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How Good Was The Good War ?
May 11, 2005 8:59 AM   Subscribe

Five years ago, Robert Lilly, a distinguished American sociologist, prepared a book based on military archives. Taken by Force is a study of the rapes committed by American soldiers in Europe between 1942 and 1945. He submitted his manuscript in 2001. But after September 11, its US publisher suppressed it, and it first appeared in 2003 in a French translation. We know from Anthony Beevor about the sexual violence unleashed by the Red Army, but we prefer not to know about mass rape committed by American and British troops. Lilly suggests a minimum of 10,000 American rapes. Contemporaries described a much wider scale of unpunished sex crime. Time Magazine reported in September 1945: "Our own army and the British army along with ours have done their share of looting and raping ... we too are considered an army of rapists."
An Ethical Blank Cheque... So, How Good Was The Good War ? And from the Eastern Front: Uncensored Memories
From Alfredo Perez's Political Theory Daily Review
posted by y2karl (104 comments total)

 
He who wins the wars, writes the history books.
posted by ericb at 9:58 AM on May 11, 2005


OK y2karl, I give. How do I read the captions on the FPP links without having to constrantly move my cursor over them to keep them from disappearing? Obviously you put a lot of time in but a computer whiz I'm not & it's maddening trying to read them.....
posted by Pressed Rat at 10:09 AM on May 11, 2005


Pressed Rat are you using I.E.? I used to have that problem until I changed to FireFox - no problemo now. and that disappearing act used to drive me mad---- Oh..karl...this interest you?
posted by peacay at 10:12 AM on May 11, 2005


Not only that, Pressed Rat, in some browsers the tool tips are truncated. For example, the last link's tool tip, for me, reads: "We returned home after nine months. Everything was burned down, d..."

So, I know it might be neat, y2karl, and I've even used them myself, but the tool-tip technique really isn't very user-friendly. I'm using firefox 1.0, by the way.
posted by odinsdream at 10:15 AM on May 11, 2005


y2karl, i don't know where you keep finding these things, but keep it coming. excerpts from the right wing auto-reply generator:

"america-hating-lies"
"boys will be boys"
"those french/german/italian whores wanted it"

i can understand the US publisher backing away from publication after 9/11. pity it was a french publisher that released it. (i can't figure out if the french really have the balls to stand up for what they think is right, or if they are just showing off.... )
posted by three blind mice at 10:17 AM on May 11, 2005


About the hover captions, why not just right-click and do "open link in new window"?

As for this "Taken By Force" book, I bet it'll be years before it shows up in the Louisville Free Public Library or in the local bigchain bookstores.
posted by davy at 10:22 AM on May 11, 2005


So, it would seem that US troops have a long history of mistreating furriners?

I will await the use of this as the official excuse for the prisoner tortures in Iraq.
posted by fenriq at 10:39 AM on May 11, 2005


I don't neccessarily doubt the truth of this, nor do I deny that it's tragic and horrific, but I don't neccessarily belive that this kind of behavior is unique to Americans, so much as it is a byproduct (and a deplorable one) of warfare.
posted by jonmc at 10:41 AM on May 11, 2005


These pieces, particularly "How Good Was The Good War?" are an effective rebuttal to a Victor Davis Hanson piece that appeared in the Wall Street Journal earlier this week (sorry, can't find a link) titled "How the 'Cowboys' of the West Defeated the Nazis" - basically, he says the Soviets, French, and British helped eradicate the Nazi threat, but Americans were mostly responsible for defeating the Nazi war machine.

I couldn't believe it - it was historical revisionism at its most amoral. And it's the myth that underpins almost every aspect of the neoconservative world view, which is maybe the biggest reason that view is so deluded, and so dangerous.
posted by kgasmart at 10:42 AM on May 11, 2005


About the hover captions, why not just right-click and do "open link in new window"?

Because that has nothing to do with the hover captions. The hovers are defined by the poster. You can put whatever amount of text you want in them, whether it's related to the link or just further explaining your post. In y2karl's case, the text in the hovers is usually important, and worthy of reading. It's a nice idea, since it reduces the overall length of the post, but it also has some serious usability problems.

On-topic, while I, obviously, agree that it is horrible, I'm perplexed by anyone who would be surprised by it. Like jonmc said, this is a by-product (or perhaps, more appropriately, a desired result) of warfare. I don't mean to make this a "war is hell" response... because that tends to be a way to avoid discussing the issue, which is an important one. People really should be questioning the very idea of warfare altogether, but our society is literally driven forward by it. It would take a huge amount of effort (entirely worthy, in my opinion, of undertaking) to move away from this war-driven society/economy.
posted by odinsdream at 10:48 AM on May 11, 2005


And in some browsers, captions are set to display the actual URL instead of the associated text, 'cause the end-user (me) really hates obscured links, having been goatsx'd once too often.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:48 AM on May 11, 2005


Like jonmc said, this is a by-product (or perhaps, more appropriately, a desired result) of warfare. I don't mean to make this a "war is hell" response...

Nor did I, I just meant that I don't think this is a uniquely American phenomenon, and that to some degree this springs out of the nature of war itself, not that it's any excuse.
posted by jonmc at 10:57 AM on May 11, 2005


y2karl, why do you hate America? </snark>

Whitewashing the Allied atrocities would be just as bad as the Japanese downplaying of Nanking (and I'm not convinced that the scales are comparable here), but ultimately one of the authors is right in that there are limits to how far we can self-flagellate ourselves on this one: "A revisionist case, that defeating Hitler was a mistake, would be not only perverse and offensive, but simply absurd." WWII was a necessary tragedy.
posted by DaShiv at 11:05 AM on May 11, 2005


Until military culture changes (and I find that hard to imagine), rapes are going to continue, just like they are surely occuring right now in Iraq.
posted by agregoli at 11:07 AM on May 11, 2005


agregoli, except in Iraq they are calling what used to be rape, freedom humping.
posted by fenriq at 11:09 AM on May 11, 2005


Fantastic post. Well written, full of inter-textuality and insight. Thank you Y2karl. This will stay with me for a long time.
posted by mnemosyne at 11:16 AM on May 11, 2005


That second link is asinine. A recitation of US atrocities in the war in the Pacific concludes: ..."that war was pretty much a traditional contest for imperial hegemony." Sorry, that war was the result of an unprovoked attack on U.S. armed forces by an imperialist state that had already conquered and enslaved much of east Asia. If it was a contest for imperial hegemony, then as the winners we really booted it, because our possessions in the Pacific after the war were pretty much the same as those before it, and the defeated imperialist state was an independent, thriving world economic power within three decades.

Further, he articulates the "awkward truth" that in Europe, whenever Germans met an allied army on equal terms, that allied force was defeated, implying that the subsequent allied strategy of engaging only when the enemy was outmanned and outgunned was not cricket, or that the Germans were somehow natively superior warmakers (praising with faint damnation). That this is for the allies no "cause for shame" is good news, especially given that the German war machine was not quite cricket either: see the peacetime rearmament in violation of Versailles, the ease of their resupply and defensive orientation due to their having conquered most of Europe, their use of concentration camp labor in production of materiel.

And regarding the brutality in the Pacific on both sides: what jonmc said.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 11:17 AM on May 11, 2005


Good points stupidsexyflanders.
posted by buzzman at 11:21 AM on May 11, 2005


Defeating Hitler was necessary. Raping thousands of woman was not. Bombing Dresden was not. Bombing the hell out of Vichy France was not. Placing Japanese-Americans in internment camps was not.

For a Polish look on the war, look here: http://www.signandsight.com/features/96.html
posted by jmgorman at 11:26 AM on May 11, 2005


stupidsexyFlanders, in point of fact the Pacific theatre was not an unprovoked attack.

1) At least three months before Pearl Harbor, the Flying Tigers were in China and firing on Japanese forces. In the year leading up to Pear Harbor, the entire B-17 bomber production was sent to the Philippines, with only one possible target: Japan.

2) The oil embargo the US imposed on Japan was strictly designed to provoke the country. It couldn't operate without the oil and, further, the embargo was a huge loss of public face. The US knew exactly what it was doing. Even FDR's son James, who was working on his father's staff at the time, admitted years later that there was no purpose in the oil embargo except to provoke Japan into an attack.

3) While Tojo and his men wanted war, Prince Konoye didn't and tried very hard to engage FDR in dialogue. Eventually, Secretary of State Hull rejected negotations and gave Japan an embarrassing ultimatum to pull out of Indochina and China.

I don't think there are any serious historians who even try any more to say that FDR wasn't aware in advance of the Pearl Harbor attack. That attack was in effect engineered by the US administration to get the nation involved in the war. It was spun as a filthy, unprovoked attack to whip up public frenzy. The reality is far different.

Does that mean FDR shouldn't have gotten us into WWII by dishonest means? I defer to Commissioner Gordon on this one... it's too big. I don't know what would have happened had the US not entered the war. But 60 years later we should at least tell the truth about the circumstances that led up to it and how the soldiers prosecuted it.
posted by the_savage_mind at 11:43 AM on May 11, 2005


1) didn't know that about the Flying Tigers. Could they have been helping in China's defense? Seems reasonable.

2) Aren't embargoes a standard lever used in international relations to discourage bad behavior? Japanese forces had by then most of their neighbors under their heel and clearly had further designs. What other nonmilitary means were available to us? I'm not disagreeing that FDR wanted to get in the war, but causing someone to "lose face" does not absolve them of any responsibility for their subsequent actions. I don't care what their culture demands in terms of "respect."

3) Again, to imply that we have a scintilla of responsibility for Pearl Harbor because we "embarrassed" the Japanese by telling them to rein in their conquering armies...You know what? You do a Rape of Nanking, you're going to have to risk losing some face in the world community. Would you have opposed that ultimatum?

Arguing that we bear ANY responsibility for the war because of these "provocative" actions is absurd. Did we want to get into the war? Yes. Was FDR blind to the fact that these actions would bring that day closer? No. Were they 100% justifiable, viewed in isolation? Absolutely.

Am I sounding like Hollywood uberproducer Bob Evans? Hell yes, I am.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 11:59 AM on May 11, 2005


Well said the_savage_mind. I concur. Winners do write history, but the truth will out. It is the ultimate naïvety to believe that good and bad can be separated as oil and water.
posted by mnemosyne at 12:04 PM on May 11, 2005


Am I sounding like Hollywood uberproducer Bob Evans? Hell yes, I am.

I was going to say Donald Rumsfeld. "Did we want to get into the war? Yes." I mean, think about what you're saying.
posted by odinsdream at 12:07 PM on May 11, 2005


Whatever the rationale behind the Flying Tigers activity, it was clearly an act of war. Which means that no matter what you think of the rest of the stuff I mentioned, Japan was provoked and legally justified in their attack. I didn't even mention the practice of popping up surprise flotillas of American destroyers in Japanese territorial waters that had been going on for almost a year. Is that diplomacy, or is that instigation?

You say losing of face isn't a reason to escalate things. You act as if the American Administration and the Department of State should act as if there are no cultural differences in dimplomacy. As if Japan, a schizophrenic society that had undergone a consciously constructed, militarized revitalization of their culture, should be treated as if they were just like the US. That's ridiculous. By the same token, we should be able to treak Kim Jong Il like just a rationale guy, instead of being careful how we frame things with him. But obviously we do act differently with him.

A number of State Department and Administration officials from the time are on record as stating that FDR was trying to provoke a Japanese attack on the US with the oil embargo. It was throttling Japan in a way that goes far beyond face... it was crippling their industry and economy. What would you do if someone cut the US off from energy? Would you consider that diplomatic or an act of war? It's clearly the latter.

'We', that is the US Administration, clearly did share responsibility for Pearl Harbor. Enough evidence has piled up that it has become the default explanation of serious WWII scholars. Presidential adviser Ickes wrote a memo to FDR claiming that an oil embargo against Japan would help get the US in the war. Then followed Admiral Turner's official opinion to FDR that the embargo would force the Japanese to attack the the Dutch East Indies and the Philippines, precipitating war between the nations. Finally, the day before he declared the embargo, FDR made a statement to the VPC: "If we had cut off the oil off, they probably would have gone down to the Dutch East Indies a year ago, and you would have had war." Yeah, after making that assertion, the very next day he chose to do what he had just said would start a war. The alternative to it being a carefully assessed spark to war was FDR and his crew being braindead. Which we know is not the case.
posted by the_savage_mind at 12:18 PM on May 11, 2005


the truth will out

Ahahahahahaaa! You have got to be kidding me! Does anyone know the truth behind any conflict, as though there were such a thing as an objective truth when we're talking about human motivations. Let's just say that I disagree, and invite you to tell us the singular truth about any armed conflict in world history.
posted by aramaic at 12:35 PM on May 11, 2005


Japan was provoked and legally justified in their attack.

Provoked, yes. Legally justified, well...

savage mind, you're absolutely right about the embargo serving as provocation and FDR wanting it to serve as provocation. The U.S. was, basically, going to get into WWII hook or crook, though an overwhelming majority of the population was opposed to it. How do you change that? Provoke a sneak attack...

