World War II Uniforms—The Army’s Snooze Button to Stay in the American DreamGregory Hood
In modern America, image is everything. Even war. Therefore, the United States Army is rolling out new uniforms reminiscent of something old—the iconic “pinks and greens” of the World War II “Greatest Generation.”
Probably not by coincidence,” The New York Times explained, “that’s what the Army was wearing the last time the nation celebrated total victory in a major war.” The hope is that it will help the service “stand out in a tough recruiting environment and polish the Army’s image after a generation of grinding and divisive wars.”
The former motivation makes sense. The United States Marine Corps’ “dress blues” has been one of the Leathernecks’ best recruiting tools. The competition is also fierce because there are so few candidates. An ever-increasing number of Americans are simply unable to meet the military’s standards, even if they want to.
Yet the fundamental difference between the USMC and the Army is that the former is almost a self-contained universe with its own identity, history, and mystique. The latter is identified more with the country. In Thomas Ricks’s Making The Corps, he notes that “rather than emphasize the culture of the service, as the Marines do,” buildings at the Army’s Fort Jackson “emphasize the United States, displaying the flags of the fifty states and portraits of the presidents.” The rifle ranges aren’t named after “great battles,” but states.
The Army isn’t just trying to recreate itself, but recapture a national mood, that of the “Good War” and the postwar period. In so doing, it’s inadvertently revealing the doublethink at the heart of contemporary America. To many Americans, midcentury was an idealized time of national unity before Vietnam and the divisions of the 1960s. Wages and living standards were high. One could support a family on a single income.
Conservatives celebrate the patriotism, moral rectitude, and religious faith (“In God We Trust” was added to the currency in 1956). Liberals toast the consolidation of the New Deal, the strength of unions, and the idealistic beginnings of the Civil Rights Movement. There are some Boomers around who fondly recall the romantic aura around the “Camelot” of John F. Kennedy, and how America “lost its innocence” when he was slain in Dallas. Somehow, despite being gunned down by a Communist, JFK’s assassination is laid at the feet of the radical right and/or a conservative junta in public memory, thanks to people like Oliver Stone
Both liberals and conservatives celebrate the victory of World War II. The hard leftists conveniently forget their initial support for the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. Conservatives blank out the original “America First” movement.
In a viral clip passed around by liberals from HBO’s The Newsroom,
the protagonist complains America is no longer the greatest country in the world. However, it “used to be” because it reached for the stars, built wonders, conquered diseases, and had the world’s greatest economy.
Of course, you don’t see this clip much in the Trump Era. The heroic news anchor says we “acted like men,” which, in the Current Year, is a problematic statement.
This leads to the contradiction at the heart of midcentury nostalgia. Though World War II and its immediate aftermath was a time of victory, prosperity and success, it was also a time of “racism,” “sexism,” and “oppression.” (Professors and journalists hadn’t yet convinced people that some of the more exotic modern sins, like “transphobia,” even existed. But now we know those were around too.)
To the contemporary liberal mind, it was truly the best of times and the worst of times, mostly the latter for women, non-whites, and sexual minorities. Taken for granted in academia, this view is also propagated in movies like Pleasantville. There’s even the blink-and-you’ll miss it joke in Dodgeball to “Uber-American Films,” (“teaching America’s youth since 1938.”) The country that defeated the Nazis was, basically, Nazi-like.
This is also promoted in “conservative” National Review. “Until the civil-rights revolution of the 1950s and 1960s, the United States was a Herrenvolk democracy,” Michael Lind moans, “with the informal definition of the Herrenvolk broadening gradually from British-American Protestant to white Christian or white Judeo-Christian.” (As Ben Shapiro’s recent meltdown showed, that last term is a nonsensical invention, if not outright self-contradictory.)
All politics is an attempt to reconcile these clashing views on the “American Century.” We want a middle-class society that is prosperous, safe, and united. However, the elite wants this without the demographics that made such a society possible.
They want the 1965 Immigration Act, not Ike’s Operation Wetback. They want the middle-class Los Angeles of California’s true Golden State years, somehow functioning with today’s overwhelmingly Hispanic population. They want a well-adjusted, happy population with low social dysfunction. However, we also need (and must celebrate) no-fault divorce, libertine sexuality, abortion without restrictions, and “awareness” of new forms of mental illness seemingly invented by the day.
