist in the more “innocent” times of the 1940s, even those with the greatest determination might bend. War is no longer what it was, apart from its unchanged brutality. The Americans know this well. Are the Europeans ready to join such an adventure? And above all: Will they be united?

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