Pointless aside: I was amazed recently to read that the U.S. pretty much knew where Nazi policy on Jews was headed as early as 1938, yet a poll that year asking the question, "Should we allow a larger number of Jewish exiles from Germany to come to the United States to live?" found that 75 percent said no.
posted by kgasmart at 12:38 PM on May 11, 2005


...and to forestall certain objections to my remarks, let me clarify (as I foolishly failed to do above) that my primary point is the error of referring to truth while at the same time remarking upon the difficulty of separating good & bad.
posted by aramaic at 12:39 PM on May 11, 2005


that war was the result of an unprovoked attack on U.S. armed forces

Unprovoked? Huh.

The plan was outlined in a U.S. Naval Intelligence secret strategy memo of October 1940; Roosevelt immediately began implementing its eight steps (which included deploying U.S. warships in Japanese territorial waters and imposing a total embargo intended to strangle Japan's economy), all of which, according to Stinnett, climaxed in the Japanese attack.

Likewise, the cutoff of oil and scrap iron to Japan, the freezing of her financial assets and other steps were aimed at drawing an aggressive response. In the case of Japan, they succeeded.


So, tell ya what. When the world stops using the US Dollar for trade and decides to stop selling oil to the US of A, I look forward to your post about how the US has no reason to respond in an aggressive manner, M'kay?
posted by rough ashlar at 12:42 PM on May 11, 2005


Interesting, well-written (especially the first link) stuff, if nothing particularly new to anyone who's been paying attention - except for the Russian book of letters from Izvestia.

I can't find an ISBN for that book, WorldCat has no listing for the title (I Saw It ... New Letters about the War). This is embarassing.

Can another librarian, perhaps with better access to databases than I have, track this one down? Is there even an English language translation (I suspect not).
posted by QIbHom at 12:45 PM on May 11, 2005


Japan was provoked and legally justified in their attack
Savage, What a load of bullshit.

A number of State Department and Administration officials from the time are on record as stating that FDR

Cites please.

Enough evidence has piled up that it has become the default explanation of serious WWII scholars

Cites please. Or by "serious" you mean scholars that already agree with your premis?

What would you do if someone cut the US off from energy?

We cut off fuel to an imperial war machine that was invading and raping and murdering millions of people. Damn. We had to draw them into attacking us eventually. We knew they were going to anyway.

I'm not convinced that the scales are comparable here

And as far as the US soldiers raping. Well for one it was not a matter of policy - as it was with the Imperial Army. It was still considered illegal and was punished. Though not often enough.

And 10,000 rapes is statistically insignificant once if you calculate there were between 12 and 16 million active duty US military personnel serving between 1941 and 1946. There would be the same number committed domestically by the SAME drafted population.

What a fucking non-issue you have uncovered.

We DID commit atrocities. Yes. No shit. So what? You REALLY think the scales are comparable Y2Karl? You can't They are not.
posted by tkchrist at 12:46 PM on May 11, 2005


kgasmart, I only meant the 'legal' thing in relation to attacks by US airplanes on Japanese forces in China, which clearly violated the US's stated neutrality at that stage.

It wasn't meant to actually defend the attack on Pearl Harbor as something I justify (although unlike stupidsexyFlanders I at least understand it as a logical conclusion of a plan of provocation). As a pacifist, I find the whole concept of legality completely ludicrous when trying to describe mass killing of any kind. And yet I still have difficulties judging FDR over this.
posted by the_savage_mind at 12:55 PM on May 11, 2005


Do we really expect men who live on the edge of death everyday with no women around will not go sexualy insane?
posted by furiousxgeorge at 1:00 PM on May 11, 2005


And 10,000 rapes is statistically insignificant once if you calculate there were between 12 and 16 million active duty US military personnel serving between 1941 and 1946. There would be the same number committed domestically by the SAME drafted population.

I hear your points, but even one rape isn't statistically insignificant to me.
posted by agregoli at 1:01 PM on May 11, 2005


I guess we should just look the other way then, furiousxgeorge? Yes, I expect servicemen not to rape anyone.
posted by agregoli at 1:02 PM on May 11, 2005


even one rape isn't statistically insignificant to me.

Let us willfully ignore the point in order to show we care.
posted by yerfatma at 1:13 PM on May 11, 2005


Let us willfully ignore the point in order to show we care.

I am concerned, therefore I am.
posted by jonmc at 1:15 PM on May 11, 2005


t_s_m, the Flying Tigers / AVG were, at least technically, mercenaries under contract to Chiang. So their planes would have been Chinese. If you look at photos or art of the planes, you'll note that they bear ROC markings.

At any rate, the AVG was only formed in 1941, and if my google-fu is strong didn't see any combat until after war had been declared.

Who really cares if Japan had some nominal "legal" justification to attack the US? The bigger picture is that the regime was trying very hard to enslave or murder anyone within reach, and having some "legal" justification to attack the people trying (weakly) to stop you from doing that doesn't make a bit of difference to that.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 1:16 PM on May 11, 2005


How do I read the captions on the FPP links without having to constrantly move my cursor over them to keep them from disappearing?

click on Customize | Show dhtml link titles? | Yes
then click the big yellow button that says 'Change your preferences'.
posted by quonsar at 1:20 PM on May 11, 2005


the_savage_mind: I don't think there are any serious historians who even try any more to say that FDR wasn't aware in advance of the Pearl Harbor attack. That attack was in effect engineered by the US administration to get the nation involved in the war. It was spun as a filthy, unprovoked attack to whip up public frenzy. The reality is far different.

Well, I think it was pretty obvious from history that the U.S. was intending to provoke a war with Japan. My Grandfather was transferred from the central U.S. to Alaska as part of the defensive preparations and he knew that an attack was expected. However, I don't think it is the case that the U.S. Military expected something on the size and scale of what happend at Pearl Harbor. To put it simply, the Pearl Harbor attack was a brilliant combination of tactical, technological, and information superiority.

On the other hand, I think our actions after the war are pretty telling in regards to Imperialism. After funding and supporting the Viet Cong, the Allies rearmed Japanese POWs before the peace treaty was signed to protect French interests from Vietnamese independence.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 1:33 PM on May 11, 2005


We cut off fuel to an imperial war machine that was invading and raping and murdering millions of people. Damn. We had to draw them into attacking us eventually. We knew they were going to anyway.

So you agree that in fact Japan was provoked. Glad to hear it. That was my only point in the discussion above. As for citations, I'll get 'em for you. For now, digest the memo rough ashlar mentioned. And no, that's not made up. It is a matter of public record.

As far as serious historians go, I mean the ones who aren't still willing to delude themselves to the facts that are, again, a matter of public record. If you're willing to take what you learned in elementary school at face value, I'm guessing that won't matter much to you. Please, if you're going to try goading me, you'll have to do a lot better than that, tkchrist.

Who really cares if Japan had some nominal "legal" justification to attack the US? The bigger picture is that the regime was trying very hard to enslave or murder anyone within reach, and having some "legal" justification to attack the people trying (weakly) to stop you from doing that doesn't make a bit of difference to that.

ROU_Xenophone, do you really believe we went to war with Japan to save the poor, enslaved Asians under Japanese thumbs? That's about as likely as going to war to bring freedom to Arabs. Which is to say that in both cases it's the stated claim but not the real purpose. As yet, no one in this thread has argued that the US shouldn't have gone to war with Japan. What some of us are arguing with are accepting the fables that Japan wasn't provoked into an act of war and that their attack took the US administration by surprise. Don't argue a debate that doesn't actually exist here.
posted by the_savage_mind at 1:44 PM on May 11, 2005


I don't neccessarily belive that this kind of behavior is unique to Americans, so much as it is a byproduct (and a deplorable one) of warfare.

jonmc, you've really got to recalibrate your "simple guy in the middle" meter; you run the risk of looking thoughtlessly knee-jerk in a case like this. Your comment might make sense if anyone anywhere had ever said that this kind of behavior is unique to Americans; since most Americans who know anything about WWII (admittedly a dwindling minority) think that this kind of behavior is unique to Germans, Russians, and Japanese and would be shocked to learn American troops were guilty of it on such a large scale (if, unlike some commenters here, they were capable of assimilating new information), your comment is misdirected.

that war was the result of an unprovoked attack on U.S. armed forces

I'll just add my voice to those suggesting you learn some actual history instead of repeating grade-school myths. Do you still believe the one about Honest George and his little hatchet, too?

We cut off fuel to an imperial war machine that was invading and raping and murdering millions of people... And 10,000 rapes is statistically insignificant... What a fucking non-issue you have uncovered.


Wow. None so blind, etcetera.
posted by languagehat at 2:12 PM on May 11, 2005


I'm not sure why you, jonmc and yerfatma felt it was necessary to make fun of me but I guess I'll bow out.

Did you not read the part where I said, "I hear your points?"

I still feel the same about what I said - I'm not trying to be a bleeding heart but geez, rape sucks, I have friends that have been raped and I hate hearing it treated casually, which is almost always how it's talked about on Metafilter. But thanks, guys, for making me feel crummy. End to a lovely day!
posted by agregoli at 2:15 PM on May 11, 2005


I'm not sure why you, jonmc and yerfatma felt it was necessary to make fun of me

I'm not sure who you mean by "you," but I sure hope it's not me. I entirely support your point and was making fun of your attacker tkchrist. Don't go away mad!
posted by languagehat at 3:00 PM on May 11, 2005


I'm not trying to be a bleeding heart but geez, rape sucks, I have friends that have been raped and I hate hearing it treated casually, which is almost always how it's talked about on Metafilter.

I have freinds who've been raped and abused, too and I would never treat it lightly, but that's not what tkchrist was doing. I think his point was that it was a statistically insignificant number of soldiers raping judging by the numbers, and that's far from treating rape as insignificant. So, in that light, your popping up to say basically "rape is bad!" struck me as stating the obvious to show what a swell person you are. I think we can take the badness of rape as a safe assumption.

Your comment might make sense if anyone anywhere had ever said that this kind of behavior is unique to Americans;


I don't think any reasonable person would make that assumption either.The "army of rapists," seemed to imply as much, but on second glance, the "we too," seems to make my point as well, so I guess what I said ws unneccessary.
posted by jonmc at 3:24 PM on May 11, 2005


do you really believe we went to war with Japan to save the poor, enslaved Asians under Japanese thumbs?

I don't really give a good goddam whether the reason that was in Roosevelt's heart was freeing poor enslaved Asians, trying to appease his dark gods Cthulhu and Nyarlathotep with a fresh war, or anything in between. It had the effect of stopping and rolling back a colonial regime that was poised to make Belgian Congo look like a birthday party, which is good enough.

In the face of the Japanese regime's conduct in China, Korea, and elsewhere, quibbling about whether or not the US provoked them into war instead of just leaving them to their fun, or whether or not their attack on Pearl Harbor was "legal," is, well, unseemly.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 3:40 PM on May 11, 2005


ROU_Xenophobia, in the neo-imperial Japan of the early 20th Century, propaganda posing as history helped to garner public support for their cruel, colonial expansion. Doesn't it make sense that propaganda posing as history to cover uncomfortable truths is something we shouldn't ever want or countenance anywhere? What the hell is so unseemly about citizens debating the morality, ethics and legality of how a war is instigated? If anything, it's the duty of a citizen to do just that.

Once again, no one here has said the US should not have gone to war with Japan. You keep trying to imply that this is a natural corollary to questioning the official party line on how the war began. It's not. Sticking your head in the sand and denying the lies and the sacrifice of trusting citizens used to build that war helps no one.

There is no such thing as a moral war. That kind of thinking's bullshit. Under no conditions is killing another human a moral victory. Period. Not even stopping the Japanese subjugation of others makes dropping nuclear bombs moral victories. At best killing might be a sometimes necessary moral sacrifice, but I find I'm starting to disbelieve even that. And yet notice I'm still not asserting we shouldn't have stopped Japan. I'm glad they were stopped. But I'll be damned if I'll sit back and be happy with the lies that are taught about how it went down, just because they cast my nation in a noble light.

War's not noble, and the sooner we can get people to cast off that perverted notion, the better off as a species we'll be. It's only ever a last resort, and one that should bring with it a certain amount of shame that we failed so far as to turn to it as recourse.
posted by the_savage_mind at 4:29 PM on May 11, 2005


I agree with ROU_X. This is just another knee-jerk anti-US pig pile. The cynical revising of history to "undermine the neo-conservative world view" is a fucking insult to my intelligence and to people like my grandfather who fought in the Pacific theater.

So some of you guys wanna manipulate and emotionalize WWII history to YOUR fetish? Congratu-fucking-lations. How elevated. How is that different than the sentimental Neo-con versions of WWII?

Wow. None so blind, etcetera.

Prove what I said is wrong instead of snipping some bullshit.
I can prove what I said was RIGHT. And you know it.

I forget. Did the US Military, as a matter of policy, create sex slaves or "Comfort Women?" No they did fucking not. Did the US Infantry do bayonet practice on civilians and children? No. The Japanese DID. And before we got involved.

10,000 ILLEGAL rapes over four fucking years divided by lets say - conservatively - 8 million US service men. Golly. Do the math, fuck face.

