It’s not often that I get a chance to see things from a different perspective. It’s a funny thing to consider, but I got confronted by this on our trip to the US Air Force museum. That in itself is an amazing place, and in my thoughts about the visit I guess you can see my excitement and enthusiasm for all the planes.
There was one thing that struck me. They fought a war out here, known to us as the Second World War. It was a totally different war from the one that we took part in, however. I’ve never been taught, and never had the chance to consider, that other people had different priorities in the war, or the extent of the conflict that occurred beyond European shores, and the fact that it may also have been the result of continued tensions in other regions of the World.
One thing that genuinely surprised me was the fact that the American view of getting involved in the Battle of Britain and the European Theatre was very humble. It wasn’t the gung-ho gun slinging approach we’re so used to characterising the Yanks with – they weren’t allowed to be involved by their own acts of neutrality (initially), however many Americans felt the need to enrol and fight but disguised with different nationalities. The stories were told from the point of view of feeling it as a duty, and there were no mentions of “thanks to America, the Limeys were saved from the Nazi occupation”. It was told as a very human story too – there were displays with reports of Billy Fiske, the first American killed in the Battle of Britain, and other airmen’s uniforms. It was written about as a partnership with the other Allied countries, not the American lead charge into battle I perhaps foolishly and ignorantly imagined it might be.
The stories of war in the Pacific Theatre were surprising and fascinating – everything from the human stories of Pearl Harbour, the one we all know about, to the stories of American and Australian troops getting isolated on remote Philippine islands. I didn’t even know the Australians were involved in the war.
There was, of course, a display about and of the Nuclear attacks on Japan by the USA, told from the American perspective and how it was important to them to end the war quickly. It told of the long decision making process by Truman and his military advisors, it told the story of the pilots, and in no way glorified the action, but described it as a necessary means to end the war quickly.
I guess when it was called a World War, they really meant it. Maybe if I’d studied history, I would have had a greater understanding of what went on, but until now World War Two has been Nazi Germany, the Holocaust and the somewhat confusing role of the Soviets in the whole thing. I welcome a little bit of consciousness expansion every now and again.
The rest of the museum was equally as enlightening – the development of the Cold War, the South East Asian conflicts (simply lumped together as “Vietnam” in the UK. You weren’t there, man.), the Gulf conflicts, the continuing (perceived ) role of the United States in world security and ensuing warfare.
The conclusions I’ve drawn after this day out are mine to keep – it is not for me to share and influence the minds of others, but definitely being forced into viewing the world from the perspective of an American, I’ve called into doubt some of my own preconceptions about what America has done and still does around the World.
I’ve mentioned something similar before, but one of the most heartwarming things for me to see was for a young man of my agegroup meet a veteran of the South East Asian conflicts and genuinely thank him for serving in the US Air Force, and a man in his thirties have the same reaction to an elderly gentleman who was involved in the Second World War. If nothing else, they’ve got their priorities straight on veterans, these Yanks.
Finally, here’s a terrifying statistic I read in the museum. In the Pacific Theater of World War two, 24 million people lost their lives. 18 million of these were civilians. 21 million were Allies. ‘Only’ 200,000 were in the nuclear bombings of Japan. Maybe we should know more about the conributions of other countries to the Great Wars, and remember them as we remember our own corners of the Wars.