Friday Fuming: WWII and Expectation Management

Okay, so yes, one week into my pledge to write more and I already broke it, having missed “Thursday Thoughts.” Well, now you get some Friday Fuming, based upon my frustration with myself and U.S. foreign policy at large. Go big or go home, right?

Here’s my bone of contention today:

WWII and the Marshall Plan ruined realistic expectations of conflict and policy for the foreseeable future.

They were too successful. Our enemies were evil enough that we could easily demonize them, but organized enough that we could resuscitate their societies. We had incredible leaders who managed to overcome major shortcomings to find victory. We had an alliance that worked together to bring about a (relatively) swift victory. We had good guys and bad guys. People wore the uniforms you’re supposed to wear in war – by and large. In short, it was the best of all possible wars (with all apologies to Leibniz).

Oh, and best of all from the U.S. perspective, while we paid blood and treasure, our homeland didn’t get bombed, occupied, or otherwise turned into a major societal emotional event. That would have definitely ruined our narrative of the best of all possible wars.

So what’s wrong with this? Simple. It was an anomaly. A multitude of factors aligned to create a situation where the U.S. could build military power, wield it for a few years, and then become an economic super power. All the while rebuilding our adversaries nations.

“We can replicate this!” the wonks shouted.

They could not.

Repeat this ad nauseum from 1945 until now.

WWII and the Marshall Plan worked too well. They ruined the expectations of military leaders and policy wonks for generations to come. Which is why, if you hear “Well it worked in WWII,” run swiftly in the other direction, because it is the siren song of the best of all possible wars.


Cover photo: Wounded U.S. service member at a WWII victory celebration in New York City, 1945. (Getty Images)

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