You would have roughly the same rate of rapes here in the US over that period of time. Prove otherwise if you can.

See these were draftees and among them were bound to be a great number of rapists. Or men driven insane by combat. Under these conditions men are likely to do terrible things- so that's big fucking news? But it was not US policy.

Yes. The US covered up atrocities. So what.

You think this even compares to what the Japanese did to the Comfort Women in Korea? or in Burma? Or Nanking?

I KNOW about US atrocities, ok. But they PALE in comparison to Japanese atrocities. Of course the US had bigger strategic interests in the Pacific. So what? Every country has interests.

was making fun of your attacker tkchrist

I wasn't attacking him or anyone. Now. I am attacking you for being an asshole. So fuck you.
posted by tkchrist at 4:39 PM on May 11, 2005


btw, apologies to y2karl for hijacking this thread away from the original topic. Fabulous articles both, and I have to say that Drayton couldn't be more right in his appraisal of British and American psychology in regards to WWII. War demean us all, turns us into monsters. The few flashes of real heroism are never enough to erase that. People here can write off 10,000 (at bare minimum) rapes as statistically insignificant, but they can't erase atrocities that many American and British soldiers committed. Not because they were American or British, but because they were human beings and because war gives us permission to bring out the absolute worst in ourselves. And then history gets perverted expressly so that this so-called Good war can be used as justification for all kinds of other wars. Insanity.

Anyhow, I'm obviously going to have to track down more by Drayton.

Oh, and well done, tkchrist. The only thing you've proved is that when your arguments are skewered you throw a tantrum, fall back on blaming your abject failure on anti-neoconservatism, curse a bunch and sling around insults. Nice. Whatever helps you sleep at night man.
posted by the_savage_mind at 4:53 PM on May 11, 2005


"I don't think there are any serious historians who even try any more to say that FDR wasn't aware in advance of the Pearl Harbor attack. That attack was in effect engineered by the US administration to get the nation involved in the war."

From what I can tell, there isn't any such consensus among serious historians. In particular, the book "Day of Deceit", by Robert Stinett, in which the McCollum memo first appears to have been published, is regarded as controversial. Some reviews are summarized here. Also see the reviews posted on Amazon.
posted by russilwvong at 5:00 PM on May 11, 2005


Do the math, fuck face... So what... So what?.... I am attacking you for being an asshole. So fuck you.

Your reasoned discourse has abashed and convinced me.
posted by languagehat at 5:07 PM on May 11, 2005


russilwvong, I should have been a lot more clear and separated the two issues. There is debate over whether or not FDR knew that Pearl Harbor (specifically) would be attacked. And yes, that is reflected in various responses to Stinett's book.

What isn't in any more debate than evolution is to most scientists is that FDR pursued a policy of provoking Japan into starting a war with the US. So that means that FDR pursued a plan that necessitated Japan attacking US interests. If not Pearl Harbor, then somewhere in the Philippines.
posted by the_savage_mind at 5:08 PM on May 11, 2005


"What isn't in any more debate than evolution is to most scientists is that FDR pursued a policy of provoking Japan into starting a war with the US. So that means that FDR pursued a plan that necessitated Japan attacking US interests."

Do you have a cite for this? I'm pretty sure this isn't the case. I did a search on the New York Review of Books website and found this exchange between Gore Vidal and Ian Buruma.

Buruma:

"... there had been no American demands, until Japanese troops moved into Indochina in July 1941. Washington had lectured the Japanese about their brutal war in China, beginning with a military invasion in 1937, but had done nothing to stop them.... The Japanese, however, could not continue to occupy China without more natural resources at their disposal. That is why they invaded Indochina, with plans to expand further into Southeast Asia. And that is why Roosevelt froze Japanese funds in the US and stopped the export of oil.

"Some Japanese were willing to retreat, no doubt, but not the Japanese who mattered. General Tojo, who was minister of war in the cabinet of Prince Konoye, the 'would-be peacemaker,' stated that there could be 'no compromise on the stationing of troops in China. It affects military morale.... If we just acquiesce to the American demand, everything we have achieved in China will be lost.' ...

"Konoye did indeed offer the US a vague deal in the summer of 1941. He wanted the US and Britain to stay out of China, to give Japan a free hand in much of Southeast Asia, and to lift all economic sanctions. In exchange, Japan promised to leave the Philippines alone and to withdraw from Indochina, but only after the situation in China was resolved to Japanese satisfaction. How this was to be resolved was left unclear. As Mr. Vidal says: 'some compromise.' No wonder Secretary of State Cordell Hull was not much interested."

Buruma also notes that it wouldn't have made sense for Roosevelt to try to get the US into war with Germany by provoking an attack from Japan. Germany wasn't obligated to declare war on the US.
posted by russilwvong at 5:29 PM on May 11, 2005


arguments are skewered

But my arguments have NOT been skewered? You didn't refute anything I said.

Give me the fucking cites I asked for?

Prove that, as a statistic , 10,000 illegal rapes divided into millions of US servicemen serving abroad over four fucking years is tantamount to a refutation claimed US moral superiority?

Your statement that the US unjustifiably provoked Japan is bullshit. We had to engage them in a war BEFORE they secured resources to expand even more. What? You think they would never attack us? Apologist bullshit.

FACT: The Fying Tigers were essentially mercenaries and were acting on the interests of Chinese nationalists defending China from and INVADING JAPAN. They didn't attack the Japanese territory or mainland for christ sake.

FACT: Japan was taking over fucking Asia. Our bigger imperialist or capitalist motives for preventing this does not make the MEANS of doing so equal between the two brands of imperialism. And THAT is what is being implied here. That, golly gosh, the US is just as evil as ... take your pick of whatever moral relativistic argument is hip.

And yes. Those articles were essentially saying: Neo cons are bad; And neo cons manipulate history to their political ends; And that is bad; And the us did bad things; So there. So what? You guys are doing the same thing. Skewing facts dishonestly to suit your own politics.

But the fact is the US DID rescue Asia from an invading murderous illegal force.

Certainly arguments can then be made about our own imperialism. But we didn't set up rape camps and systematically murder millions innocent people in the process.

You have to go all the way to the Vietnam war before we, under the guise of military intervention, started murdering millions.
posted by tkchrist at 5:29 PM on May 11, 2005


Your reasoned discourse has abashed and convinced me.

Predictable. Like I said you cant refute the facts so you have to be a smart ass. And a pussy one at that. At least I was out and out insulting.

Next time outline WHY and how I was wrong. When I'm wrong I'm man enough to admit it. I won't cower behind passive aggressive snarkes.

I declare victory again!
posted by tkchrist at 5:39 PM on May 11, 2005


blah blah blah, my name is tkchrist. BLAH BLAH BLAH. look at me. I declare victory in a war against myself! whee! I'm king of the world!
posted by the_savage_mind at 5:43 PM on May 11, 2005


russil, it should be noted that Buruma has even less a claim to the title historian than Vidal does. These two are essayists and novelist.

moreover, from the same debate:

On July 16, 1941, Prince Konoye, a would-be peacemaker, became prime minister. On July 26 (as a vote of confidence?) the US froze all Japanese funds in the US and stopped the export of oil. When Undersecretary of State Sumner Welles was asked by the Japanese if some compromise might be worked out, Welles said there was not the "slightest ground for any compromise solution."

Our first provocation against Japan began with FDR's famous Chicago address (October 5, 1937), asking for a quarantine against aggressor nations. Certainly, Japan in Manchuria and north China qualified as an aggressor just as we had been one when we conquered the Philippines and moved into the Japanese neighborhood at the start of the twentieth century. In December 1937, the Japanese sank the Panay, an American gunboat in Chinese waters, on duty so far from home as the Monroe Doctrine sternly requires. Japan promptly, humbly paid for the damage mistakenly done our ship. Meanwhile, FDR—something of a Sinophile—was aiding and abetting the Chinese warlord Chiang Kai-shek.

Pointedly, FDR refused to meet Konoye, whose government was then replaced by that of General Hideki Tojo. The military, so feared by Mr. Buruma, were now in power. But though they lusted for the blood of everyone on earth, they more modestly wanted to get on with the conquest of China and Southeast Asia. Certainly, they did not want a simultaneous war with a great continental power thousands of miles away. In November 1941 they made a final attempt at peace. We now know—thanks to our having broken the Japanese diplomatic code—the contents of Hirohito's in-box. Japan looked for a compromise. We looked for war. The Japanese ambassadors to the US, Kurusu and Nomura, were treated to a series of American ultimatums that concluded, November 26, with the following order: "The government of Japan will withdraw all military, naval, air and police forces from China and Indo-China" as well as renounce the tripartite Axis agreement. It was then, as Lincoln once said on a nobler occasion, the war came. Churchill's anxieties were at last allayed. On November 29 Germany assured Japan that should they go to war with the US, Germany would join them. In April 1945, Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter, in a memorial address at Harvard, praised the late President Roosevelt, "while engaged in this series of complicated moves, he so skillfully conducted affairs as to avoid even the appearance of an act of aggression on our part." There it is.

Question to those in denial about the US as provocateur: Why is it, if we were not on the offensive, that so small and faraway an island as Japan attacked what was so clearly, already, a vast imperial continental power? You have now had over sixty years to come up with a plausible answer. Do tell.


posted by the_savage_mind at 5:53 PM on May 11, 2005


by the way, tkchrist, any simple google on the Flying Tigers offers the info that the US set up a covert operation to funnel weapons and then the Tigers themselves to Manchuria to fight the Japanese. For God's sake man, can't you even read?

For your information, since I'm going to answer my own question and assert that you obviously CAN'T read, I never once claimed ethical parity between 10,000 rapes and Nanking. Nobody did. That's your own weird fetish, you neoconservative wacko you. It's what we call a straw man, not to mention a complete waste of time. It comes from not having a real argument.

By the way, thanks for educating me on the Vietnam War. Could you please fill me in on exactly how many millions we murdered? You can round it off to the nearest hundred-thousand, if it helps.

And again, related to your inability to read, not one person tried to equate the way the war was started with Japanes colonial practices. Not one. Again, your own personal fetishes and insecurities shine through loud and clear. But if you type FACT in nice bold, capital letters a few more times, I'm sure things will change for the better.

I certainly said nothing about the neocons, nor implied anything about them. I've been discussing what FDR's policies were vis a vis WWII. But I enjoy it when you scream in type, so please continue!

If it helps, I will gladly lie and tell you I think the US perpetrated as much evil as the Japanese and Germans combined in WWII. Hell, add in the Mongols, the Crusaders AND the Saracens, and HG Wells' Martians.

My God, your manly and oh-so-anti-passive way of throwing insults around is so arousing, tk. Are you sure you didn't single-handedly storm Normandy Beach all by your lonesome? I ask because of the manly and non-snarky way you admit you are wrong, while declaring unconditional victory.
posted by the_savage_mind at 6:08 PM on May 11, 2005


Flying Tigers offers the info that the US set up a covert operation to funnel weapons and then the Tigers themselves to Manchuria to fight the Japanese

No Shit. To fight the Japanese - who had invaded China in an illegal war - on behalf of the Chinese. I never said we didn't have interests there as well. Nor did I say it wasn't covert. The Tiger WERE mercenaries. It says on the google link. Can't YOU read. How does that imply that attacking Pearl Harbor in response was legal? It doesn't.

"you neoconservative wacko you"

Wacko? Certainly possible. Neocon. NEVER! Everybody that disagrees with you is a neocon now?

Could you please fill me in on exactly how many millions we murdered?

Certainly. Depends on who you ask. We say 1.5 to 2.5 million. The Vietnamese say upwards of 5 million. I believe the Vietnamese on this one.

I certainly said nothing about the neocons, nor implied anything about them. I've been discussing what FDR's policies were vis a vis WWII

And yet. Again no cites.

Therefore, until further notice or facts are in issuance: I WIN!

My God, your manly
Are you hitting on me? I... I'm flattered.
posted by tkchrist at 6:23 PM on May 11, 2005


Yes, YOU WIN! You can't read English, but YOU WIN! WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
posted by the_savage_mind at 6:30 PM on May 11, 2005


You can't read English

You mean did post cites to support your bullshit? You did address what I said about the Tigers?

Oh. No. You didn't.

So. Until you do. I WIN!!

Makes you crazy doesn't it.
posted by tkchrist at 6:34 PM on May 11, 2005


FDR was also provoking Germany in the Atlantic. During most of 1941, the US Navy became increasingly belligerent, fighting an undeclared war. The Atlantic Charter, signed in July 1941, envisoned a future "after the final destruction of the Nazi tyranny."
posted by kirkaracha at 7:04 PM on May 11, 2005


Prove that, as a statistic , 10,000 illegal rapes divided into millions of US servicemen serving abroad over four fucking years is tantamount to a refutation claimed US moral superiority?

rape = immoral.
done.

also, there is no such thing as a legal rape.
hence, "illegal rape" = redundant.
i pray you were already aware of this.

