On December 7, 1941, Japan attacked Pearl Harbor and the U.S. entered the Second World War. A war of horrors, it normalized the intensive, barbaric bombing of civilian populations. If the Spanish Civil War gave us Guernica and Picasso’s wrenching painting, WW2 offered up worse: London, Berlin, Dresden to name a few, the latter eloquently described in Kurt Vonnegut’s “Slaughter House Five.” Against Japan, the firebombing of Tokyo, and above all the revulsion of Hiroshima and Nagasaki radiated a foretaste of ending life on the planet.
Reparations demanded from Germany had led to the rise of Adolf Hitler and a thirst for revenge. Thus Hitler demanded France’s 1940 surrender in the same railway carriage where the humiliating armistice was signed in 1918.
If the war to end all wars — its centenary remembrance a month ago — killed 20 million plus, the successor tripled the score. Disrupted agriculture, severed supply chains, fleeing civilians, starvation and misery; civilian deaths constituting an inordinate majority in our supposedly civilized world.
One of the young men baling out of a burning bomber was George H. W. Bush. He was rescued but his crew who also baled out were never found, a thought that is said to have haunted him for the rest of his life. He went on to serve eight years as vice-president under Ronald Reagan and then four more as president. Last week he passed away and was honored…