The role of race in America’s past success is simply ignored by liberals and conservatives. It’s even ignored when contemporary politicians point to examples overseas. Bernie Sanders rejects comparisons to Venezuela and Cuba, claiming he wants the socialism of Scandinavia. Yet he doesn’t seem to recognize what makes their unique societies possible. To preserve it, even the left-wing parties in some Nordic nations are becoming anti-immigration. (Maybe Bernie Sanders is secretly woke—after all, he represents a state that’s about 95 percent white.)
On a broader level, all American history is defined by this ideological whiplash. One moment, we’re told America was founded on equality and universal rights. This is usually the argument made to naïve conservatives to convince them to support some new progressive policy. The next moment, we’re told America was founded on white nationalism, religious fanaticism, and the genocide of the native population. This is what’s told to college students, young progressives, and resentful non-whites to keep the anti-white hatred strong enough to maintain the unwieldy leftist coalition.
A modern progressive can’t really take pride in any historic American leader. The Commander-in-Chief during World War II is no exception. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s “Green New Deal” is a direct, nostalgic reference to FDR’s signature program. Yet Ocasio-Cortez also called the New Deal an “extremely economically racist program.” Franklin Roosevelt defeated the Axis, yet he was also the man who interned Japanese-Americans and celebrated how “Western Europe came to the New World” at a tribute to Virginia Dare, first English child born in North America. One suspects the Democrat party will be disavowing him at some point like they did Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson.
The American Army that “beat fascism” was segregated. Even blood from the different groups was segregated. Polls from the time show that though there was some racial liberalization, there was a slight increase among those who reported they would be uncomfortable with a “Negro nurse” taking care of them. Troops saw no conflict in fighting the Nazis while waving the Confederate flag. Professor Steven White argues that World War II’s impact on white Americans’ racial attitudes “is more limited than often claimed.”
Just 26 percent of Americans wanted a desegregated military in 1948, when President Truman imposed it by executive order. This figure is quoted in a Washington Post story bragging: “Most Americans opposed integrating the military in 1948. Most Americans support transgender military service today.” Of course, all this proves is the ability of the mainstream media complex to convince most people of anything given enough time.
Japan and America are stalwart allies today (and most of us on the Dissident Right have great respect for Japanese history and culture). Yet the brutal fighting in the Pacific was something close to a pure race war. (Even Bugs Bunny cartoons dehumanized the enemy.)
Thus, the Army’s attempt to associate itself with past glories met not just with the usual Twitter snark, but accusations that the uniform of those who beat the Nazis was itself somehow Nazi-like.
People across the US, slowly starting to catch on: pic.twitter.com/D7U1ivaRua
— Tovarisch (@nwbtcw) May 7, 2019
Extremely crumbling empire energy this.https://t.co/0ph5Gxmbaz
— Dan Waterfield (@danwaterfield) May 6, 2019
But at least some of this isn’t wrong. As we are all learning from President Trump, you can’t Make America Great Again simply by wishing it so. There really is something almost compensatory about this, like the last Shah of Iran still calling himself “King of Kings.” It’s hard to imagine the World War II uniforms featuring a maternity option. Or the Army of General MacArthur gleefully promoting a female “beauty activist” who discusses “politics and diversity.” The days of Patton, Eisenhower, and Marshall are long gone, no matter how much we pretend they aren’t.
Yet some go further, arguing that wanting to make America great again is itself morally flawed. Masha Gessen calls the turn towards World War II uniforms “ominous.” She somehow manages to invoke the Holocaust, as if in her universe General Patton and the Red Army teamed up to liquidate the Polish ghettos.
Yet Gessen makes a profound point when she notes, “Nations devised stories about themselves in the aftermath of the war.” Gessen doesn’t mention him, but Charles de Gaulle would be one of the most powerful examples of this. Through sheer force of personality, he somehow enabled France to think of itself as a “victorious” nation after World War II and a great power, with a permanent seat on the Security Council to prove it.
More broadly, World War II is the creation story of our entire moral and political order. (The five members of the Security Council are still those same five major Allied nations from the war.) Nations in the past traced their beginnings to a hero or god, a legend, or a founding myth. Essentially, all white nations, even the neutrals and the Allies, were remade after World War II with the Holocaust as the new foundation. The anti-Semitism, racism, sexism, and other black impulses that drove it are inherent within our race—and could lead to new Holocausts if we don’t battle them eternally. All of us—even the direct descendants of those who served in the Allied armies—are saddled with blood guilt.
