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How Good Was the Good War?


The neoconservative writer Norman Podhoretz illustrates how this penchant for treating World War II as a parable yields distorted and even mischievous results. Since 9/11, he has insistently argued that the correct name for the conflict commonly known as the global war on terror is actually "World War IV." Podhoretz's logic runs like this: the Cold War was really "World War III," essentially a replay of World War II, the threat posed by communism serving as a variant of the old threat posed by fascism. For Podhoretz, the horrific events of September 2001 thrust the West back to the days of September 1939. The imperative of the moment was to launch yet another crusade on behalf of freedom and democracy, this time against a third totalitarian ideology that Podhoretz labeled "Islamofascism." All that was needed was a new [Winston S. Churchill] to lead this crusade, and Podhoretz found his man, however improbably, in [George W. Bush].It didn't work out like that. Instead of a remake of "The Longest Day," poor Bush got a horror movie. As Buchanan observes, "With all our braying about being the 'indispensable nation' and 'Bring 'em on' braggadocio, we exhibited an imperial hubris the whole world came to detest"Of course, Churchill did not aspire to write an objective history. As David Reynolds reminds us in his splendid In Command of History, Churchill's dominant motive was "to show that he was right, or at least as right as it seemed credible to claim." With respect to the events of the 1930s, Churchill wanted to prove that "the Second World War broke out because his policies were not adopted." But when the British archives were opened in the late 1960s, historians realized that Churchill's version of events was distorted.

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