World War II: 80th anniversary

“We must suffer them all again”

World War IIIt will be eighty years come September 1 since World War II began. I have a strong sense that a lot of folks in the US, in particular, have no idea. It’s in part because lots of Americans are oblivious to history. And if they know anything about WWII, it’s Pearl Harbor, which didn’t take place until 27 months later.

When I was younger, I glibly understood that a reason for WWII was that the victors of World War I treated the Germans poorly. The Britannica seems to concur. “The war was in many respects a continuation, after an uneasy 20-year hiatus, of the disputes, left unsettled by World War I.”

In fact, most of the 1930s felt like a precursor of the Second World War: Japan invading China, Italy taking over Ethiopia, Germany annexing Czechoslovakia, etc.

Or maybe earlier: on November 8, 1923, there was the Beer Hall Putsch, when Adolf Hitler unsuccessfully led the Nazis in an attempt to overthrow the German government. Though it was crushed by police the next day, less than a decade later, Hitler was appointed Chancellor of Germany.

Six and a half years after that, the war in Europe began, as Germany invaded Poland. Britain and France responded by declaring war on Germany. Thus began the deadliest military conflict in history, with at least 50 million killed directly by the war and at least 20 million perishing as a result of war-related disease and famine

I am, as is John Green (no relation), uncertain and afraid about the war then and how it may parallel what’s going on now.

So John thinks about the W. H. Auden poem September 1, 1939. Though Auden later repudiated his own work as overly sentimental, it became quite popular.

After 9/11, this couplet was analyzed on National Public radio:
The enlightenment driven away,
The habit-forming pain,
Mismanagement and grief,
We must suffer them all again

Auden particularly rejected the sentimentality of the last line of the penultimate verse. Yet it is that line that gives me both hope and despair: We must love one another or die.