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The Myth of the Good War: America in the Second World War

by Jacques R. Pauwels

Few truisms are as inviolable as the notion that the Second World War was a battle of good versus evil. Yet a recent stream of works documenting corporate collusion between Nazi Germany and General Motors, Ford, IBM, and Swiss banks have chipped away at this facade, revealing a past whose shades of grey are as controversial as they are difficult to stomach.

Canadian scholar Jacques Pauwels draws heavily on recent research to build an accessible analysis of the social, political, and economic factors at play in the rise of fascism and the Second World War. He argues convincingly that Hitler’s and Mussolini’s anti-communist fascism were viewed as good for Allied business interests, both before and, in many cases, during the conflict itself. Indeed, time-honoured justifications for entering the war – such as the liberation of concentration camps and the restoration of democracy to Axis-occupied territories – are not reflected in the historical records presented here.

Pauwels’ exposure of the dirty truths behind such historical tragedies as Dieppe, Hiroshima, and Pearl Harbor will likely cause outrage, but his documentation is sound, his reasoning sharp. Pauwels presents his case in a competent, though not particularly stylish, manner.

He occasionally veers off into anti-capitalist rhetorical flourishes, and he has some historical blind spots when it comes to Soviet malfeasance. Yet his presentation of the facts is indictment enough. Some of his research nuggets, such as the Gallup poll taken in 1942 that showed 40% of Americans did not know why they were at war, are cause for intense reflection when held to the mirror of contemporary conflicts that, like the Second World War, are painted in similarly romantic tones.