We could have used a stricter accounting of how we failed after 1945
David Shribman (“Triumphant in war, imperfect in peace,” Page A1, Aug. 9) juxtaposes the hopes and dreams of Americans at the conclusion of World War II with the realities of the nation and the world 75 years later. His analysis outlines the potential role the United States might have played in fundamentally reshaping the world and itself for the better, but it offers little explanation for why the nation failed in so many significant ways (racial and gender equality, health care for all, economic justice, etc.).
I doubt that most of the historians and scholars quoted in the article would agree with the sentiment that the failure was simply the result of the world being “more complicated than we thought.” Instead one must look carefully at specific national policies and leaders (Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives) who embraced the grotesque and destructive Cold War, a cult of individualism and the so-called free market, global hegemony, and neoliberalism.
In particular, the political and racial repression of the early Cold War era stifled a labor movement and civil rights movement that, among other things, would have made important advances toward social democracy in the country.
The writer is a professor of history at the University of Maine.
Harsh truths outweigh the myths and hypocrisy
David Shribman’s “Triumphant in war, imperfect in peace” focuses on the unfortunate disparity between the promise of America as it emerged from World War II and the tragic quality of its follow-through on that promise, including its dramatic transfer of wealth and opportunity to the richest of its people, its failure to right the wrongs of its racism, the damage it has inflicted recently upon its own institutions of government, and its failure to respond intelligently to the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, I found the article to be seriously flawed in a number of ways, including its propagation of the myth that “we” (America), fighting valiantly “on two fronts,” won World War II on our own, ignoring the roles of both Britain and, more especially, the Soviet Union, the latter both physically, against Hitler, and circumstantially, against Japan; its bogus claim, by one observer, that “we can celebrate the fact that major inter-state war has been avoided for 75 years,” as if our witless invasions of Vietnam, Cambodia, and Iraq don’t count; and the blatant irony of its praise of the GI Bill (a clear and noble act of socialism), quoting, as it does, the Columbia historian Ira Katznelson that it was “the single most important piece of legislation ever passed in America to create a modern middle class,” while ignoring our vicious treatment of the native peoples of Central and South America, both before and after World War II, by aiding and abetting the most ruthless dictators there in the name of anti-socialism.
We missed our moment for universal health care (Truman was right)
David Shribman’s impressive overview of US policy after World War II could have benefited from mentioning another major opportunity we failed to grasp: the creation of a universal health insurance program. That was greatly desired by President Harry Truman, but Congress refused to act. That lapse still imperils our health and economy today.