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Leave Hitler Alone?

Leave Hitler Alone?

Rethinking America's 'good war' is a not so subtle attack on our current struggles.


The lyric from the old pop song that proclaimed "Don't Know Much About History," is a label that could well be applied to many Americans.

But despite the fact that surveys occasionally tell us that many college seniors place the Battle of Gettysburg as happening sometime in the middle of World War II, the study of history isn't merely for those hobbyists who like to pose as Civil War or Revolutionary era soldiers.

Even as we debate the largely unpopular wars being fought with Islamists in Iraq and Afghanistan, the focus of another crucial debate currently raging on the bookshelves and television screens is one over the merits of something that most of us had long thought was not debatable: the wisdom of the American involvement in World War II.

The notion that there is any debate at all about the war the United States fought against the German Nazis and the Japanese imperialists seems absurd. Surely, no reasonable person could dispute the necessity of defeating Hitler. But an argument there is, and it is one that is gaining momentum.

In recent months, two works questioning the justice of the fight against Nazi Germany have vaulted onto The New York Times bestseller list: Human Smoke by Nicholson Baker and Churchill, Hitler and the Unnecessary War by Patrick Buchanan.

Baker is a quirky novelist who has penned books about a wide variety of subjects including voyeurism and a fictional attempted assassination of President George W. Bush. Buchanan is the longtime far-right pundit and television personality, and one-time independent candidate for president, whose views were once rightly labeled as anti-Semitic by the late William F. Buckley.

Their books are as different as the authors.

Both take the point of view that, while Adolf Hitler was a bad guy, he was provoked into launching a world war that he had not planned on.

Baker's effort is the effort of a more accomplished prose writer (despite its fictionalized conversations involving world leaders it is sold as a work of nonfiction), while the former GOP stalwart Buchanan retains the punchy style of a former political speechwriter. But they are aiming at the same target.

Both take the point of view that, while Adolf Hitler was a bad guy, he was provoked into launching a world war that he had not planned on. Instead of heaping blame on the Nazi monsters who launched the war and carried out unprecedented war crimes as well as the cold-blooded murder of 6 million Jews, each see Winston Churchill as the real villain of the war. Had Hitler been left alone, they both assert, the Holocaust would not have happened and that the world would be a saner place today.

Though Baker's concludes his faux narrative at the end of 1941, he clearly sees the Allies tactics in fighting the war as indistinguishable from that of the Germans. In his brief afterward, he dedicates his book to the tiny band of American and British pacifists who did everything they could to prevent their countries from resisting Hitler.

The theme of Allied perfidy is also echoed in a new PBS television series that features the work of a far more respected source than either Baker or Buchanan -- the Scottish historian Niall Ferguson.

In his 2006 book War of the Worlds, he damned the Allied bombings of Germany as war crimes and dismissed the notion that it was in any sense a "good war." These views are repeated in the PBS series of the same name which began to be broadcast this week.

While Ferguson is, unlike the perverse Baker and Buchanan (whose ideological roots are in the anti-Semitic "American First" movement) no apologist for Hitler, he, too, derides the notion that the American and the British victors were liberators because they used some of the same tactics as their foes.

Ferguson deplores the fact that the West did all they could to help Stalin win but, as with many of the other ironies put forward in a series that seeks to change the way we think about the great conflicts of the 20th century, he fails to provide a reasonable alternative to the dilemmas faced by Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt.

And that lack of context is the problem with all of this revisionism. Buchanan quotes the historian and Cold War strategist George Kennan as asking whether the West would have preferred in 1950 to be still facing the relatively reasonable Germany of 1913, rather than having suffered through two world wars, and the rise of the totalitarian menaces of Nazism and Communism. Yes, that would have been preferable. But given Germany's dreams of hegemony, it was never an option.

