The ‘Good’ War
It wasn't so good
I write these words on September 3, 2009, seventy years to the day since Britain and France declared war on Germany — an occasion observed, if not exactly celebrated by the leaders and opinion-makers of the West, as the beginning of "the good war." The War Party just loves WWII because it’s the one war where all agree we had no choice but to fight and win a war to the death. Well, not quite all, but on this question dissent is simply not tolerated.
Take, for example, Pat Buchanan, who marks this anniversary with a reiteration of the theme of his excellent book, The Unnecessary War, which makes the case that war was never inevitable, and that only the pernicious idea of "collective security" — the Franco-British "guarantee" to Poland — made it so. Buchanan also makes the indisputable point that if only the Poles had given Danzig back to Germany, from whom it had been taken in the wake of the disastrous Treaty of Versailles, a negotiated peace would have been the result — a much more desirable one than 56,125,262 deaths and the incalculable toll taken by the war in terms of resources and pure human misery.
Oh, but no: to the "bloggers," left and right, this is a case of "Pat Buchanan, Hitler Apologist." In the political culture constructed by these pygmies, any challenge to the conventional wisdom — especially one that involves questioning WWII, the Sacred War — is something close to a criminal act, one that separates out the perpetrator from the realm of polite society and consigns him to an intellectual Coventry, where he can do no harm. And of course attacking US entry into WWII is considered a "hate crime" because — well, what are you, some kind of "Hitler apologist"?!
But of course WWII was not inevitable, and Hitler was indeed amenable to negotiations: he never wanted to go to war with the British — whom he admired — and the French, whose influential native fascist movement had good relations with their German co-thinkers. Instead, his gaze was fixed on the East, specifically the Soviet Union, and the lands of the old Austro-Hungarian Empire. This is stated quite plainly in Mein Kampf, where the whole idea of lebensraum was broached: Hitler envisioned the Nazi empire bestriding the Eurasian landmass, basically replacing Russia as the preeminent transcontinental power.
As it was, antiwar sentiment in the years prior to Pearl Harbor was the dominant trend in America, so much so that not even Franklin Roosevelt dared go up against it: in the course of the 1940 election, with war a looming possibility, he infamously declared:
"I have said before, but I shall say it again and again and again: your boys are not going to be sent into any foreign wars."
FDR was a much better liar than George W. Bush, but you’ll never get anyone over at TPM or the Center for American Progress to admit it. Or, maybe you will: maybe they’ll take the line of historian Thomas A. Bailey, who admired Roosevelt and wrote: "Roosevelt repeatedly deceived the American people during the period before Pearl Harbor." Oh but it was a Good Lie, because: "He was faced with a terrible dilemma. If he let the people slumber in a fog of isolationism, they might fall prey to Hitler. If he came out unequivocally for intervention, he would be defeated" in the 1940 election. The people need to be lied to by a Wise Leader if it’s for their own good: that’s the consensus in Washington, D.C., at any rate, and nothing appears to have changed since that time.
In any case, the "Good War" was neither good nor inevitable: it was, instead, a war that saw its prelude in the Spanish Civil War, where the international left actively supported the Spanish "Republicans," i.e. Stalinist Communists and their socialist and left-anarchist allies, and labored mightily to get the West to intervene on their comrades’ behalf. In spite of the official Communist party line that WWII was an "imperialist war," the groundwork for a fulsomely pro-war tack had already been laid as the commies and their liberal-leftie friends agitated mightily on behalf of "Republican" Spain and drummed up Western ire against Japan in the form of economic boycotts and attempted economic strangulation (a tactic that limned the later US embargo on steel and oil imports and provoked the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor).
If not for the Polish insistence on keeping Danzig, the Holocaust could conceivably have been averted — and the Cold War would most definitely have been avoided. For Hitler was determined to destroy the hated Bolsheviks, and it was only US entry into the conflict — engineered by FDR, in alliance with the Brits, the Communists, and the left in general — that saved the "workers’ paradise" from Germany’s sword.
Like two scorpions in a bottle, the two collectivist powers of Europe would have fought it out to the death — and eventually destroyed each other. Or, at least, one would have been so weakened by "victory" that collapse would have followed soon after.
