Over the past few weeks, I have written a lot about the 1940s, an era well before my time. It was, by any measure, a very scary decade.
In my travels across Europe, I have gone looking for the remnants of World War II. (Interestingly, none are visible in Japan, except for the gradual realization that all architecture is post 1950.) There is the tour of Churchill’s bunker on King Charles Street in London. Walking around Paris, you can’t help but notice the historical markers here and there memorializing the location where a patriot was shot by the Nazis. In both cities, I have walked down certain streets and noticed numerous pockmarks on the graceful facades.¹
At times, I have looked up into the sky and tried to imagine the sounds of bombers, the rumble of artillery, or the rat-a-tat-tat of machine gun fire. From the damage to the buildings around me, I could tell I was standing in the very places where hell reigned. But, in every case, I failed to feel it. Just cloudy skies above, and the sounds of traffic around me. I could sense the highs and graces of Europe, but I just couldn’t visualize or feel the war that was very real.
The drumbeat to the war is best documented, in my opinion, in William L. Shirer’s remarkable tome The Rise and Fall of The Third Reich. A bigoted politician – whose ancestor had fortuitously changed the family name from something sounding silly ² – built a national campaign scapegoating minorities to win an election in a major European state. He successfully manipulated the new media of the era – radio and motion pictures – to win the adulation of the masses.³
Sound familiar? Can’t happen here, right?