Similarly, the notion that more "Munichs" in which the West would have acquiesced to Hitler's seizure of Poland and the rest of Central and Eastern Europe, would have left him satisfied is pure delusion and unjustified by any serious historical research. The problem was that the West woke up too late to the dangers of Nazism. Most people in Britain, France or the America of the 1930s didn't understand the stakes involved nor were they ready to fight even if they did.

The Real Target

But the real point of these rethinkings of history is not so much to vindicate Hitler or even to trash the indispensable Churchill, without whose vision and courage in the darkest moments of the war, Western civilization may have truly perished.

Rather, the point is to call into question the far more immediate notion that an aroused and prepared West must still be prepared to defend its values against contemporary totalitarian foes.

Irrespective of the shortcomings of George W. Bush or the debates about Iraq, it's hardly a secret that what Buchanan and Baker are truly gunning for is the willingness of post-9/11 America to wage war on the Islamists who wish to take up Hitler's war on Western democracy.

These new appeasers are just as blind -- if not malevolent -- as their predecessors in the lead up to the war against Hitler.

Just as he blasts the opponents of appeasement for forcing the West to fight a war against Hitler that he thinks was more trouble than it was worth, Buchanan opposes the struggle to fight the Islamists or even to extend American help and NATO membership to the fledgling democracies of Eastern Europe.

But these new appeasers are just as blind -- if not malevolent -- as their predecessors in the lead up to the war against Hitler. And that is a point whose importance transcends the battles of the scholars and the pseudo-scholars about history.

As Americans celebrate the anniversary of their independence, it behooves them to think long and hard about the "good war" now under attack and its importance to the history of their republic. In resisting Hitler's tyranny, Americans and those who look to America for leadership, understood that the cause of that struggle spoke directly to the cherished principles of liberty that our founders embraced.

Like us today, the Americans and Brits who fought World War II were imperfect and made many mistakes. But despite a list of military blunders and scandals that eclipse in both scale and cost those committed by the current administration and its military, they prevailed. The revisionists who seek to besmirch their legacy offer us appeasement disguised as realpolitik instead of patriotism and principle. Their message must be rejected today, just as it was a generation ago.

July 5, 2008

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Visitor Comments: 6

(6) Bobby5000, June 15, 2015 1:46 AM

straw men and not addressing arguments.

I am not defending these books, but the questions they raise have relevance today, and the arguments oversimplified here as whether to support good or evil.

In 1980, a radical, virulently anti-Semitic leader in Iran named Khomeni threatened to take over the Middle-East. He envisioned a fundamental Islamic Middle East if not the world where women were to serve men, Jews and Christian's marginalized if not eliminated. One man opposed him, one powerful man said there will not be an Islamic State emanating from Tehran.

That man was Saddam Hussein. Now we question him, but the issues for the US were difficult in 1980 about who to support. And consider U.S. support for the so-called freedom fighters in Afghanistan in the late 1970's.

Two years ago, people asked whether we would oppose the brutality and evil of Bashir Assad. Today with the rise of the Islamic State he seeked to defeat, he seems less offensive.

In 1940-45, one question was supporting Joseph Stalin who murdered millions brutally consolidating power. If Hitler brutally invaded Poland, so did Stalin. After the war, the way was paved for Stalin to dominate Eastern Europe and suppress free speech and impose his totalitarian ways.

Criticize these books if you will but address how not to support evil and help one evil dictator at the expense of another. Those who ignore history are deemed to repeat it. Today the question is how do we address brutal dictators when the seeming alternative is worse, more brutal Islamic fundamentalism. Did the world benefit by getting rid of Saddam Hussein.

(5) Patricia, July 13, 2008 2:36 PM

Just an American

Please know that most Americans are not buying into this. I am not Jewish, but I am very aware of the horrible atroscities that took place under Hitler's reign during World War II, and that part of our history makes me proud to be an American. The kinds of things being written in these books do not. The state of our country at this time do not. But, I will not lose faith that there are still people out there that love others unconditionally regardless of their religion or race, and many more that will not forget this part of our world's past and what it could mean for the future.

