Tony Judt has an essay in The New York Review of Books on "forgotten lessons" of the 20th century. Judt's argument basically boils down to this:
What, then, is it that we have misplaced in our haste to put the twentieth century behind us? In the US, at least, we have forgotten the meaning of war. There is a reason for this. In much of continental Europe, Asia, and Africa the twentieth century was experienced as a cycle of wars. War in the last century signified invasion, occupation, displacement, deprivation, destruction, and mass murder...
The United States avoided almost all of that. Americans, perhaps alone in the world, experienced the twentieth century in a far more positive light. The US was not invaded. It did not lose vast numbers of citizens, or huge swathes of territory, as a result of occupation or dismemberment...And compared with other major twentieth-century combatants, the US lost relatively few soldiers in battle and suffered hardly any civilian casualties.
I believe it is this contrasting recollection of war and its impact, rather than any structural difference between the US and otherwise comparable countries, which accounts for their dissimilar responses to international challenges today.
How else are we to explain our present indulgence for the practice of torture? For indulge it we assuredly do. The twentieth century began with the Hague Conventions on the laws of war. As of 2008 the twenty-first century has to its credit the Guant