“Yes, it was a good war,” writes Richard Cohen in his column challenging the thesis of pacifist Nicholson Baker in his new book, Human Smoke, that World War II produced more evil than good.
Baker’s compelling work, which uses press clips and quotes of Axis and Allied leaders as they plunged into the great cataclysm, is a virtual diary of the days leading up to World War II.
On some points, Cohen is on sold ground. There are things worth fighting for: God and country, family and freedom. Martyrs have ever inspired men. And to some evils pacifism is no answer. Resistance, even unto death, may be required of a man.
Britain declared war on Sept. 3, 1939, to preserve Poland. For six years, Poland was occupied by Nazi and Soviet armies and SS and NKVD killers. At war’s end, the Polish dead were estimated at 6 million. A third of Poland had been torn away by Stalin, and Nazis had used the country for the infamous camps of Treblinka and Auschwitz.
Fifteen thousand Polish officers had been massacred at places like Katyn. The Home Army that rose in Warsaw at the urging of the Red Army in 1944 had been annihilated, as the Red Army watched from the other side of the Vistula. When the British celebrated V-E day in May 1945, Poland began 44 years of tyranny under the satraps of Stalin, Khrushchev and Brezhnev.
Was World War II “a good war” for the Poles?
Was it a good war for Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, overrun by Stalin’s army in June 1940, whose people saw their leaders murdered or deported to the Gulag never to return? Was it a good war for the Finns who lost Karelia and thousands of brave men dead in the Winter War?
Was it a good war for Hungarians, Czechs, Yugoslavs, Rumanians and Albanians who ended up behind the Iron Curtain? In Hungary, it was hard to find a women or girl over 10 who had not been raped by the “liberators” of the Red Army. Was it a good war for the 13 million German civilians ethnically cleansed from Central Europe and the 2 million who died in the exodus?
Was it a good war for the French, who surrendered after six weeks of fighting in 1940 and had to be liberated by the Americans and British after four years of Vichy collaboration?
And how good a war was it for the British?
They went to war for Poland, but Winston Churchill abandoned Poland to Stalin. Defeated in Norway, France, Greece, Crete and the western desert, they endured until America came in and joined in the liberation of Western Europe.
Yet, at war’s end in 1945, Britain was bled and bankrupt, and the great cause of Churchill’s life, preserving his beloved empire, was lost. Because of the “Good War” Britain would never be great again.
And were the means used by the Allies, the terror bombing of Japanese and German cities, killing hundreds of thousands of women and children, perhaps millions, the marks of a “good war”?
Cohen contends that the evil of the Holocaust makes it a “good war.” But the destruction of the Jews of Europe was a consequence of this war, not a cause. As for the Japanese atrocities like the Rape of Nanking, they were indeed horrific.
But America’s smashing of Japan led not to freedom for China, but four years of civil war followed by 30 years of Maoist madness in which 30 million Chinese perished.
For America, the war was Pearl Harbor and Midway, Anzio and Iwo Jima, Normandy and Bastogne, days of glory leading to triumph and the American Century.
But for Joseph Stalin, it was also a good war. From his pact with Adolf Hitler he annexed parts of Finland and Rumania, and three Baltic republics. His armies stood in Berlin, Prague and Vienna; his agents were vying for power in Rome and Paris; his ally was installed in North Korea; his protg, Mao, was about to bring China into his empire. But it was not so good a war for the inmates of Kolyma or the Russian POWs returned to Stalin in Truman’s Operation Keelhaul.
Is a war that replaces Hitler’s domination of Europe with Stalin’s and Japan’s rule in China with Mao’s a “good war”? We had to stop the killers, says Cohen. But who were the greater killers: Hitler or Stalin, Tojo or Mao Zedong?
Can a war in which 50 million perished and the Christian continent was destroyed, half of it enslaved, a war that has advanced the death of Western civilization, be truly celebrated as a “good war”?