World War II in Public Memory: The Good War Thesis Revisited | National Humanities Center

Humanities in Class: Webinar Series

World War II in Public Memory: The Good War Thesis Revisited

Volker Janssen (Professor of History, California State University, Fullerton)

February 5, 2015

To this day, World War II looms large in our public memory. Be it in movies and TV shows, bestsellers, exhibits, or in politics, references to the attack on Pearl Harbor, the home front, D-Day, Iwo Jima, the Blitz, Hiroshima, and other sites and events of the War abound. Embedded in these shared ideas about World War II are messages about national unity, pain and triumph, endurance, valor, service, and the role the United States played in defeating evil empires. Most Americans are comfortable with the lesson that World War II was a “good war,” which Americans fought willingly against a group of dangerous enemies to peace and humanity and in the process built a better world. But how does this conclusion compare to the historical record? What have been the consequences of what Studs Terkel has called the “good war” thesis? What else can we learn from the history of World War II? On the 70th anniversary of the Yalta Conference of the Allies, this seminar highlights the complex relationships between domestic and international affairs and provides specific suggestions for getting students to make larger connections and apply their historical thinking to real-life scenarios.


Film and Media / History / American History / Collective Memory / World War II / War / Ethics /