I recently saw a Netflix show called the Greatest Events of WWII in Color.
This great ten-part series is highly recommended for anybody interested in history and not that familiar with the details of WWII. (As an aside, the show’s impact had little to do with addition of color to the footage.) The series focuses on certain key events and elements of WWII. The stories are clearly told, and in what I thought was a balanced manner. You learn about the lead up to the particular events, the battlefield strategies employed therein, about how the event played out in reality, the end results, and, finally, the overall impact of the event on the direction of WWII itself, and on history. I learnt a lot of new things.
I emerged from the experience of viewing these episodes convinced that very, very, few people are really completely “good”, or noble. Evil lurks in the human heart, perhaps closer to the surface in some more than in others. All it takes is the right set of circumstances to bring out the worst in a person. Some of us, even if we are not active participants, become complicit just from our capability to justify harsh cruelty done to others in our name, for what is claimed to be the greater good.
The last two episodes of this series were the most impactful on me. They had to do with the genocide in the concentration camps in Europe, and the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. With the genocide, the killing of human beings became an effort of industrial scale, with the goal of speeding up the process of systematically murdering people. The goal was to find the most efficient way to do this. The bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki attempted to legitimize the process of mass murder on an even grander scale. It was, in a sense, a response to an already brutal war with a even greater level of brutality. There appears to be no limit to which we can push each other in this regard.
There were many atrocities committed in WWII. The conventional bombing of cities on a large scale, in a deliberate attempt to massacre civilians in large numbers and achieve a psychological advantage in the conflict, was something that both sides were guilty of. The fire-bombing of Dresden was particularly horrific.
And it is not as if we remember the horrors of previous wars and strive not to repeat them. We will never learn that war is hell.