twinkling in the evening air, would erupt into a million separate sites of wreckage. The trees would flash away, the houses would vanish, the cars around us would be hurled into the air and melted into an ocean of fire. It was, I realized in those last seconds left to me, what I’d been afraid of my entire life: that the war had never stopped, that it was still escalating to its inevitable end, that everything I’d ever known was a mirage floating in the accidental lull between the detonation over Hiroshima and the shock wave that at last swallowed up the world.
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Then something changed. The car took a curve, and the land readjusted itself, as though shaking free of a bad thought. Everything was as it had been; the storm had passed over me and was gone. It was all foolishness anyway — what war could possibly reach the depths of the American heartland? The suburbs stretched out before the car, invincibly solid and inviting — an empire of timeless privacy, opening up for me as it always did, beneath the twilight. I turned back again to look at the city and watched the mushroom cloud float dreamily out of the orange smog that hovered along the skyline and turn into the harmless moon. ***Whenever people talk about the meaning of history somebody brings up that old bromide from Santayana, “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” But that’s nonsense. The circumstances that created an event like World War II couldn’tbe duplicated no matter how many millennia of amnesia intervened. To the extent that the war had an intelligible cause, it was in the rancors left over from World War I, exacerbated by the Great Depression — and those rancors existed only because of decades of hatred and infighting among the colonial empires of the 19th century. But the brief dominion of the Japanese “coprosperity sphere” lasted just long enough to wreck the colonial system in Asia, and the final convulsion of war bankrupted all the great powers of Europe, leaving the former rulers of the world in abject poverty — foodrationing in both Germany and England lasted well into the 1950s. The first new historical trend of the postwar era was the systematic shedding of colonial possessions, and the just-created nations were immediately absorbed into new alignments of power demanded by the triumphant global empires of the atom. The old architecture of the world devised by Europe was as harmless a memory as a dissipating storm front. Like most big events in history, World War II obliterated its own causes. Then too, one of the core lessons of modern military theory is that wars are inherently unrepeatable. The technology changes too quickly, and the nature of war changes with it. Every big war since the time of Napoleon has been fought with radically new weaponry andtactics. The result is that all the cutting-edge strategies of total war that made World War IIseem so unsurpassedly horrible, from blitzkriegs to saturation bombings, have long since been superseded. Military hardware is immeasurably more sophisticated now; the
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