TO THE SECOND EDITION
World War II was the most momentous event of the twentieth century. It remains an event of unsurpassed popular interest. It is difficult, especially for those Americans unable to recall the war, to comprehend the conflict, the death, and the destruction that much of the world endured. Unlike later wars in Korea and Vietnam, World War II had a clear purpose that united the public. America and its allies were fighting fascist militarism, totalitarianism, and imperialism. The goal was “unconditional surrender”—thorough defeat of Germany, Japan, Italy, and the lesser Axis powers.
The enduring significance of the war is evident in American popular culture. Three of the five motion pictures nominated for the 1998 Best Picture Academy Award had World War II settings: Saving Private Ryan; The Thin Red Line; and Life is Beautiful. Saving Private Ryan won wide praise, especially for graphic depiction of the horrors of the combat in the D-Day landings of 1944; veterans of that battle, as well as later generations of viewers, had difficulty watching those brutal scenes. Life is Beautiful triggered considerable controversy with a number of critics who said that it triv-ialized the Holocaust. Others contended that it captured the suffering of the victims in unique ways. Like popular motion pictures, biographical books related to the war also had an impact on large numbers of Americans. The best-selling book by television anchorman Tom Brokaw, The Greatest Generation, en-