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The Best War Ever

America and World War II

Michael C. C. Adams

second edition
Publication Date
Binding Type

The most readable—and searingly honest—short book ever written on this pivotal conflict.

Was World War II really such a "good war"? Popular memory insists that it was, in fact, "the best war ever." After all, we knew who the enemy was, and we understood what we were fighting for. The war was good for the economy. It was liberating for women. A battle of tanks and airplanes, it was a "cleaner" war than World War I. Although we did not seek the conflict—or so we believed—Americans nevertheless rallied in support of the war effort, and the nation's soldiers, all twelve million of them, were proud...

The most readable—and searingly honest—short book ever written on this pivotal conflict.

Was World War II really such a "good war"? Popular memory insists that it was, in fact, "the best war ever." After all, we knew who the enemy was, and we understood what we were fighting for. The war was good for the economy. It was liberating for women. A battle of tanks and airplanes, it was a "cleaner" war than World War I. Although we did not seek the conflict—or so we believed—Americans nevertheless rallied in support of the war effort, and the nation's soldiers, all twelve million of them, were proud to fight. But according to historian Michael C. C. Adams, our memory of the war era as a golden age is distorted. It has left us with a misleading—even dangerous—legacy, one enhanced by the nostalgia-tinged retrospectives of Stephen E. Ambrose and Tom Brokaw. Disputing many of our common assumptions about the period, Adams argues in The Best War Ever that our celebratory experience of World War II is marred by darker and more sordid realities.

In the book, originally published in 1994, Adams challenges stereotypes to present a view of World War II that avoids the simplistic extremes of both glorification and vilification. The Best War Ever charts the complex diplomatic problems of the 1930s and reveals the realities of ground combat: no moral triumph, it was in truth a brutal slog across a blasted landscape. Adams also exposes the myth that the home front was fully united behind the war effort, demonstrating how class, race, gender, and age divisions split Americans. Meanwhile, in Europe and Asia, shell-shocked soldiers grappled with emotional and physical trauma, rigorously enforced segregation, and rampant venereal disease.

In preparing this must-read new edition, Adams has consulted some seventy additional sources on topics as varied as the origins of Social Security and a national health system, the Allied strategic bombing campaign, and the relationship of traumatic brain injuries to the adjustment problems of veterans. The revised book also incorporates substantial developments that have occurred in our understanding of the course and character of the war, particularly in terms of the human consequences of fighting. In a new chapter, "The Life Cycle of a Myth," Adams charts image-making about the war from its inception to the present. He contrasts it with modern-day rhetoric surrounding the War on Terror, while analyzing the real-world consequences that result from distorting the past, including the dangerous idea that only through (perpetual) military conflict can we achieve lasting peace.

Reviews

Reviews

Adams... uses his demythologizing lens to provide a rich overview of American involvement in the war... [He] has a real gift for efficiently explaining complex historical problems.

Not only is this mythologizing bad history, says Adams, it is dangerous as well. Surrounding the war with an aura of nostalgia both fosters the delusion that war can cure our social ills and makes us strong again, and weakens confidence in our ability to act effectively in our own time.

About

Book Details

Publication Date
Status
Available
Trim Size
6
x
9
Pages
184
ISBN
9781421416670
Illustration Description
3 b&w photos, 3 b&w illus., 3 maps
Table of Contents

List of Illustrations and Maps
Preface to the Second Edition
Preface
1. No Easy Answers
2. The Patterns of War, 1939–1945
3. The American War Machine
4. Overseas
5. Home Front Change
6. The World Created by

List of Illustrations and Maps
Preface to the Second Edition
Preface
1. No Easy Answers
2. The Patterns of War, 1939–1945
3. The American War Machine
4. Overseas
5. Home Front Change
6. The World Created by War
7. The Life Cycle of a Myth
Afterword
References
Index

Author Bio
Michael C. C. Adams
Featured Contributor

Michael C. C. Adams

Michael C. C. Adams, Regents Professor of History Emeritus at Northern Kentucky University, is the author of The Best War Ever: America and World War II and Our Masters the Rebels: A Speculation on Union Military Failure in the East, 1861–1865, winner of the Museum of the Confederacy’s Jefferson Davis Prize for the best Civil War book.