Rick: As I noted in an earlier posting, Ronald Reagan seems to have had an
especially strong aversion to racial discrimination from an early age. I am
sure that was in part the result of his parents’ influence. That still does
not make tenable the proposition that “bigotry and prejudice are the worst
things a person could be guilty of.”
What the Reagan remark signals to me is not the tremendous awfulness of
“bigotry and prejudice” in the middle 20th century, but the innocence and
serenity of America at that time. This is not a sentiment that would have
occurred to the average peasant in, say, the China or Poland of 1920. And
if that peasant had heard it, he would have laughed out loud.
Nor, I must confess, am I quite convinced that Americans of that time
regarded the Civil War as having been fought against “bigotry and
prejudice.” I am sure that some Americans felt that way. To many
others — as to, I believe, Abraham Lincoln — the war was fought to
preserve the Union.
Your case is even weaker for WW2. I grew up among people who fought in that
war, and I can’t say that any of them gave me the impression of having
believed they were fighting against “bigotry and prejudice.” To be sure,
those were English people. We had Americans stationed in the country, too,
though, and I heard all the stories about them. Prominent were stories
about how the black and white servicemen had to be kept apart, as if they
were allowed to mix, a fight would invariably break out….