Dayenu in Reverse: The Passover Canon of Arendt’s Critics

by Corey Robin on October 26, 2014

One of the more recent criticisms I’ve read of Eichmann in Jerusalem—in Bettina Stangneth’s and Deborah Lipstadt’s books—is that far from seeing, or seeing through, Eichmann, Arendt was taken in by his performance on the witness stand. Eichamnn the liar, Eichmann the con man, got the better of Arendt the dupe.

For the sake of his defense, the argument goes, Eichmann pretended to be a certain type of Nazi—not a Jew hater but a dutiful if luckless soldier, who wound up, almost by happenstance, shipping millions of Jews to their death.

Arendt heard this defense, and though she never accepted the notion that Eichmann was an obedient soldier (she thought he was a great deal worse than that), she did conclude that Eichmann had “an inability to think, namely, to think from the standpoint of somebody else.” Eichmann was hermetically sealed off from the world, from the perspective of people who weren’t Nazis. Because the “more decisive flaw in Eichmann’s character was his almost total inability ever to look at anything from the other fellow’s point of view,” he “never realized what he was doing.” He knew he was sending Jews to their death; he just didn’t grasp the moral significance of that act, wherein its evil lay, how others, including his victims and their families, might see it.

According to evidence presented by Stangneth and Lipstadt, Eichmann the thoughtless schlemiel was indeed a performance on Eichmann’s part. The truth is that he was a rabid anti-Semite who took initiative and on occasion defied the directives of his superiors in order to make sure even more Jews went to their death; at one point, Lipstadt reports, he even personally challenged Hitler’s order to allow some 40,000 Hungarian Jews to be released for emigration to Palestine via Switzerland.

At every stage of his career, Eichmann knew what he was doing. In power, he did it with zeal; out of power, in the dock, he tried to pretend that he hadn’t, or that if he had, that he had no choice.

Arendt’s vision of the banality of evil, her critics claim, rests upon a failure to see this, the real Eichmann. Eichmann the trickster, Eichmann the con man, rather than Eichmann the thoughtless schlemiel.

As I’ve written before, I think there’s something to this argument about Arendt’s failure to apprehend Eichmann’s performance as a performance. Arendt sometimes, though not nearly as often as her critics claim, did take Eichmann at his word, and it never seems to have occurred to her that he would have had the cunning—and necessary self-awareness—to fashion an image of himself that might prove more palatable to the court.

But if Eichmann was indeed a liar, that, it seems to me, argues in favor of Arendt’s overall thesis of the banality of evil, not against it. Once you work through the implications of Eichmann the liar—as opposed to Eichmann the thoughtless schlemiel—it becomes clear that it is Arendt’s critics, rather than Arendt, who have not only failed to come to terms with his evil, but who also may have, albeit inadvertently, minimized what he actually did.

So let’s work this one through.

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To repeat: At the heart of Eichmann’s evil, Arendt believes, was a certain kind of cluelessness about what it was that he did, which was rooted in his inability to see how his actions and statements might appear to another person, particularly someone who had been the victim of his acts. Eichmann might admit, as he did on the stand, that the Holocaust was “one of the greatest crimes in the history of Humanity,” but those were just words. He simply did not grasp the meaning of what he did. Or said.

Arendt offers plentiful evidence for this claim, some of which cannot be construed as lies on Eichmann’s part. After she writes that Eichmann “never realized what he was doing,” for example, she says:

It was precisely this lack of imagination which enabled him to sit for months on end facing a German Jew who was conducting the police interrogation, pouring out his heart to the man and explaining again and again how it was that he reached only the rank of lieutenant colonel in the S.S. and that it had not been his fault that he was not promoted.

That Eichmann thought he had found a sympathetic audience for his sob story of slights and snubs at the hands of the SS in the form of a German Jew—whose father, Lipstadt informs us, Eichmann knew to have been killed at Auschwitz; perhaps Eichmann even thought his interrogator might identify with him as a fellow victim of the SS—was an indication, Arendt believed, of his inability to think from “the other fellow’s point of view,” an inability that outlasted his time in the sun with the Nazis.

But it was when he was on the witness stand that Eichmann truly proved himself a thoughtless man. For when Eichmann presented himself in what he clearly thought was an exculpatory light he only wound up indicting himself even further. This, for Arendt, was the horror—and comedy—of the man.

Eichmann thought he was offering himself up (whether sincerely or not) to the court as a more palatable specimen, not realizing: first, that given what he did (and admitted to having done), there was nothing he could do or say that would redeem him; and, second, that the exculpatory examples he offered were only further confirmation of his evil.

Arendt writes, for example:

None of the various “language rules,” [the Nazis’ various euphemisms for their murderous deeds, what Eichmann called “winged words”] carefully contrived to deceive and to camouflage, had a more decisive effect on the mentality of the killers than this first war decree of Hitler, in which the word for “murder” was replaced by the phrase “to grant a mercy death.” Eichmann, asked by the police examiner if the directive to avoid “unnecessary hardships” was not a bit ironic, in view of the fact that the destination of these people was certain death anyhow, did not even understand the question, so firmly was it still anchored in his mind that the unforgivable sin was not to kill people but to cause unnecessary pain. During the trial, he showed unmistakable signs of sincere outrage when witnesses told of cruelties and atrocities committed by S.S. men—though the court and much of the audience failed to see these signs, because his single-minded effort to keep his self-control had misled them into believing that the was “unmovable” and indifferent—and it was not the accusation of having sent millions of death to their death that ever caused him real agitation but only the accusation (dismissed by the court) of one witness that he had once beaten a Jewish boy to death.

This is the sort of passage that makes critics of Arendt think, ah, there she goes again, giving Eichmann the benefit of the doubt, taking him at his word, assuming he’s more humane than he in fact was.

Let’s assume for the sake of the argument, however, that Arendt’s critics are wrong, that she was not taken in by Eichmann and that she had him, at least here, pegged right. Any reader of this passage can see that her point is not that Eichmann was humane but that he was morally and politically—and ultimately intellectually (though not psychologically)—deranged. That he could willingly participate in a plan to exterminate millions—something he admitted to on the stand, Arendt reminds us—but think that his crimes were mitigated by the fact that he neither caused people unnecessary pain nor ever laid a hand on a poor Jewish boy and in fact was genuinely outraged by any sign of cruelty by the SS: that for Arendt was a sign of his failure to recognize the enormity of his crime, to truly understand what he had done.

Now let’s assume for the sake of the argument that Arendt’s critics are right, that she was in fact taken in by him and that this was all a big lie for the witness stand. It doesn’t change her point at all; in fact, it only strengthens it. That Eichmann could willingly participate in a plan to exterminate millions but nevertheless think that the court would somehow conclude he wasn’t so bad because he didn’t cause people unnecessary pain nor ever lay a hand on a poor Jewish boy—and then, on the basis of that lunatic assumption, deceive the court in the hope that it might get him off or get him a lighter sentence: that too should be taken as a sign of his failure to recognize the enormity of his crime, to truly understand what he had done. For who but Eichmann could possibly believe that that mitigated his crime in any way?

Whether Eichmann believed what he said or was lying to save his ass, his failure to think—the banality of his evil—is demonstrated by the fact that he assumed there might be something he could do or say that would get him off the hook. Even at the moment when he was facing his own death, he couldn’t imagine the enormity of his crimes, how they would appear to others.

At the heart of Arendt’s assessment, then, is the idea that once Eichmann set down the path of mass murder of the Jews, nothing he did or didn’t do, nothing he said or didn’t say, could change, alter, soften, or otherwise mitigate that fact. It was that enormous. To think otherwise was not to understand the enormity of the crime.

One can cite other examples from Eichmann in Jerusalem. Like this one:

Bragging was the vice that was Eichmann’s undoing. It was sheer rodomontade when he told his men during the last days of the war: “I will jump into my grave laughing, because the fact that I have the death of five million Jews…on my conscience gives me extraordinary satisfaction.” He did not jump, and if he had anything on his conscience, it was not murder but, as it turned out that, that he had once slapped the face of Dr. Josef Löwenherz, head of the Vienna Jewish community, who later became one of his favorite Jews. (He had apologized in front of his staff at the time, but this incident kept bothering him.)

Again, the point is clear: if Eichmann is sincere, he’s a fool who punishes himself with the thought that he once slapped a Jew’s face but sleeps peacefully over the fact that he shipped millions of Jews to their death; if he’s lying, he’s also a fool who thinks that his performance of remorse over slapping a Jew would somehow weigh against, in the judgment of the court, his shipment of millions of Jews to their death. In either case, he hasn’t grappled with the enormity of his crime.

Arendt did not believe that this kind of cluelessness was peculiar to Eichmann; it was rife throughout the Nazi high command.

Himmler’s order in the fall of 1944 to halt the extermination and to dismantle the installations at the death factories sprang from his absurd but sincere conviction that the Allied powers would know how to appreciate this obliging gesture; he told a rather incredulous Eichmann that on the strength of it he would be able to negotiate a Hubertusburger-Frieden—an allusion to the Peace Treaty of Hubertusburg that concluded the Seven Years’ War of Frederick II of Prussia in 1763 and enabled Prussia to retain Silesia, although she had lost the war.

And far from seeing this thoughtlessness as a sign of the petty bourgeois origins of Eichmann, Arendt found it at the highest rungs of society. She could barely contain her disbelief at the aristocratic conspirators of 1944 who tried to kill Hitler but thought, like Himmler, that they could negotiate a “just peace” with the Allies that would allow Germany to keep Austria and the Sudetenland (the fruits of Hitler’s earliest crimes of aggression) and a “’leading position for Germany on the Continent.’”

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Once we realize how little of Arendt’s banality thesis hinges upon whether Eichmann was a liar or a believer of his own bullshit, we begin to see that there is something peculiar about the claim that Arendt was taken in by Eichmann.

As a simple empirical observation, the claim is perfectly plausible and unobjectionable, and indeed, as I’ve already said, can shed some interesting light on Arendt’s other ideas about performance and lying.

But Arendt’s critics want to use Eichmann the liar as a cudgel: not against Arendt in error (most philosophers make errors) or even against Arendt the dupe. No, they want to make Arendt into, if not an abettor of or apologist for evil, than at least an evader or minimizer of evil, who denies the wickedness of the Holocaust by insisting on the banality of one of its perpetrators.

Richard Wolin makes the point simply and directly:

It is at this point that the ultimate stakes of the debate over Eichmann’s “banality” emerge most clearly. For if Eichmann was “banal,” then the Holocaust itself was banal. There is no avoiding the fact that these two claims are inextricably intertwined.

And should the implication not be clear, he makes it plain:
What should have been clear then and should certainly be clear now is that if the Holocaust was banal, then it was not evil.

It’s not clear how any of this follows logically (if Jefferson was a benevolent slaveholder, does slavery become benevolent?), but Arendt’s point was just the opposite: the Holocaust was evil, Eichmann was banal, and the terrifying puzzle at the heart of it all—she called it “fearsome, word-and-thought-defying”—was how could such a smallness be a source, if not the source, of such a terrible largeness?

Lipstadt is more balanced and circumspect in her final judgment of Arendt, but she too ventures into some strange territory.

Lipstadt begins with a claim about Arendt and Eichmann in Jerusalem that, on its own terms, is straightforward enough:

Her work, even as it tried to explain critical aspects of the most extensive genocide in human history, submerged the most fundamental and indispensable elements of this event. She ignored the bedrock of the Holocaust: the long, tortured (torturing) history of anti-Semitism.

Nor, however, can one dismiss the way in which she so seamlessly elided the ideology that was at the heart of this genocide. She related a version of the Holocaust in which anti-Semitism played a decidedly minor role.


Unlike some of her defenders, I think Arendt does underplay Eichmann’s anti-Semitism. (Oddly enough, a similar charge could be leveled at her Origins of Totalitarianism, a book that has never aroused the kind of wrath and rage that Eichmann has.) Unlike her critics, however, I don’t see Arendt’s treatment of Eichmann’s anti-Semitism as the moral failure on her part that they apparently see it as. I simply think she was wrong, and while her error is symptomatic of certain blinders she had, those are not the sort of blinders that should turn Eichmann or its author into an occasion for an exorcism.

But for Lipstadt and other critics, they are. For Arendt’s refusal to see Eichmann’s anti-Semitism is part and parcel of her fraternization with, even indulgence of, the anti-Semitism of her friends and lovers.

Hannah Arendt spoke with many voices. One modulated itself for the likes of Mary McCarthy and her set, many of whom delighted in and felt liberated by a Jew’s severe critique of Ben-Gurion, Israel, and her fellow Jews. Her comments freed them from having to self-censor when they spoke of Jewish matters….This Arendt may also have been subliminally writing for her teacher and former lover, the revered philosopher Martin Heidegger, who joined the Nazi Party in 1933, ejected Jewish professors from the university where he severed as rector, affirmed Nazi ideals, and never recanted his wartime actions.

At one point, Lipstadt even compares Arendt to Eichmann:
She was guilty of precisely the same wrong she derisively ascribed to Adolf Eichmann. She—the great political philosopher who claimed that careful thought and precise expression were of supreme value—did not “think.” She wanted to provoke her readers to re-evaluate their assumptions, but she either did not care or did not fully consider how her caustic comments might be heard by them.

(It never seems to have occurred to Lipstadt that the only reason we (and she) are still talking about Eichmann in Jerusalem a half-century after its publication is that, for all of its caustic comments, the book has managed, like all great works of political theory, to consistently provoke its readers to reevaluate their assumptions.)

Hovering around the edges of these statements is the suggestion that Eichmann in Jerusalem enabled a genteel anti-Semitism—liberating the long suppressed feelings of Arendt’s goyish friends—and trafficked in its far more malignant forms, channeling the spirit of the Nazi Heidegger and mirroring the thoughtlessness of the Nazi Eichmann. In other words, sleeping with the enemy.

