Why are people so obsessed with WW2?

Toby Frost

Well-Known Member
Joined
Jan 22, 2008
Messages
4,168
#3
A few random thoughts:

- It's one of the very few wars that can easily be boiled down to good vs evil, even at the time it was fought.

- It's pretty recent and was massive in scale and horror, showing people at their absolute worst. It also demonstrates the clash between totally different and incompatible ideologies, as opposed to border wars, religious sects, etc. As such it has a nightmarish, exaggerated quality.

- A lot of things from it have entered our pop culture in an exaggerated form. The beliefs that: Nazi soldiers were invincible, all fighter pilots had huge moustaches, Britain and Germany were full of mad scientists, secret policemen all wear raincoats with the collars up, Russians are badly-equipped but furious, Germans have facial scars and so on are basically derived from WW2. Most of them are wild exaggerations or just plain wrong, but they have entered the popular consciousness.

- Vast, pointless death toll: more particularly, industrialised death, not just in the Holocaust but in the use of technology formerly seen as a force for good (planes, vehicles, etc).

- The atom bomb, the beginning of the atomic era, and the first suggestion that mankind might wipe itself out.

I'm sure there are others.
 

BAYLOR

There Are Always new Things to Learn.
Joined
Jun 29, 2014
Messages
13,854
#4
It's called the last good war. It brought about the end of the old world ushered in the current age we now live in.
 
Last edited:

The Big Peat

Darth Buddha
Joined
Apr 9, 2016
Messages
1,778
#5
From the British perspective, WW2 plays a huge part in the national self-image.

It was both Britain's last act as a major world power and Britain's finest moment, both in terms of achievement and ethical rectitude. Or at least close enough to that people can claim it thus.

Therefore there is an equally huge level of interest, which perpetuates itself as people cater to the interested, which in turns gives people an easy way of learning about it and becoming interested in turn.
 

Overread

Direwolf of the chrons
Joined
Aug 22, 2007
Messages
3,644
Location
Hunting in the woods
#7
A few further thoughts:

1) Both during and post WW2 there was a vast amount of propaganda produced through the media to help win the war on the home front. A huge block of this came from the USA who had to "sell" the war to its own people to fully justify going half way round the world to fight in what was, at the onset, a purely "European" matter.
I think that this built itself into something more than just propaganda and inspired a generation of film makers and writers who inspired another and another and branched out from there.

2) As said its a war that can be boiled down to Good VS Evil in a very generalist sense very easily. Whilst no one admits that all Nazis/Germans of the day were evil; its easy to portray the upper ranks as such and that their control filters down to those under their rule.
It's also recent enough and well known enough that the average person doesn't need much if any introduction to the core concepts. For films/books/games this means that a vast amount of world building and info-dumping doesn't need to be done. For the same reason that every pretty pointy eared fantasy character is typically an elf and every half-sized human is a dwarf etc... Tropes within fiction are popular not just because one work inspires the next; but because they become general concepts that are easier to convey to the readers.
Whilst it was a "European War" at the start; by the end it touched pretty much every corner of the world - go anywhere and say Nazi and most people will know what you mean to a general level.

3) Nazis are like zombies and aliens and evil robots. This is to say that you can use them as an evil protagonist without expecting much counter-argument or hostilities arising as a result thereof. They are as such a safe hate-target. Even though such media can be restricted if you try to distribute it within Germany.

4) Mythology. The Nazi propaganda machine has managed, in modern times, to spark conspiracy theories. Aliens; mythological artifcats; secret weapons; spies etc... There is a rich collection of things built up around them which is part based on fact and part on just stories. Hidden bunkers; secret experiments; alien design aircraft etc... All things that spark imagination and provide a rich ground to build fantasy off.
 

Brian G Turner

Fantasist & Futurist
Staff member
Supporter
Joined
Nov 23, 2002
Messages
21,828
Location
Highlands
#9
There are lots of reasons, not least the fact it was a truly "world war", and the extreme horrors of both mechanized warfare, extermination programs, as well as the unprecedented destruction of European cities. Of course, as above, there's also the fact that it determined our modern world.