You have to go all the way to the Vietnam war before we, under the guise of military intervention, started murdering millions.

it's true - in WWII most american elites were happy to let hitler do it. read, "myth of the good war," "trading with the enemy," "working for the enemy," "IBM and the holocaust," and of course there's always good ol' Henry Ford's "the international jew."

of course, eventually, hitler's aggressions turned away from just soviets and eastern europeans, and it also became clear he was going to do wacky things like not ever let american corporations repatriate the profits from their german factories. so, war.
posted by poweredbybeard at 7:46 PM on May 11, 2005


"russil, it should be noted that Buruma has even less a claim to the title historian than Vidal does. These two are essayists and novelist."

Sure, I just looked on the NYRB site because they've got long and detailed articles about historical issues. But do you have any cites besides Vidal to demonstrate that there's a consensus among serious historians that Roosevelt deliberately provoked Japan into war?

Here's a real historian. Samuel Eliot Morison, "The Oxford History of the American People", suggests that both sides saw war as inevitable after July 1941, but not that Roosevelt deliberately provoked the war. Morison places more importance on the Japanese moves into China and then Indochina, describing US condemnation and sanctions as responses to the Japanese moves, not provocations.

Morison's description of Roosevelt's strategy prior to US entry into the war, p. 995:

"Americans were not neutral in thought to [WWII], as Wilson had asked them to be in the earlier one. An overwhelming majority desired the defeat of Hitler and his satellites, but also wanted to keep out of the war. ...

"The fall of France raised the distinct possibility of the fall of England too, bringing Hitler's forces within striking distance of America. Another shock was the Tripartite Pact of 27 September 1940, in which Japan formally joined the European Axis. This pact stipulated that if any one of the three got into war with the United States the other two would pitch in. For the United States Navy this posed the problem of fighting a two-ocean war with a smaller than one-ocean fleet.

"President Roosevelt had a political calculating machine in his head, an intricate instrument in which Gallup polls, the strength of armed forces, and the probability of England's survival; the personalities of governors, senators, and congressmen, and of Mussolini, Hitler, Churchill, Chiang, and General Tojo the Japanese premier; the Irish, German, Italian, and Jewish votes in the approaching presidential election; the 'Help the Allies' people and the 'America Firsters,' were combined with fine points of maneuvering. The fall of France, fed into the F.D.R. calculating machine, caused wheels to whir and gears to click with dynamic intensity. Out came a solution: the 'short of war' policy (1) to help keep England fighting in Europe (2) to gain time for American rearmament; and (3) to restrain Japan by diplomacy and naval 'deterrence.' Whether Roosevelt really believed that this policy would 'keep us out of war' is debatable."

Leadup to war, pp. 1000-1001:

"For over a year, tension had been mounting in the Far East. The Japanese war lords, meeting unexpected resistance in China, now planned to swing south and gobble up the Philippines, Malaya, and Indonesia. In order to realize this 'Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere,' as they called it, Japan had to risk fighting Great Britain, France, the Netherlands, and the United States, which between them controlled the coveted territories. In the summer of 1940 Japan wrested permission to build airfields in Indochina from the helpless Vichy government of France. The United States struck back with a small loan to China and a partial embargo on exports to Japan. Congress, in July 1940, gave the President power to restrict export of war materials needed for American defense, or to license their export to friendly nations. In the same month, Congress passed the Two-Ocean Navy Act. Very cautiously, Roosevelt began imposing embargoes on various strategic materials, including scrap iron; and a Gallup poll indicated 96 per cent popular approval.

"In July 1941 events began moving toward a crisis. On the 25th, Japan announced that she had assumed a protectorate over the whole of French Indochina. Next day, President Roosevelt took three momentous steps. He received the armed forces of the Philippine Commonwealth into the United States Army, appointed General Douglas MacArthur to command all army forces in the Far East, and issued an executive order freezing Japanese financial assets in the United States. Great Britain and the Netherlands followed suit, cutting off Japan's source of credit and imports of rubber, scrap iron, and fuel oil. The Japanese war lords decided to make war on these three countries within three or four months, unless the flow of oil and other strategic supplies was restored. For Japan was 'eating her own tail' in the matter of oil; her armies must have fuel or evacuate the mainland, a loss of face that the military would not contemplate. This embargo on oil and credit brought Japan to the point of war.

"The final negotiations were a mere sparring for time by two governments that considered war all but inevitable. The Japanese wanted time to strengthen their military and naval push to the south; the United States wanted time to prepare the defense of the Philippines and strengthen the navy. Through the summer and fall of 1941 Secretary Hull made it clear that Japan could have all the goods and credits she wanted, if she would begin a military evacuation of China and Indochina. Prince Konoye, the Japanese premier, on 14 October asked General Tojo, the war minister, to begin at least a token withdrawal. Tojo refused, confident that Japan could beat America, Britain, and any other country that stood in her way; and a few days later Tojo became prime minister. On 20 November he presented Japan's ultimatum. He promised to occupy no more Asiatic territory if the United States would stop reinforcing the Philippines; he would evacuate southern Indochina only if the United States would cut off aid to Chiang Kai-Shek and 'unfreeze' Japanese assets in the United States, leaving Japan free to complete her subjugation of China. Tojo did not expect that the United States would accept such terms, which were appropriate only for a defeated nation, and his plans for further aggression were already hardened. On 26 November 1941 the Japanese striking force of six big carriers carrying 423 planes, two battleships, two heavy cruisers, and eleven destroyers, sortied from its rendezvous in the Kurile Islands for the fatal destination of Pearl Harbor."
posted by russilwvong at 11:58 PM on May 11, 2005


And here's what Encyclopaedia Britannica (1999) has to say, in the entry for United States of America.

"Although in retrospect U.S. entry into World War II seems inevitable, in 1941 it was still the subject of great debate. Isolationism was a great political force, and many influential individuals were determined that U.S. aid policy stop short of war. In fact, as late as Aug. 12, 1941, the House of Representatives extended the Selective Training and Service Act of 1940 by a vote of only 203 to 202. Despite isolationist resistance, Roosevelt pushed cautiously forward. In late August the navy added British and Allied ships to its Icelandic convoys. Its orders were to shoot German and Italian warships on sight, thus making the United States an undeclared participant in the Battle of the Atlantic. During October one U.S. destroyer was damaged by a German U-boat and another was sunk. The United States now embarked on an undeclared naval war against Germany, but Roosevelt refrained from asking for a formal declaration of war. According to public opinion polls, a majority of Americans still hoped to remain neutral.

"The war question was soon resolved by events in the Pacific. As much as a distant neutral could, the United States had been supporting China in its war against Japan, yet it continued to sell Japan products and commodities essential to the Japanese war effort. Then, in July 1940, the United States applied an embargo on the sale of aviation gas, lubricants, and prime scrap metal to Japan. When Japanese armies invaded French Indochina in September with the apparent purpose of establishing bases for an attack on the East Indies, the United States struck back by embargoing all types of scrap iron and steel and by extending a loan to China. Japan promptly retaliated by signing a limited treaty of alliance, the Tripartite Pact, with Germany and Italy. Roosevelt extended a much larger loan to China and in December embargoed iron ore, pig iron, and a variety of other products.

"Japan and the United States then entered into complex negotiations in the spring of 1941. Neither country would compromise on the China question, however, Japan refusing to withdraw and the United States insisting upon it. Believing that Japan intended to attack the East Indies, the United States stopped exporting oil to Japan at the end of the summer. In effect an ultimatum, since Japan had limited oil stocks and no alternative source of supply, the oil embargo confirmed Japan's decision to eliminate the U.S. Pacific Fleet and to conquer Southeast Asia, thereby becoming self-sufficient in crude oil and other vital resources. By the end of November Roosevelt and his military advisers knew (through intercepted Japanese messages) that a military attack was likely; they expected it to be against the East Indies or the Philippines. To their astonishment, on December 7 Japan directed its first blow against naval and air installations in Hawaii. In a bold surprise attack, Japanese aircraft destroyed or damaged 18 ships of war at Pearl Harbor, including the entire battleship force, and 347 planes. Total U.S. casualties amounted to 2,403 dead and 1,178 wounded.

"On Dec. 8, 1941, Congress with only one dissenting vote declared war against Japan. Three days later Germany and Italy declared war against the United States; and Congress, voting unanimously, reciprocated. As a result of the attack on Pearl Harbor, the previously divided nation entered into the global struggle with virtual unanimity."

The authors of this text appear to be Frank Freidel and William L. O'Neill.
posted by russilwvong at 12:09 AM on May 12, 2005


Makes you crazy doesn't it?

Hal, god do you wish. No, actually your inability to read or generally function within the framework of logic is one of the most entertaining things of the past few days for me.

So please keep it up, as I know you will. I can just imagine you running around like that character Corky from the tv show, yelling I WIN! I WIN!

Yes, dear, you win. Let me wipe the drool off your shirt.
posted by the_savage_mind at 3:19 AM on May 12, 2005


russilvwong, there's no way for me to prove consensus on the issue. I'd have to find everything in print on the subject and show that all but a few cases were leaning one way.

So I will recant and say instead there are quite a few historians who feel that Roosevelt's admin's policy was to provoke Japan into an act of war.

Here are statements from Capt. Rochefort, founder of the Navy communication intelligence section and Commander of the Station at Pearl Harbor:

"We cut off their money, their fuel and trade. We were just tightening the screws on the Japanese. They could see no way of getting out except going to war."

In assessing the fallout from the Japanese decision to go to war, Rochefort concluded that Pearl Harbor was a pretty cheap price to pay for unifying the country."

And while there is debate that Roosevelt ever actually read the McCollum memo, it is more than telling that by November, 1941, all 8 points were carried out:

9. It is not believed that in the present state of political opinion the United States government is capable of declaring war against Japan without more ado; and it is barely possible that vigorous action on our part might lead the Japanese to modify their attitude. Therefore, the following course of action is suggested:

A. Make an arrangement with Britain for the use of British bases in the Pacific, particularly Singapore.

B. Make an arrangement with Holland for the use of base facilities and acquisition of supplies in the Dutch East Indies.

C. Give all possible aid to the Chinese government of Chaing Kai-Shek.

D. Send a division of long range heavy cruisers to the Orient, Philippines, or Singapore.

E. Send two divisions of submarines to the Orient.

F. Keep the main strength of the U.S. Fleet now in the Pacific in the vicinity of the Hawaiian Islands.

G. Insist that the Dutch refuse to grant Japanese demands for undue economic concessions, particularly oil.

H. Completely embargo all U.S. trade with Japan, in collaboration with a similar embargo imposed by the British Empire.

10. If by these means Japan could be led to commit an overt act of war, so much the better. At all events we must be fully prepared to accept the threat of war."


Secretary of War Stimson passed a memo to acting head of US Army in Hawaii that said the US desired Japan 'to commit the first act.' In this memo, Stimson declared he was following Roosevelt's orders. Then in his diary on November 25th, 1941, he he writes, "the question was how "to maneuver them [the Japanese] into the position of firing the first shot."

I suppose neither of these prove conclusively that Roosevelt's policy lead up to a Japanese attack, only that in the end they wanted Japan to be the ones to strike first. As for Morison and the Britannica entry, many of the facts as related can have multiple interpretations. And really, I don't see much in there that runs counter to any argument that FDR tried to get Japan to attack. Sure, there are modifiers like 'very cautiously' in relation to the embargos, but no support for that take. Everywhere else I've read, the embargos are presented as sudden and forceful actions.

And Encyclopaedia Britannica is not a publication that accepts radical revisions in history very quickly. I expect that if it even survives the assault of The Wiki, in ten or fifteen years that entry will be factually very similar and yet spin things rather differently from the classical take that Japan and the US inched towards war over years because Japan wanted it but against American wishes. The Britannica entry leaves out quite a bit of the process leading up to the war that we've been discussing.

Again, I will recant my assertion of consensus. I do believe that a majority of historians more detached personally from events of that era have come to believe that FDR's administration followed a policy to push Japan into attacking the United States. While acknowledgint that this could be down to my reading habits, I believe there is quite a bit of proof of this policy. But I was wrong to declare consensus at this point. Let's revisit it again in ten.
posted by the_savage_mind at 4:04 AM on May 12, 2005


What a misleading post, I expected to find out new evidence of american atrocities in WWII but instead all I get is a brief reference to Lilly's book in the Drayton piece and nothing new at all in the other two pieces.

plus I find it very hard to believe that "after September 11, its US publisher suppressed it." academic presses publish stuff far more critical of america all the time, I smell major bullshit. Furthermore, Lilly is a criminologist, so he probably got all his data from military criminal records, meaning most of the people who committed rape were convicted and held responsible. Not a very nice thing but hardly a major atrocity.

Any way to claim that Roosevelt "provoked" Japan into war with Japan is a perversion of the language. It's like saying girls who dress to slutty provoke men into raping them. (The flying tigers were not part of the american military and were reluctant to join up with the U.S. army after pearl harbor.) I really don't understand this effort to paint Roosevelt as some kind of war monger. It would be nice if the left could get at least try and support our country's greatest liberal leader.

