Under the Radar

Putting the 'Good War' in Context


Anyone who grew up in the '70s knows the myth: the Vietnam War was the bad war, full of atrocities and senseless killing but World War II was a virtuous campaign against evil, fought by heroes who saved the world.

Reality, of course, is always more complicated. Those myths didn't help the men who fought in Southeast Asia and their families adjust to their lives after military service and those myths also didn't help WWII vets whose experience didn't exactly match up with the popular tales of the war.

Historian Keith Lowe reexamines the myths of WWII in Savage Continent, a prizewinning history book that's just been released in paperback.


Lowe maintains that the war decimated government and social institutions perhaps even more than it did buildings on the continent and the result was a kind of lawless anarchy that lasted for almost a decade after the war ended for the Brits and Americans.


Lowe appeared on NPR's Fresh Air last week to talk about the book. He describes the massive number of ethnic Germans who were forced to return to Germany even though their families had lived outside the country for generations, the shaming of women who had slept with German invaders and the difficulties faced by Jews who returned home after they were released from concentration camps. The entire interview is worth a listen.

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