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There’s no question that Arendt herself believed that the Nazis had committed a crime of massive proportion and that Eichmann had a major, if overstated, hand in that crime. And unlike Gershom Scholem, Martin Buber, and a great many others in Israel and elsewhere, Arendt had no doubt that Eichmann ought to hang for his deeds (even Ben-Gurion, Lipstadt claims, had momentary doubts about that). Even if Arendt underplayed Eichmann’s anti-Semitism, even she got his banality wrong, she was absolutely clear that he had helped perpetrate one of the greatest mass murders in history, that he was a moral catastrophe of the highest order, and that he should hang for his crimes. None of these final judgments of hers was dependent on her assessment of his anti-Semitism or banality. For Arendt, it was enough that he was a mass murderer and an ethical catastrophe that he should hang.

So why all the high dudgeon of her critics? Why this operatic suggestion from them that by minimizing his anti-Semitism and insisting on his banality Arendt was somehow letting Eichmann off the hook? It’s almost as if, to these critics, sending millions of Jews to their death, and being a moral catastrophe, is not in fact enough. Certainly not enough for Eichmann to hang.

The reaction of Arendt’s critics makes me wonder whether Eichmann the liar might not have had a point, whether there might not have been a method to his madness on the stand. His gamble on the stand was that if the court could see how little he enjoyed his work, how little taste for blood he actually had, how upright he was in the execution of his duties, they’d let him off the hook.

Whether this was a strategy or the truth wouldn’t have made a difference to Arendt. In either case, she would have concluded, he was guilty of mass murder; in either case he was a moral catastrophe; in either case, he was banal; in either case he should hang; in either case he was evil. But maybe what her critics are saying is: if he was a mass murderer and banal, if he was a mass murder and not anti-Semitic, then somehow his crimes really would be less. As Wolin says, no banality, no evil.

At Passover, we sing a song called Dayenu. Dayenu means “it would have been enough,” it would have been sufficient, it would have sufficed. We sing it in honor of all the things God did for us, as Jews, in the Exodus and after that. After we cite each one of these things God did for us, we say, Dayenu, it would have been enough. The cumulative force of the song is that just one of these things would have been enough, but God did so much more. Had God only led us out of Egypt, it would have been enough. But God also led us across the Red Sea. And had God only led us across the Red Sea, it would have been enough. But God also drowned our enemies there. And had God not only drowned our enemies there…you get the picture.

It seems as if, for Arendt’s critics, there’s a kind of reverse Dayenu at work. Their Passover canon goes like this: Had Eichmann only been a mass murderer, it would not have been enough. Had Eichmann only been a mass murderer who was also an ethical catastrophe, it would not have been enough. Had Eichmann only been a mass murderer who was also an ethical catastrophe and would have been hanged for his deeds, it would not have been…you get the picture.

{ 414 comments }

1

john c. halasz 10.26.14 at 7:23 am

It seems an instance of the ancient Greek liar’s paradox, of which Arendt would have been well aware. Her all-too-pious critics seem seduced by it, as she was not, remaining observant. I always liked Wittgenstein’s response to the alleged paradox: yes, one can go back and forth on that forever, but so what? I.e. (reading between the lines), why would anyone say such a thing to convey anything or any meaning whatsoever? If there is no possible context for such an utterance, then it could have no semantic meaning. (Abstract implication: meaning is never a purely logico-semantic matter alone, independent of context and illocutionary “force”). It seems that Arendt was precisely right to observe the stage setting, whatever its broader and more speculative historical-philosophical implications.

2

ZM 10.26.14 at 8:07 am

It is an interesting idea – the ‘not enough’. I had not realised Hannah Arendt’s book was so controversial in this way.

In Australia there is an ongoing debate on whether State or State sanctioned policy and practices towards indigenous peoples amounted to genocide or not , and if so which particular policies and practices were genocidal. When I was about 20 I went to a talk on indigenous issues (I think the stolen generations), and I still remember that an older woman from Eastern Europe (maybe Poland?) made a lengthy comment about what she had gone through being as bad at least as what happened to indigenous people – she was very insistent and eventually the speaker brushed her aside because it was taking too much time.

I think of this because there is an idea of the holocaust as being a unique evil, equal or worse than all other evils that have happened in human history. Critics might find the banality or thoughtlessness explanation too apparent in other evils also – so how is it enough of an explanation for the unique evil of the holocaust.

Also – banality might seem to somewhat preclude or minimize any malevolence. If someone is cunningly plotting out of malevolence – banal does not seem to do justice to their practice.

And another thing, thinking about Hannah Arendt and Mary McCarthy and whoever else was in their mid-century modernist set – banality or the lack of originality would have been seen as a very negative trait. They were the sort of people who placed a high value on being original. But for people who are less impressed by originality and are more every day sort of people – this equation of banality and evil might seem quite insulting.

And a final thought – today I went to an Agitation Hill lecture by QC Julian Burnside in town on the treatment of asylum seekers by our government. Australia now has a turn back the boats policy and a mandatory offshore detention policy – with detention centers in Nauru and on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea. He said Australuan support human rights generally – but it is as if some of us are not thinking of asylum seekers as being our human equals. There were several examples of bureaucratic cruelty , like a young girl who attempted suicide but suffocated by didn’t die and was transferred to hospital with her mother and 2 guardslooking after them – when someone went to see if there was anything they could do, the guards said it was outside detention visiting hours. Another woman was not given incontinence pads, and when finally she had assistance to get the detention centre to provide some it wasn’t enough for a whole day. Another man’s cut wasn’t treated for months, and then it was too late and he died.

I bring this up – because these are examples of the banality of evil I think – the idea is such that it compels us to see in our own polities this similar banality of evil.

Maybe Arendt’s critics the OP mentions do not want to be compelled to see examples of the banality of evil – which if we accept Arendt typified the undertaking that was the holocaust – in their own polities and times.

3

Anders Widebrant 10.26.14 at 8:43 am

It’s an obvious point, but there are many stakeholders in the idea that there are long-term ideological goals so good and beneficial that they justify the mass killings of other human beings. If that is true, it’s important to state clearly that Eichmann was an Anti-Semite (rather than, say, a Liberal Democrat, a Communist or a Job Creator), so that we’re in no risk of confusing him with other people who have helped kill thousands or millions of people.

4

bad Jim 10.26.14 at 9:10 am

Eichmann’s protestations that he didn’t commit one or another brutal act, negligible in the larger picture, reminds me of the trouble Ignaz Semmelweis had in trying to get doctors to wash their hands before assisting childbirths. They were offended by the very suggestion that they might not be clean. They were gentlemen, after all.

5

J Thomas 10.26.14 at 9:52 am

Eichmann thought he was offering himself up (whether sincerely or not) to the court as a more palatable specimen, not realizing: first, that given what he did (and admitted to having done), there was nothing he could do or say that would redeem him; and, second, that the exculpatory examples he offered were only further confirmation of his evil.

Suppose that this is true. Is it not normal?

People who have no chance to survive, but do have time, often come up with absurd imagined possibilities that they might survive. People who know they have incurable cancer sometimes spend all their disposable income on quack cures.

People whose children are being taken away by CPS come up with reasons that CPS might relent, and follow up those ideas at length. They don’t realize that there is nothing they can say or do that will change the outcome; they try anyway. They might for example explain the elaborate rules they have about when it is OK to spank their children, and how hard, imagining that having “reasonable” rules will save them. They realize that they are in the hands of a bureaucracy that has inflexible rules, and that its members have no sympathy whatsoever for them, but they persist regardless.

Russians taken by the secret police, likewise. “If only Father Stalin knew what was being done in his name!” Nicolai Borodin told the story of a secret policeman he knew who was denounced and who was given dossiers to evaluate in his cell while awaiting disposal, who put great attention to them in the hope that his hard work would help convince the authorities that he was innocent. Surely he knew better intellectually, but …. (He did ask Borodin for a poison pill he could take if things went badly. Borodin did not want to be implicated in that and so gave him a placebo and never visited him again. It isn’t obvious to me why Borodin accepted the danger of visiting his friend the first and second times, except that the man could denounce him and get him detained.)

There would be nothing unusual in Eichmann thinking that he might find somebody who would understand his point of view, or even that there might be some faint hope of reprieve when obviously there was none. People do it all the time.

Hovering around the edges of these statements is the suggestion that Eichmann in Jerusalem enabled a genteel anti-Semitism—liberating the long suppressed feelings of Arendt’s goyish friends—and trafficked in its far more malignant forms, channeling the spirit of the Nazi Heidegger and mirroring the thoughtlessness of the Nazi Eichmann.

That’s probably only exceptionalism. Of course the Holocaust was the worst holocaust that has ever existed, and we must have no tolerance for another one. So we must have no tolerance for anti-semitism. Any smidgen, any soupcon of anti-semitism is too much. If Arendt was somehow a little bit tolerant of anti-semitism, if she did something which could possibly be perceived as making Eichmann’s anti-semitism less than it was, that cannot be tolerated. We must all police each other to make sure we never slack off, that we all work tirelessly to eliminate any slightest trace of anti-semitism anywhere. No one is immune, anyone can be denounced for being soft on anti-semitism.

Same-old, same-old.

6

Ze Kraggash 10.26.14 at 10:06 am

@3 “it’s important to state clearly that Eichmann was an Anti-Semite (rather than, say, a Liberal Democrat, a Communist or a Job Creator)”

Do you mean: to state clearly that he was a Nazi? I don’t think antisemitism by itself provides justification for mass killings.

7

David 10.26.14 at 10:15 am

It’s natural that we seek out pantomime super-villains we can hate. But in reality, Eichmann, and many others like him throughout history, essentially had the kind of emotional autism which is necessary if you are to take, or facilitate, terrible decisions, without going mad. You detach yourself from the consequences of your decisions, in other words, through the use of a bloodless technical vocabulary.
If President Obama actually had to look at the blood, terror and pain of one of his little “strikes” in the Middle East over the last few years, he would probably never sleep again. At a higher level, the planners of the British and American bombing raids in the Second World War seem to have undergone a similar emotional dissociation from the consequences of what they were doing, as did their equivalents later who planned nuclear wars. And indeed it’s hard to imagine any political or military leader ever starting a war if they actually allowed themselves to visualise the practical consequences that would follow. Eichmann was not at this level, of course, but he played a facilitating role which had enormous consequences for large numbers of people.
To this you have to add ideology, which also has a cauterizing effect on the emotions. The Nazis were engaged in a war of racial extermination in the East, where they assumed that some thirty or forty million Slavs would ultimately have to be exterminated. They had started in 1941/2 with the killing of several million Soviet prisoners of war: executed or simply left to die of cold and hunger. In their view of things, the war was a struggle for racial survival, and everything was permitted. Useless mouths were a distraction, and simply had to be moved somewhere where they could be eliminated: this was Eichmann’s job to plan. The lives of his victims literally had no value in this scheme of things, thus ordinary moral considerations did not apply.

8

ZM 10.26.14 at 11:09 am

Corey Robin,

“Hovering around the edges of these statements is the suggestion that Eichmann in Jerusalem enabled a genteel anti-Semitism—liberating the long suppressed feelings of Arendt’s goyish friends—”

Is this a well known definite thing, or just your thoughts?

Robert Lowell attended a symposium on Eichmann in Jerusalem, and his reports are not really anti-Semitic as far as I can see. He is if anything overly enthusiastic and excited about the Semiticness of people there. Jewish people would maybe have found his great enthusiasm somewhat amusing even.

“One was suddenly in a pure Jewish or Arabic world, people hardly speaking English, declaiming , confessing, orating in New Yorkese, in Yiddish, booing and clapping. “

“There’s nothing like the New York Jews . Odd that this is so , and that other American groups are so speechless and dead.”

9

J Thomas 10.26.14 at 11:32 am

I vividly remember early in the Iraq occupation, the media quoted a US officer in Iraq who said that there were about 300,000 Iraqis who could not accept the new order and we had to accept some trouble until they were eliminated. I doubt I could find the quote now, but it made a big impression on me then. Of course 300,000 is only 1% of 30 million, so it’s not like it’s the same thing.

Maybe I misremembered, maybe he only said 30,000. It actually came out more on the order of 300,000, but killing 30,000 people to establish order isn’t all that uncommon. Pretty much anybody who has to establish order in a place where there’s a lot of disorder has to do that.

Or maybe he said 120,000. 120,000 sounds a whole lot better than 300,000, I don’t know why. I remember it as 300,000. I guess maybe my memory is not that vivid after all, but it made a big impression on me at the time.

Anyway, we had good intentions. We wanted them to have peace and democracy. It was only a side issue that in the early years we insisted they couldn’t have any Ba’athists or religious people in their government, and that would keep most of their actual leaders from running for office. 300,000 is only a little more than 1% of their population. What else could we do, let them run around killing people?

We do what we must because we can.
For the good of all of us, except the ones who are dead.

10

Ze Kraggash 10.26.14 at 12:40 pm

“For the good of all of us, except the ones who are dead.”

Well, first of all, those condemned to death are not included into “all of us”. And second, it’s not even ‘for the good for all of us’, but for the good of some conceptual aggregate (the people, the nation). There is no need to drill down to individuals. I believe it’s actually important to avoid doing it. It’s that “one death is a tragedy one million is a statistic” thing.

11

J Thomas 10.26.14 at 1:26 pm

Well, first of all, those condemned to death are not included into “all of us”.

I’m sure Eichmann would have agreed.

12

Corey Robin 10.26.14 at 1:40 pm

ZM at 8: “Is this a well known definite thing, or just your thoughts?”

Neither. I’m simply reporting on Lipstadt’s commentary.

On Robert Lowell: Philo-Semitism sometimes makes me as nervous as anti-Semitism. Actually Arendt had lots of interesting things to say about that in Book I of Origins of Totalitarianism. On Disraeli and Proust, as I recall.

13

tub 10.26.14 at 3:07 pm

Seems like a lot of work to make Arendt right all along.

What’s the victory here?