No wonder bush won, y'all really do hate the U.S.A.
posted by afu at 5:08 AM on May 12, 2005


Metafilter: Do the math, fuck face.
posted by mek at 5:58 AM on May 12, 2005


afu, so glad the latest illiterate could join the party! You're right, I hate America in my liberal heart of hearts I long to tear down FDR. I loathe him for the wonderful things he did for America. That's why I (and others) have said repeatedly that whether FDR was right to do what he did was beyond my judgment. For the hundredth time for you who cannot read English, no one here said FDR shouldn't have taken the US to war. No one even said that if it's true he provoked Japan, that this was a bad strategy. No one.

In response to the FDR portion of this thread, we're merely debating the validity of claims that he pursued a policy intending to push Japan into attacking the US instead of being taken unawares. It's a perfectly valid subject for debate that has nothing to do with whether the US should have gone to war with Japan or not.

Since most people assume the way would have had to come about eventually anyway (I'm one of those people), there's not much room to blast FDR as a warmonger. If you learned to read, you'd undertand these things.

As for the Flying Tigers, have you ever heard of plausible deniability? Do a modicum of reasearch and you'll learn that the FT project was put together by White House official Lauchlin Currie and Roosevelt intimate Tommy Corcoran. I'm sure that's just coincidence, however. Governments never do anything off the books, right?

As for the hate the USA comment, you really are a dumb-ass.
posted by the_savage_mind at 6:24 AM on May 12, 2005


oh, and in 1942 the Flying Tigers were absorbed into the military 'officially' as the 23rd Fighter Group. Even though a number of the pilots left for other locations, most of them flew for the military. And Chennault, their 'commander', was reinstated into the Airforce. He eventually became a major general.
posted by the_savage_mind at 6:32 AM on May 12, 2005


The point of both articles is not that the Allies were worse than or even as bad as those they were fighting, simply that that there are no good wars. Nada, zip.

From the second link:
"Was it ‘‘a noble crusade’’? For the liberation of western Europe, maybe so. Was it a just war? That tricky theological concept has to be weighed against very many injustices. Was it a good war? The phrase itself is dubious. No, there are no good wars, but there are necessary wars, and this was surely one."
As for the attitudes of the Allies - how can they complain moral superiority when they proceeded to use those methods after the war?

from the first link:
"Within a decade of British troops liberating Belsen, they were running their own concentration camps in Kenya to crush the Mau Mau. The Gestapo's torture techniques were borrowed by the French in Algeria, and then disseminated by the Americans to Latin American dictatorships in the 60s and 70s. We see their extension today in the American camps in Cuba and Diego Garcia."
I have to say that, as bad as it is, 10,000 rapes did sound like a low number. Probably it is because I have been reading about Nanjing and the war in China recently, and know about the Red Army coming into Germany. Certainly it reflects that the Allies were failable humans - it was not systematic rape, but neither was there no violence against civilians, and to deny it would be to deny truth and have only whitewashed history.

But there were even worse official and sanctioned warcrimes that must never be forgotten. jmgorman lists some -
Defeating Hitler was necessary...Bombing Dresden was not. Bombing the hell out of Vichy France was not. Placing Japanese-Americans in internment camps was not.
"Good" and "just" are not words that apply to wars, though "necessary" might be. How much does one evil outweigh another evil? You can never know - the decision to go to war, I would hope, would always be a difficult one, taken in great sorrow and regret, though sometimes it must be taken.
posted by jb at 9:25 AM on May 12, 2005


"russilwvong, there's no way for me to prove consensus on the issue. I'd have to find everything in print on the subject and show that all but a few cases were leaning one way."

I don't think it's that hard to find out what the consensus opinion is on a historical issue. The key thing is that _historians have to read each other's books_, and they'll indicate their opinions in reviews and in their own books. So you can apply something like Google's PageRank algorithm: find a historian who's considered reliable by other historians, and find out what he or she has to say. If you don't trust NYRB or Britannica (my usual starting points), you could call the history department at your local university and ask if they have someone who specializes in the subject, who'd be willing to talk to the public.

"I do believe that a majority of historians more detached personally from events of that era have come to believe that FDR's administration followed a policy to push Japan into attacking the United States."

I don't want to sound like tkchrist, but could you please provide some cites? What evidence are you basing your assessment on?

(My own reading on World War II in the Pacific, and the leadup to the war: Ronald Spector, Eagle Against the Sun; John Dower, War Without Mercy; John Toland, The Rising Sun; Tang Tsou, America's Failure in China.)

Regarding the McCollum memo, an easier-to-read copy is here. David Kahn, reviewing Stinnett's book in the NYRB, has this to say (subscribers only, sorry):
Stinnett rests his argument that Roosevelt wanted to provoke the Japanese into firing the first shot on a memorandum that he says he found in McCollum's personnel file. Dated October 7, 1940, and addressed to Anderson, at the time director of naval intelligence, and Dudley W. Knox, chief of the ONIlibrary, it "suggested" giving all possible aid to China and embargoing "all trade with Japan," among other proposals. "If by these means Japan could be led to commit an overt act of war, so much the better," McCollum wrote. Stinnett does not mention or seem to realize that McCollum's points about aid to China and the embargo of Japan reflected longstanding American policies in support of China and opposition to Japan's aggression and fascism. Stinnett admits that he has no record of Roosevelt's having seen McCollum's document, but says that the fact that its eight points were put into effect—as most of them were—proves that Roosevelt did see it and follow it. But it is much more likely that McCollum was following national policy and adding his own view on the risk of war than that Roosevelt was taking guidance on American policy from a mid-level Navy officer.
posted by russilwvong at 10:04 AM on May 12, 2005


"How much does one evil outweigh another evil?"

I've already posted Hans Morgenthau's view: evil is inescapable in politics and war. The last resort of political ethics is "the endeavor to choose, since evil there must be, among several possible actions the one that is least evil."

"I have to say that, as bad as it is, 10,000 rapes did sound like a low number. Probably it is because I have been reading about Nanjing and the war in China recently, and know about the Red Army coming into Germany."

Right. According to John Lewis Gaddis, this made a big difference in the way the Cold War went: "It has long been known that the Red Army behaved brutally toward German civilians in those parts of the country that it occupied. This contrasted strikingly with the treatment accorded the Germans in
the American, British, and French zones. What we did not know, until recently, is that the problem of rape was much larger than once thought. Red Army soldiers, it now appears, raped as many as two million German women in 1945 and 1946. There was no significant effort to stop this pattern of behavior or to discipline those who indulged in it. To this day, surviving Soviet officers tend to recall the phenomenon much as Stalin saw it at the time: troops that had risked their lives and survived deserved a little fun. ...

"The incidence of rape and brutality was so much greater on the Soviet than on the Western side that
it played a major role in determining which way the Germans would tilt in the Cold War that was to
come. It ensured a pro-Western orientation among all Germans from the very beginning of that
conflict, which surely helps to explain why the West German regime was able to establish itself as a
legitimate government and the East German regime never could."
posted by russilwvong at 10:13 AM on May 12, 2005


russilwvong, mostly good points, but I don't really feel like Google page-ranks on hits regarding the Stinton book are a way to judge the consensus of current historians. The majority of them won't have come out publicly one way or the other on those allegations. At least not in way measurable by Google.

Far better would be your suggestion that I get in touch with people in a university history department to see what they think. I'll try and do that.

As for the books you listed, the latest was published in 87 as far as I can tell. I'm not trying to sleight them (in fact a couple of them are on my list to read), but they would be ill-situated to take advantage of information that came out starting in the mid 80s.
posted by the_savage_mind at 10:23 AM on May 12, 2005


"I don't really feel like Google page-ranks on hits regarding the Stinton book are a way to judge the consensus of current historians."

Sorry, I wasn't clear. I'm suggesting using a _similar_ algorithm to what Google uses, not that you should use Google! In other words, you can assess whether a particular source is reliable by checking what _other reliable sources_ have to say about it.

"As for the books you listed, the latest was published in 87 as far as I can tell. I'm not trying to slight them (in fact a couple of them are on my list to read), but they would be ill-situated to take advantage of information that came out starting in the mid 80s."

I suppose. For a subject that's been as intensively studied as World War II, new evidence usually consists of adding details to an existing picture, rather than an entirely new picture. When it comes to history, you shouldn't assume that newer is necessarily better.

Personally, I prefer older histories for a couple of reasons: (a) it's easier to assess their reliability, because enough time has passed for other historians to make their assessments and publish them--it's easier to identify books which are worth reading; (b) it avoids the dangers of anachronism, in particular the danger of regarding past events as inevitable; (c) the historian is more likely to have lived through the actual events, which makes them of historical interest in their own right. A couple of my favorite examples are William Shirer's "The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich" (Shirer was a reporter in Berlin during Hitler's initial moves into Austria and Czechoslovakia) and Louis Halle's "The Cold War as History", which recaptures the atmosphere of fear and exhaustion in Western Europe during the early Cold War.

(Of course there's also advantages to histories which are written long after the events; they may be able to take advantage of a wider range of evidence, and they may be able to achieve greater objectivity. But note that this last point isn't necessarily true; histories are often written with current political concerns in mind.)

To repeat my earlier request: I don't want to sound like tkchrist, but could you please provide some cites?
posted by russilwvong at 10:55 AM on May 12, 2005


Yeah, I'll give you one. Toland, whom you reference with Rising Sun, came around to supporting Stinnett's theory in his "Infamy: Pearl Harbor and its Aftermath". It's comprised of Toland laying out his evidence for his thesis that Roosevelt anticipated the attack and withheld info from the military commanders on site.

You'd be hard-pressed to find a more respected historian living than George Kennan who touches on the US policies leading to the Japanese attack in the speeches he gave collected in American Diplomacy, 1900-1950.

Godly American historian Charles Austin Beard wrote an entire book in 1948, President Roosevelt and the Coming of the War, about how FDR finagled the US into war. For an intriguing background of the critical influences fueling Beard's opposition to FDR's foreign policy, check out this tiny PDF.

Retired Navy Captain and historian Edward Beach is in the same camp as well:

The author of these pages will admit to being what might be called a "second-class revisionist" in that he feels that Roosevelt was convinced by mid-1941 of the necessity of our entry into the war and did all he could to bring it about ...

Finally I suggest reading the Institute of Historical Review's Journal of Historical Review, which covers some of these historians I've mentioned and cites several others who provided the factual basis for these theses. Notice that while Beach is loathe to support Toland in blaming FDR for knowing specifically about the PH invasion, he does make that comment about being a 'secondary revisionist.' If that's not enough,

Prior to the Pearl Harbor attack, popular sentiment against American involvement in the European and Asian wars was so strong that Roosevelt resorted to deceit and outright lies in his campaign from mid-1939 to December 1941 to bring the US into war.

Against Japan, he applied increasingly severe pressure. In September 1940 Roosevelt imposed an embargo on all US exports of scrap iron and steel to the country. On July 26, 1941, he ordered a freeze on all Japanese assets in the United States, which ended trade between the two countries. This was a severe blow to Japan, which depended heavily on the US for its scrap steel, and oil and petroleum products. Roosevelt's order, which amounted to an economic declaration of war, threatened Japan's survival as a developed, industrialized nation.

Also in July 1941, the President secretly authorized devastating American bombing raids against Japanese cities. Roosevelt and his top military advisers approved a daring plan to use American pilots and American war planes, deceitfully flying under the Chinese flag, to bomb Japan's major cities. (See "Roosevelt's Secret Prewar Plan to Bomb Japan," Winter 1991-92 Journal.)

On November 26, 1941, Secretary of State Hull handed the Japanese ambassador in Washington a ten-point memorandum that bluntly spelled out the US government's stern policy toward Japan. The core of this virtual ultimatum was a demand that Japan "withdraw all military, naval, air and police forces from China and from Indochina."

It was this paper that convinced the Tokyo leadership that further discussions with the US were pointless, and that Japan now had no choice but resort to arms. With the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the "back door to war," Roosevelt attained the goal for which he had been striving so ardently for more than two years. (For an authoritative summary of Japan's view of the background to Pearl Harbor, see "Hideki Tojo's Prison Diary," in the Spring 1992 Journal. See also A Time for War: Franklin Roosevelt and the Path to Pearl Harbor, by Robert Smith Thompson, reviewed by Joseph Bishop in the March-April 1996 Journal.)

Beach expresses approval of, or at least understanding for, Roosevelt's artful campaign to maneuver Japan into striking the first blow.


I didn't mean to imply that older histories are worse. Frankly, I generally find a lot of older historians to have higher standards of writing and research. But when the evidence for a new theory comes out after a book has been written, I don't think it's untoward to say that the book will likely not be able to address those facts well. It's only logical. I myself am a fan of Toynbee and Shirer is downright amazing. It's funny, though, the more I dug, the more I see that older, established historians of the first rank believed in the idea well before Stinnett ever wrote his book.

Anyway, I'm hoping this is enough for you, because frankly I'm done hunting;)
posted by the_savage_mind at 12:24 PM on May 12, 2005


If I may speak as a history graduate student and teacher - please, do not rely on older histories. Many are deeply respected and so continue to be read, but are recognised to be flawed. Lawrence Stone, for instance, is one of the most important historians of the twentieth century for his pioneering work in many different areas - he's also complete wrong about many things. Macauley is still in print, but you would fail an English history course if you relied on him for your understanding of the history (actually, had one student do very poorly trying to do just that).

