The concept of viewing wars in terms of good and bad is an interesting framing that is still applied today. Perhaps, on the 75th anniversary of D-Day, it is better to view war in terms of necessity.
No American would refute the necessity of the Revolutionary War or World War II, whereas the Civil War, the Spanish American War, World War I, Korea and Vietnam, along with the two wars the U.S. is still fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq, can all be debated. Some of them should never have started. Others should have ended before they did.
But the U.S. does seem to view WWII as a “good” war, and it is certainly true that the Allied forces displayed valor in performing the actions to save humanity from collapsing to a truly evil power.
Unlike other wars, however, it has taken American culture longer to come to grips with the realities of WWII — things like Japanese internment camps on U.S. soil, the use of nuclear weapons on civilians and the real terror of actual battle. How many films, documentaries and television shows examined the horrors of Vietnam not long after it ended? Until fairly recently, depictions of WWII focused more on a stark division between right and wrong, gallantry and deviousness.
Those who served were perhaps unaccustomed to, or not comfortable with, sharing their stories of what Omaha Beach or Iwo Jima was really like. It was a different generation, and a different time. Treating mental health referred to things like schizophrenia or psychopathy, where the cure was a straight jacket in a secluded room. No one had any idea what Post Traumatic Stress Disorder was, but the treatment for many was a quiet drink and a stiff upper lip.
It’s a shame so many suffered in silence. It’s a shame a grateful nation didn’t understand what those veterans had been through until they aged to the point of near generational extinction. To hear the story of D-Day told by those who were there is to gaze into the gates of Hell.
They took that beach not because they were better, stronger people unfazed by such terror. They certainly didn’t do it because it was glorious. They did it not because it was good. They did it because it was necessary and because it was right.