Unmasking the Politics of Commemoration

Reclaiming WW2

In the beginning of May, depending on which precise date your country was liberated from Nazi rule, Europeans commemorate the victims of WW2. I did, however, not commemorate the dead that day, nor did I celebrate my freedom the next. I cannot participate in a mass ritual that desecrates the memories of all the martyrs of WW2 by turning them into mere tokens of Anglo-American chauvinism.

Who defeated the Nazis?

Obama and Cameron characterized the common perception of WW2 in the West when they opened their column in the Washington Post, stating that “our forces began to turn the tide of World War II.” They went on to justify Anglo-American imperialism in Afghanistan, Libya, Syria and Iran on those same grounds of fictional Anglo-American exceptionalism. The goal for rewriting history, then, is clear.

In fact, more than 60 million people died during WW2, including 27 million Russians, between 10 million and 20 million Chinese, 6 million Jews, 5.5 million Germans, 3,5 million Indonesians, 3 million non-Jewish Poles, 2.5 million Japanese, 1,75 million Indians, 1,5 million from Indo-China, 1.5 million Yugoslavs and 0,75 million Filipinos. Austria, Great Britain, France, Italy, Hungary, Romania, and the United States each counted between 250,000 and 333,000 dead.1

Indeed, the main contributor to defeating the Nazi’s was the Soviet Union. The German army suffered over 6 million casualties on the east-front, while approximately 1 million were lost on the West-front and in the Mediterranean. The soviets were continuously fighting well over 200 German divisions at a time, while for most of the war, the British and American forces were fighting about 10 divisions in North-Africa to defend the colonial empire.2 This was in violation of their promise to open a second front in Western-Europe at the beginning of 1942, a front that was only opened one and a half years later, long after the Soviet Union had already miraculously turned the tide.3 Indeed, when the second front finally came, they were only fighting about 50 German divisions. A statement at the time from soon to-be president Truman was telling: “If we see that Germany is winning we ought to help Russia, and if Russia is winning we ought to help Germany, and that way let them kill as many as possible.”4

Indeed, when Roosevelt finally started to give limited aid to the Soviet Union, many American corporations had already aided the fascist axis for over a decade, which was a long-held goal of the US state department. Mussolini, for example, was considered “a sound and useful leader” for putting his “own house in order… A class war was put down”. A 1937 state department report stated that “if Fascism cannot succeed by persuasion [in Germany], it must succeed by force.” While American investment plummeted throughout Europe during the great depression, they increased in Nazi Germany by almost 50%. “a half-dozen key U.S. companies — International Harvester, Ford, General Motors, Standard Oil of New Jersey, and du Pont — had become deeply involved in German weapons production,’’ the report stated. Henry Ford in particular inspired many Nazi leaders when he published several anti-Semitic essays in the early 20’s in his bundle ‘the International Jew.’ Indeed, Hitler proclaimed to “regard Henry Ford as my inspiration,” and had his portrait hanging in his Munich office.5

The myth of the just war

But despite the limited nature of their military support to the war effort, the Anglo-American alliance committed many civilian massacres, continuously bombing German and Japanese cities. Rather than limiting the bombardments to military infrastructure, they deliberately maximized civilian deaths, supposedly to “demoralize” the enemy. The British knew, however, from their own experience with the German Blitz, that this was nonsense. Indeed, a review by the American government itself found that “Strategic bombing was designed to destroy the industrial base of the enemy and the morale of its people. It did neither,” and was extremely expensive and therefore counterproductive to the war effort.6 Regardless, they continued their ‘terror bombings’ in Japan, which had offered to negotiate peace terms countless times, but was consistently ignored. These pleas for negotiations started even before Pearl Harbor, a decision forced by Japanese hard-liners that thought it would force the US to the negotiation table, whose oil embargo was severely harming the Japanese economy.7 Especially important for the Japanese was amnesty for the emperor, who was at the pinnacle of Japanese religion. As a study by MacArthur’s Southwest Pacific Command explained: “to dethrone, or hang, the Emperor would cause a tremendous and violent reaction from all Japanese. Hanging of the Emperor to them would be comparable to the crucifixion of Christ to us. All would fight to die like ants.”8

The Americans, however, insisted on “unconditional surrender,” and continued to slaughter Japanese civilians by the hundreds of thousands. Chief architect of the firebombing, general Curtis LeMay, report that the victims were “scorched and boiled and baked to death.’’ Over a hundred cities would suffer this fate, causing one US official to worry whether the US would “get the reputation of outdoing Hitler in atrocities.’’9 At the home front, innocent Japanese Americans were deported to internment camps, where they lived in deplorable conditions while their property was looted and confiscated.10 The hatred for the Japanese had become so severe that polls suggest that fully 13 percent of US citizens wanted to exterminate every single Japanese person from the face of the earth.11 To put this in perspective, consider that, in 1942, when the holocaust was fully under way, internal surveys revealed that only 5% of Nazi party members approved of the shipment of Jews to ‘labour camps.’12 Genocide scholar Kieran Kelly describes the mind-set of the US army at the time:

The Marine battle cry on Tarawa made no bones about this: ‘Kill the Jap bastards! Take no prisoners!’ Troops referred to themselves as ‘rodent exterminators.’ When prisoners were taken they were often massacred, perhaps leaving a few for intelligence purposes. In addition to torturing and killing prisoners there was very widespread mutilation of corpses and the taking of ‘trophy’ body-parts. This became so normal that Life featured a full page photo of ‘an attractive blonde posing with a Japanese skull she had been sent by her fiance…,’ whilst it became routine for customs in Hawaii to ask if there were bones in luggage. It was also common to extract gold teeth, sometimes from living Japanese.11

In the last week of the war, president Truman decided to drop two atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Contrary to popular belief, literally every single US military leader found it to be “of no material assistance in our war against Japan,” and rather “adopted an ethical standard common to the barbarians of the Dark Ages.” Indeed, it was the entry of the red army, infamous for defeating the Nazi’s, that was cited by Japanese government officials as the reason for unconditional surrender. This is confirmed by a study conducted by the U.S. War Department in January 1946, which found “little mention … of the use of the atomic bomb by the United States in the discussions leading up to the … decision … it [is] almost a certainty that the Japanese would have capitulated upon the entry of Russia into the war.”13

Truman simply wanted to show the Soviet Union that the US was not constrained by humanitarian concerns in its quest for global domination. Early documents show that Germany was initially also considered as a target, but that “comparatively flimsy wooden houses’’ in some Japanese cities would better demonstrate the destructive power of the atomic bomb. In addition, “the possibility of eliminating a large fraction of the Fire Force of a Japanese town [in the initial blast] … is attractive and realistic … the probability of a devastating fire, spreading well beyond the limits of the blast damage, will be greatly increased.” Even after the Japanese surrendered unconditionally, the Americans followed through on a “grand finale” with 1000 fighter jets, further bombing thousands of Japanese civilians while dropping leaflets proclaiming: “Your Government has surrendered. The war is over.” A third atomic bomb on Tokyo was actually considered, but taken off the list of targets because it was “already practically rubble.” Finally, after the unconditional surrender of Japan, the emperor was allowed to remain in place, rendering all the death and destruction of the preceding years completely meaningless.

The survival of fascism

No one, however, seemed to have a greater thirst for war than Winston Churchill. Just days after Berlin fell, while Japan was still at war, Churchill asked his military to set up a plan to invade the Soviet Union, which would involve the defeated Nazi army. Fortunately, his military advisers found the plan to be unfeasible because the Soviet Union had mobilized nearly 264 division of war-hardened soldiers backed by an excellent Soviet war industry. At best, 100 British, American and German divisions could be scrambled to fight them. They fittingly called the plan “Operation Unthinkable.” Churchill and Truman did, however, ally with Nazi-collaborators in Greece in the civil war against the partisans, who had fought the Nazis and freed large parts of the country before the British and Americans had arrived. A long line of Fascist dictators would rule Greece in the decades that followed. The Americans effectively did the same in South-Korea. Ties with fascist-collaborators were also extensive in Italy, Germany, France and Japan.

In terms of the holocaust, which included millions of exterminated Gypsies, Slavs and disabled people, the track record is clear. Hitler was primarily inspired by the Eugenics movement, which is a sub-set of scientific racism that developed over the centuries to justify slavery and colonialism, often resulting in massive colonial genocides. Churchill and Roosevelt themselves were proponents of Eugenics, which was widespread across the entire Western elite and had already led to forced sterilizations in the US. in Mein Kampf, Hitler wrote that “I have studied with great interest the laws of several American states concerning prevention of reproduction by people whose progeny would, in all probability, be of no value or be injurious to the racial stock.”5

In addition, between 1933 and 1944, hundreds of thousands of Jewish refugees were refused entry to the United States because of xenophobic immigration quotas, despite repeated confirmations that they were being exterminated. Confirmations, I might add, whose publication the US government tried to block. In the summer of 1944, the US received requests from the World Jewish Congress to bomb Auschwitz and its train-tracks to dismantle the genocidal system. The Assistant Secretary of War responded that “such an operation could be executed only by the diversion of considerable air support … now engaged in decisive operations elsewhere and would in any case be of such doubtful efficacy that it would not warrant the use of our resources,” resources, of course, which were by that time largely occupied with the killing of German civilians in massive numbers. They would do a bombing raid just five miles from Auschwitz a week later, but neither the camp nor its infrastructure was ever targeted. In the end, Auschwitz was liberated by the red army, consisting of Russian, Ukrainian, Belarusian, Armenian and other soldiers from the Soviet Union

This year, at the commemoration of the horrors at Auschwitz, the Polish foreign minister desecrated the memory of the martyrs who died there by falsely claiming that no Russians liberated Auschwitz, but rather solely Ukrainians. Fascist leaders from the OUN who, among other things, set up a 13th all-Ukrainian Waffen-SS division, are now being praised as hero’s in Ukraine. Ukrainian prime minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk recently demonstrated the insanity of his propaganda efforts when he claimed, on German public television, that “All of us still clearly remember the Soviet invasion of Ukraine and Germany. That has to be avoided. And nobody has the right to rewrite the results of the Second World War. And that is exactly what Russia’s President Putin is trying to do.”