Historical consensus may not change as rapidly as science, but it does change, in light of new facts and methodologies. The nature of the peer-reviewed system is not that the oldest will be the most accurate from staying power, but that the newest is held to the highest standard by having to take on the oldest, and our understanding of many phenomenon has improved. Also, new books will be just as harshly reviewed - the turn around is about 3 years for reviews, not 20. I ask my students to not use histories older than the 1970s unless they have a good reason (there are many excellent books older than that, but many more that have been superceded with better evidence). If I did more contemporary history, which is rapidly changing with the release of new sources, I probably would try to get them to stay to even newer sources, probably more scholarly articles than books (which always are a bit out of date from the length of the process).

If you really want up to date history, do not use Google, anything on the internet or any popularly published books (non scholarly books are always out of date, as they go from secondary research, and have a bias, like most non-scholarly readers, towards older books) - try to get access to a database of academic journals likeJ-Stor and find recent reviews of the issue you are interested in. Some will be of individual books, which can at least tell you what had been published lately; the best for your purposes are the historiographical articles which will discuss the development of thinking on the issue (like a metahistory of the history).

As for eye-witness accounts versus more recent histories: eye-witnesses have a certain value, but that would make them good primary sources, not necessarily better secondary sources. (Primary sources are data, secondary sources are analysis). There is something to be said about being separated from an issue - thus one of Macauley's greatest flaws as a historian was that he wrote partisan history for his own party. Moreover, the emergence of new information now will radically change the understanding of the more secret side of the war. This is why it's most important to be reading new histories of contemporary history (aka 20th century) because new information is constantly being released, and because the people writing now were not personally involved.

(I'm just remembering one 1953 book on Chinese history which explained that the Chinese lost the Opium war of 1839-42 because as Chinese they were either all completely passivist or incapable of innovation - I don't remember which, but I put that dusty book back on the shelf, knowing exactly why my professor warned us to be very careful of bad histories.)
posted by jb at 12:27 PM on May 12, 2005


Older historians can be just fine - when they are publishing new stuff. (Many actually change their minds about many things over their career.) But older histories really can be quite flawed. Metholdologies change, but also people writing now can draw on the evidence found by earlier people. Which means they just have more information when drawing conclusions.

The only reason I can think of beginning with a book older than about 1970 is that a) nothing has been written on the topic since, so it still is the latest word (this is true for poverty in Cambridgeshire c. 1500-1800, on which an excellent book was published in 1934), b) it's a very influential book which you should know, despite of perhaps being superceded (like Thomson's Making of the English Working class (1963) or Tawney's "Rise of the Gentry" thesis; Laslett's World we have Lost is excellent, but certainly not an up-to-date analysis on pre-modern English society). Really good work from earlier will be cited elsewhere as being still the best work on X.

This is not to say that bad histories are not being written now - I'm reading a recent Ph.D. thesis which just about the worst book I've read on the subject. But notably, it wasn't published and has not undergone peer-review.
posted by jb at 12:40 PM on May 12, 2005


Thanks for the cites. Beard and Toland are often cited as proponents of the "revisionist" view, but they don't constitute a consensus or a majority.

"You'd be hard-pressed to find a more respected historian living than George Kennan who touches on the US policies leading to the Japanese attack in the speeches he gave collected in American Diplomacy, 1900-1950."

Kennan's argument was that the US's sentimental and unrealistic attachment to China was partly to blame for the war (Tang Tsou makes a similar argument), not that Roosevelt deliberately provoked war with Japan.

(By the way, Kennan actually died a couple months ago.)

"Finally I suggest reading the Institute of Historical Review's Journal of Historical Review, which covers some of these historians I've mentioned and cites several others who provided the factual basis for these theses."

Jesus Christ!

You didn't know that IHR is a Holocaust-denial outfit?
posted by russilwvong at 12:44 PM on May 12, 2005


"If I may speak as a history graduate student and teacher - please, do not rely on older histories. Many are deeply respected and so continue to be read, but are recognised to be flawed. ...

"Historical consensus may not change as rapidly as science, but it does change, in light of new facts and methodologies."

Thanks for the feedback. I'm a little alarmed by this. If books quickly become outdated, and only scholarly articles are going to be up to date, how can the general public possibly be well-informed about recent history? (My own primary interest is in twentieth-century history and the Cold War.)

Is it really necessary to go to J-STOR to learn about history? I'm thinking of really basic, big-picture things like the fact that the US didn't have much of an army between WWI and WWII, or the imbalance of conventional forces in Europe between NATO and the Soviet Union throughout the Cold War. I learned these things from reading books published in the 1950s and 1960s.
posted by russilwvong at 12:59 PM on May 12, 2005


re: IHR and Holocaust denial...

uh, no. I didn't know at all. Jesus Christ is right, and I'm sorry I even linked to them. This is the problem with relying on Google. I'd be much better off in a library working on this, but as I'm in a different and non-English speaking country, that's not possible right now.

You are correct about attachment to China being the main thrust of Kennan's speeches, but I was under the impression that he also made reference to forming policy in such a way that pushed Japan into insitigating the war. I will look for that again.
posted by the_savage_mind at 1:08 PM on May 12, 2005


"I'd be much better off in a library working on this, but as I'm in a different and non-English speaking country, that's not possible right now."

It's not a substitute for a library, but I'd highly recommend the NYRB archive, which contains all articles ever published in the NYRB, going back to 1962. It's $62 for a one-year subscription. They review a lot of historical and political books, and the exchanges are useful as a way to find out about controversies.

I put together some suggestions for assessing the reliability of information in the alt.politics.international FAQ (section 2.4).

I'll check Kennan as well.
posted by russilwvong at 1:28 PM on May 12, 2005


thanks for the recommendation on NYRB and the great FAQ, Russil, and I honestly appreciate the push on the debate as well.

Also, my gushing praise of Kennan should have been qualified by describing him as a godly historian of American military history. Which is a bit more focused than ascribing him godhood as a general historian;)
posted by the_savage_mind at 1:45 PM on May 12, 2005


From a twentieth century intelligence historian (non-mefi friend):
Any history of WWII written before the 1970s will completely ommit the Enigma decrypt. Any history of the Cold War writen before the 90s will ommit the Venona code break. We're learning more about these periods every day as sources are declassified and the best histories of both of them are yet to be written. Sources from right after the war are interesting reading, but give you only a tiny part of the picture. Conversely, good histories written today will take into account the experiences of a very large number of eye-wittnesses, because the professional historian who wrote it will have already read all the relevant books for you.
About books versus articles - I was especially thinking of fields that are changing very rapidly (late Cold War, for instance, which is just being declassified) - my own field (c.1500-1800) is much slower (there was a big shift in theory and methodology, though, circa 1970, which may be why I fixed on that date). I don't know if it's possible for the general public to always be absolutely up to date - few professional historians are outside of their niche fields. One way might be to watch the university presses - or to look for historian's publications on university webpages. Those books will be available from Amazon. If you live near a university library, it might be worth it to find out if they allow private researchers to pay for borrowing priviledges.

These won't all be the best read - academic history has little reward for interesting writing styles, just for ideas and evidence - in the past, historical writing tended to be more of a literary pursuit, now it is increasingly dense and academic (with exceptions, of course, but writing quality has no corellation with historical quality - or else my orals would be much easier). That's why popular history sells much better - it is written in a more interesting way. They just have a very different purposes.
posted by jb at 1:50 PM on May 12, 2005


Ok, despite saying I was done poking around, I started poking around again. I think I have to take Kennan off the table, as I can't find a reference to FDR's policy to engage Japan.

But I will add both Chomsky (who refers to the policies of colonialization of Imperial Japan at the time as 'murderous and genocidal' and saves his greatest vitriol for Nanking) and Zinn to the pile. I completely forgot about Zinn's chapter on Pearl Harbor in People's History. Zinn, who manned a bomber himself during WWII, had this to say as well, which I find very relevant to the initial articles that y2karl references for this thread.

And then there's Bruce M. Russett, Dean Acheson Professor of International Relations and Political Science at Yale, who wrote No Clear and Present Danger: A Skeptical View of the United States Entry into World War II, claiming FDR goaded Japan into attack
posted by the_savage_mind at 2:20 PM on May 12, 2005


"thanks for the recommendation on NYRB and the great FAQ, Russil, and I honestly appreciate the push on the debate as well."

You're welcome, and thanks for the discussion!

As I understand it, Russett's premise is that the US could have stayed out of the war: it wasn't threatened by Germany, since Germany couldn't have defeated Britain. This wasn't known at the time. In particular, before the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union, things looked extremely bleak for Britain. If Germany hadn't ended up fighting the Soviet Union and the United States, it would have been hopeless for Britain to try to defeat Germany, so it would have made sense for Britain to surrender. (At the time, the military potential of both the Soviet Union and the US were highly underrated, because of the Soviet experience in Finland and the weakness of the US military.)

Kennan (first page of "American Diplomacy 1900-1950"):
Today, standing at the end rather than the beginning of this half-century, some of us see certain fundamental elements on which we suspect that American security has rested. We can see that our security has been dependent throughout much of our history on the position of Britain; that Canada, in particular, has been a useful and indispensable hostage to good relations between our country and British Empire; and that Britain's position, in turn, has depended on the maintenance of a balance of power on the European Continent. Thus it was essential to us, as it was to Britain, that no single Continental land power should come to dominate the entire Eurasian land mass. Our interest has lain rather in the maintenance of some sort of stable balance among the powers of the interior, in order that none of them should effect the subjugation of the others, conquer the seafaring fringes of the land mass, become a great sea power as well as land power, shatter the position of England, and enter—as in these circumstances it certainly would—on an overseas expansion hostile to ourselves and supported by the immense resources of the interior of Europe and Asia.
Also see sections 1 and 2 of the McCollum memo, describing the situation as it was seen in October 1940.
... As a result of this policy, Germany and Italy have lately concluded a military alliance with Japan directed against the United States. If the published terms of this treaty and the pointed utterances of German, Italian and Japanese leaders can be believed, and there seems no ground on which to doubt either, the three totalitarian powers agree to make war on the United States, should she come to the assistance of England, or should she attempt to forcibly interfere with Japan's aims in the Orient and, furthermore, Germany and Italy expressly reserve the right to determine whether American aid to Britain, short of war, is a cause for war or not after they have succeeded in defeating England. In other words, after England has been disposed of her enemies will decide whether or not to immediately proceed with an attack on the United States.
I'm afraid I'd have to say that Chomsky isn't a mainstream historian. (He's more like a radical-left activist; my advice to anyone reading Chomsky is to check his references very carefully.)

My impression is that Zinn is similar to Chomsky (that is to say, his presentation of history is driven by a radical-left political agenda), but I don't know enough about Zinn to say if that's a fair assessment or not.
posted by russilwvong at 3:21 PM on May 12, 2005


While I know Chomsky is viewed skeptically by many historians, I was under the impression that Zinn was not. That is, he's only viewed skeptically by those who have a problem with his politics. I believe that his historical work is respected within the field. I might be wrong, though, and would love to know if jb, who's been quite helpful, has any input.

So tell us, jb, as far as you know, is Zinn considered a good scholar within the discipline?

As far as Russett goes, the German equation is honestly only part of the book. I am quite certain that he makes the claim that war with Japan was avoidable if that is what FDR had truly wanted, and that the embargos were what precipitated that war. Though I admit cannot back that up with citations at the moment.
posted by the_savage_mind at 3:39 PM on May 12, 2005


"I don't know if it's possible for the general public to always be absolutely up to date - few professional historians are outside of their niche fields."

Maybe our objectives are different. My main concern is how to give people an understanding of the big picture. I think that the main constraint isn't access (personally, I do have a university library card), it's time and interest.

I agree that it's useful to know about Enigma and Venona, but I think you need to know the basics first. An extreme example: Scott Erb reports that a college freshman once asked him if Eisenhower was the leader of Russia. Similarly, I had no idea that the Soviet Union's conventional military forces were so much stronger than NATO's until I started reading Halle. Do most people even know that the Soviet Union fought against Germany during World War II? Or that the Russian Revolution had anything to do with exhaustion from World War I? I certainly didn't.

Most people think of history as a boring and irrelevant series of dates, names, and events. If you're young, why should you know or care who Eisenhower was?

It's possible for a general reader to find the time to read a single, well-written book on a broad subject (e.g. Morison on US history), but I doubt that the vast majority of people would have the time or interest to read a continuous flow of specialized or historiographic articles.

One symptom of this vacuum of historical understanding is the popularity of simplistic, good-vs.-evil accounts of history like Coulter's or Chomsky's--the devil theory of history. I think that if people had a better grasp on basic history, they wouldn't be as vulnerable. (To take an even more serious example, I often wonder about Bush's view of history.)
posted by russilwvong at 3:45 PM on May 12, 2005


I agree with most of what you just said, russil, and for those very reasons I would suggest that you pick up a copy of People's History of America, by Zinn.

