Friday, July 28, 2006

Hitchens on Dresden

In a tedious article in the Weekly Standard that contradicts itself at the very end, somewhat reformed leftist Christopher Hitchens tackles issue of the WWII Allied bombings of Dresden and other German cities and surprisingly comes out in its favor. He writes:

On the other hand, once the battle had eventually been joined, one has little choice but to regard it as an anti-Nazi war at last. And to me, this involves viewing it from the standpoint of a German antifascist, or a non-German slave laborer or other victim of German racism. And here, atheist though I am, I have to invoke something like the biblical. It was important not just that the Hitler system be defeated, but that it be totally and unsentimentally destroyed. The Nazis had claimed to be invincible and invulnerable: Very well, then, they must be visited by utter humiliation. No more nonsense and delusion, as with the German Right after 1918 and its myth of a stab in the back. Here comes a verdict with which you cannot argue. I choose to quote Thomas Mann, a non-Jewish German who had to decide the matter in great personal anguish. In his Doctor Faustus, the narrator calls the ruin of Munich by the bombers "a Last Judgment" and then goes on to say:

Granted, the destruction of our cities from the air has long since turned Germany into an arena of war; and yet we find it inconceivable, impermissible, to think that Germany could ever become such an arena in the true sense, and our propaganda has a curious way of warning the foe against incursion on our soil, our sacred German soil, as if that would be some grisly atrocity. . . . Our sacred German soil! As if anything were sacred about it, as if it had not long ago been desecrated again and again by the immensity of our rape of justice and did not lie naked, both morally and in fact, before the power of divine judgment. Let it come!

"Let it come!" Good grief; it is hard to think even of any non-German wishing to go that far. (Mann used to broadcast on American radio to Germany.) But anything less than the apocalyptic seems inadequate. Eva Klemperer, a staunch and principled German Lutheran, told her husband that, after what she had experienced under Hitler, she could not find it in herself to truly regret the firestorm of Dresden. And what of the Slav and Balkan and Polish and Jewish slaves in Speer's underground hell holes, forced to dig out pits for the rocket-bombs that were being directed at London? Did they not cheer silently every time the very earth shook with revenge? [emphasis added]

In this instance Hitchens gets it exactly right (unfortunately, later in the article he gets it exactly wrong with respect to Nagasaki -- for a defense of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings see John Lewis's recent piece in the Undercurrent). A socio-political system such a Nazism deserves utter destruction and, yes, that almost inevitably means destroying substantial portions of the source enemy nation that maintains and sustains the regime. As for "innocents" caught in the war, I refer readers to Onkar Ghate's excellent article on this very subject. One wishes both Israel and the United States would draw the appropriate conclusions for the present conflict in which both countries are facing forces that demonstrate a great deal of sympathy with Nazi goals in their own way.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

The Objective Standard: Summer 2006

Just received my new issue today and looking forward to reading all the articles. This time I've restrained myself from reading the articles online so I have much to look forward to. However I did make an exception for Craig Biddle's article "Religion vs. Free Speech". And I am glad I did, as it is a very topical, scholarly, and of course, principled essay on the absurdity of basing a free speech defense on religion. Here an excerpt:
On the premises of religion, there is no right to free speech; there is only the “right” to say what is permitted by “God.” This conclusion follows logically not only from the content of religion, but also, and more fundamentally, from its method—that is, from the means by which its content is “known” to be “true.”
Anybody interested in principled ideas ought to be a subscriber of TOS.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Indians and Europeans

There is an interesting book review of Charles C. Mann's 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus in the Claremont Review, now available online. The author of the review, Bruce S. Thornton is a classicist and associate of Victor Davis Hanson. Here's an excerpt:
From the first moment of contact, Europeans viewed the American Indians through various mythic lenses. The most famous of these, applied indiscriminately to the vast variety of peoples inhabiting the Americas, was the Golden Age, which imagined a time before history when humans lived in harmony with a kind nature, without cities, technology, laws, property, and all the misery and strife these create. Indians were viewed not as complex human beings, but as projections of the white man's longings, or noble-savage reproaches to the white man's civilization. In either case, writes Charles Mann in 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, they lacked "agency"; they were never "actors in their own right, but passive recipients of whatever windfalls or disasters happenstance put in their way."

Five hundred years later, little has changed. Too many interests are served by such myths. Popular culture has found in Indianism a lucrative commodity, as in Walt Disney's Pocahontas or Kevin Costner's Dances with Wolves. And critics of American society, whether identity-politics tribunes or anti-capitalist leftists, have found in what Mark Twain called an "extinct tribe that never existed" a powerful weapon for attacking the perceived crimes and dysfunctions of modern America—from ravaging the environment to fetishizing private property. What is lost, of course, is the historical truth of the Indian and his conflicted, quirky humanity.
The review discusses Mann's coverage of the issues of the magnitude of the loss of life on the Indian side as a result of disease and the Indian interaction with their environment (which far greater than many had suspected). The review is mostly positive though Thornton concludes by taking Mann to task for improperly comparing European and Indian immoralities:
[Mann] also tries to palliate the savagery of some Indian societies with a tu quoque argument that usually ends up as mere special pleading. To imply that the Mexica's practice of sacrificing tens of thousands of victims by tearing out their hearts and consuming the remains was no different from the brutal methods of publicly executing criminals in Europe ignores the simple fact that no matter how unfair the trials by our standards, in Europe criminals were still executed only after they had been tried according to law. And the bodies weren't eaten.
The review is well worth reading in its entirety.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

On Gaza

For those needing further authoritative evaluations of Israel's so-called "disengagement" from Gaza, look no further than former IDF Chief of General Staff Moshe Yaalon. As reported in the Israeli Daily Yediot Ahronot (hat-tip Israpundit) Yaalon, speaking to Haaretz said:
"The intellectual failure of the disengagement is this: the fact that there is no one to speak to on the other side doesn't mean that we can ignore the other side and the effects of his activities on us. The fact that even the Fatah leadership is not ready to recognize the State of Israel as a Jewish state while it says it is committed to the road map peace plan doesn’t mean it is possible to ignore the fact that pulling out under fire is perceived as surrender and encourages terror," he said.

He added that "The disengagement was a strategic mistake of the first order. It brought about Hamas's victory. It emboldened terror groups. It has fueled the Palestinian struggle for years. It created a feeling among the Iranians, the Muslim Brotherhood, and al-Qaeda, that Israel can be beaten. That Israel is a society of spider webs as Nasrallah said or a rotten tree as Ahmadinejad said. And therefore the disengagement not only harmed us badly, but also harmed America's strategic war on terror in the region. It created a feeling among Muslim extremists that as it defeated the Soviets in Afghanistan it defeated us in Gaza and it will defeat us in Tel Aviv. As such, as they destabilized a super power, they will destabilize the west by defeating Israel."
Armchair strategists, such as Charles Krauthammer and Victor Davis Hanson should take note.