With Memorial Day fresh in many people’s minds, and the obligatory tenuous internationalist perspective leading to a few Americans asking me what the rest of the world thinks about them, I’ve been reminded of World War 2, and just how incredibly sweet and charming the perspective a global superpower has on its last really ‘good’ war, where it was allowed to be considered the good guys and all. The level of post-fact insulation that people have from the realities of that war – and it was a global war, with global economic tides shifting – was astounding. I heard one person say that the United States fielded the biggest army in that war, which is interesting considering the total forces of the US military were 671,485, which sounds like a lot until you find that the Chinese army had at least three million military casualties – not personnel. Just casualties.
Still, I don’t want to act as though the American outlook on World War II presents a uniquely ignorant front. Australians make a point of hating on the US for a host of reasons, but there was at least one shining moment where we rallied around them, when post-Pearl Harbour, post-Singapore, the United States navy brought its mighty warships to Australian shores, parked, and promised – in general terms – to help us oppose the Japanese invasion.
The thing is, at that point, the US Naval forces was at least partially integrated, and there were African American servicemen in these boats. The Curtin government of Australia welcomed the US forces with open arms, giving Visas and praise to the American troops, who were well liked by Australian women and stores, but, the black troops had to stay on the ships. Seriously, one of our terms for military salvation was that the US not let black people off the boat.
Oh, and just to make it clear that there was nobody involved in this situation who wasn’t a racist, the US troop commanders agreed.