August 21, 2004
The Greatest Generation

Adam Gopnik writes about histories of the First World War in this week's New Yorker. It is, to my ears, a great essay, debunking versions of the story and revisions thereof. There is no strong hook, but clearly he is writing about a more recent war, too. He flirts with being corny toward the end, but the stakes, then and now, are high enough to allow for some sincerity:

'And the point we might still take from the First World War is the old one that wars are always, in Lincoln’s perfectly chosen word, astounding. They produce results that we can hardly imagine when they start. It is not that wars are always wrong. It is that wars are always wars, good for destroying things that must be destroyed, as in 1864 or 1944, but useless for doing anything more, and no good at all for doing cultural work: saving the national honor, proving that we’re not a second-rate power, avenging old humiliations, demonstrating resolve, or any of the rest of the empty vocabulary of self-improvement through mutual slaughter.'

Posted by dbrown at August 21, 2004 11:16 AM
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