14

bob mcmanus 10.26.14 at 3:37 pm

I would look rather at Lipstadt and Stangneth as representative of a different generation than Arendt, a different subject-position. Arendt being closer to mine.

What struck an older generation as one of the horrors of fascism, and totalitarianism was the way the way it used modernism, bureacratization, rationalization to potentiate and effect atavistic, primitive tribal and barbaric social impulses. IOW, the problem was not the anti-semitism, which had been around for ages, but the modern machinery in which Eichmann was a cog (tho an active and important one, who welcomed his role) that made mega-murder possible.

Lipstadt and Stangneth seem to reverse that, foregrounding the anti-semitism in a background of modernism. This may be symptomatic, we can say that for instance the problem of Wilson-Brown in Ferguson is generalized police violence, but the intractability of systemic reforms forces us to fall back on racism as a problem that at least looks more amenable to change, or better, one that doesn’t make us feel impotent and complicit.

15

Watson Ladd 10.26.14 at 3:57 pm

Compare Arendt’s reaction to Adorno’s. For Arendt, the Shoah is just the Shoah, another blood stained page of history. And Eichmann could, as you mentioned, be seen as a different form of Bomber Harris. What about Adorno?

For him the Shoah is the ultimate catastrophe. Germany could have brought socialism to the world. Instead, the working class failed and created Nazism. One can now question whether every moment in history was worth it, just as the death of Akiva ben Joseph prompts Moses to ask if Torah was worth it.

Arendt’s critics are seeking to explain why modernity lead to the Shoah. They seek some outside evil to corrupt the course of history. Arendt denies them this, but can’t actually figure out the reality: Nazism existed because socialism and liberalism failed in Germany, and to come to terms with the Shoah is to come to terms with the fact that Germany freely did it.

16

TM 10.26.14 at 4:15 pm

Eichmann sincerely didn’t recognize the moral wrongness of what he had done, or more to the point he sincerely believed that killing Jews was morally good. It seems to me that crimes on that scale couldn’t be committed if the perpetrators didn’t think in that way. It’s not clear to me however that this observation really captures the essence of Arendt’s “banality of evil” thesis. In any case, it is near impossible to come to terms with the fact that some members of the human species subscribe to a morality that can only weakly be described as monstrous – that the fundamental tenets of morality that we would like to think are universally shared are not in fact so shared.

17

bianca steele 10.26.14 at 4:17 pm

@14 Arendt and Adorno, and others, are in part looking for an explanation that will allow them to retain the idea that Nazism is a unique and uniquely horrific evil, and also the idea that German culture is unique and uniquely splendiferous, but will not compel them to find a cause for the uniqueness of Nazism in the uniqueness of German culture. Hence the quibbles over whether Eichmann was a true Kantian or despoiled the memory of Kant. Hence Arendt’s distaste for so many ways of Jews’ making a peace with German culture that were different from the way she made her own peace. Hence Adorno’s preoccupation with the idea that the roots of Nazism existed in incorrect ways of being working class that could exist anywhere in the world and had to be fought anywhere in the world. The idea that the roots of Nazism are free-floating and will have to be sought out and eradicated wherever and whenever they occur seems to me as pernicious as the idea that it’s especially “German” (whatever that could even mean).

18

LFC 10.26.14 at 4:17 pm

Robert Lowell attended a symposium on Eichmann in Jerusalem, and his reports are not really anti-Semitic as far as I can see. He is if anything overly enthusiastic and excited about the Semiticness of people there.

The drug Lithium (if I’m recalling this correctly) did not become available until fairly late in Lowell’s life, and for many years he suffered often crippling bouts of manic-depression (or bipolar disorder — whatever the preferred term is), and during his manic phases was overflowing with enthusiasms; his reaction to the symposium sounds somewhat exuberant or excited, but not manic, so I’m not suggesting it occurred during the beginning of one of his manic phases or periods, b/c I have no idea. Nonetheless, I thought I’d mention it, fwiw…. (Btw, this obviously is no criticism of Lowell; it’s just a fact that he had this condition.)

19

Corey Robin 10.26.14 at 6:25 pm

Bianca at 16: “Arendt and Adorno, and others, are in part looking for an explanation that will allow them to retain the idea that Nazism is a unique and uniquely horrific evil.”

Arendt did not think that Nazism was a uniquely horrific evil. The whole point of Origins of Totalitarianism — one that she took a considerable amount of heat for, from the left — is, at a minimum, that Nazism and Stalinism are roughly comparable in their evil.

As for the question of German culture, that follows from the previous point: she didn’t think Nazism/Stalinism was a German problem, but a European-wide problem (and increasingly, beyond Europe). So it made little sense to her to look at its German roots. Even if those roots could explain it, they couldn’t explain Stalinism — and the larger phenomenon of totalitarianism — so there was no point in looking there.

20

Mdc 10.26.14 at 6:42 pm

Great post. I mentioned this on another thread , but I think Arendt’s view is less likely to be misunderstood if you take original sin seriously, which (I think?) few of her readers do.

21

bianca steele 10.26.14 at 7:40 pm

Corey Robin @ 18: Sure. But unless she’s looking for the roots of genocide against the Jews, it isn’t at all clear why her book is important, and it’s pretty easy to see why her Jewish contemporaries had a problem with her argument. Especially if she identified the kind of culture she’d been educated into as a defense against totalitarianism.

22

Corey Robin 10.26.14 at 7:43 pm

Bianca: “Especially if she identified the kind of culture she’d been educated into as a defense against totalitarianism.”

Can you show me where she says that? Or even suggests it? It kind of goes against everything she believes.

23

bianca steele 10.26.14 at 8:05 pm

Can you show me where she says that? Or even suggests it? It kind of goes against everything she believes.

Do you mean where she says “the kind of culture I was brought up in”? You’re right, she probably doesn’t say that. But from what I’ve read, she associated the kind of culture she was, in fact, educated in, with a universal culture that totalitarianism went against. Obviously, that culture (especially as she specifically was educated in it) was German. Other than that, I don’t have a reference, I’m basing this in part on the Benhabib essay and similar arguments from Kant, and on book review(s) from a little while back of early writings and letters that emphasized the propriety of, as she had done, being educated as a German and not with a sectarian religious Jewish upbringing. Did she actually say something along the lines of “as a German,” rather than something like “in proper universalistic civilized culture”? Maybe not, that’s an interesting question.

24

J Thomas 10.26.14 at 8:09 pm

#20 Bianca Steele

But unless she’s looking for the roots of genocide against the Jews, it isn’t at all clear why her book is important, and it’s pretty easy to see why her Jewish contemporaries had a problem with her argument. Especially if she identified the kind of culture she’d been educated into as a defense against totalitarianism.

It depends. If she’s interested in totalitarianism, then genocide can be an example of the sort of thing that soulless bureaucrats do — just doing their jobs, nothing personal in it beyond the satisfaction of getting the job done, accepting whatever ideology that goes along with the job.

Eichmann could be an example of just such a bureaucrat. Or maybe he passionately supported Nazi ideals before he got a job implementing them, I dunno.

Whether or not she had a defense against totalitarianism, her work gave clear evidence that a defense is needed.

It’s possible that some bureaucrats in responsible positions in some totalitarian organizations might let their personal ethics interfere with the work, and while they last they may somewhat blunt the edge of it. But that is not nearly sufficient defense.

But then, we can talk all day about the generalities of totalitarianism. What does it mean for the Jews?

25

Eric Titus 10.26.14 at 11:16 pm

I think part of the reason Arendt’s critics are so voluble is because they are more “right” about the holocaust writ large, and how it happened. So they keep harping on Arendt because she had a different goal–to reveal Eichmann as thoughtless, philosophically speaking. So in a sense, both groups are right–Arendt wasn’t necessarily wrong about Eichmann, but her larger arguments about the Holocaust are more questionable.

As ZM points out, Arendt was coming from an intellectual climate where it was worse to be boring than to be objectionable. In a sense, “banality” was the worst insult available. But banality also implied a lack of importance–how could such a boring individual (rather than, say, a monstrous human being) have had such a big role in the Holocaust? I imagine that this contrast must have struck Arendt. And so the book ends up being about moral thoughtlessness–the inability to develop one’s own moral opinions. The problem, however, is that this is a very modernist definition of thoughtlessness, that idealizes the freestanding, amaterial, unattached philosopher.

But now it comes out that Eichmann may have been more monstrous than Arendt gave him credit for. I think this is what has the critics all riled up. As you’ve pointed out, there’s no real contradiction between the new evidence and Arendt’s claims. However, Eichmann’s ability and willingness to speak at length on his antisemitism requires increasingly complicated arguments about what truly constitutes “thought.” The result is that an increasingly high bar is set for moral thinking. In addition, Eichmann becomes a philosophical investigation rather than necessarily an attempt to come to grips with the Holocaust.

Eichmann tends to get read in two ways–
I’m no Aren

I think it’s perfectly possible that both Arendt and her critics are right.

26

Anderson 10.26.14 at 11:44 pm

Thanks for this series, Corey. I’ve admired Arendt’s book since I first read it 20 years ago.

This — “So why all the high dudgeon of her critics?” — seems easy enough to answer. Arendt called out those Jewish leaders who convinced themselves it was justifiable to cooperate with the Nazis. That was the original source of animus against her work, and to this day, I think, it’s what impels those who seek to discredit her book. Nothing else seems to explain the cannon-fire directed at molehills.

27

emmryss 10.27.14 at 12:36 am

One of the best accounts of Arendt’s account is to be found in Susan Neiman’s “Evil in Modern Thought.” She writes: “Arendt’s account was crucial for revealing what makes Auschwitz emblematic for contemporary evil. It showed that today, even crimes so immense that the Earth itself cries out for retribution are committed by persons with motives that are no worse than banal.” The analogy to executives in modern corporations is irresistible. How much money will how many avoidable deaths save? is a question that keeps coming up in the auto industry. Or the tobacco industry’s long history of denying that their product caused cancer. Or fossil fuel companies’ funding of climate change denial. As Neiman goes on to write: “In contemporary evil, individuals’ intentions [keep prices low, grow market share, etc.] rarely correspond to the magnitude of evil individuals are able to cause.”

28

Anderson 10.27.14 at 12:51 am

What Arendt does is discard the romantic notion of evil, the one Nietzsche ascribes to ressentiment in the slave’s idealization of the master. Some of her critics seem unable to hold two ideas at once: Eichmann (Himmler … Heydrich? … Hitler?) was a petty, unimpressive twit *and* a mass murderer richly deserving of execution. No Miltonic Satan he … but that’s not how evil has to be, perhaps never how it is.

29

J Thomas 10.27.14 at 1:17 am

Arendt called out those Jewish leaders who convinced themselves it was justifiable to cooperate with the Nazis.

Rationally, I don’t see how they could have done better. By mid-1945, the Nazis had lost everything and by the conventional wisdom 30% to 40% of Jews in the occupied areas survived. If they had resisted more, would that have improved? They were poorly armed and poorly trained, if they made it a higher priority for Nazis to kill them would that help?

The other unworkable choice was another Exodus. Pick up and leave, the way the hebrews left Egypt when they were an oppressed people there. But if a million Jews tried to walk out of europe, where would they go? There wasn’t much food in occupied Russia. German soldiers caught by partisans while convoying through that area could expect to be eaten. The food wasn’t there and if refugees brought in food they would be targets. And if they made it through the front lines into Russia, what then?

To take that route they needed a Moses who could work miracles.

There was no acceptable solution. Fighting back was a more satisfying concept, after the fact. But in the actual event, nothing worked well enough. Thinking about that afterward drove some Jews crazy, just as WWI and its aftermath drove many Germans crazy.

30

Anderson 10.27.14 at 1:31 am

J Thomas, I infer you’ve not read her book?

31

john c. halasz 10.27.14 at 1:35 am

Why do people feel so free to confabulate about Arendt? So just why are her critics “more “right” about the holocaust writ large, and how it happened.” Was she uninformed about the sources available at that time? Didn’t she write a whole book about that topic OT, for which EIJ is a kind of coda? (And contrary to CR @19, OT was largely about the sources or well-springs of the rise of Nazism, via a method of imaginative (re-)construction, with some considerations of Stalinism added on later in its conception. Which was unfortunate, since it allowed the work to be drafted into Cold War duty, since Nazism and Stalinism are (im)moral equivalents, and how dare you suggest any “moral equivalence” between American actions and those of such evil regimes.?!? She dealt with the Russian Revolution more in OR and with Marx in HC, though still somewhat obliquely). And then Eichmann’s inability to think is simply an inability to arrive at “correct” moral conclusions, rather than something more basic and political-philosophical, something like an inability to understand and order worldly proportions. Because Arendt is an “amaterial, unattached philosopher”, when one of her core themes is worldliness, which she identifies closely with the political.

And then bianca steele apparently thinks that Arendt and Adorno are just over-stuffed German mandarins who want to defend their privileged access to German Kultur and lord it over the rest of us. (Has she ever read either?) But this is precisely an exercize in banalization. The thing that might have struck them as “unique”, i.e. unprecedented, about the Shoah and all the other Nazi “excesses”, is that one of the most advanced and highly educated societies in the world collapsed into utter barbarism, and by means of advanced and systematically “rational” means of a sort, not that such barbarism is “unique”, nor that culture is a prophylactic against its possibility, (which is quite the opposite of their historically lived experience). We’re not simply talking about Mongol hordes here.

IIRC Arendt herself was a bit shocked/surprised initially about the Kant episode. The point is not that Eichmann failed to properly understand Kant. Rather it’s that he could conceive of himself as acting “disinterestedly”, from sheer duty. And that is why his obvious anti-semitism is slightly beside the point: it reduces his “acts”, to the extent he was able to construe and account for them, to motives/causes, rather than reasons. So it wasn’t that Arendt missed or minimized Eichmann’s ideological anti-semitism, nor the monstrousness of his deeds or the deeds which he crucially facilitated. (That would be to attribute an extraordinary amount of stupidity to Arendt). It’s that she focused on his “motivelessness” or “disinterestedness” in the midst of it all. It’s that which gives rise to the quasi-paradoxical thesis of Eichmann’s “banality”, which has been regarded as a provocative insult by her critics or just detractors, because, by the same token, she was trying to understand, amidst the double-bindingness of his trial, and the smallness of the man and the enormity of his crimes, Eichmann as an agent, not just an object.

