History Is Tainted by 'National Narcissism'

Russians, Brits, Americans all claim more than 50% of effort in WWII
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 20, 2019 10:15 AM CDT
History Is Tainted by 'National Narcissism'
In this Nov. 28, 1943, file photo, from left to right: Soviet Union Premier Josef Stalin, US President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill in Tehran, Iran.   (AP Photo)

We may be deceiving ourselves in teaching history born from "national narcissism," per a new study. "People are highly ethnocentric in viewing their own nation's influence, even in remembering the (nominally) same event: World War II," say researchers from Washington University in St. Louis. They surveyed 1,338 adults from 11 countries—the former Allied powers of Australia, Canada, France, New Zealand, Russia, China, the UK, and the US, as well as the ex-Axis powers of Germany, Italy, and Japan—asking them to gauge their country's contribution to the war. As beliefs about history "arise from your background, your society, your education, and your media," respondents generally awarded their own countries high percentages, says researcher Henry Roediger. Russians, for instance, claimed 75% of the war effort on average, Americans 54%, and UK respondents 51%.

The same trend was visible on the Axis side. Germans claimed 64% of the war effort, Japanese respondents claimed 47%, and Italians claimed 29%—for a grand total of 140%. Across all eight Allied countries, the total was about 300%. Most rated their Allied country's contribution significantly lower once asked to consider all eight powers. However, Russians still claimed 64%. Roediger says "they may be right, at least for the war in Europe," as the Soviet Union lost an estimated 14% of its population. But "the Russian story is told in practically none of our movies, none of our novels. It's all about us." Indeed, "our national collective memories seem to be deceiving us" as "citizens of each nation learn a lot more about their country's own war effort than those of other countries," Nick Chater writes at the Conversation. He concludes that "a biased evaluation is the inevitable result." (More World War II stories.)

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