David Kennedy
Professor of History, Stanford University
01:58

Re: How was America's experience of WW II different?

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We fought a very different war than every other belligerent country.

David Kennedy

David M. Kennedy is the Donald J. McLachian Professor of History at Stanford University. His scholarship is notable for its integration of economic analysis with social history and political history. Kennedy has written over ten books; his first, Birth Control in America: The Career of Margaret Sanger (1970), won the John Gilmary Shea Prize in 1970 and the Bancroft Prize in 1971. He was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Over Here: The First World War and American Society (1980) and won the Pulitzer in 2000 for his 1999 book Freedom from Fear: The American People in Depression and War, 1929-1945. Other awards include the Francis Parkman Prize, the Ambassador's Prize and the California Gold Medal for Literature, all of which he received in the year 2000. Kennedy was educated at Stanford and Yale. The author of many articles, he has also penned a textbook, The American Pageant: A History of the Republic, now in its thirteenth edition. He is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Transcript

David Kennedy: Well the easiest way to answer the question of how our participation in that war was different, I think is . . . This is a crude answer, but I think it gets at the essence of it. If you look at the other societies that were major participants in this war . . . let’s take the Soviet Union, our ally. Soviet Union lost about 24 million people in the war, of which about 16 million were civilians. The United States lost 405,399 military dead in all branches of service. Not a trivial number, and I don’t mean to make light of it. And in the 48 continental states – the states that had a star on the flag in the World War II era – the civilian death total of persons whose deaths were directly attributable to enemy action was exactly six people, all of whom died together, oddly enough, in the very improbable place of a mountainside near Bly, Oregon, which is in South Central Oregon . . . almost in California. Those numbers themselves tell us a very large story about who actually paid the greatest price in blood and treasure to achieve the results that we got in 1945. And the incidents of the war’s destructive impact on other societies was just geometrically greater than it was on the United States. So we’re the only society that fought World War II that managed to improve its civilian standard of living even while waging a war. And indeed in the entire history of warfare, there are very few societies that managed to wage protracted, large scale, deeply mobilized wars of attrition like we did in World War II and at the same time lift the civilian standards of living. So we fought a very peculiar kind of a war, just as we’ve had a very peculiar kind of history.

Recorded on: 7/4/07

 


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