Since 1945, the victors of WWII have portrayed their role in the bloodiest conflict known to man in moral terms. WWII, for France, the US and UK, was a war of liberation. It was a moral crusade which freed the world from tyranny. It was a just war. So deep does this narrative run that even Jeremy Corbyn, who refuses to play by ‘their’ rules, said that WWII was the last just war fought by Britain. Essentially, the war is promoted as a particularly sophisticated rescue mission.
We know that this simply isn’t true. WWII was fought by the Allies to maintain the balance of power in Europe. Britain wanted to prevent any great power attaining hegemony on the continent. France wanted to maintain a system in Eastern Europe that would prevent Germany turning its eyes westward. In 1939, Hitler overthrew a Polish dictator with the help of a Russian dictator and the political system which was considered central to Anglo-French security lay in ruins. Less than two years later, England and France allied themselves with the same Russian dictator, Stalin. That is the reality.
Yet the myth of the just war has come to be a founding principle of the world post-1945, copper-fastened by events like the Nuremberg trials. Not only is WWII a founding principle; it is also a technique. If the US, for example, sees a part of the world where its political interests are threatened, it will cite the suffering of people in that area, who in turn need to be rescued. Its invasions are never invasions; they are rescue missions.
The myth of WWII is far from abstract. It is the very bread and butter of the War on Terror. Undoubtedly, the war is to protect American geo-political interests, particularly oil and access to the Suez canal. Yet, soldiers will not go and die for such values. Instead, the myth of the rescue mission has to be invoked. The Shia or the Yazidi or women or Kurds need to be protected. Then we can feel good about cynical politics.