From tensions in the Middle East to rising populist nationalism in Europe and Russian dominion in the east, the issues of World War II are eerily predicative of current events. As we mark the 80th anniversary of the war’s commencement, we must ask ourselves what, if anything, have we learned? Was the sacrifice of the Greatest Generation in vain?
I have seen the consequences of this sacrifice firsthand. My grandfather served in the Navy and was part of testing the atomic bomb on the Bikini Atoll islands. Sunglasses were his only protection from a nuclear detonation. The effects of that radiation undoubtedly shortened his lifespan, never mind the psychological trauma.
Millions sacrificed their lives in the hopes that their deaths would find meaning in securing a better world for the future. So, what have we done with that gift?
Currently, people are being detained indefinitely in internment camps because their ethnicity or national origin is considered a risk to our nation’s security much like Japanese Americans during the war.
A strong man in Russia threatens to disrupt the international power balance while anti-Semitism and white supremacy are on the rise all over the world. Populist nationalism is sweeping across Europe and the UK as Brexit moves forward without any real plan.
We seem to have forgotten the lessons learned in the war.
“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” philosopher George Santayana said.
Humans seem to have a short memory when it comes to the past. While 80 years can seem like an eon, it is a mere blip on the radar of human history.
I regret not asking my grandfather more questions about his time in the Navy while he was still alive. Following his death in 2012, we found numerous maps and documents relating to his service, however many of these were rendered meaningless without his memories to add context.
As we lose World War II veterans every day, soon all firsthand accounts be gone. It is vital that we record the personal stories of the men and women who served if we want to have any hope of rectifying our global predicament.
We can use the past as a blueprint to avoid remaking past miscalculations. Or, we can ignore it. If madness is defined as repeating past actions and expecting different consequences, then the world has definitely gone mad. The only question is are we now too late to fix it?