Walter Benjamin once remarked, paraphrasing here from memory: “After the catastrophe, things run on and take there course anyway”,- but that just *is* the catastrophe!

32

Tim 10.27.14 at 3:13 am

“At one point, Lipstadt even compares Arendt to Eichmann:
She was guilty of precisely the same wrong she derisively ascribed to Adolf Eichmann. She—the great political philosopher who claimed that careful thought and precise expression were of supreme value—did not “think.” She wanted to provoke her readers to re-evaluate their assumptions, but she either did not care or did not fully consider how her caustic comments might be heard by them.”

Is a Kantian “enlarged mentality” of the type that Arendt draws upon–which makes reflective, not determinant, judgment possible–now supposed to be the same as a lack of empathy? (Here I am thinking of Benhabib’s review of Lipstadt.)

Though the circumstances are very different, I wonder if this is a move like that made by the University of Illinois administrators who claimed that Salaita’s demonstrated lack of empathy makes him unfit to teach (or fit to be de-hired).

I guess I’m wondering 1) in what world is it possible ever to “fully consider” how one’s comments will be heard? and, 2) in what world is not offending others a criterion for having fully considered how others think?

33

Tim 10.27.14 at 3:17 am

Sorry, I meant Benhabib’s post on Stangneth.

34

J Thomas 10.27.14 at 7:39 am

#30 Anderson

J Thomas, I infer you’ve not read her book?

Yes, that’s correct. I am interested in the question posed, though. What could Jewish local authorities have done that would have had better results than the limited cooperation they did?

They probably did not assist the war effort that much. The more they made themselves a priority, the more resources the Nazis spent on killing them, the worse it was for them.

In a way this is all Monday-morning quarterbacking. We have more information and different information, and it isn’t immediate. But still it’s interesting. There have been complaints that British and US bombing raids could have made it harder to get detainees to the death camps. But in retrospect I think they made the right choices. Less than half the Jews killed made it to the camps alive, more died other ways. If fewer reached the camps but just as many died, how would that help? The less oil the German economy had, the less the Nazis could do. The less they could do, the sooner they lost the war. The sooner they lost, the sooner they had to quit killing Jews. And the more of their limited resources they wasted killing Jews, the quicker they lost the war.

The problem is of course that the Holocaust was unacceptable. So people look for ways it could have been prevented or stopped quicker, and they don’t really find any. Individual people found creative ways to survive, but for millions? It would have taken a miracle.

35

Phil 10.27.14 at 11:35 am

J Thomas – I recommend Lucy Dawidowicz’s book, if you can find it. She’s very much in the intentionalist camp and (as such) plainly sympathises with the Zionists of the time, but I felt she gave all three* of the main schools of thought in the Jewish councils a fair hearing.

The question of what more could have been done, or what could have been done differently, will never stop being debated, because it’s several different questions in one. Imagine that we were visited one day by the Angel of History, who announced – as a rock-solid, undeniable fact – that another 100,000 Jews could have survived if all the Jewish councils had adopted a policy of enthusiastic collaboration with the authorities. Would that settle the argument?

*Zionist, Orthodox, Bundist.

36

Anderson 10.27.14 at 11:36 am

34: Arendt objects to the participation of some Jewish leaders in selecting those sent to death camps. She believes that was unacceptable morally.

37

Phil 10.27.14 at 11:41 am

On the OP, Lipstadt’s apparent refusal to engage with Eichmann as a moral imbecile (or with the possibility that one can be a committed anti-semite and a moral imbecile) is striking. I suppose it’s the Lying Weasel school of hermeneutics –

“Yeah, he’s guilty all right. We got him.”
I know he’s guilty, but he says he… and he seemed to genuinely… and surely he wouldn’t…
“Ah, he’s just saying that to get a lighter sentence. He’s a lying weasel – who cares what he says?”

38

ZM 10.27.14 at 11:46 am

Corey Robin,

“”ZM at 8: “Is this a well known definite thing, or just your thoughts?”
Neither. I’m simply reporting on Lipstadt’s commentary.
On Robert Lowell: Philo-Semitism sometimes makes me as nervous as anti-Semitism. Actually Arendt had lots of interesting things to say about that in Book I of Origins of Totalitarianism. On Disraeli and Proust, as I recall.”

I have now investigated more thoroughly – and I think the book I found in my google search did not represent the content of Robert Lowell’s letter on his views of Jewish people very accurately. Because if you read the whole letter instead of just those two quotes you find he is not so over enthusiastic about Jewish people after all, and in fact says in the very same letter that at the symposium he attended the Jews were like “Irish nationalists and an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting”. So, this does not sound so enthusiastic after all.

It seems that Hannah Arendt’s book met with controversy immediately – and Robert Lowell was on Hannah Arendt’s side , but a number of Jewish people were against. It is quite interesting to read about, but I think reading Lowell’s correspondence on this matter that maybe this group of people was a bit insufferable, so it is easy to see why people were so eager to find faults. In Australia our term for this is “the tall poppy syndrome”, it applies to the arts, but not to sports.

Because it is so interesting I will copy the letters out, hopefully it is not too long.

Elizabeth Bishop did not have much to say on the matter of Eichmann in Jerusalem, except to congratulate Robert Lowell on his letter to the New York Times Book Review. I am afraid this was what she wrote:

“OH – it’s old to you now – but we were glad to see your letter in the Hannah Arendt controversy. Sometimes Americans are exactly as stupid as Latin Americans – at least that display of self-interest and lack of any sense of irony, or recognition of irony, & inability to or just laziness about following an argument – was exactly like the “intellectuals” here. I read the book sales almost stopped for a while. I’m in the middle of On Revolution now – think we’ll write her a note”

Robert Lowell’s letter to the NYTBR editor was in response to Michael Musmanno’s article “Man with an unspoiled conscience”. Robert Lowell wrote:

“I cannot think of a more terrifying character in either biography or fiction or of one conceived in quite this manner. That Eichmann is no monster on a heroic scale, but only a strangely numb and nerve-wrung part of our usual world makes him all the more appalling. Mediocre, banal, unable in the end to speak or even think the truth, he moves through his inferno, now wriggling in confusion, now flying on his “gusts of elation”. His life is as close to living in hell as I can imagine, and I am able to see it as such because Miss Arendt has refused to simplify the picture with melodrama or blur it with cliches. I suspect Judge Musmanno’s comprehension fails before so much detail, profundity and intuition.”

The last sentence was quite a dig to write in a letter to the editor.

Robert Lowell’s wife Elizabeth Hardwick thought a man called Lionel Abel like Eichmann in Jerusalem – so she suggested to the editor of Partisan Review that they publish his response. Except he did not like the book after all and wrote a criticism of it – Robert Lowell wrote ruefully “all this has had to be explained to Hannah. She seems unshaken, and says this [book] is the only one people can understand so they strike at her” – this last comment does show a bit of a lack of humility, and you can see how ordinary people might get a bit offended.

Then Robert Lowell attended the symposium.
“We had our little New York outburst, a Hannah Arendt evening presided over by Irving Howe. Hannah wasn’t there and most of the talk went against her. One was suddenly in a purely Jewish or Arabic world, people hardly speaking English, declaiming, confessing, orating in New Yorkese, in Yiddish, booing and clapping. The fire of the evening fell not on Hannah, but on Raul Hilberg, who had written a documentary book on the Jewish extermination, a book hitherto uncontroversial, but which he now quoted original documents from and ended rather unadvisably by suggesting that the Jews were passive by religion and even now couldn’t face the facts. Then Lionel Abel, frothing, gesturing, thumping on the table, called him banal, boring, etc. And from then on the Jews were anything but passive. Well, it was alive, but very rash, cheap, declamatory, etc., a sort of mixture of , say, Irish nationalists and an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting with contending sides. A lot of mud was thrown at Hannah, and one left disheartened and even a bit scared. However, the next night there was a party, where all the contending factions were represented, though only the more articulate intellectuals. And somehow, there seemed to have been a catharsis, and everyone was friendly and relieved that what had been brewing for months had somehow boiled off. There’s nothing like the New York Jews. Odd that this is so, and that other American groups are so speechless and dead.”

39

J Thomas 10.27.14 at 12:31 pm

#36 Anderson

In extreme conditions, this is just a part of leadership. Military leaders at war sometimes must choose which soldiers to send to their deaths. It can be heart-rending, particularly for a losing side, but there is nothing particularly unusual about it. The consequences of refusing to choose are worse.

And of course it’s hard to find conditions more extreme than the Holocaust.

40

Anderson 10.27.14 at 12:37 pm

39: civilians in a concentration camp are not soldiers. The Jews in question were in fact prisoners. I suggest taking a look at Arendt, or at her source Raul Hilberg, if you would like some factual underpinning.

41

J Thomas 10.27.14 at 12:46 pm

#40

civilians in a concentration camp are not soldiers. The Jews in question were in fact prisoners.

True, it isn’t the same. But there’s a similarity that the cost of not choosing is greater than the cost of choosing, and there is a moral cost to choosing but also a moral cost to not choosing.

42

J. Parnell Thomas 10.27.14 at 1:05 pm

The irony here is that German people actually pronounce the word “Jews” the same as “choose.”

43

Collin Street 10.27.14 at 1:13 pm

> So people look for ways it could have been prevented or stopped quicker

A handful of executions in 1924 would have done the trick pretty well, I think.

44

LFC 10.27.14 at 3:14 pm

ZM @38
Robert Lowell in that letter you quote at the end is describing how the evening appeared to him and adding some broad-brush generalizations; but it’s a leap to conclude from that “this group of people [i.e. those who objected to Eichmann in Jerusalem] was a bit insufferable.” There were probably “insufferable” people on both sides of the debate and passions were running high.

To interpret and contextualize what you’ve found and are quoting, it helps to know a little about Lowell and also about ‘the New York intellectuals’ and the scene they inhabited. Your coming across this and immediately drawing various inferences, taking Lowell’s and Bishop’s personal correspondence at face value as if it were a news report in the New York Times, would be a bit like me coming across a mini-documentary-slice of Australian cultural history, with the background of which I was unfamiliar, and proceeding to draw inferences about it.

I actually don’t know whether Lowell was philo-Semitic or whether he shared the attitude toward Jews that was somewhat more typical of the milieu in which he was raised (the Lowells as an extended family were prominent in Boston and at least one of Robert Lowell’s relatives, A. Lawrence Lowell, president of Harvard from c. 1909-1933, was hardly philo-Semitic). But this is all tangential to the OP.

45

Corey Robin 10.27.14 at 3:20 pm

J Parnell Thomas at 42: What’s with the HUAC-inspired pseudonym? Or is that your real name?

46

LFC 10.27.14 at 3:26 pm

john c. halasz @31:
[Arendt] dealt with the Russian Revolution more in OR [On Revolution] and with Marx in HC [The Human Condition], though still somewhat obliquely)

I’ve been reading On Revolution, whose focus is the French and American Revolutions; there are some references to the Russian Revolution, but not that many. So if that’s what you meant by “obliquely,” yes. (There’s also a discussion of Marx in ch.2 of OR that, IMO, is wrong, like a certain amount [not all] of the rest of the book, but that’s neither here nor there right now.)

47

J. Parnell Thomas 10.27.14 at 5:12 pm

@Corey. I got banned with my old fake name (I forget who did it, maybe you), so I came up with that one on a whim, same as with the old one, and the one before that. It’s deliberately ambiguous, intended to amuse me while expending a bit of general hostility by making others vaguely uncomfortable, much like some of the other fake names I see around. Thanks for asking!

48

The Temporary Name 10.27.14 at 5:55 pm

had the kind of emotional autism

I guess if you’re gonna talk about how Germans thought Jews were subhuman then you need another subhuman group to pick on. Well done David. Of course the Nazis were somehow different from real people.

49

J Thomas 10.27.14 at 7:43 pm

#48

“had the kind of emotional autism”

I guess if you’re gonna talk about how Germans thought Jews were subhuman then you need another subhuman group to pick on. Well done David. Of course the Nazis were somehow different from real people.

Looking at it in context, I don’t think that’s what he meant at all. He’s saying that there’s a skill required to do emotionally wrenching things without getting too strung out about it, and that lots of people can develop that skill. He points out that Obama has to have it, for things that Obama approves. Likewise Allied Bomber Command. The Dresden raid was a reasonable tactical move, but it required an attack on unarmed civilians who were not much use to the German war effort. Starting a firestorm there was a horrible thing, but rationally there was every reason to think it would end the war quicker, and the war as a whole was an even more horrible thing.

The single word was unfortunate, but the message was not about people with disabilities but about “normal” people who can develop the emotional skills required to function in horrible circumstances.

50

The Temporary Name 10.27.14 at 8:21 pm

People have existed for many thousands of years performing barbarities upon strangers, neighbours, family, and people they own. The people in my society are a very lucky lot right now as the skill set required to do bad things apparently involves being in the right place at the right time.

51

Anderson 10.27.14 at 8:24 pm

“but rationally there was every reason to think it would end the war quicker, and the war as a whole was an even more horrible thing.”

Congratulations. You have just eliminated the concept of a “war crime.”

I could say that you’ve thus displayed emotional autism, but my son is autistic and I see no particular reason to insult him by the comparison.

52

Rich Puchalsky 10.27.14 at 8:28 pm

My son is a high-functioning autistic kid. I’ve gotten used to it being used as a slur; just another part of how horrible our society is.

53

Collin Street 10.27.14 at 8:49 pm

> The single word was unfortunate

I think it’s pretty likely that the “set of people who were nazis” and the “set of people with what we’d call autism” had some overlap, if nothing else.