However, I suspect the biggest reason is that it occurred within living memory. Many of us grew up with relatives who would recount - or refuse to recount - their experiences of it. In other words, we could still touch or be touched by the experience of WWII, even indirectly, whether we want to or not.
 

Cat's Cradle

Time, now, to read...
Supporter
Joined
Mar 3, 2014
Messages
2,269
#10
All of the above, but also (and I don't think this has been said, specifically) - there is an awful lot of film footage of the war (and photographs, too). It seems even more real because we can see moving pictures of people/places/events/weapons/aftermath. I saw The World at War documentaries when I was 13 or 14 ... you're never the same after seeing that series.

There's a huge fascination in the States for the American Civil War (I'd guess even more than for WW2). If there had been motion picture footage of that event, it could possibly have been the single most popular source for new novels/films/academic research, etc. in the US. (Yes, this hypothesis is possibly tailored of whole cloth.;)) But it was the first American war that used photography widely, and it makes the event so much more real and immediate, because of that. Just a few thoughts, CC
 
Last edited:

Foxbat

None The Wiser
Supporter
Joined
Jul 24, 2003
Messages
6,770
Location
Scotland
#11
From a personal view, I had an uncle who served both on HMS Nelson and then later HMS Belfast (now a museum ship). But I think it was another of my uncles that really brought home how the war affected people. My uncle Frank was an alcoholic and I remember when I was a youngster, I would see him drunkenly staggering about the town in broad daylight whilst other townsfolk screwed up their noses and went about their business. To me, he was a family embarrassment and I did my best to avoid him. The strangest thing was that he was always dressed really smartly. I remember he was always clean-shaven, in slacks and navy blue blazer.

I never understood him until my dad sat me down and explained that Frank had been in the Merchant Navy. Twice, the ships he served on had been torpedoed and twice, he survived by clinging on to wreckage in the Atlantic until rescued. Drink, for him, was the only way he could blot out the memories of all his lost friends.

I understood a lot better after that, got to know him more and found that he was actually a really nice guy. Sadly, he died not long after finally defeating his alcoholism. That's what the war did to a member of my family and there will be millions of families all over the world who still, as Brian says, have a living memory of the impact of this conflict. Frank and Pat (my uncle on the Belfast) are why I have an interest in that period (my dad was too young, although he did try and sneak into the RAF).
 

The Big Peat

Darth Buddha
Joined
Apr 9, 2016
Messages
1,778
#12
While the proximity of the event helps, I'd add that it wasn't that long ago that there were a decent number from WW1 and that's never held the same fascination. The Korean War will never be as "popular" as Vietnam, even in countries that fought in Korea and not in Vietnam. Hell, the Russian War in Afghanistan gets more focus here than the Korean War. Or Aden, or Malaysia, etc.etc.
 

Caledfwlch

I am not a Geek, I am a Level 22 Warrior!
Joined
Apr 29, 2011
Messages
618
Location
Aberystwyth, Ceredigion, Principality of Wales
#13
As Brian said, if your British, you grew up seeing signs of that War, all over.
I was born in 1978, yet, as a kid, I would ride my bike to a place called Tan y Bwlch, across a river, the other side of the Harbour, which involved riding passed an ominous ww2 concrete machine gun bunker, sited to open fire on any German vessels attempting to land via the Irish Sea.

Also, my Mamgu (my maternal grandmother) used to wake up at least once a night screaming with nightmares of what she saw manning Ack Ack guns in the Royal Artillery, both in the UK and in France after D-Day.
Most people my age had Veterans like that in their family, many like me had multiple ones.
My Paternal Grandfather was an early Commando, I think first in one of the early Independent Companies, then after reorganisation, he became a Royal Marine Commando in 42 Commando. He wouldn't talk much, but he definately took part in raids around Europe, in France and other places, and (it used to really freak my grandmother out) he refused to throw away his Sykes-Fairburn Knife, because he felt doing so was in some weird way disrespectful to the spirits of the German troops he killed with it, just chucking it away.
My Grandmother was a member of the Auxiliary Fire Service, and had the misfortune to be on duty first in London during the Blitz, and then later in Pontypridd when it was heavily bombed.