It's so well written, it's so valuable in offering an overview of American history that shines a light in corners that traditional school history textbooks have often missed, and it is anything but a simplistic account. It's really gripping reading, and you should try it out for yourself.

As for Chomsky, while I'm certain that many a case can be argued that his facts may follow his convictions at times when it cimes to history, I think it's completely off-base to compare him to Coulter. He's a serious linguisitics and semiotics scholar with an acknowledged expertise in cognitive science (there's a reason he's got tenure at MIT). I mean only one of his claims to fame is first demonstrating that human children are born with an innate ability to learn words and grammar.

He's an immensely respected brain in multiple sticky fields who has done some truly significant work. So despite the fact that both he and Coulter are polarizing figures politically, I really couldn't put her in remotely the same class as Chomsky. His take on history is certainly outside the 'mainstream', but he bases his interpretations on a rigorous body of work devoted to analyzing how human perception and cognition can and has been manipulated. There's a reason the Nazis, the CIA and so many other institutional organizations poured so much money and effort into propaganda programs. They have a major effecy. Whether or not you agree with his conclusions (and I certainly have a mixed record in that respect), his deconstructing of American history through that particular filter is, IMO, not only valid but valuable.

As for Bush, I truly believe he lives in a complete fantasy land made up of a horrific lack of education, an mmense lack of curiousity and an overabundance of managed information fed to him by his handlers. To date there is no evidence that he ever seeks out challenging information on any serious subject. Ever. That terrifies me.
posted by the_savage_mind at 4:08 PM on May 12, 2005


"... I was under the impression that Zinn was not. That is, he's only viewed skeptically by those who have a problem with his politics."

Not from what I can tell (although I'd also be interested in hearing what jb has to say). Here's a critical review by Michael Kazin in the Spring 2004 Dissent, generally regarded as Left. "Zinn's conception of American elites is akin to the medieval church's image of the Devil. For him, a governing class is motivated solely by its appetite for riches and power--and by its fear of losing them."

"I think it's completely off-base to compare [Chomsky] to Coulter."

I wouldn't compare their intellectual contributions, but from what I can tell, Chomsky, Coulter, and Bush all share the same sort of good-vs.-evil world view. It's just that Chomsky's is reversed, with the US on the side of evil (oppressing the Third World) instead of the side of good.

Seeing the world this way is simplistic and dangerous, but it's emotionally satisfying; indeed, it seems to be human nature. Howard Gardner, "The Disciplined Mind": "Most five-year-olds have developed a Star Wars script. Life consists of a struggle between Good and Bad forces, with the Good generally triumphant. Many movies and television programs, and a few events in real life, can adequately be described in terms of such a script. Most historical events or works of literature, however, prove far more complex; to understand the causes of World War I or the U.S. Civil War, or to grasp the thrust of a novel by Hawthorne or Austen, one must weigh and integrate multiple factors and nuances. Students learn in class to give more complex explanations for such historical or literary events. Yet, when they are confronted with new and unfamiliar materials--say, a story from another culture, or a war in an unfamiliar part of the world-- even capable students lapse to an elemental way of thinking. The Star Wars 'good guy-bad guy' script is often invoked in such situations, even when it is manifestly inappropriate."

From an evolutionary point of view, it's easy to see how this kind of mindset would be useful. But personally, I'm extremely wary of self-righteousness; the 20th century is full of examples of fanaticism leading to disaster.
posted by russilwvong at 6:24 PM on May 12, 2005


I don't know how much you've read by Chomsky, but one thing I'd never accuse him of is being simplistic about things. In fact, I find his positions to be the result of a lot more nuanced analysis than most.

And he certainly doesn't boil things down to US=Evil, Rest of the World=Good. Despite his opinion that FDR provoked Japan into attacking, as I mention above his most scathing comments were for imperial, colonial Japan. Nanking and beyond. Man, he really goes off, and deservedly so.

I believe that he is portrayed as simplistic and America hating, but I find that portrayal itself to be simplistic, intending to convince people to dismiss him rather than think about what he has to say. Again, there are areas where I disagree with his conclusions, but very few people in the world challenge me to think about my positions as often and as intensely. I think that's why so many people have a gut-reaction to try to marginalize him (I'm not speaking about you, btw, but in reference to many reviews I've read of his work).

I understand your synopsis of us vs. them thinking completely, I just really don't believe it applies to Chomsky. And that's based on listening to his lectures and reading some of his papers and books.

Zinn doesn't cover much standard history, assuming his reader will be aware of it. What he does is cover a whole mess of stuff that generally has been left out of school curricula, and he does it by just going to all the source texts. I believe he lets the historical record pretty much speak for itself. The conslusions pop right out of the facts themselves.

Have you read him or just criticques of him? Because if you consider yourself an American historian (even if only by avocation) and haven't read People's History, well, I think you're really short-changing yourself. Do it if only to better refute him, if that's your instinct.

In both cases, I would say don't get hung up on what the Left or the Right think about these guys... they are both iconoclasts and individual thinkers first and I know plenty of self-proclaimed Leftists who disagree with one or the other strongly. Sitting in the mainstream does not confer rightness by itself, and occasionally it takes someone on the edges to push uncomfortable truths into focus.

By the way, I would strongly argue that Dissent is a self-proclaimed left magazine, when in fact it is no such thing. There's a reason Irving Kristol, famed neocon, is considered one of its honorary founders. It is what is usually referred to as neoliberal, which is now, strangely enough, called neoconservative. When it comes to historical analysis and foreign policy, the folks behind that mag are far closer to Richard Perle or Paul Wolfowitz then they are to anybody who can honestly be called Liberal today. Through the 60s, the editor in chief Howe used to regularly pen attacks against student protesters, in synch with Kristol over at The Public Interest.

Definitely don't take their word on Zinn. Regardless of their so-called Trotskyite roots, the people behind Dissent espouse an intensely elitist (in an intellectual sense) philosophy. Like the neocons who have followed Leo Strauss, there is an assumption that the intellectual elite should make poliy by hook or by crook for the unwashed masses. That's antithetical to Zinn's own emphasis, which is simply to let the people of American speak on his pages again and again, and I would expect a savage review from Dissent on principle. It's an easy read, and I don't imagine you'll regret it.
posted by the_savage_mind at 7:43 PM on May 12, 2005


sorry "savage" The "you hate the US" comment was tongue in cheek. I guess I should have used smilies but I didn't want y'all to think i was queer or something.

In your first post you claim "The oil embargo the US imposed on Japan was strictly designed to provoke the country."

Maybe, just maybe it was to stop the japanese advancement in China and south east asia?

"Secretary of State Hull rejected negotiations and gave Japan an embarrassing ultimatum to pull out of Indochina and China."

So embarrassing another country is considered an act of war?

"does that mean FDR shouldn't have gotten us into WWII by dishonest means? I defer to Commissioner Gordon on this one... it's too big. "

Dishonest means? Honesty and dishonesty don't even come into play when you are dealing something like the Japanese empire. I hate to pull a reverse godwin's law and call you a chamberlain, but your there is no other way of interpreting your claims than seeing you as second guessing FDR's motives.
posted by afu at 4:26 AM on May 13, 2005 [1 favorite]


afu, first, apologies for misunderstanding the sarcasm. You're right... smilies are kinda uncomfortable.

And saying the emargoes were 'strictly' to provoke Japan was, on further consideration, exaggeration. You are right about that. But I do believe that their sudden institution in the areas of oil and scrap iron, along with a sudden freezing of Japanese accounts were absolutely and quite obviously about provoking an attack. They certainly could not expect a different reaction. As others here have noticed, what would happen if another nation (who just happened to be in such a powerful position in relation to the US and who was popping up warships in our territorial waters willy-nilly AND who had covert operatives firing on our soldiers) managed to do that to the US? Would you say it was anything other than a provocation to war?

The embarrassment/face issue shows that you have no understanding of Japanese cultural psyche of the period. You can holler all you want that adding a huge 'fuck you' message on top of the embargoes shouldn't be incitement to war and you would simply be avoiding reality. Tojo and Co. were operating on demented principles put into place by the revitalization movement of the Meiji period. It's the same sort of phenomenon that can give you suicide bombers. "Oh hell, why would anyone think that they should kill themselves rather than face failure?" Why indeed. It seems insane. The embarrassing/provocative/fuck-you ultimatum can't be taken on its own... it has to be seen in light of it being the culmination of a whole chain of policy decision.

In regards to the Chamberlain comment, that would only be true if you thought I was saying that FDR shouldn't go to war with Japan. No where have I said that. in fact, I've gone out of my way to clearly state the opposite. Multiple times. Which brings me back to my comments about your illiteracy.

The honesty/dishonesty bug up my ass comes down to FDR's treatment of the America's citizens, and that always comes into play unless you have some real dislike for Democracy. The heat comes from the fact that, if true, such behavior resulted in a catastrophic 'surprise' attack that killed many Americans. Or is it ok to kill American soldiers for any old reason, just because they signed up?

I have never said we shouldn't have stopped Japan. I have been arguing that the official history of how it came about is bullshit, and that it's certainly worth debating the methods the president used to take us there, because that method can be used to take us into bullshit, wasteful wars. like Iraq. You don't see the relevance there?

The fact that you march lockstep with those who think there should be no questioning of a President who takes the nation to war by dint of lies and overt manipulation says a lot about you.
posted by the_savage_mind at 5:06 AM on May 13, 2005


I checked Kennan's "American Diplomacy" last night, and he has some comments on whether war with Japan could have been avoided. They don't support the argument that FDR provoked war with Japan. I'll post them later on (maybe tonight).

I'm afraid I've reached my lifetime quota of arguing about Noam Chomsky. (I used to be a regular on alt.fan.noam-chomsky.) I've put together a web page summarizing my views.

Arguing about whether FDR intended to provoke Japan into a war is a manageable argument, because it's a more specific issue: we can look at evidence for and against. Arguing about Chomsky is a much bigger subject.

"Zinn doesn't cover much standard history, assuming his reader will be aware of it."

I doubt that's true in most cases. I suspect less than 5% of the population has read a mainstream history of the US (e.g. Morison; yes, he covers the mistreatment of Indians and slavery). The kind of historical understanding we get from pop culture (movies, CNN, etc.) amounts to a shallow caricature. People don't know anything about injustices in American history or foreign policy because they know practically nothing, period, about either history or foreign policy. TV, the dominant medium in our society, just isn't a good medium for getting an understanding of history. If you show a talking head discussing the complexities of a historical issue, people won't remember his (or her) discussion, they'll remember what he was wearing.

It'll be interesting to see if the Internet will change this, e.g. through discussions like the one we're having.

Your suggestion that I should read Zinn, if only to better rebut him, is a good one; I read "The Chomsky Reader" and "Deterring Democracy" for exactly that reason. Tell you what: I'll read "People's History" if you'll read Morison's "Oxford History of the American People." (I'll send you a copy, if I can find an online bookseller who will ship to the country where you are--just e-mail me your shipping address.)

I won't try to argue against your assertion that Kazin isn't far left enough to be able to critique Zinn's writings without being biased by political disagreements. (Dissent opposed the Iraq war. They backed the war in Afghanistan, but then so did 90% of the American population.)

By the way, I definitely don't consider myself an American historian! I think everyone ought to have a basic understanding of history, not just historians. (And I'm not American, I'm Canadian.)

"I have never said we shouldn't have stopped Japan. I have been arguing that the official history of how it came about is bullshit --"

Just curious: what are you using as your reference point for "official history"? Can we start from the Britannica article? Or are you referring to the kind of impression that people get from movies like Pearl Harbor?
posted by russilwvong at 11:34 AM on May 13, 2005


I'd be happy to read Morison's history. As for 'official' history, I suppose I consider that to be what we are taught in school (pre-university) growing up. Commonly attributed 'standard' sources like Britannica certainly play into that. In regards to Zinn's assumption of basic history knowledge, I really don't feel that weakens the book. Texts covering that 'basic' knowledge are legion and the vast majority of the market. Certainly that is the case with school text books. So I believe he presents the book as attempting to fill gaps.

I didn't mean to imply you were a professional historian, just that you obviously have a love for the subject and have spent time studying it.

Looking back I realize that I have never engaged in so many typos in a thread in my life. I'd like to blame it on the fact that my external keyboard broke, forcing me to use my laptop kb, but whatever the reason it's just sad. I'll try to be more conscientious about editing my posts from here on out (in future threads), if not for posterity then to save people the pain when reading.
posted by the_savage_mind at 3:02 AM on May 14, 2005


"I'd be happy to read Morison's history."

Okay, great. E-mail me your mailing address (russilwvong@yahoo.com) and I'll send you a copy of Morison's book. I'll pick up a copy of Zinn--I've seen it at the local bookstore.

"As for 'official' history, I suppose I consider that to be what we are taught in school (pre-university) growing up. Commonly attributed 'standard' sources like Britannica certainly play into that."

So the Britannica article that I quoted above is consistent with what you learned in school? (I went to school in Canada, not the US, so of course we didn't study American history. Personally, I barely remember anything from social studies classes.)