[I’d actually make — have made — a stronger case: Nazis were people, which means that whatever problems they had in their life that lead them to the choices they made would be ones we’re already familiar with in other contexts, and it’s a reasonable assumption that some of those problems are ones we’re already familiar with through Science.]

54

Collin Street 10.27.14 at 8:58 pm

If you have a problem that leaves you open to making certain mistakes you really need to know this. I say “if”, but we all have weak spots.

Including the nazis — kind of the point here — and their weak spots were ones we’ve known through others, or the self. There but for the grace of god go I, ‘cept for “god” read “my white-hot determination not to fuck up in a way I know I’m prone to”. If you’re not prone to coming up with those sorts of solutions you might not grasp the imperative.

55

ZM 10.27.14 at 9:21 pm

LFC

“but it’s a leap to conclude from that “this group of people [i.e. those who objected to Eichmann in Jerusalem] was a bit insufferable.” There were probably “insufferable” people on both sides of the debate and passions were running high.”

You have misinterpreted me – I meant Robert Lowell and Hannah Arendt et al were a bit insufferable. They both say that people who disagree with Arendt’s book do so because the book is too intelligent for them – that is really quite insufferable I’m sure you would agree.

“To interpret and contextualize what you’ve found and are quoting, it helps to know a little about Lowell and also about ‘the New York intellectuals’ and the scene they inhabited. “

Well I am sure I am not an expert, but I certainly do know a little. I am very fond of poetry and I like Elizabeth Bishop quite a lot and Robert Lowell somewhat so I have read about them. But what knowledge I have does not make me reconsider thinking this group would have been a bit insufferable. Elizabeth Bishop lived overseas for a long time, and I like her the best – but she was definitely a mixed sort of person, just think of the poem where she is upset to gasp in a voice like her Aunts and to be a woman like the women she sees in National Geographic magazine . And I like Marianne Moore for she was definitely an interesting character and people should not always be writing gossipy criticisms of her family life. Robert Lowell was a bit selfish , although as you said he did have his condition so this probably exacerbated his behaviour and was beyond his control . Mary McCarthy I have formed a low opinion of. Hannah Arendt I am not quite sure about. Maybe other people will share some anecdotes they’ve read about her – not the Heidegger one because that is gone over too often.

” taking Lowell’s and Bishop’s personal correspondence at face value as if it were a news report in the New York Times,”

I read the New York Times sometimes, I do not think its reporting is wonderful to tell you the truth. Before one could read it on the Internet, I had in my mind that it must be a newspaper much greater than any of our own Australian newspapers – but since I was able to read it I found my expectations dashed.

“I actually don’t know whether Lowell was philo-Semitic or whether he shared the attitude toward Jews that was somewhat more typical of the milieu in which he was raised”

Well, just reading the two little quotes it seemed as if he were overly affectionate to Jewish people, but reading the letter in full I cannot say it were brimming over with affection after all. I wouldn’t say it was exactly anti-Semitic – but this might be because I am not Jewish so I am not as sensitive to various small sorts of anti-semitism as Jewish people are who experience anti-Semitic slights regularly .

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J Thomas 10.27.14 at 9:53 pm

#51 Anderson

“but rationally there was every reason to think it would end the war quicker, and the war as a whole was an even more horrible thing.”

Congratulations. You have just eliminated the concept of a “war crime.”

That’s silly. It is not so easy to eliminate a concept.

We usually think of war crimes in connection with the Geneva conventions. Through WWII, those were mostly concerned with treatment of wounded soldiers and POWs. After WWII the conventions were updated to provide some protections for civilians, and more recently there have been attempts to provide even more protections for civilians. The USA has not agreed to the later protections, probably because they would hamper our ability to wage war. The Dresden bombing was not at that time recognized as a war crime, and the Germans had done similar (though not quantitatively similar, they lacked the means) things themselves. The rationale for it that I described was the reasoning that was used.

There had been a variety of other attempts to make rules for war, particularly Hague conventions. There was a rule against chemical weapons which the USA did not sign, and a failed attempt to prohibit dropping bombs from balloons or airplanes, etc.

It was generally accepted that it was OK to break the rules after the other side breaks the rules. Usually the hope was that the second side would break the rules just enough to persuade the first offender to stop breaking the rules, and then quit.

And so for example when it was the US Marines against Fallujah, journalists reported that the best sniper on the Fallujah side was a 12-year-old boy. And Marine snipers knew that any woman or child who spotted their position would report it. So it was simply impractical for them not to shoot women and children. They killed anyone that they thought suspected they were there.

There was a documented report of Fallujans using an ambulance to attack a US position. So Marine snipers carefully shot every Red Cross ambulance driver they found.

Civilian hospitals were raided to make sure they did not provide assistance to wounded people who might have been enemy combatants, and some were bombed on the assumption that they had done so.

Before the big push, women and children were allowed to leave, but MAMs (Military Age Males) were not because they might be enemy combatants.

There was no particular justification by the rules for the use of poison gas, so the Marines denied they did that. Later there was a minor controversy when some of their internal reports were published explaining the lessons learned from doing so.

In that particular case, US forces systematically violated the Geneva conventions. But they were angry, and some people from Fallujah had violated some of the conventions too.

I could say that you’ve thus displayed emotional autism, but my son is autistic and I see no particular reason to insult him by the comparison.

Once for a psychiatric evaluation I answered all the questions honestly. I knew what answers were considered appropriate, but I wanted to see what would happen. I got a diagnosis of high-functioning autism spectrum disorder. IMO the diagnosis system is SNAFU. They do not distinguish between an incapability to follow social norms, versus a capability to choose whether to do so.

It’s like the difference between somebody who can function at the site of a bloody accident without throwing up, versus somebody who cannot throw up.

Best wishes to your son and I hope he does well at finding contexts where he can do well.

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LFC 10.27.14 at 10:08 pm

ZM:
You have misinterpreted me – I meant Robert Lowell and Hannah Arendt et al were a bit insufferable. They both say that people who disagree with Arendt’s book do so because the book is too intelligent for them – that is really quite insufferable I’m sure you would agree.

I did misinterpret you. Sorry about that.

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LFC 10.27.14 at 10:38 pm

Re the firebombing of Dresden, from Wiki:

In four raids between 13 and 15 February 1945, 722 heavy bombers of the British Royal Air Force (RAF) and 527 of the United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) dropped more than 3,900 tons of high-explosive bombs and incendiary devices on the city.[1] The bombing and the resulting firestorm destroyed over 1,600 acres (6.5 km2) of the city centre.[2] An estimated 22,700[3] to 25,000[4] people were killed.

The only real moral defense for the Allied bombing of cities in WW2 is the Churchillian one of ‘supreme emergency’ (discussed by Walzer), and by February 1945 the supreme emergency in the European theater (and in the Pacific one as well) was *long* over. The Dresden firebombing is a clear-cut case of a morally and strategically unjustified action. That the Axis committed worse crimes does not excuse it.

This whole topic btw is a thread derailment b.c it has no particular connection to Eichmann in Jerusalem, unless you’re going to fling open the thread to a general discussion of all war crimes. The Robert Lowell stuff at least has a tangential connection to Arendt. The issue of city bombing doesn’t.

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bianca steele 10.27.14 at 11:19 pm

The idea that computer-like thinking leads to totalitarianism is IMO overblown, and anyway seems to me less associated with Arendt than with Joseph Weizenbaum and to some extent (as mentioned on the other thread) Wiesenthal. Abstract reasoning, numerical reasoning, and bureaucracy are separate things (the connection between bureaucracy and statistics is AFAIK closer than between bureaucracy and abstract logic).

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jonnybutter 10.27.14 at 11:22 pm

Seems like a lot of work to make Arendt right all along.

What’s the victory here?

Wow, a complete inversion.

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J Thomas 10.28.14 at 12:16 am

#58 LFC

Re the firebombing of Dresden,

This whole topic btw is a thread derailment b.c it has no particular connection to Eichmann in Jerusalem

On the one side we have the claim that Eichmann was special, maybe with special psychological impairments. On the other side we have the claim that Eichmann was banal, that he was not special, that many bureaucrats could think the way he did and get the job done.

In support of the latter view we have Allied Bomber Command. By the time of Dresden they had calculated that the biggest part of their bombing had been mostly worthless. Exceptions included the bombing of one hydroelectric dam, and one ball-bearing factory, and lots of oil facilities. Oil was the limiting factor, and everything they did to cripple German oil production, transport, refining, etc would hurt the German war effort.

But as the Allies concentrated their attacks on oil stuff, the Germans quite naturally concentrated their anti-air defenses at the same targets. They put up a ferocious defense and we lost a lot of planes. So if we could persuade the German defenders to spread out their defenses, more of our bombers would get through, more of the bombs would get through, and the war would be over sooner.

Dresden had no military importance, but if they tried to protect it they would lose faster. And if they didn’t take the bait, if they did the coldly rational thing and protected just the oil, that would at least hurt their morale. It seemed worth a try. (Also, we weren’t sure how hard it would be to start firestorms in europe and we needed to find out.)

By some ways of thinking that was sufficient justification for it.

There was a sort of opposite point of view, that said soldiers should fight on the battlefield and the fight should try to avoid cities, so it was mostly the soldiers that suffered. But if the supplies the soldiers depended on could be cut off, then soon you would face starving soldiers with no ammo, which is a much preferable sort of battle. If death from the air worked better, we wanted to do it. And the idea that it should be mostly soldiers who suffered had never been considered all that practical. Sherman’s march to the sea for example was directed pretty much entirely against civilians. By proving that southerners could not protect their homes and particularly their women, he helped them admit they were losing. And of course all the food he destroyed was food that could not feed southern armies.

There’s nothing really new about all this, except for new technology, more efficient methods.

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Bloix 10.28.14 at 1:27 am

Eichmann could not possibly have denied his complicity in or knowledge of the genocide of the Jews. There was much too much evidence against him. The best defense possible under the circumstances was a purely legal defense – that his acts were not criminal at the time and in the place he committed them.

Eichmann was prosecuted under an Israeli criminal statute enacted in 1950, the Nazis and Nazi Collaborators (Punishment) Law, 5710-1950. His counsel asserted with some degree of merit that he was being prosecuted under an ex post facto and extra-territorial law that was unenforceable under controlling international law principles.

When the trial court rejected this argument before trial, Eichmann had no hope of avoiding conviction. But he still had the right to appeal once he was convicted.

His testimony at trial is entirely consistent with an intent to make the best possible presentation in preparation for an appeal of the decision that the law was enforceable. He was careful not to deny facts that could be proven by documents – there was no benefit to being caught out as a blatant liar – but he presented them always as if he was merely doing what his superiors required. He emphasized that he took no pleasure in following these orders, and carried them out in an effort to minimize suffering. He became agitated when he was accused of an act that would have been a capital offense when and where he committed it – the murder of the boy Salomon in Budapest.

Arendt for some reason took this meticulously scripted performance at face value, and not as a last-ditch effort to preserve an appeal point. Why that is, is a puzzle. It’s not a persuasive reading of Eichmann’s character.

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LFC 10.28.14 at 5:15 am

J Thomas @49 wrote:

The Dresden raid was a reasonable tactical move, but it required an attack on unarmed civilians who were not much use to the German war effort. Starting a firestorm there was a horrible thing, but rationally there was every reason to think it would end the war quicker, and the war as a whole was an even more horrible thing.

You make the same argument at 61, with some more curlicues and embellishments. It’s dubious, to say the least. In February 1945, which is when the Dresden raid happened, the Allied Bomber Command already knew that bombing was not going to break German morale such as to precipitate, e.g., mass desertions from the army or a popular groundswell demanding immediate surrender. German civilian morale suffered from the bombings but it never completely collapsed in a way that would materially quicken the end of the war, and by Feb. ’45 the Allies knew that. So the ‘morale’ justification can be discarded.

That leaves your claim that it was a “reasonable tactical move” b/c burning some 25,000 residents of a city to death wd force the Germans to reposition their antiaircraft batteries, diverting them from the protection of vital oil installations etc. But had city bombing before Feb ’45 had that effect?

I know there are some historians who argue that the bombing campaign contributed to the Allied victory, but I think the general historiographical consensus is that the contribution was fairly marginal. Anyway, irrespective of that, the firebombing of Dresden was still a war crime.

Walzer, Just and Unjust Wars, pp.261-2:

The argument used between 1942 and 1945 in defense of terror bombing was utilitarian in character, its emphasis not on victory itself but on the time and price of victory. The city raids, it was claimed by men such as Harris, would end the war sooner than it would otherwise end and, despite the large number of civilian casualties they inflicted, at a lower cost in human life. Assuming this claim to be true (I have already indicated that precisely opposite claims are made by some historians and strategists), it is nevertheless not sufficient to justify the bombing. It is not sufficient, I think, even if we do nothing more than calculate utilities. For such calculations need not be concerned only with the preservation of life. There is much else that we might plausibly want to preserve: the quality of our lives, for example, … our collective abhorrence of murder, even when it seems, as it always does, to serve some purpose…. To kill 278,966 civilians (the number is made up) in order to avoid the deaths of an unknown but probably larger number of civilians and soldiers is surely a fantastic, godlike, frightening, and horrendous act.

The act is even more horrendous when, as is the case with the firebombing of Dresden, it’s v. difficult or impossible to make a convincing argument that the act saved any number of Allied soldiers (or civilians) or hastened the end of the war, which was over in Europe roughly three months later (a bit less than that, in fact). Even Churchill had second thoughts after the destruction of Dresden, which he said “remains a serious query against the conduct of Allied bombing” (quoted in Walzer, p.261).

