War and Social Upheaval: HBC and History

Figure 1.--

HBC began as a children's fashion site. We have continued this strong focus on fashion and plan to do so. Gradually we deciced to branch out and use the fashion information as part of a wider discussion of childhood. A reader recently commented that HBC is a massive collection of facts. She is quite right. Our plan has become to ammass a huge archive of children's clothing in different countries and eras and then to use this as the basis for a larger discussion of childhood. Another reader asks us when we began to address historical events like World war II and the Civil Rights Movement why we were doing that. Of course the answer is very simple. While these topics have been addressed in detail by historians, few historians have focused on children in these events and how they were affected. Another reader suggested that we shy away from controversial topics. We have lost some readers because of these controversies we addressed, but we do try to make HBC a forum for readers with a wide range of views. Several European readers in particular have suggested that the past is past and does not need to be dug up. Our view is that readers with that attitude probably don't want to spend time on a history site. Even more to the point, we believe that the clatimistic events of the 20th Century are not well understood and thus we have sought to create an archive with reliable factual information.


HBC readers have asked us why we drege up the past and give such attention to World War II. Well of course the obvious answer is that we are a history site. But more importantly we find that there are continuing efforts in major countries to rewrite history. Perhaps the best example of this is Presidet Putin in Russia. President Bush preparing for a trip to Europe in May 2005 to commemorate the end of World War II referred to the Soviet "occupation" invasion of the Baltic Republics. President Bush's trip include a visit to Latvia. Sergi Yastrzhembsky, Russian Ambassador to the European Union, called a press conference in Moscow and rejected President Bush's reference. Yastrzhembsky insisted that the Soviet Union did not invade the Baltic Republics =, but rather Soviet forces were invited into those countries by the three governments. Of course that is the legal fiction spouted in Soviet times. Yje Soviet Foreign Ministry went even further stating that under accepted international law that there was no occupation "because there was no state of war beetween the USSR and the Baltic states and no military actions were being conducted and the troops were introduced on the basis of an agreement." There wre indeed agreements signed. Those agreements were not negotiated, Baltic officials signed agreements dictated by Moscvow. They signed because the Red Army was massed on the border. (By the same logic there was no German occupation of Czechoslovakia.) Not only did the Soviet Union invade the Baltics, but Soviet officials persued attrocities in each country that approach that of the NAZI holocaust. A Latvian official, Kaspars Ozolins, councellor at the Latvian Embassy in Washington, reports that the Russian statement denying the occupation did not surprise him. "But what is suprising and regretful is they're using more of this aggressive, nationalistic rhetorical and they're moving away from what other democratic and free countries are thinking about the past." [Baker, p. A14.] We do not bring this up denegrate the central role of the Soviet peopkle in defeating the NAZIs during World War II. It is difficult to see how the Western Allies could have defeated the NAZIs without the blood-letting of the Eastern Front. It is to say that the Soviet state was a criminal enterprise on the same order as the NAZIs. The War itself was only made possible because the Soviet Union negotiated an alliance with the NAZIs--the NAZI-Soviet Non-Agression Pact which divided Eastern Europe between them (August 1939). We brung it up to point out how important it is to report accurately on World War II and other historical events.


We watched the recent 2005 election in Britain with some interest. Prime Minister Blair was reelected for a historic third term. This despite the fact that most Britons seem to think that he lied about Iraq. Now trying to sort that out is rather complicated from his side of the Atlantic. What does strike us is that honesty is not something that is always desirable in political leaders. In fact the existence of Britain as an independent country is largely due to President Roosevelt misleasing (somw would say lieing) to the American people about United States involvement in the War. The simple fact is that an independent Britain was not possible alongside a NAZI-dominated Europe. President Roosevelt assured the American people that he was not going to involve America in foreign wars (he usually added "unless we are attacked". Art the same time he proceeded with a seroes of actions that were actually acts of war against Germany: arms shipmenrts to Britain (even when the American Army was not fully armed), "Bases for Destroyers", Lend Lease, convoy escots, the Atlantic Charter. releaving the British garrison on Iceland, and by the Fall 1941 conducting and undeclared naval war in the North Atlantic. The RAF had prevented an invasion in 1940, but Britain by the end of 1940 was bankrupt and without American assistance could not have continued the War against the NAZIs would had access to the emense resources of an occupied Europe. I was amused listening to a telvision report in which young people protesting the war in Iraq were interviewed. One passionalte young ladt exclaimed, "What has America ecer done for us?" Now I do not mean to say that dishonestu is a virture, but I mean to say that honesty is not the primary political virtue. What I did not hear in the British political debate in 2005 was the strength of leadership of Prime Minister Blair by persuing a war which was clearly unpopular and which he would be pictured as President Bush's lap dog.



German more than any other country has attempted to hosestly confront the issues of its NAZI past. Modern Germany is among the most democratic nations in the world. The changes since 1945 have been breathtaking. Few observers in 1940 would have forseen the changes in Germany. In recent years there has been a trend in Germany to maintain that German were victims too. Here there is an examination of the strategic bombing campaign. Even more important is an examination of the plight of the refugees that fled from the Red Army. Also books have been published what happened to the Germans that lived in areas transferred to other countries, there were horiffic attacks on Germans and most who survived were expelled. We have discussed some of these issues with German readers. Younger readers maintain that the Allies should have used more restriant. This is probably tru, but also the kind of attitude that is easy to have today more than a half century after the war. Most Germans today see war as evil. Here we do not disagree, but where we part company with many German readers is that we also see that military force in the modern world is sometimes necessary. Sometimes forgotten is that modern democratic Germany is the product of military force, first the military defeat of the NAZIs and second the military potential of NATO (primarily America) which prevented Soviet aggression.


Japan in sharp contrast to Germany, has never fully faced up to its responsibility for World War II or for the attricities committed by Jpanese officials and soldiers. Japan like Germany has refashioned itself as a modern democracy. It has not, however, honestly confronted its World War II actions. The controversy over the Rape of Nanking (1937) is a recent example of this. Many Japanese prefer to forget about the brutal behavior of Japanese forces and by invoking the dropping of the atomic bombs, poetray Japan as a victim of the War. The Emperor's announcement that Japan was surrendering is a good example of this. He explined in a unforgetable case of understatement that events had not gone as expected. Some Japanese historians blame the War on America, claiming that Japan was "tricked" into attacking Pear Harbor.


We tend to agreee with the Chinese about Japanese attitudes toward World War II. That said, there is in Japan a free discussion of the issues involved. The text books that the Chinese complain about are only a few of the several editions thjat Japanese schools can select. Thus the criticism from the Chinese Government is rather hypocritical given the Communist Party's total control over Chinese textbooks which refuse to fairly discuss topics like the famine and death of millions that followed Mao's Great Leap Forward, not to mention the killings in Tentimen Square. A HBC reader writes, "In my opinion, the brutal oppression of the Tibetan people is something that China should stop immediately, and humbly apologize for, before it critcizes Japanese textbooks."


A 2005 Gallup Poll indicated that 18 percent of American's believe that the end of the World would occur in their life tome. That same poll indicated that only 17 percent of Americans identify as being political liberals. This is starling given the fact that liberals are not even socialists. This underscores the expanding gap between America and Europe.


Baker, Peter. "Russia rebukes Bush on remark," Washington Post (May 6, 2005), p. A14.


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Created: October 22, 2002
Last updated: 10:30 PM 5/7/2005