Although Ken Burns's effort to make real the face of war and combat American ignorance about WW II is laudable, in so doing he contributes to an underlying ignorance. His treatment of the US role in the war supports the popular misconception that it was the central one when, although important, our battlefield role was a minor one. Three quarters of the German forces were fighting the Soviet Union when allied forces hit the Omaha Beach and the major battles of the war had already been fought, including the battle of Stalingrad, a German defeat and the turning point of the war.
Although the 400,000 US WWII deaths is a large and tragic number, at Stalingrad alone the Soviet Union lost almost 100,000 more than that. About 10.7 million military and 11.9 million Soviet civilians were killed during the war, about 13.44 percent of the total population. (Recently released Russian figures put Russian deaths at the Battle of Moscow at 1.6 million, with German deaths there at 600,000.)
Burns also accepts and repeats the notion that the use of the atomic bomb was necessary to save American lives because the Japanese refused to accept unconditional surrender. In fact, it is now generally known that the only condition they held to was that the life of their emperor be spared (something that was done anyway). Our refusal to agree to this did not save American lives, it cost them, to say nothing of the death and destruction rained on Japan!
Finally, we used the bomb because we had it, and we used the second one because that's all we had.
Oct 12 2007 - 9:59pm