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LFC 10.28.14 at 5:26 am

The further point is that, even though, contrary to your (J Thomas’s) claim, the firebombing of Dresden was a war crime in the sense of an immoral and unjustifiable act, it was not a crime of anything like the same magnitude as the Holocaust. Therefore your suggestion that one can infer something about Eichmann from studying Arthur Harris et al. strikes me as strained, to say the least. Which returns me to the point that this discussion of Allied bombing, contrary to your claim, is a thread derailment because its relevance to Eichmann is rather minimal.

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Phil 10.28.14 at 8:34 am

Bloix – thanks for a detailed and persuasive statement of the Lying Weasel model. I’m closer to being persuaded than I was before, but still not quite.

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J Thomas 10.28.14 at 9:20 am

That leaves your claim that it was a “reasonable tactical move” b/c burning some 25,000 residents of a city to death wd force the Germans to reposition their antiaircraft batteries, diverting them from the protection of vital oil installations etc. But had city bombing before Feb ’45 had that effect?

Some. Maybe not enough. But again, they were taking unacceptable losses bombing oil facilities and they felt like they needed to do something.

I know there are some historians who argue that the bombing campaign contributed to the Allied victory, but I think the general historiographical consensus is that the contribution was fairly marginal.

Sure, after the fact. Monday morning quarterbacking. At the time they thought it made sense.

The act is even more horrendous when, as is the case with the firebombing of Dresden, it’s v. difficult or impossible to make a convincing argument that the act saved any number of Allied soldiers (or civilians) or hastened the end of the war

As usual we lack a control group and must guess from one example. But I tend to agree with you, it looks to me like it basicly did not work for its stated goals.

…. it was not a crime of anything like the same magnitude as the Holocaust. Therefore your suggestion that one can infer something about Eichmann from studying Arthur Harris et al. strikes me as strained, to say the least.

Oh? Let’s say that one man makes a decision that kills 27,000 people. Another man makes a decision one day that kills 6,000 people, but he does it again repeatedly for a thousand days. One has nothing to say about the other?

Would you say the Milgram experiments in which various people thought they participated in killing one single person had nothing to say about it?

Actually, I think it would have been very interesting to see what it would take to get the participants to do it a second time. I don’t think Milgram ever tried that. ;-)

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Anderson 10.28.14 at 1:37 pm

The burning of German cities was like the A-bombings: war crimes undertaken in large part because, having spent such huge sums on the weapons, they were going to be used. The reason to burn down Dresden was that it was an intact city, vs just making the rubble bounce. Rail junctions, etc, were hardly a serious concern in February 1944, with the Germans collapsing.

The crimes weren’t on a par with the Holocaust, but the psychology of people who burn up thousands of noncombatant adults and children is worth comparing to Eichmann’s, whether or not it proves similar.

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LFC 10.28.14 at 5:13 pm

Anderson @67, last paragraph:
Maybe. (I’m not sure what I think on this point.)

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Dick Muliken 10.28.14 at 7:08 pm

We enter here, the very large and murky territory in human affairs where the principle of non contradiction no longer holds. I think this is clearly the case with minds like Eichmann’s where one can indeed be (like Jeffery Dahmer) an orderly, rule bound, polite every-day sort of mass murderer. And in a parallel way, we can see that Arendt’s vision and the Stangneth-Lipstadt outlook are both true. There are lots of people with no imagination -seemingly no inner life- who are nonetheless talented at deception. I have on occasion bought used cars from such men.

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john c. halasz 10.28.14 at 8:40 pm

Bloix @61 wants to play the role of the zealous prosecutor and consider the matter solely from the standpoint of the legal technicalities and procedures of the trial. And thereby he mistakes the whole matter categorically.

EIJ ia not “about” the trial as a purely legal proceeding and whether all the legal niceties were observed and how the various parties played their hands strategically within the legal rules. There was never any doubt, after all, the Eichmann was guilty as hell and would be condemned to death. Rather it is an observation (or sets of observations) of the trial in its broader context as a political event, (which, of course, opens out onto still broader contexts of other broader political events).

Nor is she interested in assessing Eichmann’s character in the narrowly individualized, uniquely personal sense of modern “depth” psychology and psychopathology, as if the matter turned on that and could be inferred from a legal proceeding. (She’s seem clear that, in those terms, Eichmann’s character is quite drab). Rather the issue of character is addressed in an older, more classical sense.

What Eichmann did was “bestial” in Aristotle’s sense, i.e. so far beyond the good that it is effectively outside the ordinary circle of moral/ethical judgment, something only barbarians would do. (That is admittedly a classical pagan conception, without eschatology, salvation and damnation, which might be a framework that Arendt’s ax-grinding detractors want to hold to). Hence it seems to follow that because his deeds were so monstrous, Eichmann himself must an abnormal monster, someone completely outside the moral circle of human society, a psychopath. But one way to put Arendt’s “banality” thesis is to say, on the contrary, that Eichmann was rather over-socialized, albiet in an entirely perverse, topsy-turvy socio-political world. That outrages her detractors, because it doesn’t remove the threat from the “normal” world, doesn’t serve to rationalize what can’t be assimilated to it.

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ZM 10.28.14 at 11:52 pm

john c halasz,

“But one way to put Arendt’s “banality” thesis is to say, on the contrary, that Eichmann was rather over-socialized, albiet in an entirely perverse, topsy-turvy socio-political world.”

I saw a brief talk by Tim Kasser , and he was talking about his research on practitioners of voluntary simplicity and said he found they usually had higher levels of intrinsic motivation, whereas the people in his study that were more mainstream had higher levels in extrinsic motivation.

He did say though that induviduals’ extrinsic/intrinsic motivation levels were not set in stone but would vary over the course of their lives. So it is not impossible to think that people who at the moment gave extrinsic motivation and care more about high levels of consumption, might change and then care more about sustainability in the future.

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bianca steele 10.29.14 at 1:54 pm

Here is something my reading just turned up, which I thought was interestingly relevant:

“As late as 1992, 60 percent of Poles still opposed privatization for heavy industry. Defending his unpopular actions, [Jeffrey] Sachs claimed he had no choice, likening his role to that of a surgeon in an emergency room. ‘When a guy comes into the emergency room and his heart’s stopped, you just rip open the sternum and you don’t worry about the scars that you leave,’ he said.”

Sachs’s policies, besides overriding the democratic process, in fact caused immense suffering.

Isn’t his point of view similar in relevant ways to Eichmann’s? (Someone earlier in the thread even compared Eichmann’s mental state to that of a surgeon.) Isn’t the attitude Sachs expresses above causing immense suffering right now in many places? Isn’t economics a problem that’s more likely to intrude on more people’s lives and decisions than (as Michael Walzer discusses in the LFC’s quote above) whether some unspecified set of arguments might ever make them decide it’s okay to kill?

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bianca steele 10.29.14 at 2:04 pm

jch: What I’ve never quite been able to figure out (I’m not sure how many re-readings of Arendt it would take) is whether Eichmann is supposed to have killed Jews because he was oversocialized, or whether Eichmann is supposed to be a bad defendant to choose for a show trial because he was oversocialized, or whether he’s just a bad and disgusting person because he was oversocialized, or whether he’s just not the epitome of capital-E Evil because he was oversocialized, and if so whether there in fact are epitomes of Evil who are more interesting (in some way or other) than the banal Eichmann is.

The argument of Arendt’s detractors agrees that he was oversocialized, and interprets her argument as being “to say he was oversocialized is to blame society and thus to exonerate him.” I agree that this is not what she meant to say.

Was he in fact oversocialized? I think it’s possible a person could have attempted to reconstruct himself, Nietzsche-fashion, and ended up with just another form of oversocialization. Does it matter which it was, if in fact it was one of these?

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john c. halasz 10.30.14 at 4:22 am

bianca steele:

Arendt is being accused of impiety, even blasphemy. A lot of that turns on Arendt’s stigmatization of “the social” as deteriorating the political. But how can political matters exclude social issues, and still retain any sense? And what are we to make of Arendt’s absurd idealization of the Periclean polis and her insistence on the “purity” of the political? If you can work your way through resolving those puzzles, you can start to see the perspectives she is trying to open up. Eichmann’s “psychological” states or character are not really the issue, because she wasn’t trying to view him within the framework of logical empiricism, but rather in terms of the framework of “action”, which forms the core of her distinctive conception of the political. So her approach might be somewhat counter-factual, (though not ignoring the facts, as her critics would insist), but also not re-enforcing pre-existent norms, as denying both the unprecedented nature of the case at issue and the innovative “force” of action, in contrast to social determinism.

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Bruce Wilder 10.30.14 at 7:02 am

Re: The firebombing of Dresden or the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima vs the Holocaust

What makes them seem morally similar is homicide, and a numerically impressive body count.

Morally, though, what makes war different from genocide is that war is an argument: opposing, but still mutual essays in persuasion. The warring parties want to get along, but on different proposed terms. War is just a means of bargaining, of changing the other party’s expectations and cost-benefit calculation. It’s brutal and horrible, but it is still social.

Genocide is brutal and horrible, without even the redeeming feature of being social. No cooperation is being offered by the exterminators — the gestures at cooperation are just cruel, contemptuous jokes: “Arbeit macht frei” The offer to cooperate from the victims — to go quietly — becomes a point of moral vacuum.

You can say that there was no point to the fire-bombing of Dresden, that the war was practically over, but the war wasn’t over — the Germans had not surrendered. It would be over when the Germans surrendered. A choice was in the hands of the Germans. The Japanese in July 1945 had a choice to surrender, to stop a cruel, unjust war, which they themselves had perpetrated. Surrender was the choice to return to cooperation, just not on the terms that Germany at the outset of the war preferred, terms which had been selfish and cruel. But, surrender, a choice to cooperate on some terms, living terms, was available. The Jews (and various other groups) were given no choice, but to suffer and die. They were accorded no moral action, except to resist, and most did not avail themselves of that.

So, yes, the horrifying cruelty of killing and maiming thousands indiscriminately puts war and genocide on the same homicidal level of mass killing. But, what makes them morally different is that in war, ordinary war, a basic respect for the dignity of the opponent’s capacity to make the choice to cooperate, to share in the life of the earth, remains intact, however tattered and brutalized.

This is how I understand the distinction.

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J Thomas 10.30.14 at 8:10 am

Morally, though, what makes war different from genocide is that war is an argument: opposing, but still mutual essays in persuasion. The warring parties want to get along, but on different proposed terms. War is just a means of bargaining, of changing the other party’s expectations and cost-benefit calculation. It’s brutal and horrible, but it is still social.

Ideally in that case there would be diplomatic efforts throughout the war. The sides would make proposals and counter-proposals and when they came to terms they agreed on, the war would be over. If they agreed on some things but not a whole solution, they could honor their partial agreement while continuing to fight. They ought to honor their agreements, because if they don’t why keep bargaining with them? Just slug it out.

In WWII we just slugged it out. We demanded unconditional surrender, and we made no attempt to negotiate whatsoever. (We treated their POWs well, and when some were exchanged and they found out how well we did, they started treating US POWs better too. We maintained stocks of poison gas which we would use if they did, but we didn’t use them and would not until they did. They believed it would hurt them more than us, so they didn’t. (Goering later said that we were wrong not to, that their defenses against gas attack on their transportation system were so inadequate the war would be over soon after we started that attack.) These were not agreements, just tit-for-tat.)

Unconditional surrender reduces the distinction between war and genocide. If the other side says “Please, we want to surrender, we’ll do anything but please don’t genocide us”, you respond “Unconditional surrender only. We might genocide you after you surrender. You have to surrender with no promises of any sort, and then the war will be over.”

The way I heard it, in East Germany between the time the German army left the area and the time that proper record-keeping got restored, two million German civilians disappeared. Maybe some of them were sent to Siberia. Maybe some of them had useful skills and were sent to other parts of Russia. Maybe most of them were killed. The Soviets accepted no responsibility to find out what happened to them. Two million is less than six million, and I’ve never heard anybody call it genocide.

But the difference between demanding unconditional surrender and then killing a whole lot of people afterward, versus requiring Jews to cooperate and then killing a whole lot of them, was that the Jews didn’t have a government to demand unconditional surrender from.

You can demand unconditional surrender and then not genocide people. But if you aren’t going to genocide them, what’s wrong with promising them ahead of time that you won’t genocide them? Why demand that it be entirely unconditional?

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Ze Kraggash 10.30.14 at 8:18 am

“A choice was in the hands of the Germans.”

Well, yes, racist genocide and international terrorism are two different phenomena.

Although if ‘the Germans’ (or whoever) keep refusing to make the right choice for a long time, some people will inevitably get confused.

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Anderson 10.30.14 at 11:44 am

The argument can’t be that burning down cities was as bad as the Holocaust. Of course it wasn’t.

But it was still a war crime, and the implications above that it was an acceptable part of war are difficult to evaluate politely.

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bianca steele 10.30.14 at 2:15 pm

jch: Arendt is being accused of impiety, even blasphemy.

Could you clarify?

I’m sure your paragraph would be helpful if I were trying to reconstruct Arendt’s philosophy in my own brain, either for scholarly purposes or because I thought it might lead to some important philosophical thinking. But since Arendt is sui generis, not representative of a school, it doesn’t seem especially important for any other reason. I like Richard Bernstein’s reconstruction of a defense of democratic discourse based on Arendt, but I’d guess much of it is Bernstein, rather than Arendt.

I tend to doubt that the objection made to Arendt by Gershom Scholem, a scholar of religious texts, turned on subtle distinctions made within political theory. Her American critics, largely being educated within Marxism, seem more likely to have. Possibly.

Bruce: Walzer’s argument, as I understand it, is that the moral difference you’re indicating rests on a bunch of conceptual, social, statistical, etc., factors, none of which is really relevant to the person with the gun in his or her hand. They substitute objective for subjective factors. If we abandon subjective descriptions of our acts, in the usual terms like “murder,” we lose the basis of moral life. (The problem, as I see it, is that this isn’t really a refutation of the arguments on the other side, but an importation of one into a discussion of the other, and besides, it glosses over questions about whether people might understand words like “murder” differently anyway.)

