WWII: Why we Teach It

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Despite it being one of the most significant periods in human history that shaped the world we live in today -- leading to significant changes in the balance of power, the rise and fall of empires, and the establishment of new nations --  WWII as a topic is very much disliked among students.

But why? 

For one, it is very far removed from their own lives. For two, it is a dark topic, full of bombs, bullets, and genocides that make you sick to your stomach. Lastly, shouldn't it be water under the bridge, already? Ancient history? Something from days past we had best move on from so we can talk of more productive topics?

Our answer: Absolutely not.

Why not? 

We understand that WWII is a war that happened long before your parents were even alive and we also sympathize with students who are forced to study it. But that will not stop us from burying you in it. If it were up to us, we would make you dream about it. We would make you memorize every name, date, and event of WWII until you can recite them in your sleep.

But why?!

Because WWII is not just about the large-scale geopolitical impact it had on the world or the technological advancements it led to. It is not just about nations or ideological movements that created the current political landscape. It is about something much smaller and closer to that.

It is about the human mind.

the human mind and its capacity for evil.

Capacity for evil?

Yes, evil. But isn't that an open-and-shut topic, you might wonder? This world is full of both good and evil, isn't it? When evil rears its ugly head, good people need to be there to stop it. End of story, right?

Exactly. Why study it?

Because you are wrong. Evil is not something that suddenly pops up without warning. Human beings do not go to bed one night and just wake up evil in the morning. And WWII is evidence of that. WWII, and the time leading up to it, is a time that is so well-recorded it now serves as the example of how common people -- who wanted to make their lives better -- ended up doing terrible -- evil -- things. 

And make no mistake. 

There is no clear dividing line between good and bad. 

People do not jump out of bed with plans for world domination and the systematic genocide of millions of people. And yet, that is what happened. Terrible things took place during WWII, and in the aftermath, most people asked themselves how they could have happened. Most people asked themselves how entire nations could have condoned them.

Studying WWII gives us answers to these questions.

Isn't that answer obvious? The Germans, Italians, and Japanese were brainwashed to be evil. 

That might be one answer. 

But another -- scarier -- way to put that is, 'humanity has the capacity for evil.'

WE have the capacity for evil.

Yes, all of us.

The atrocities committed during WWII were not committed by demons. They were not just committed by lunatics or psychopaths. They were, in large part, committed by normal people. Common people. People who, like you and me, woke up every morning trying to live their lives in the best way they knew how. And far from using WWII to demonize these people and write them off as 'on the wrong side of history', we study WWII to learn more about them. We study WWII to understand the values and beliefs and how they can lead to certain actions.

... Why? 

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

And we do not want WWII to be repeated.

That is why we teach it.

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