After all, the present is always lived in ambiguity. [...] It is only in retrospect that we begin to simplify experience into myth — because we need stories to live by, because we want to honor our ancestors and our country instead of doubting them.
In this way, a necessary but terrible war is simplified into a “good war,” and we start to feel shy or guilty at any reminder of the moral compromises and outright betrayals that are inseparable from every combat.
The best history writing reverses this process, restoring complexity to our sense of the past. Indeed, its most important lesson may be that the awareness of ambiguity must not lead to detachment and paralysis — or to pacifism and isolationism, as Nicholson Baker and Pat Buchanan would have it. [...]
The fact that we can still be instructed by the war, that we are still proud of our forefathers’ virtues and pained by their sufferings and sins, is the best proof that World War II is still living history — just as the Civil War is still alive, long after the last veteran was laid to rest.
- ADAM KIRSCH,