(4) Miriam, July 12, 2008 5:57 PM

"For lack of knowledge, my people perish".

Many years ago I watched a program on a Telvision network from Spain, while I was vacationing in South America - the program was precisely about the Holocoust - they had on this show neo-nazis,some other types of people and two holocoust survivors - I was sickened and shocked to hear some of the ones that were interviewed in the show, denying the fact that the Holocoust was a real event that was engineered by Hitler and his co-horts in the Gestapo. I grieved to see the Holocoust survivors in this show, they were the minority as we Jews always are, and practically had no chance to speak about the horrors that they lived through!
People all over the world are responsible today for the ignorance that is prevalent about history, and about what is happening today! It is not one group of peope who are responsible, we all are. And to tell you the truth, we Jews are more responsible in a way, because we have a special responsibility tha the Almighty has given to us through Torah. We are to be honoring the two first commandments in Torah, and we do not! We are to love all peoples, not only our own. However, to be able to do that we are to love HaShem first just as He commnads us to do - do we? I recommend that we all read Parsha Balak articles that were posted for this week, maybe we will learn something from them.

(3) Anonymous, July 11, 2008 7:06 PM

America's left

Welcome to the ideas of America's left. To them, war, not evil, is the worst. Better to not get involved than to fight for the good. Indeed, some say that there is no such thing as a good war. What is lost is the notion that evil exist.

(2) Beverly Kurtin, Ph.D., July 9, 2008 10:47 PM

Repeating History

Those that forget history are bound to repeat it," said Woodrow Wilson, our 28th president.

There seems to be a conspiracy to ignore the teaching of history in our schools. Civics is not to be found in the course material in most of our public schools. I've asked this question, "What is the Gettysburg Address?" to young people. Almost invariably they reply, "1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington."

I weep for what our children are not learning.

"What is meant by the separation of powers as outlined in the Constitution?" is another question I like to ask. The answers I get range from they didn't study that to I was out that day to "doesn't it have to do with religion?"

When did the schools stop teaching about the Constitution and history? Someone once read the Bill of Rights to a group of college students and asked them what they thought of it. To the person, they all said that they thought it was a dangerous document, probably written by Communists.

So it doesn't surprise me that a Jew hater like Buchannan would try to rehabilitate Hitler. Since Hitler was a monster and Buchannan seems to be on the side of one of the most successful mass murderers in history, does that not make him what I've thought about him all along, a MONSTER?

Despite Eisenhower's best efforts of taking thousands of feet of film so that nobody would be able to say the Holocaust never happened. So I just went to Google and typed in "Eisenhower proof of the holocaust" and as soon as the first page came up I rushed to the bathroom and threw up my breakfast. I am still sick to my stomach. Instead of finding out what I was looking for, the attribution of what General Eisenhower said, I found page after page trying to prove that not only did the Holocaust NOT happen, but assertions that Eisenhower deliberately exterminated 1.7 million Germans. There were articles from Arab deniers quoting from the reports of the Red Cross, etc.

I am afraid for this country and its children. Since they know no better, they might look at those pages as the truth. Can another Holocaust be far behind?

We lost our Temple when we had groups of Jews needlessly hating other groups of Jews. I have head from reliable sources that that is going on again in Israel. How long will Hashem keep his patience with us? If we do not stop hating each other, we're going to lose Israel again. Is this what we want? I pray not.

I plan to start attending my local school board meetings and start asking some probing questions. Football, being a religion in many parts of the United States, and especially her in Texas cannot be touched. But history can? Look out my school board, Dr. Kurtin is about to become a burr in your saddle. We can no longer stand by while the groundwork for another mass extermination is being set. Rwanda and Darfur are just the warm up. We can be next. We can start fighting it today or turn our backs as our predecessors did in Germany and Poland and all of the other countries the Third Reich swallowed.

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem and for the downfall of those who hate us for no reason except for the excuse to destroy us. Start going to your school boards and demanding answers.

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