National Greatness and Hope in the Future: The Role of Historical Narrative
A nation will not endure if its people lose their love of country, optimism in the future, and pride in its past. The Roman historian of the early and middle Roman Republic, Livy (Titus Livius, 59 B.C.-17 A.D.), considered one of the great ancient world historians, understood this. In his classic work, The War with Hannibal, Livy offered “a cautionary tale with many resemblances to World War II that seems to warn against the hubris of our own era,” according to Robert D. Kaplan. In particular, Livy was troubled that his contemporaries disregarded the past, consumed as they were in decadence, frivolity and a tendency to ignore dangers that loomed just over the horizon. For Rome to survive the threat from Hannibal’s Carthage, Livy sought to instill a deep sense of patriotism and thus wrote “various books [that provided] canonical images of patriotic virtue and extreme sacrifice.” Kaplan notes that similar to “Alexis de Tocqueville, [Livy] understands that healthy republics grow out of strong civic and family ties.” A deeply divided Rome struggled against Hannibal, suffering numerous defeats and prolonged, acrimonious debate over the prosecution of the war before a much vilified commander, Quintus Fabius Maximus, snapped Rome’s losing streak. Kaplan notes that “Livy shows that the vigor it takes to face our adversaries must ultimately come from pride in our own past and our achievements. Romanticizing our past is something to be cultivated, rather than to be ashamed of.” Unfortunately, our nation’s current historical narrative continues to ignore Livy’s advice. One consequence of this was revealed in a Washington Post article that surveyed high school students in and around the nation’s capital. They were asked what they learned about World War II, and the answers were not surprising: “recognition of the internment camps … was high -- two-thirds gave the right answer when asked what happened to Japanese Americans during the war. But only one-third could name even one World War II general, and about half could name a World War II battle.” Internment camps, called “those concentration camps” by one sadly misinformed student, exploitation of African Americans in the factories, the contribution of American women, and of course, the monstrous atomic bombings are what these students mostly learned about the Second World War.
One sure way to undermine a nation is to attack its past. Much of contemporary American academia, the intelligentsia, and mainstream media seem committed to that goal. American conservatives decry the preponderance of leftist professors in academia and the media. As bad as the situation is in many American universities (and public schools) and much of the media, it is far worse in Western Europe. Since leftist scholars operate on the assumption that class struggle permeates all aspects of “bourgeois” society, everything is subjected to withering criticism. Western European religion, family structure, history, economic and foreign policy, and political institutions have been attacked for more than five decades. Chantal Delsol, a French philosopher and professor at the University of Marne-La-Vallee, complains that the contemporary Western European “cannot imagine for what cause he would sacrifice his life because he does not know what his life means.” If perhaps some Germans are emboldened these days to imply that Germany also was a “victim” of World War II atrocities (area bombing), most Germans, like most Western Europeans, have surrendered to dismay and guilt. Economic reporter Robert J. Samuelson recently wrote about declining birth rates coupled with aging populations in Europe and Japan. Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, and Spain have an average birth rate of 1.3 percent, well below the “total fertility rate” (TFR) of 2 percent needed “for a society to replace itself.” There is one modern nation that does not fit the mold: the United States, where fertility is near the 2.1 TFR needed for population replacement. Samuelson examines a number of economic and social reasons that in part explain why the U.S. is the exception, but then notes something that stands above all other factors:
“greater optimism, greater patriotism and stronger religious values. There's some supporting evidence. A survey by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago asked respondents in 33 countries to react to this statement: ‘I would rather be a citizen of [my country] than of any other.’ Among Americans, 75 percent ‘strongly’ agreed; among Germans, French and Spanish, comparable responses were 21 percent, 34 percent and 21 percent, respectively.” (Emphasis added)
The corrosive impact of the cynical left can be seen in much of Europe today. Teaching people to hate their culture, to be ashamed of their national heritage, to distrust religion and abhor family traditions does not sow the seeds of optimism. The left’s unrelenting effort to smear the two primary defenders of liberty during World War II and now, namely, the United States and Great Britain, threatens to undermine the current war against Islamo-fascism. Among the Dead Cities unwittingly and perhaps unintentionally contributes to that smear campaign.
War is a moral obscenity; however, the great evil lies with evil men who initiate wars that in turn compel in good men the occasional indulgence in necessary evils like area bombing. The Axis powers were evil incarnate; they alone launched a world war of murderous aggression. Both Nazi Germany and to a lesser extent, Imperial-Fascist Japan, were committed to racist agendas that called for the extermination and enslavement of other human beings. We must never forget these salient points. Judging Allied area bombing a war crime in retrospect obscures the true source of evil and the imperative to destroy it at great cost. Like a bombardier peering through the scope of his Norden Bomb Sight, we must never lose sight of the fact that Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, and Imperial-Fascist Japan were solely responsible for the greatest calamity of the Twentieth Century; indeed of all time. Now some sixty-plus years after the Second World War, the American-British alliance once again confronts an enemy determined to impose totalitarian darkness. The hubris of Grayling’s Among the Dead Cities is its contribution to a growing community of academicians that seek to undermine present Anglo-American legitimacy by attacking the historical record. Professor A. C. Grayling’s judgment that British and American area bombing constituted a war crime not only disparages the 95,000 American and British bomber crew personnel that gave their lives in the fight to preserve liberty; worse, it aids those determined to undermine the current American-British alliance in the war against Islamist terrorism.
 Robert D. Kaplan, Warrior Politics: Why Leadership Demands a Pagan Ethos, New York: Random House, 2002, p. 30. All subsequent information on Livy derives from Kaplan’s book, particularly Chapter III, “Livy’s Punic War,” pp. 28-37.
 See for example, Claire Berlinski’s Menace in Europe: Why the Continent’s Crisis is America’s, Too. New York: Crown Forum, 2006 and John Gibson’s Hating America: The New World Sport. New York: Regan Books, 2004.
 Claire Berlinski’s Menace in Europe, p. 122. See Chantal Delsol’s Icarus Fallen: The Search for Meaning in an Uncertain World. Wilmington, DE: ISI Books, 2003.
 It hardly needs mentioning that Japan is in many ways a secular, modern nation.
 One of the best books on bomber crew heroism is Brian D. O’Neill’s Half A Wing, Three Engines and A Prayer: B-17s Over Germany, Special Edition. New York: McGraw Hill, 1999.
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