Showing posts with label WWII. Show all posts
Showing posts with label WWII. Show all posts

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Trouble with "The Enemy of my Enemy is my Friend", Historic Examples

Arthur Zimmerman, German Foreign Secretary in the 2nd half of World War I might serve as the "poster boy" for troubles with the principal that "The enemy of my enemy if my friend".  By inviting Mexico, via telegram, to "enter into an alliance with Germany against the United States in exchange for which she would regain 'her lost territory in Texas...'", he helped to finally bring the U.S. into the conflict.  He then played a major role in helping Lenin and a trainload of his followers reach an increasingly unstable Russia, where they did, just as he hoped, push Russia over the brink, practically eliminating the Axis' Eastern front.

Germany lost the war anyway, and Soviet Russia remained its biggest problem throughout most of the rest of the century.

But it took the Cold War to show just how much destruction could be wreaked by this principle.  In summary, by cultivating a motley assortment of backward nations as allies against the USSR, we either spread misery, or at least made the U.S. appear responsible for the misery of much of Latin America, the Near East, and Southeast Asia, and saddled countless poor nations with no experience of democracy with far greater powers of destruction than they could ever have developed for themselves.
[to be continues?]

The Image of Nazism in the Minds of My Generation

My generation (Baby Boomers) was brought up, in the 50s and early 60s, pretty largely on the mythos of World War II movies.
The bad guys in that conflict were presented as a lot of extremely uptight looking guys whose every aspect or act screamed precision  -- their hair, their uniforms, their way of speech, constantly affirming their obedience and reverence for the chain of command with "Yes Sir!"s,"Heil Hitler!"s, and elaborate and precise salutes, and scurrying around obeying orders like machines.
What were we told (by example) to do with this vision?  Blow it up!  Blow up everything in sight!  Mow them down!  And who was doing all this blowing up and mowing down, but a bunch of rather slovenly, loose-natured guys, with their uniforms rumpled or half-discarded and usually needing a shave and washing-up.  Their leaders, all the way to the top of the field command, were generally shown living by a general directive (blow up and mow down), but otherwise, often displaying creativity; not visibly answerable to anyone; often disobeying the letter of command while obeying its spirit, and the general directive.  Often, too, the "enemy" was shown with rigid obedience as their Achilles heel.
These movie Nazis were a caricature of authoritarianism, structure, and obedience.  Ruthlessness was a somewhat less prominent feature, and sometimes we were ruthless ourselves (though with a certain etiquette about our ruthlessness that the Nazis lacked).  Mostly, these mythical visions did not look at what really caused the Germany of the 30s and early 40s to act in such a bizarre and awful way; the structure of the sickness and/or evil that spread through and seized that society.  When we did pay attention to other aspects of the "enemy" society, besides their machineline precision, the aspects stressed were extreme ruthlessness and racism.
What narrative could be better calculated to raise a generation like mine?  One which celebrated rebellion, and had a simplistic revulsion towards authority and obedience; wanted to, symbolically at least, blow up structure and authority; show ourselves the antitheses of Nazis by acting imaginatively and often anarchically.
There were other ways of reacting to the mythos that we were shown, which could be gone into and rationalized.  Obviously some were reacting in different ways than that described, like joining ROTC and/or being obsessed with anti-Communism, or wearing suits and striving for material success -- but there is surely a plausible relation of cause and effect between the narrative and the anarchic side of my generation.
While we were being taught this mythos of rigid Nazism and the virtue of blowing it up, we were also being taught (more overtly)  to revere the flag; to stand up and put our hands over our hearts when the national anthem is played; to wear neat clothes and neat haircuts; to stay in line, elect leaders, and often obey them, once elected.  We formed teams and played by rules.  But all this, when examined closely, could be reasonably interpreted as just a milder, or more subtle version of the mythos of Nazism that we were presented with, and a large portion of my generation saw it in just that way.