A few months ago, A UN resolution for “combating the glorification of Nazism” passed with 115 to 3 votes. The countries voting against were Ukraine, Canada and the USA. The United Kingdom and many other Western European countries abstained. Indeed, weapons are now being shipped by Western countries to the regime in Kiev that arms several neo-Nazi battalions who claim to be the heirs of the OUN. History seems to repeat itself. After WW2, many OUN members had fled to the United States and were able to penetrate the administrations of both Reagan and Bush, as well CIA operations against the Soviet Union. Reagan once told Stretsko, who personally oversaw a slaughter of 7000 Jews in Lviv, “your struggle is our struggle, your dream is our dream.’’

The follies of commemoration day

A recent poll shows that the European people have been effectively indoctrinated to believe that either the UK or the US played a key role in liberating Europe from Nazi-Germany. Only 13% rightly credit the Soviet Union for its citizens’ heroic sacrifice. Indeed, a poll taken in France in May 1945 showed the exact reverse results. Even Churchill admitted at the time that “it was the Russian army that tore the guts out of the Nazi war machine.” Regardless, this year, nearly all Western leaders turned down Putin’s invitation for the commemoration of WW2 in Moscow. Indeed, in the West, the whole commemoration has become nothing but a mass ritual of self-congratulatory propaganda to mythologize western exceptionalism in order to justify its imperial violence.

The European Union recently received the Nobel peace prize for 70 years without war. That is, for the absence of war on European soil (bar Greece and Spain). European countries have been protagonists in many invasions and wars since WW2, including those fought in defence of their colonial empire, such as the Algerian independence war that resulted in the deaths of one Million Algerians, 10% of the population. Until 1974, other liberation wars were fought against European powers in Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Indonesia, Morocco, Madagascar, Malaysia, Kenya, Tunisia, India, Angola, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique and Yemen. But imperial violence extended well beyond the period of formal colonialism. To name but one example, from 1990-onwards, through sanctions, war and occupation, approximately 3 million Iraqis have died, an effort led by the same Anglo-American forces we are taught to revere. In a televised interview in 1996, the US ambassador to the UN was asked to respond to a recent UNICEF report, which found that 500.000 Iraqi children had already died due to the sanctions. She simply responded that “the price is worth it.” Polls show that British and American citizens overwhelmingly believe that only 10.000 Iraqi civilians have died since the 2003 invasion. The preceding sanctions period, which prompted several UN officials to resign in declaration of genocide, has been completely erased from public memory.14

Some people argue that the commemoration goes beyond WW2, that you should simply participate with the victims that are close to you in mind. But I don’t see a reason to legitimize this ritual that only serves to mask the shallowness and apathy of our materialist society. When imperial violence is still being perpetrated, engagement should be a daily reality, not a fleeting moment of seriousness. So fleeting, in fact, that we can’t even be bothered to find out what exactly it is that we are commemorating.

[Updated 7 May: German casualties substituted for fatalities. — Ed]

  1. Oliver Stone & Peter Kuznick (2012). The Untold History of the United States, p. 165. Gallery Books eBook. []
  2. Oliver Stone & Peter Kuznick, p. 201. []
  3. Oliver Stone & Peter Kuznick, p. 189-191. []
  4. Oliver Stone & Peter Kuznick, p. 178. []
  5. Oliver Stone & Peter Kuznick, p. 158. [] []
  6. Kieran Kelly (2012). The Context of the Iraq Genocide, p. 38. []
  7. Kieran Kelly, p. 113-114. []
  8. Oliver Stone & Peter Kuznick, p. 250. []
  9. Oliver Stone & Peter Kuznick, p. 267. []
  10. Oliver Stone & Peter Kuznick, p. 261. []
  11. Kieran Kelly, p. 115. [] []
  12. Kieran Kelly, p. 44. []
  13. Oliver Stone & Peter Kuznick, p. 293-294. []
  14. Kieran Kelly, p. 179. []
Chris de Ploeg is a freelance journalist and student of liberal arts and sciences with a major in social sciences at Amsterdam University College. Hhis work has been published in De Groene Amsterdammer (NL) and De Wereld Morgen (BE). You can contact him at: chrisdeploeg@gmail.com. Read other articles by Chris, or visit Chris's website.