Monday, November 03, 2008

Second World War (2) Human Smoke

I recently heard an interview with Nicholson Baker, an American novelist and author of Human Smoke: the Beginnings of World War II, the End of Civilisation. He has studied newspaper commentary on the war and has some interesting thoughts about it. He challenges some widely held beliefs about the war.

  1. The Western response made everything worse.
  2. The Western leaders decided on a military response to Hitler. The result was the second worst five years of human history.
  3. The bombing gave power to the most rabid Nazis and justified their attack on the Jews. War distorts everything.
  4. The people who saw most clearly the threat to Jews from Hitler were pacifist voices. They said that a military response would make things worse for the Jews. Declaring war and closing the borders with Germany, trapped Jews who were in the process of escaping. It would have been better to have kept the borders open and allowed more Jews to escape. They were opposed by militarists in the Britain and the United States. The sad reality was that it was easier for Roosevelt and Churchill to fight a war than to let more Jews into the United States or the United Kingdom.
  5. The bombing of Germany did not make sense. Churchill believed that a slow war of attrition would cause Germans to overthrow Hitler. It actually propped up the most extreme elements in Germany by uniting the people behind them.
  6. The air raids against Germany strengthened the violence against Jews. The Nazis could slaughter the Jews with nothing to lose.
  7. The attempt to starve Germany into a revolt against Hitler was a crazy idea. The idea of making Germany surrender through bombing raids was completely flawed and had the opposite effect. Both ideas came from Winston Churchill.
  8. The advocates of war always exaggerate the benefits of war and minismise the costs. They often cover up their real objectives. If the war is won, the advocates of war write the history, but these initial histories of war are generally unreliable, because they are written to justify the actions taken. Often, the generation who believed their claims and fought the war have to pass on, before the truth about the war can emerge.
  9. Churchill was a great writer. He wrote the history of both world wars. Unfortnately, he was also a key participant in both events, so he was not an unbiased commentator.

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