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J Thomas 10.30.14 at 2:20 pm

But it was still a war crime, and the implications above that it was an acceptable part of war are difficult to evaluate politely.

The Germans were practicing total war. They had to do that, to have any chance to win with their small population. They collected large numbers of foreign civilians and used them for forced labor, because there were simply not enough Germans to do the work. (It’s less defensible that they collected large numbers of foreign women, sterilized them, and used them as forced sex workers for German soldiers.)

The Germans killed or starved large numbers of Russian POWs. They did not have food for them, the humane alternative would have been to let them go home where they would contribute to the Russian war effort. (As it turned out, Stalin did not trust POWs who escaped. He figured that real escapes were nearly impossible, so escapees were probably spies and saboteurs sent by the Germans. He had them shot or sent to Siberia.)

The Germans had no compunction about bombing cities full of civilians. They didn’t realize that it was counterproductive, that it cost their war effort more than it cost the enemy’s.

They practiced collective punishment for civilian crimes and acts of resistance, a particularly horrible war crime that no civilized nation would ever do.

Etc etc etc. We chose to do total war also. Maybe if we hadn’t, we would have been better off. If the German war effort had lasted longer, they would have killed more Russians and destroyed more of Russia’s material wealth, so the USA would have been in a better position after the war. And we could have claimed the moral high ground also.

I dunno. I think if we were going to do something better, the most important thing would have been to negotiate a surrender. Like, all their important people could figure they would be killed after any surrender. That gave them a personal reason to put it off. If we could discuss surrender with them, and offer them a deal where most of them wouldn’t be killed, it might save hundreds of times their numbers in innocent deaths.

Similarly, we might make an offer about war crimes, maybe we’d kill only the 5 worst generals, and the 50 worst colonels and 500 worst majors and so on. It might not only help end the war sooner, it would give officers of all ranks an incentive to go easy on the war crimes.

One of the reasons we didn’t do that was that we had a 3-way alliance with Britain and the USSR, and it was easier to negotiate unconditional surrender as a goal with our friends. Any negotiation with the germans would require a lot of back-and-forth with the allies, and it would have been a lot of trouble.

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LFC 10.30.14 at 3:50 pm

War and genocide are different ‘activities’. But that doesn’t mean that any means used within a war are morally acceptable. If B. Wilder is trying to imply that @75, then I disagree with him.

@bianca steele re Walzer’s argument:
Walzer’s argument, as I understand it, is that the moral difference you’re [i.e., Bruce Wilder] indicating rests on a bunch of conceptual, social, statistical, etc., factors, none of which is really relevant to the person with the gun in his or her hand. They substitute objective for subjective factors. If we abandon subjective descriptions of our acts, in the usual terms like “murder,” we lose the basis of moral life.
I don’t think Walzer’s argument is mainly about “subjective” vs “objective” descriptions. He would agree that war and genocide are different but would disagree with B Wilder’s implication (if indeed that is his implication) that there are no moral standards for means used within war.

Walzer is working in the tradition of ‘just war theory’ and he argues that it is possible to make moral judgments about the acceptability of certain means used in war, as indicated by the evolution (reflected partly in the agreements of governments and partly in the writings of both soldiers and theorists) of a set of norms and rules that he calls ‘the war convention’. ‘The war convention’ is his term for jus in bello: it’s the rules and norms governing what means are considered acceptable in war.

The war convention says it is unacceptable to deliberately target noncombatants, which is what the bombing of cities in WW2 effectively did. However, Walzer argues there are or may be a few exceptional circumstances under which acts that would ordinarily violate the war convention may become justifiable. Churchill’s argument that Britain faced what he called “a supreme emergency” after the fall of France in 1940 amounted to an argument that bombing of cities was justifiable because it was the only offensive weapon Britain had against an enemy, Nazi Germany, that seemed poised to invade it, defeat it, and in effect complete the conquest of Europe w horrible consequences for the world as a whole. Walzer says this “supreme emergency” argument might well have had some (moral) force in 1940 but it had lost its force after the military tide turned against Germany (with Stalingrad and in N. Africa). Yet the city bombing continued after the military fortunes had shifted and after the “supreme emergency” had ceased to exist. Hence the city bombing — which in fact was most of it — that occurred after the end of the supreme emergency was an unjustifiable violation of the war convention, of the moral norms about acceptable means of war, because the extreme circumstances that might have justified it had ceased to exist. That’s Walzer’s basic argument on this particular issue: city bombing might have been justified when Britain’s back was against the wall, it was fighting for its survival against an evil power, and it had no other means of carrying the fight to the enemy, but as soon as those conditions changed city bombing could no longer be justified.

Walzer also responds specifically to what he calls the ‘utilitarian’ argument that continued city bombing (after the ‘supreme emergency’ ended) was justified because it would have ended the war sooner and at a lower overall cost in lives, i.e. those of Allied soldiers (and civilians). In other words, Walzer responds to and rejects the argument that it’s ok to kill large numbers of enemy civilians to save lives on your own side even when the extreme emergency has passed. That’s the context of the quote above, and in that context he says that even on a ‘utilitarian’ calculation the argument does not work because the ‘utilities’ — the things weighed and valued — have to include not just sheer numbers of lives but also the sense of oneself as acting in a minimally moral fashion, which killing large numbers of civilians doesn’t comport with. His use of the word “murder” here may be misleading and ill-advised, b.c it takes attention away from the basic argument, which is, I think, as I’ve just described it (or tried to).

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novakant 10.30.14 at 3:56 pm

A choice was in the hands of the Germans. The Japanese in July 1945 had a choice to surrender, to stop a cruel, unjust war, which they themselves had perpetrated.

“The Germans” and “the Japanese” didn’t have any choice at that stage – your use of the third person plural is rather imprecise. Or is it intentional?

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Anderson 10.30.14 at 4:14 pm

82: precisely. I suppose Iraq would’ve been justified in blowing me up a few years ago because “the Americans” had a chance to renounce torture and instead didn’t.

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J Thomas 10.30.14 at 5:01 pm

I’m not at all sure that concepts of morality apply to war. Morality is for individual human beings, not for governments, after all. But supposing it does apply….

It is morally wrong to fight a war you must lose. If you will lose anyway, it is better to surrender rather than cause the suffering of war on both sides.

Well, but what if the enemy will treat you even worse after they win? If there had been a jewish government somewhere in europe, should they have surrendered and accepted genocide rather than fight as hard as they could? Maybe sometimes it’s better to die in battle, causing as much damage as you can to the enemy, than to accept defeat. But OK, usually it’s wrong to fight when you must inevitably lose.

Well, but in reality you can’t be sure what the enemy will do. If they win a war will they genocide you, or will they treat you as a new ally and prop you up, or what? If you judge what to do by results, you have to guess the results. That’s so fraught with difficulties that some people prefer to create some sort of morality that’s independent of results.

But I say it’s immoral not to predict results and act on your predictions. If you’re reasonably sure that the results of not fighting are worse than the results of fighting, then you should fight. And vice versa. If you don’t care about the results then you are some kind of moral monster.

Say they want something that isn’t so bad, but it weakens you. Can you afford to give it to them? Like, say that several people want to take your weapons temporarily, because they don’t completely trust you. They promise to return them later when the emergency is over. That isn’t so bad. Say they insist that you let them tie you to a tree for a few minutes, to make sure you won’t interfere with their legitimate business. That isn’t so bad. If at that point they want to pull down your pants and explore your anatomy, it’s hard for you to argue. If you have anything worth fighting for, better to do it while you can.

So OK, how about if you are in a situation where you have good reason to fight. And if you fight clean you will lose. If you fight dirty you have a fair chance. But if you’re going to lose by fighting fair, you’re better off to just surrender and not fight at all, right? I say, if you’re fighting for a cause that’s worth fighting for, then it’s a cause that’s worth winning for. If it’s worth doing and you can’t win fighting clean, then it’s worth fighting dirty.

Well, but of course there are exceptions. Say it’s somebody who’s generally friendly, but you just have this minor disagreement about how to do things. He isn’t really going to hurt you, he just wants you to back down. You can stop him by killing him. Is that really a good idea?

Say for example that he has been your friend for awhile, he’s generally a good person and dependable and helpful, but right now he wants to have sex with you and he won’t take no for an answer. He’s a lot bigger than you, if you kill him you’re a murderer, if you hurt him it will make him mad. Isn’t it better to just go ahead and let him do it? He doesn’t sound like a great friend to me, but we have to fight/get-raped-by the friends we have, and not the friends we wished we had.

In general, usually, if it’s worth fighting for then it’s worth fighting dirty for — unless you can win without that.

And surrender is a big step. After you surrender, you are the victim and the victor does not have to give you any more choices. After you surrender, when you’re going through the cavity search to make sure you don’t have anything to use if you change your mind and decide to resist after all, you get to wonder whether you made the right choice. But it’s too late then. It really doesn’t matter whether you decide it was the right choice or not. You are part of the spoils of war and your ass is not yours any more.

Of course, some ways it’s better to be a pacifist and never fight.

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bianca steele 10.30.14 at 5:13 pm

LFC: You are probably correct. I suppose I was misled by the wording to assume that Walzer was making use of a specific argument against the utilitarian point of view, which is similar to one Michael Sandel has used, and others, as well (I think Charles Taylor). He may have simply been making a reasonable objection to the argument, rather than alluding to an entirely different argument (as I misread him as doing), and suggesting that the second argument should carry more weight. From what you say, it sounds like Walzer is actually setting different subjective (“thick”) descriptions against each other: “I’m defending my country against an existential threat” versus “I’m killing human beings who are no immediate threat to me” versus “I’m doing something fantastic, godlike, frightening, and horrendous”.

I also missed the importance of the timing, before and after 1942. So a right of self-defense trumps all other customary law and suchlike. But in all non-emergency circumstances we’re required to follow the law (as traditionally maintained) to maintain our sense of ourselves as moral? This is really his whole argument? (Also, if, say, in 1942 France began to face an existential threat, doesn’t that weaken his argument? Or, if Britain still faced an existential threat but the US did not, does the US entry into the alliance delegitimate the claim to self-defense?)

Anyway, it sounds as if the emphasis on utilitarianism is irrelevant, and he’d make the same argument against any deviation from custom. That is, he’s saying nothing interesting about utilitarianism, not even that it forces us to think of ourselves as things, not even that the law forbids it in particular.

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Anderson 10.30.14 at 5:34 pm

I am not a fan of Walzer’s book. The idea that “the only means available to us were war crimes” sounds difficult to distinguish from terrorists’ claims that they are doing what they can with the best means available, and if that includes hijacked jetliners turned into missiles, then oh well.

Leaving that aside, as Walzer seems to half appreciate, the “supreme emergency” justification applies to an imaginary war, not to WW2. Area bombing didn’t become UK policy until February 1942, by which time Russia and the US were both British allies and there was no “supreme emergency,” No sane person expected a German invasion of the UK after June 22, 1941, much less after Pearl Harbor.

(It was, I think, quite simply a deliberate decision to seek a mode of fighting Germany that didn’t put Britain’s relatively small population of combatant men in the field vs. the Wehrmacht. That is understandable, but then, many crimes are.)

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LFC 10.30.14 at 6:52 pm

Anderson @86
Comment noted; I will reply to it later.

Bianca Steele @85:
This is really his whole argument?
Well, it’s not his whole argument, it’s my necessarily somewhat truncated version of his argument in this one chapter of the book, chapter 16, “Supreme Emergency.” Since the book was orig. published in 1977, both the book as a whole and this chapter in particular have generated a fair amount of discussion and criticism, and Walzer himself revisited it (though not, iirc, backing away from it) in his collection of about 10 years ago called Arguing About War. (None of which I have time now to bring myself up to speed on and get into.) As for whether Walzer is saying anything interesting about utilitarianism here, you may be right that he isn’t. (I think I’ll prob. leave that particular question to the philosophy profs.)

I’d make one further general point, which is that Walzer sees WW2 as (close to) a paradigm of a justified war (not so much in the simplistic “good war” sense of popular commemorations but in the sense that the fight vs Nazism and fascism absolutely had to be won), and this no doubt colors how he deals w the specific issues, incl. the one being discussed here.

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LFC 10.30.14 at 6:59 pm

J Thomas @84
if you’re fighting for a cause that’s worth fighting for, then it’s a cause that’s worth winning for. If it’s worth doing and you can’t win fighting clean, then it’s worth fighting dirty.

I don’t know exactly what “worth” means here. If your position is that a just cause licenses the use of *any* means necessary to win and under any circumstances, then I disagree. On the other hand, a cause that is not simply justified but is one in which the most basic values of civilization are at stake, as was the case in WW2, will create sometimes v. difficult ends/means issues — see the discussion above.

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Bruce Wilder 10.30.14 at 7:02 pm

J Thomas @ 80

You’ve wandered off into a fantastical argument about the advisability of particular war aims, and are stacking the deck against the Allied decision in WWII to seek unconditional surrender. You’ll excuse me if I do not follow you far down your chosen rabbit hole. There had been experience with a negotiated end of war at Brest-Litovsk, Sèvres, and Versailles, as well as experience with negotiation at the beginning of the war. Allied war aims had been laid out in the Atlantic Charter, before the U.S. even entered the war as a full belligerent. Unconditional surrender was a perfectly sensible political means to political ends.

Regardless of the particular historical circumstances of WWII that explain and may justify the choice to seek unconditional surrender, attacking unconditional surrender as morally transformative is a false accusation — war is war — war, itself is the moral transformation, a departure from the realm of rational exchange of benefits and responsible bearing of costs into an irrational exchange of destruction and mayhem.

The means of war are all criminal in normal society, but more than that, the rational calculus that applies means to ends is partially displaced in critical ways by a commitment to irrational fury in the application of force. A belligerent is attacking its counterpart’s willingness to bear the destructive punishing of war as well as the counterpart’s means to destroy in turn. That a rational calculus is applied to choosing how to do those things can not disguise the commitment to irrationality involved in crossing over into a state of war.

