Learning More About WWII

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.

A Face from a War

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAt the Korean War Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC.

This is the face on one of 19 statues representing a platoon on patrol, on the lookout for the enemy, and for danger lurking around the corner.

I was drawn to the eyes.  They look hollow and haunted to me. I think the artist has successfully captured the sense of weariness and fear in the soldier.

It still goes on.

The Harrison Brothers Hardware Store, Huntsville, AL

We spent a couple of hours (literally speaking) in downtown Huntsville, AL. I think that is sufficient time to see this particular area of town and get a good feel for it.  The downtown area is small.  The place reminds me of other small places with downtown areas that are recovering from hard times.  The buildings are old, and perhaps historical.   The central area in Huntsville is dominated by the Madison County Courthouse, a building whose design leads me to believe that it was probably a product of the 1970s, a time when public buildings seem to have been designed to be primarily utilitarian and functional, and not very noteworthy from an artistic perspective when seen from the outside.  The buildings around the courthouse in Huntsville house small mom and pop boutique stores and restaurants, and lawyers’ offices.   Old people lounge around in the benches watching the tourists.  Young people with laid-back attitudes serve you in the restaurant whose outdoor tables are painted in psychedelic colors.  I have seen this kind of a scene in other small towns with rundown downtown areas.  Perhaps these young people with their seemingly simple lives and a straightforward attitude will bring a rebirth to these towns.

The Harrison Brothers Hardware Store lies to the south of the courthouse.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt is a historical facility that still functions as a store today, and in some sections of the store you can see shelves and tables stacked up the way they used to be in past times.  But the thing that got me was the historical cash register which is still being used!   The metal work on this piece of hardware is something to be seen from close up.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe only other thing I will mention here about Huntsville is the statue outside the courthouse.  It is a memorial to the civil war, and it is a memorial to the confederates, the side that lost the war.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAStatues like this started coming up all over the south in the early 1900s, well after the civil war was over.  From what I understand, they were built primarily by a group called the United Daughters of the Confederacy.   Unfortunately, these statues have now become an uncomfortable reminder of our still ongoing issues with race, one of the major issues of this country that the civil war sought to address.  Statues of confederate leaders are being torn down from many public places today, mostly in the north, because they are symbolic of our ongoing societal problems.  It will probably be a while before such a movement takes hold in the southern swathe of this nation.

Huntsville is also called The Rocket City, and it is the place where the American space program got its beginning.  If you are visiting the city and have time to spare, there are things to be seen in this regard.  We did not have the time.

For Memorial Day, 2018

By sheer coincidence, we happened to visit a few historical locations last week that are associated in one way or the other with the American Civil War.   The practice of observing a Memorial Day in the United States came into being as a formal way to remember the people who had lost their lives in this war.

The first place we visited during our travels last week was Gettysburg, the location of the civil war battle where about 51,000  lives were lost in a single encounter over three days of fighting. The battle marked the turning of the Civil War, when The Union finally began to push back The Confederacy.  It was also the place where Lincoln gave his famous Gettysburg Address.  The first picture below is from a section of the famous Battle of Gettysburg Cyclorama. The cyclorama can be seen at the visitor center in Gettysburg.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe next place we visited was Harper’s Ferry, the location where John Brown, the abolitionist, raided the local armory and helped to ignite a process that eventually led to the civil war.  Being at the confluence of the Shenandoah and Potomac rivers, the town played an important role during the civil war itself.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe last place we visited were the fields of Antietam where the bloodiest single day battle of the civil war was fought. About 23,000 people lost their lives in about 12 hours.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThese days Memorial Day serves as the day to remember all the men and women who have given up their lives to serve the country in various wars and battles, but mostly it seems to be a day for people to consider the beginning of the summer season.  Barbecues are fired up for the first time, swimming pools are open, and yes, there are good sales in the stores.

Sadly, we have still not learnt our lessons about wars in general.