It is always risky to engage in the construction of alternate histories, but it seems highly unlikely, in any event, that the Third Reich could have survived much beyond Hitler’s lifetime. There was no procedure to ensure the Nazi succession: rival aspirants to the Fuehrer-ship would have arisen, swiftly followed by civil war and the break-up of the "thousand-year Reich." In all likelihood, the last Nazi would have been strangled over the bones of the last Bolshevik.
Unhappily, it didn’t turn out that way. Instead, we got an Allied "victory" that ensured the survival of the USSR and half a century of "Cold War" — followed by an American attempt to ensure its permanent hegemony over the whole earth. In short, what we got was perpetual war — and a thoroughly militarized American state that can’t make a decent car but is geared to project force all over the world.
How did this happen? Writing in Salon, columnist Glenn Greenwald lays out the historical record:
"There was a time, not all that long ago, when the U.S. pretended that it viewed war only as a "last resort," something to be used only when absolutely necessary to defend the country against imminent threats. In reality, at least since the creation of the National Security State in the wake of World War II, war for the U.S. has been everything but a "last resort." Constant war has been the normal state of affairs. In the 64 years since the end of WWII, we have started and fought far more wars and invaded and bombed more countries than any other nation in the world — not even counting the numerous wars fought by our clients and proxies. Those are just facts. History will have no choice but to view the U.S. — particularly in its late imperial stages — as a war-fighting state."
The "Good War," in short, was the launching pad for the American Imperium, and ever since we’ve been marauding all over the world, likening our foes to Hitler, and building up a mighty apparatus of mass murder answerable to no one and nothing — certainly not to the American people. As Greenwald puts it:
"As became clear with Iraq, the ‘mere’ fact that a large majority of Americans oppose a war has little effect — none, actually — on whether the war will continue. Like so much of what happens in Washington, the National Security State and machinery of Endless War doesn’t need citizen support.It continues and strengthens itself without it. That’s because the most powerful factions in Washington — the permanent military and intelligence class, both public and private — would not permit an end to, or even a serious reduction of, America’s militarized character.It’s what they feed on. It’s the source of their wealth and power."
People wonder why I continue to rail on about WWII as the unnecessary war: that’s a hard case to make, they say, so why not leave it alone? Content yourself with opposing the Iraq and Afghan wars, they counsel. But it’s precisely because I oppose both those wars, and all the wars to come, that I persist in trying to get past the mythology and emotion-driven made-in-Hollywood version of "history" which rationalizes and even glorifies a war that killed over 50 million human beings and consigned whole nations to privation and tyranny.
Because you’ll note how every war is likened to WWII: every attempt at negotation is derided as "another Munich," and every tinpot dictator is yet another "Hitler." It worked so well in 1940 that the War Party keeps reenacting the same scenario: the Iranians, we are told, are crazed anti-Semites who want to create another Holocaust by nuking Israel. Saddam Hussein, we were told, was a Middle Eastern version of Hitler, and even Manuel Noriega — remember him? — was likened to the German dictator. Hitler — that’s the image they want to keep in front of our faces, the one that evokes hatred and a desire to kill, and even somehow justifies the deaths of multi-millions.
The power of this historical narrative is uncanny. The other day, I got into an argument with a friend of a friend, a nice liberal chap who dutifully supported Obama, and considers himself a good "progressive" with enlightened liberal views. This guy claimed that the nuking of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was "necessary" in order to "win" WWII. He made this argument as our mutual Japanese friend sat there and listened, impassively — doubtless quite used to Americans rationalizing the mass murder of his countrymen.
Ah yes, the "good war," just like the Afghan war that liberals are following their Dear Leader blindly into — although, it seems, more than a few outside the parameters of Washington, D.C. are beginning to question its alleged goodness.
It takes time, but the truth eventually comes out: it did in the case of the Iraq war, and our alleged "war of necessity" in Afghanistan which is being debunked in record time. World War II, however, remains ensconced in popular mythology as a kind of storybook narrative where Good confronted Evil and the latter was utterly and finally defeated. This myth of the "greatest generation" will likely persist for a while longer, overshadowing our contemporary debates about which wars to fight and why, but it cannot last forever. Eventually, the truth will out, as it always does, and then we can begin the process of dismantling its monstrous progeny, the National Security State.