So, its kind of a big thing over here. The image of the UK and the Crown Dominions standing alone against Evil, whilst other Nations such as the US went around and ignored or appeased the murderous Nazis and their atrocities is one that endures and hugely affected the National Psyche.
 

Foxbat

None The Wiser
Supporter
Joined
Jul 24, 2003
Messages
6,770
Location
Scotland
#15
As Brian said, if your British, you grew up seeing signs of that War, all over.
I was born in 1978, yet, as a kid, I would ride my bike to a place called Tan y Bwlch, across a river, the other side of the Harbour, which involved riding passed an ominous ww2 concrete machine gun bunker, sited to open fire on any German vessels attempting to land via the Irish Sea.
There are still a few old concrete blocks (obstacles to prevent sea-based invasion) dotted around the shoreline in my area even now. They're suffering a bit from time and erosion but they're still there. I think perhaps the prolonged existence of evidence testifying to the close proximity of both the war and how close we came to being defeated in the early years of the conflict may explain why Korea never had the same effect...ie....it is thousands of miles away and our very existence wasn't directly threatened had we lost that war.
 

Edward M. Grant

Well-Known Member
Joined
Nov 6, 2015
Messages
367
Location
The Frozen North
#16
I'll just add survivors are still among us. Not many, but enough to keep memory alive.
Yeah, that's one of the big things. Not just survivors, but relatives of those survivors. My mother and her sisters were strafed by an ME110 during the Battle of Britain (fortunately the Germans missed, and the local AA crew didn't). My grandfather died in somewhat mysterious circumstances in the RAF. One uncle's ship was sunk and he took six months to get home, by which point everyone thought he was dead and were quite shocked when he just walked in the front door unannounced one day. Another uncle was one of the first Westerners in Hiroshima at the end of the war, as part of a medical team. My mother's friend's husband killed a German soldier at close range during the desert war and never got over it.

So it's been part of my life all my life.

There were a couple of Korea veterans in the shooting club I used to go to when I was at school (in part because it counted as a sport so meant I didn't have to play rugby any more!), but that war affected far less people. Just about everyone in Britain from my generation had relatives who were involved in WWII.

Edit: and, yeah, as kids we used to play in the remains of the old AA bunker in a field between our house and our school.

Edit2: come to think of it, one of my school teachers was in WWI, where he got blown up and shot. But he's the only WWI veteran I ever met.
 
Last edited:

Foxbat

None The Wiser
Supporter
Joined
Jul 24, 2003
Messages
6,770
Location
Scotland
#17
A slight change here of time period here but I think one of the most moving moments I ever witnessed on TV was when Harry Patch talked about his confrontation with a German soldier in WW1. He was sick of all the killing and deliberately shot to wound his opponent. He was the last British surviving soldier from World War 1 until his death in 2009.
Harry Patch - Wikipedia
 

nixie

pixie druid
Staff member
Supporter
Joined
May 4, 2005
Messages
4,671
Location
I may live in Yorkshire but I'm a Scot
#19
My granda born in 1895, joined the navy when the first war broke out was still in reserves when WWIi started, he didn't have to re-enlist as he was working down the mine but he did.
I used to love listen to my granny's stories on the evacuation with her younger children. She made them fun.

It's only as I got older, i realised the hell she must have gone through at that time.
9 living children, her husband and eldest son in the armed forces. Her 3 oldest daughters scattered over the UK doing their bit for the war. Every knock on door must have been a nightmare.
 
Joined
Jan 23, 2017
Messages
492
Location
Willamette Valley, OR, US
#20
There's a huge fascination in the States for the American Civil War (I'd guess even more than for WW2). If there had been motion picture footage of that event, it could possibly have been the single most popular source for new novels/films/academic research, etc. in the US. (Yes, this hypothesis is possibly tailored of whole cloth.;)) But it was the first American war that used photography widely, and it makes the event so much more real and immediate, because of that. Just a few thoughts, CC
Yeah, and yet for some reason we still argue about whether or not it was actually about slavery. :rolleyes:
 

Similar threads

Top