Saturday, July 12, 2008

More Human Smoke

As I watched Charlie Rose interview (do click on the link and read the comments of Rose's perplexed (and more enlightened) viewers as well) Nicholson Baker last evening, the thought kept occurring to me that Charlie was not looking that good in the (intellectual) crunches (but at least he allowed Nick to make some good points about violence begetting violence unlike his demeanor to leftwingers who have tried upon occasion to argue about the rightness of what the US has been doing in the midEast). He kept asking Nick sweetheart questions like (and I'm paraphrasing here) "Surely you don't mean that we shouldn't have bombed Nagasaki and Hiroshima or tried to assassinate Hitler?" and receiving Nick's pained reply - "Ah . . . yes." (What he really should have said, seeing Charlie's obvious discomfort at being ignorant of exactly what Nick was arguing in the book is "When you read the book, you will better understand my points, and we should talk then maybe.") They were discussing Nick's book Human Smoke (which I believe I have mentioned previously (during my Welcome to Pottersville moment) that I had read as soon as it came out - so, yes - I'm a fan - and don't miss his Double Fold: Libraries and the Assault on Paper!) and the implications of his research to all conflicts past and present (although the book documented many of the events that led up to World War II, which would make one think that no one then actually knew what was happening until it was way too late). As a past student of political science and international studies, where I took several courses in diplomacy, I was especially drawn to the documentation showing how diplomacy was never even tried at many of the moments when it would have been most effective, and how most of the tough guys in charge saw how any attempt at dealing with Hitler diplomatically (a la Chamberlain) would be perceived as weak-kneed and womanly (girly-mannish in today's lexicon). (Click here for a discussion with Nick Baker and a three-star Marine general on controversial wars). If you've read Human Smoke, you understand Nick's pain and Charlie's disbelief. After all, it goes completely against the received knowledge that everything the victor does against the vanquished works out for the best in the long term (okay, excepting Genghis Khan maybe), concerning the developed powers in the civilized west anyway (also excepting our current moments' war economy catastrophe(s)). Read the book if you have time, and here are two of the comments from the show (to whet your appetite) that I think you will enjoy:
Provocative question from Mr. Baker that will never be added to public school history books: Did the West's "genteel anti-semitism" increase the barbarism of the Nazi regime by limiting the number of Jews who could leave Germany before the war and by blocking food deliveries to the ghettos under Hoover's relief program? A similar question arises today: Does US foreign policy really use military force only as a last resort? The conclusion is obvious - certainly not in Iraq, and probably not in Iran. Why not? Because the stated alternatives are so dire. Well then take the dire predictions that we must keep military forces in Iraq indefinitely to avoid the certain bloodbath in the chaos that would follow a withdrawal on a pre-determined date. Mr. Rose could do us all a service by exploring the existing proposals to prevent such a catastrophy: Quickly, Carefully, and Generously: The Necessary Steps for a Responsible Withdrawal from Iraq, June 2008. Commonwealth Institute, Cambridge, Massachusetts USA. Charles Knight Co-director Project on Defense Alternatives Commonwealth Institute There were carefully prepared DoD and DoS plans to cope with the predictable consequences in the aftermath of the invasion of Iraq - they were ignored or derided for ideological reasons. There appear to be ways to pull our bloody sword out of the body of Iraq without leaving a gushing wound in the Middle East or installing 50 more crusader citadels on Muslim ground. Please explore Mr. Knight's proposals before they are similarly derided or ignored for the usual ideological reasons. Dear Charlie, I am a retired diplomat who has worked on several conflicts and civil wars, including in Central America and the Balkans. I also lived in Poland and Russia where I saw the effects of the War and of the Holocaust first hand, and I grew up on stories of World War II from my father, a career military officer, and from family friends. I also studied at the National War College, where it is taught that aerial bombing of civilian populations is usually a political rather than military decision, but it always - always - leads to the consolidation of the enemy's power because it heightens the resolve of the population. (Think of the Blitz.) It is not fashionable to say "there is a better way" than fighting to resolve conflict, but my life experience has me believe there almost always is, and I am interested in Baker's analysis. Other comments to this program indicate just how "outside the box" Baker's proposition is. Perhaps it takes actually seeing what misery war brings, and the hatreds it stirs up, often for generations to come, to make someone consider that fighting fire with fire is neither the only way, nor perhaps the best one, even when the enemy is truly monstrous. By the way, Baker's assessment of Churchill as bloodthirsty was one I heard at home growing up. The bombing of London was a mistake. Churchill's decision to retaliate against civilians was deliberate. His insistence on total surrender was also his own. The German political elite actually broached an earlier end to the war, but he rejected it. (I'm not talking about that poor fool who ended his days in Spandau.) If your only standard for the horror of WWII is the Holocaust, I ask you, how many Jews would have been spared if the War had ended in '42 instead of '45? I can tell you, several million. Never mind the destruction of Northern France and much of the rest of the Continent.

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