Day By Day

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Victor Davis Hanson on WWII

VDH, writing in NRO, is angry (no, make that livid) at left-wing revisionists who are reinterpreting the history of WWII.

In the last few years, new books and articles have argued for a complete rethinking of the war. The only consistent theme in this various second-guessing was a diminution of the American contribution and suspicion of our very motives.
Indeed, most recent op-eds commemorating V-E day either blamed the United States for Hamburg or for the Soviet domination of Eastern Europe, or for our supposed failure to credit the Russians for their sacrifices.

American textbooks discuss World War II as if a Patton, Le May, or Nimitz did not exist, as if the war was essentially the Japanese internment and Hiroshima. That blinkered and politically correct focus explains why so many Americans under 30 are simply ignorant about the nature and course of World War II itself. Similarly, the British have monthly debates on the immorality of their bombing Hamburg and Dresden.

Certainly there has been a reaction in recent decades against the chest-thumping "greatest generation" hagiography and the idolatry of FDR and Churchill that has long been a staple of WWI popular historiography. And that is certainly justified. But Hanson is right that the revisionism has gone much too far and that students today are not being given a fair and accurate perspective on the war.

Hanson's criticisms are well taken. He is certainly right to object that recent treatments of the war tend to underestimate the Anglo-American contribution to the global war effort, while over-emphasizing that of the Soviet Union. And he is quite right to note that revisionists tend to gloss over the Soviet contributions to and collaboration with Hitler's aggression prior to 1941. He writes:
Stalin [was] an ally of Hitler until the Nazi invasion of 1941, and had unleashed the Red Army to destroy the freedom of Finland and to carve up Poland.

Do we ever read these days that when the Luftwaffe bombed Britain, Russia was sending the Nazis fuel and iron ore? When Germany invaded Russia, however, Britain sent food and supplies.
Hanson also dismisses charges that Allied air attacks, both conventional and nuclear, constituted war crimes or served no strategic purpose. He writes:
When the lumbering and often unescorted bombers started out against Europe and Japan, the Axis infrastructure of death — rails, highways, communications, warehouses, and decentralized production — was intact. When the bombers finished their horrific work, the economies of both Axis powers were near ruin. Armies that were systematically murdering millions of innocents in forgotten places like Yugoslavia, Poland, the Philippines, Korea, and China were running out of fuel, ammunition, and food.
Good point!

Hanson's sharpest barbs are directed at the "ahistorical sophistry" of European intellectuals who see a moral equivalency between the US and USSR and portray America's postwar defense of Europe as an oppressive occupation. He writes:
There are two disturbing things about the current revisionism that transcend the human need to question orthodoxy. The first is the sheer hypocrisy of it all. Whatever mistakes and lapses committed by the Allies, they pale in comparison to the savagery of the Axis or the Communists. Post-facto critics never tell us what they would have done instead.... Lost also is any sense of small gratitude.

most Americans never learned the standard narrative of War II — only what was wrong about it. Whereas it is salutary that an American 17-year-old knows something of the Japanese relocation ordered by liberals such as Earl Warren and FDR, or of the creation and the dropping of the atomic bomb by successive Democratic administrations, they might wish to examine what went on in Nanking, Baatan, Wake Island, Guadalcanal, Manila, or Manchuria — atrocities that their sensitive teachers are probably clueless about as well.
Well, he is certainly right that American and European academics tend to exaggerate the sins of the West and gloss over the far greater atrocities committed by non-western peoples and leftist regimes, but the slams at liberals and Democrats, while accurate, are simply gratuitous. And it is just plain wrong to assume that university instructors have never heard of the rape of Nanking or the Baatan Death March.

Read the whole thing here.

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