Kennan discusses and criticizes US policy towards the Far East (specifically towards China and Japan) on pp. 47-54 of American Diplomacy 1900-1950 (1984 expanded edition). Despite his criticisms, he includes the following paragraphs, pp. 49-50:

"Now, these are bitter reflections, and I would not have them misunderstood. The march of events in the Far East in the decades prior to World War II was a vast and turgid process, involving immensely powerful currents of human affairs over which we Americans had little control or influence. It is easy to overrate the importance of the part we played, or the part we could have played, in this process. It is also easy to exaggerate the latitude which our statesmen enjoyed--to forget the political and psychological framework in which they operated, the inadequacy of the instruments at their disposal, the domestic impediments to other and more promising lines of approach. What I have said is not intended as reproach to them, for none of us is fully able to put himself in their place, and it is not important to us to pass judgment on them as individuals.

"I cannot tell you that all would have been different had we been guided by other principles of conduct. I cannot say that Pearl Harbor might have been avoided had we been over a long period of time more circumspect in our attitudes toward the Japanese, more considerate of the requirements of their position, more ready to discuss their problems with them on their own terms. Least of all can I point to any single act of American policy and say: Here was the thing that did it--this was the thing that tipped the scales of the future. In the fabric of human events, one thing leads to another. Every mistake is in a sense the product of all the mistakes that have gone before it, from which fact it derives a sort of a cosmic forgiveness; and at the same time every mistake is in a sense the determinant of all the mistakes of the future, from which it derives a sort of cosmic unforgiveableness. Our action in the field of foreign policy is cumulative; it merges with a swelling stream of other human happenings; and we cannot trace its effects with any exactness once it has entered the fluid substance of history. I suspect that in the developments leading to World War II in the Pacific there must have been a dividing line between the phase when something hopeful could still have been accomplished by our own efforts and the phase when circumstances were beyond repair--the point at which sheer tragedy overtook human frailty as the determinant of our misfortunes. But I cannot promise you that there was such a point, and I certainly cannot tell you where it lay."

In short, in Kennan's view, the misunderstandings, antagonisms, and conflicts of interest between the US and Japan which eventually led to war were a long-term problem, which might or might not have been alleviated by a careful, realistic, and long-term policy. This is a completely different picture from that painted by the revisionist argument, in which Roosevelt deliberately chose to go to war with Japan, while Japan had little interest in going to war with the US.
posted by russilwvong at 3:57 PM on May 14, 2005


About Zinn and Chomsky:

I'm sorry, it's really not my field (I do England c. 1500-1800), and I know nothing about Zinn except that I've heard A People's History of America is suposed to be a good history - used as a textbook, I think.

But then something can be totally historically accurate, and still the interpretation isn't that great or is one-sided - if he presents his evidence, you can just disagree with the interpretation.

I don't think that you can just dismiss criticism on the basis of politics - that way historical dogma (whether right or left) lies. I haven't read the reviews, but it sounds like those are honest criticisms of Zinn, and by no means and anti-leftist criticism. My own research is on social history of popular classes, but it is sometimes a fault of my sub-field that some social historians don't really understand elite culture and motivation, and don't really want to. So I read them for what they do well, their specialty, and I look to other histories to understand other aspects to balance. I think it's interesting to understand both elite and popular culture - because some of the greatest clashes (e.g. over enclosure) happened because they had different ideas of the way the world should be. Social history without a full understanding of elite and popular classes is like a history of the Reformation that only understands protestanism, or catholicism, but not both - possibly very good, but still flawed.

Don't know the Chomsky either, but I would rather read his linguistics. I don't try to write linguistics or write journalism or anything else - I don't know why people keep thinking any monkey can write history. Well, unless it's because they heard I was let into history grad school, because then it's understandable. But it is a discipline, something you train for - mostly in background knowledge, with less emphasis on methodology, but I would like to see that change.

The caveat to take is that History as a discipline is very divided into subfield - on most twentieth century history, I know no more than any other educated layman, and my opinion should be taken as such, because my education and research has been very focused on pre-modern Europe (especially England), with a touch of world history for comparison. My friend, however, has spent the last two years reading CIA documents and intelligence history, and so will have a lot more to say about that.

Also, History doesn't have one big T-Truth - it's about people and people have different experiences, and you can be completely accurate and find many small t-truths. Zinn may present some truths, and not others,but that doesn't make his book bad, since itis obviously intended to be read in conjunction with a traditional history education (which is often focused on nation building, rather than balance in interpretation).
posted by jb at 4:27 PM on May 14, 2005


My Personal VE Day - via viewropa.
posted by jb at 11:33 PM on May 14, 2005


Matussek makes some interesting points in "My Personal VE Day", although I didn't agree with the overall perspective. It mostly seems like an attempt to argue that Britain's history isn't one of spotless virtue. This is certainly true, but it brings to mind Hans Morgenthau's comment about the sterility of moral perfectionism in politics: "... the invocation of justice pure and simple against a political action makes of justice a mockery; for, since all political actions needs must fall short of justice, the argument against one political action holds true for all. By avoiding a political action because it is unjust, the perfectionist does nothing but exchange blindly one injustice for another which might even be worse than the former. He shrinks from the lesser evil because he does not want to do evil at all. Yet his personal abstention from evil, which is actually a subtle form of egotism with a good conscience, does not at all affect the existence of evil in the world but only destroys the faculty of discriminating between different evils." Would Matussek argue that there's no moral difference between Nazi Germany and the British Empire? If Nazi Germany's crimes were indeed worse than those of the other nations of the West -- and particularly horrifying because Germany was one of the most civilized of those nations -- are they not worth remembering?

And the lesson Matussek has drawn from WWII--that genocide must never be allowed to occur again--seems naive, and also contradictory to his recognition that the Iraq war was a blunder. The implication is that we need humanitarian intervention, but humanitarian intervention raises all kinds of complicated issues with no straightforward answers. War is a blunt instrument, not well suited to saving people's lives. And expecting that people will be willing to die to save strangers, purely from altruism -- as in Somalia, say, or Rwanda, or Darfur -- is expecting quite a lot. Finally, recognition of one's own moral limitations (which is certainly a good idea) is likely to inhibit such interventions, not encourage them. (My own view is that such interventions are probably best handled on a regional basis, since regional powers are most likely to (a) have a stake in the conflict and (b) have some idea what's going on. The Australian-led intervention in East Timor would be one example.)

One specific point:

"... by 1944, there were precise aerial photographs of the Auschwitz concentration camp. A few bombs targeting the railway lines would have stopped the death transports. Nothing like this happened."

I believe this is a controversial argument; i.e. historians disagree on whether this would have been possible or not. Some discussion.
posted by russilwvong at 7:22 AM on May 16, 2005


By the way, thanks for bringing the discussion back to the original topic!
posted by russilwvong at 7:22 AM on May 16, 2005


russilwong - I generally don't like to try to weigh different, unrelated evils (as opposed to two evils that must be chosen between), but the British empire was pretty damn evil. I don't know if the body count was as high, but genocide was achieved in several places (Tasmania, Newfoundland - with the help of the Micmac, places in the Carribean), and the long term damage/fallout to the former colonies will be affecting their quality of life for sometime to come. Was it as evil? It was certainly not calculated to be so - it wasn't really calculated to be anything, but was just the product of allowing policy to be driven by mercantile needs, with a healthy dose of aggrandizement. They didn't set out to do evil, but to just make a lot of money (though not for the government). But the end result was pretty damn bad - thousands (or more?) starved to death in the 1870s and 1890s in India alone, due to colonial policy on grain exports. The British were also the number one in the slave trade for decades; the majority of slaves in North America went to British colonies in the Carribean, where most died.

So yeah, you can probably guess I'm not an Empire apologist, though I love Britain a great deal. It's a great country, I study it for a living, but I would no more ignore its past than I would my own country's past ill deeds (which included being a big part of that Empire, and actually having worse policies against native Canadians).
posted by jb at 8:04 AM on May 16, 2005


"I would no more ignore its [crimes] than I would my own country's past ill deeds (which included being a big part of that Empire, and actually having worse policies against native Canadians)."

My favorite example is Canadians who condemn Hiroshima and Nagasaki without recalling that Canadian pilots firebombed Hamburg and Dresden. (David Bercuson, "Maple Leaf against the Axis." Bercuson defends the bombings, IIRC.)

But that wasn't the question I asked. The question is, in the face of these crimes -- the Irish famine also comes to mind -- do we have to throw up our hands and say, okay, everybody's evil, it's unfair to single out Nazi Germany? I'd hate to think so. It's not just a question of premeditation or body counts (Mao and Stalin probably score higher on absolute body count, Pol Pot on relative body count). It's also the _reversion_ to barbarism: the twentieth century was terrible not just in itself, but also because it reversed the two centuries or more of moral progress since the Enlightenment. (Britain outlawed slavery in the 1830s, for example. The first Geneva Convention was signed in 1864, after the Battle of Solferino.) And Nazi Germany married horrific barbarism with the latest in scientific and technical methods in its quest to exterminate the Jews.

I think it's useful to remember that there _are_ things worse than capitalist democracy. From reading Orwell, it appears that a lot of people in the 1920s and 1930s didn't realize this.

"... so long as some parts of the earth remain unconquered, the liberal tradition can be kept alive. Let Fascism, or possibly even a combination of several Fascisms, conquer the whole world, and those two conditions no longer exist. We in England underrate the danger of this kind of thing, because our traditions and our past security have given us a sentimental belief that it all comes right in the end and the thing you most fear never really happens. Nourished for hundreds of years on a literature in which Right invariably triumphs in the last chapter, we believe half-instinctively that evil always defeats itself in the long run. Pacifism, for instance, is founded largely on this belief. Don't resist evil, and it will somehow destroy itself. But why should it? What evidence is there that it does? And what instance is there of a modern industrialized state collapsing unless conquered from the outside by military force?

"Consider for instance the re-institution of slavery. Who could have imagined twenty years ago that slavery would return to Europe? Well, slavery has been restored under our noses. ..."

From "Looking Back on the Spanish War" (1943).

By the way, one point Matussek makes that I agree with is that it's ridiculous to attribute the insanity of Nazi Germany to some evil inherent to Germans. If it could happen to one of the most civilized nations of the West, it could happen anywhere. Solzhenistyn: "If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?"
posted by russilwvong at 12:07 PM on May 16, 2005


russilwvong - I completely agree with you - the lesson of Nazi Germany is not "how did they do that", but "they did this, and they are just like us". Every country had its fascists, and eugenicists; Canada and the US turned away Jewish refugees. We let ourselves (humans) do this to other people. And it happened before.
And then it happened again, and again, and again.

Maybe we as a species will change. I tend not to see progress as so linear. Or maybe I am just pessimistic. Millennia of history of killing each other, and we only seem to be getting better at it. To be honest, I don't see a reversion to barbarism - barbarism has always been there. The "Enlightenment" was not as enlightened as many people think, nor was the time before as dark. Racially based slavery in European-controlled territories was created and then ended between the 16th and 19th centuries. Between 1700 and 1900, the law in England became progressively more bloodthristy and then less so (at least in theory, though not in practice - an interesting difference). The treatment of the poor certainly went way down in the nineteenth century versus the eighteenth century - was this progress?

I think it's useful to remember that there _are_ things worse than capitalist democracy.

Certainly very true, but just because something is more evil, doesn't make the other all shiny and happy. Capitalism is, for the most part (United Fruit company massacres, etc, notwithstanding), not evil, just very very amoral. It's the most efficient means we have to organise our complex economies, but it has no inherent morality or need to better society - it acts like a machine or a mindless animal to further the market, but not progress (whatever that is interpreted to be) or (more importantly for me) human welfare. So if a democratic society wants to have a society that puts human welfare above the performance of the market, it must limit that capitalism to the degree to which it hurts human welfare. We have free will - we are not controlled by "the invisible hand" - it is up to us to decide what we want for our society, and then to control the market without destroying it. It is a delicate and not easy balance, but it better to try for that balance than to just let one extreme reign because the other extreme was bad.

This is similar to the balance that also must be made in the understanding of history. A great evil does not make goods, it just make lesser evils, and as said above, sometimes necessary evils.
posted by jb at 8:34 PM on May 16, 2005


"... just because something is more evil, doesn't make [capitalism] all shiny and happy."

Agreed. I'm not a harmony-of-interests zealot; I fully appreciate and support the Canadian welfare state. I'm just trying to point out that it's still possible to make moral distinctions between the evils of Britain and the far worse evils of Nazi Germany, which in turn implies that World War II was indeed worth fighting.

"Maybe we as a species will change. I tend not to see progress as so linear. Or maybe I am just pessimistic."

Can't really disagree with you. Here's something to reinforce your pessimism: Jared Diamond on genocide among chimpanzees, suggesting that violence extends to our prehuman ancestors.

The political realists (e.g. Hans Morgenthau, George F. Kennan) suggest that given this state of affairs, the best hope for peace is to maintain a stable balance of power.
posted by russilwvong at 11:32 AM on May 17, 2005


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