Gessen argues that Russia’s national memory of World War II is disturbing because it focuses on sacrifice and victory, rather than the Holocaust. By bringing back World War II uniforms, Donald Trump is aping Russia and Putin by cultivating a culture of glory, rather than moral shame. “To be sure, America has always had the luxury of remembering the Second World War as its greatest triumph, but this historical narrative has always included the Holocaust, at least as a warning against anti-Semitism—in this, the American view of history was vastly different from the Russian one,” she writes. “But the Trumpian spin on the war is all MAGA, which makes it essentially the same as Putin’s.”
If World War II is remembered purely as “victory,” it becomes morally problematic because the “obsession with restoring military greatness” gets in the way of the guilt and shame engendered by reflection about “humanity’s darkest hour.” I suppose we need to be all more like postwar Germany, where outright self-hatred and even celebration of war crimes committed against you is something of a political movement. Russia’s memory of the “Great Patriotic War” is something of a heresy against the moral orthodoxy because it engenders pride, not shame. Besides, we (by which I mean journalists and politicians) need to weaponize that guilt and shame for contemporary political aims. As Gessen states, we must get people to care about climate change. Interestingly, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has made this same kind of comparison, calling climate change an existential threat analogous to World War II, also warranting a total societal effort.
Just like with a hypothetical “war” against climate change, in the contemporary elite imagination, World War II wasn’t against an external foe. It can’t be.
You can celebrate a victory over an external foe. There’s also a definite end to the war. But World War II, in an esoteric sense, never ended according to our media elite. It is a forever war. The real meaning of World War II was a victory over the darkness within ourselves. World War II wasn’t just against Adolf Hitler, it was against that inner Nazi which dwelled also within the racists Churchill, de Gaulle, and even Roosevelt. Stalin’s main flaw wasn’t that he murdered millions, it was that he was an anti-Semite. Now that Hitler is gone, we can also deconstruct those who defeated him, a process that is already well underway in the universities and in the media.
But that was only a temporary victory, because the evil is also within all of us. The war rages on, and will rage on forever. That’s why rather than celebrate victory, we should internalize shame. We must ward against “hate,” like medieval Christians warded against demons. That’s why the United Kingdom of today, which Churchill thought would proudly remember its “finest hour” standing alone against the Reich, is debating tearing down Nelson’s column and may destroy a park to build a Holocaust memorial. (Needless to say, the moral hypocrisy involved in FDR’s allying with the Communist dictator “Uncle Joe” Stalin in the cause of “freedom” does not trouble modern elites.)
Therefore, the “new” World War II uniforms, while certainly an improvement over the slovenly status quo, reek of desperation. Despite America’s unparalleled military power, there is a palpable sense of collapse. The uniforms are also trying to inspire a sense of moral righteousness that no longer exists—that American elites can’t permit to exist.
President Donald Trump ran on the promise of renewal, but his agenda on immigration has been stymied. There’s no wall, there’s no infrastructure, his supporters have been silenced, and many people doubt whether he ever meant to MAGA at all. Even if President Trump has done nothing to challenge the power structure, the Deep State certainly challenged him with an attempted (and still ongoing) coup. The result has been even further discrediting of American institutions.
The ethnic core that built the country and brought it to superpower status is being displaced, to the cheers of the elite and the disquiet of the population. Geopolitically, the world’s largest country (Russia) and most populous (China) are joining forces against the United States. No one believes American military interventions have anything to do with our own national interests anymore. Not that we can pull them off successfully—as Venezuela shows, we can’t even execute the lightning coups that John Foster Dulles could have handled before morning coffee.
Most importantly, America has all but lost its sense of identity, its sense of self. “The Good War” may be the last thing the country can cling to—and we can barely even manage that. <
This isn’t going to end well. We all sense it—Left and Right.
Why not simply pretend that we are back in that Golden Age, when, at least at the time, we thought we knew there were Good Guys and Bad Guys. Why not just hit the snooze button and go back into that American Dream? Maybe, if we just stay in bed and ignore those increasingly loud noises we are starting to hear, the problems will just go away by themselves.