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History, good or bad, is made by people
On the inadequate name for World War II, the World Cup, and what history will say about the abuse of civilians
In news reports about the war taking place in Ukraine, variations on the phrase "biggest land war in Europe since World War II" have been used to contextualize the scale of the fighting. The context itself is plainly useful, but it also highlights a shortcoming of language.
■ That shortcoming is in how we have agreed to label World War II. Wars tend to obtain their names organically, so it's difficult to imagine changing the convention that has stood since Time Magazine first used the name in 1939. But "World War II" implicitly suggests an inevitability to the conflict, as though forces beyond human control directed us into a terrible and unavoidable sequel.
■ A better name than WWII would be "The War of Fascist Aggression". The world didn't volunteer to engage in conflict -- "world" is a word better reserved for mutual events like the World Cup or a World's Fair. It would probably serve the collective memory better to remember wars by pinning the blame where it belongs.
■ Cruel and unprovoked wars of aggression should be a relic of the past, but that is grievously not the case. In plain violation of the United Nations statute on war crimes, which expressly prohibits "Intentionally directing attacks against the civilian population as such or against individual civilians not taking direct part in hostilities", Russian forces have again bombed obviously civilian targets in Kyiv.
■ When the history of this particular conflict is written, motive and agency shouldn't be overlooked. War was chosen by a Kremlin regime that also had the choice not to initiate an invasion. There is fault to be had, and it ought to be clear in the history books -- and in popular memory -- who owns that fault. In the words of Margaret Thatcher, "It doesn't just happen. History is made by people".