This is what makes the concept of limits, of ethical or legal constraints in war so ambiguous. To make war is to commit to irrational fury and the suspension of most limits to the application of force. The point is sometimes made that war is rarely “worth the cost”, which is certainly true, but can miss that a commitment to irrationality is part of the essence of war. In game theory terms, it is not difficult to see why it might be rational to choose to be irrational, why punishing a cheater or bully might require a willingness to both bear and impose costs out of all proportion to the costs or benefits of cheating itself, or alternatively, why successfully pursuing the career of a cheater or bully might be enhanced by strategic irrationality. It is paradoxical, this switch from the moral imperatives of peace to the state of war.

Much of the strategy of war may be focused on reducing the capacity of the enemy to continue to make war — attacking supply lines, stores, industrial capacity and the like, but the essence of war is the violence, itself: the infliction of suffering aimed at the moral will to continue, combined with a demonstration of the will to continue despite the suffering that must be borne in turn to carry on the violent contest. That contest between the will to power embodied in contending states was exposed directly in the two World Wars in ways that it has not been in most wars, historically, because most wars have been the quarrels of princes, not peoples. The policy of seeking unconditional surrender was an acknowledgement that that was the nature of the contest; the policy did not make the contest what it already was and had been from the outset of the First World War.

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Anderson 10.30.14 at 7:02 pm

J Thomas’s argument amounts to “there are no war crimes,” which I would respectfully submit does not repay engagement. YMMV.

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Bruce Wilder 10.30.14 at 7:05 pm

Ethics is for individual human beings; morality is very much for societies and states.

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Bruce Wilder 10.30.14 at 7:06 pm

Or, all war is a crime, therefore . . . ?

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Anderson 10.30.14 at 7:33 pm

Bruce, if you really want to say that torturing & shooting prisoners (military or civilian), burning them in their homes, etc., etc., after horrible etc., is not any worse than war in general, then you are certainly free to do so.

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john c. halasz 10.30.14 at 7:40 pm

bianca steele @ 79:

Very much in the Socratic manner of failing to honor and uphold the gods of the city, only in this case, the “gods” were various ideological positions, socialism, Zionism, liberalism, and the like. (Scholem very definitely accused her of blasphemy, of lacking in love for the Jewish people, in a manner that other critics and detractors with other POVs would implicitly repeat).

Arendt isn’t writing political theory in any conventional sense; to the contrary, she is critiquing theoretical politics in general, the effort to make politics a matter of theory and its application, whether in the guise of philosophy or political science. In my view, she’s attempting to revive the sense of politics as practical reason, in the Aristotelian tradition, though in a modernized existential form, drawing on both Heidegger and Jaspers: “action” is a straight forward translation of the Greek “praxis”. and stands in for what others might term “freedom” or “liberty”. Rather than constructing a theory of politics, her basic topic is what it means to act politically, with “action” tied closely to speech, (and thus thinking and understanding), and crucially characterized by the capacity of initiation, origination, on the part of citizen-participants. “Power” for her is vested in the communicative generation of the public sphere, as the regulative basis of political community. (Hence public-political speech is the very opposite of violence, and she elaborates her distinctive conception of the political as the very opposite of totalitarianism, which, as destructive of all public political community, is the apotheosis if the anti-political. And thus she even rejects the notion of sovereignty, as rooted in violence,, which, er, limits the applicability and realism of her thinking.) “The social”, which she stigmatizes, is a reification, which treats citizens not as participant-agents but as objects of need and manipulation, hence it is a criticism of economistic and technocratic conceptions of politics. (Adorno, who she personally detested, wrote an article in the early ’60’s called “Society”, in which he makes a similar complaint, that modern society suffers from a surfeit and over-burdenment of the social, so her point is close to or parallel with Adorno’s hyperbole about the “totally administered society”). The appeal to an absurdly idealized and puristic conception of the Periclean polis is a move borrowed from Heidegger, who appealed to the Pre-Socratics as a means of deconstructing or dismantling the entire tradition of metaphysical theory. It stands for a pre-theoretical politics and serves as a riddling device, by which to examine and question contemporary political affairs and events at cross-grain. Hence Arendt can seem to be all over the place politically, now a conservation, nor a liberal, now a leftist, at least of a social democratic or democratic socialist variety, since a certain perspectivalism is part of her project. (Whether she was exactly a “democratic” thinker isn’t clear: politics is “a condition of equality rather than an equality of condition”. But she clearly belongs in the republican tradition of participatory citizenship). But she flips Heidegger in regarding natality rather than mortality as the mark of human finitude: i.e. an orientation toward future generations and the capacity of each generation to initiate, to begin again anew, in struggling to find a “habitable” world.

The best single secondary work on Arendt that I read was written by a Canadian from a leftist POV from U. of Saskatchewan, (Tommy Douglas country, no less):

http://www.amazon.com/Hannah-Arendt-Politics-Citizenship-Contemporary/dp/0804721467

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bianca steele 10.30.14 at 7:57 pm

jch: I interpret Scholem’s statement that Arendt lacked love for the Jewish people differently than you do. Not as an accusation of blasphemy but as an accusation of a character flaw.

Your claim that he or any of her critics would have agreed with your characterization of the case against her is implausible to say the least. I think you understand what I mean by “agreeing with your characterization” (and will also know what I mean when I say that by any objective standard they were all themselves “blasphemers”) so I’ll leave it there.

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Anderson 10.30.14 at 7:58 pm

94: John, is there a particular book or essay in which Arendt’s critique of “the social” is set forth?

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William Timberman 10.30.14 at 8:07 pm

War isn’t a crime, not as I understand the meaning of the word crime, but it is madness. It’s also a paradox, in that the benefits, if one can point to any, almost never accrue to the participants themselves, or to their immediate posterity. My father, a Depression era kid who survived three years of combat in the North African and European theaters of WWII, and a further year of it in Korea, was delighted, for himself and for his children, at the new refrigerators, cars, and TV sets of the mid-Fifties, and the seemingly secure prosperity they implied for him and his children, but he was a haunted creature nevertheless, and the rest of us in the family he was so bad at nurturing suffered for it in ways we were scarcely aware of at the time.

Call this echo of war’s madness the sins of the fathers, except that they aren’t exactly sins, and the sons aren’t entirely innocent themselves. If anything, they too are part of a recurring cycle in human relations, the inherent instability, or so it seems to me, of a negotiation between the impulses of the individual and the inertia of the group, the conflict between self and other, and above all, the fact that the group is governed by a sort of racial memory which no individual, however quick a study, can encompass in the short span allotted him.

At one level of analysis, Bruce Wilder is correct: war is a form of persuasion, an obscene form to be sure, but everyone, pacifists included, understands the rules, not least when there aren’t any rules, as in our fondly mythologized World Wars of recent memory. When my old ROTC instructors introduced us for the first time to von Clausewitz’s axiom that war should be understood as an extension of politics, I understood immediately that a) von Clausewitz was correct, that b) my instructors had absolutely no idea what that implied, and that c) I’d haphazardly, if not unwittingly, committed myself to a totally insane enterprise. It was lucky for me that I realized this before it got to the point where people were actually shooting at me. Many of my generation, unfortunately, were more trusting, and paid the price.

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Ze Kraggash 10.30.14 at 8:22 pm

‘Crime’ only exists in the context of ‘Law’. They did try to create a version of international law after WWII, but after the events of 1989 the US decided that it’s detrimental to its interests. So war is not a crime anymore. It’s back to being ‘continuation of politics by other means’.

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john c. halasz 10.30.14 at 8:37 pm

B.W. @91:

You have that backwards.

At any rate, “total war” and “genocide” are closely entwined matters. That systematic mass extermination of civilian populations accompanied a war of total aggression and conquest and that civilian populations were extensively targeted as a means of military strategy are not quite separate phenomena. Wars are generally uncontrollable, with no plans surviving actual contact with the enemy and all that. Which is why they are never “justified”, only more or less necessary, and only ever an extreme last resort, at least from the standpoint of rational policy. But once a war is underway, morality is in abeyance and becomes corrupted into patriotic “justification”, while legal regulation of war is moot, insofar as what is at stake are competing claims to the identity sovereign rule, as the source of law. “Justice” belongs to the victors, if any. In that sense, arguments from expediency, (which aren’t “utilitarian”, insofar as “utility” is not being sought, but rather destroyed), might be more relevant than efforts at legal regulation, in a legal interregnum. “Strategic” bombing was, in fact, ineffective and Hiroshima was probably unnecessary. That they were genocidal crimes is little in doubt, but that might go to how ineffective the concept of genocide is as a matter of international law. (It has been manipulated ever since it was formulated). Bluntly put, certain modes of conduct in warfare might do far more harm to establishing a sovereign claim than any “end” it might aim to achieve. But “great powers” will strive for domination nonetheless, which is why MAD might be the most that they can achieve.

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Anderson 10.30.14 at 8:38 pm

They did try to create a version of international law after WWII

It has occurred to me that perhaps I am seeing ignorance, not malice, in some of the foregoing comments.

The laws of war were not invented after World War II, nor have they been repealed. They may not be enforced, but that speaks to the weakness or corruption of the enforcing powers, not to the absence of law.

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Ze Kraggash 10.30.14 at 9:14 pm

“Laws of war” have nothing to do with what I was talking about. They don’t make war itself a crime. The UN charter does that (sort of), but now it’s a meaningless piece of paper.

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john c. halasz 10.30.14 at 9:29 pm

#95:

If it were a matter of simply a character flaw, that would be just an ad hominem. Was Arendt lacking in humility? (Haughty, arrogant, full of chutzpah, etc.) Well, wouldn’t that be precisely an aspect of impiety? At any rate, Arendt’s reply was convincing. She didn’t love any people, she only loved her friends. That she was Jewish was simply a natural fact of her existence, which she would never deny. But to make it central to who she was would be to indulge in self-love, narcissism. Arendt was a secularist. Scholem a Zionist, a Jewish nationalist, if of a moderate variety.

The issue isn’t whether her various critics agreed with her. Obviously, they didn’t, since they were criticizing her, from various POVs and on various grounds. The question is whether they bothered to try and grasp the points she was making or her overall POV. Often they seem not to have, just reasserted their priors with increasing indignation and outrage. I have no idea what an objective standard for blasphemy would be, outside of confining the term to one or another set of religious laws.

@96:

I read up on Arendt in the 1990’s, from both primary and secondary sources. So I can’t cite chapter and verse, only what I understood of her work. However, HC , where she lays out her “positive” thinking, is probably the clearest source on differentiating the social from the political, with the 3-fold distinction between labor, work, and action. (It’s also partly an implicit critique of Marx). The social is associated with the realm of necessity, determinism and conforming behavior, in contrast to the political as active engagement, the forging of a realm of freedom in community, “plurality”, with others. The influence of Heidegger’s “das Man” is obvious. But she styles it as the private concerns of the oikos increasingly pervading and dominating the affairs of the public-political realm, to the detriment of participatory citizenship.

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LFC 10.30.14 at 10:13 pm

Anderson @86
Area bombing didn’t become UK policy until February 1942, by which time Russia and the US were both British allies and there was no “supreme emergency”

Walzer, citing Noble Frankland, says the British “decision to bomb cities was made late in 1940” (p.255). In any case he’s clear that the supreme emergency had ended “long before the British bombing reached its crescendo” (261).

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LFC 10.30.14 at 10:17 pm

@Ze Kraggash
The UN Charter is not a meaningless piece of paper.
The violation of international law here is not “war” but aggression, which is not always a clear-cut determination but in some cases it is.

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LFC 10.30.14 at 10:22 pm

Clausewitz’s famous dictum, cited by a couple of commenters above, is actually not the most interesting or distinctive thing he said, but I’ll let others discuss that. John Keegan begins his A History of Warfare w a discussion of why he thinks the dictum is wrong, but maybe he was just trying to be contrary and sell books, not that Keegan needs to worry too much about that, I wouldn’t think.

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J Thomas 10.31.14 at 12:17 am

89 BW

Unconditional surrender was a perfectly sensible political means to political ends.

Yes, sure. I only want to point out that it is a strategy with undesirable consequences. But if your skills aren’t up to anything better then that’s what you’ll do, just like if you can’t think of anything better to do you will inaccurately bomb enemy cities, or nuke population centers, etc.

… war, itself is the moral transformation, a departure from the realm of rational exchange of benefits and responsible bearing of costs into an irrational exchange of destruction and mayhem.

Yes. So if you have a goal to get out of that hole, you should aim for a victory that is decisive, quick, and mild. Failing that, as it often fails, attempts to negotiate war might lead to amelioration of the war and a quicker end to it. That takes skill, and there’s a reasonable chance the skill won’t be available. But clumsy negotiation is not likely to lead to a worse outcome than demand for unconditional surrender. It’s reasonably cheap and relatively harmless.

The means of war are all criminal in normal society, but more than that, the rational calculus that applies means to ends is partially displaced in critical ways by a commitment to irrational fury in the application of force. A belligerent is attacking its counterpart’s willingness to bear the destructive punishing of war as well as the counterpart’s means to destroy in turn. That a rational calculus is applied to choosing how to do those things can not disguise the commitment to irrationality involved in crossing over into a state of war.

I see no need for irrationality in this, provided you can accept the somewhat inhuman starting assumptions to reason from.

This is what makes the concept of limits, of ethical or legal constraints in war so ambiguous. To make war is to commit to irrational fury and the suspension of most limits to the application of force. The point is sometimes made that war is rarely “worth the cost”, which is certainly true, but can miss that a commitment to irrationality is part of the essence of war.

This simply does not make sense to me. War need be no more irrational than high-stakes poker.

In game theory terms, it is not difficult to see why it might be rational to choose to be irrational, why punishing a cheater or bully might require a willingness to both bear and impose costs out of all proportion to the costs or benefits of cheating itself, or alternatively, why successfully pursuing the career of a cheater or bully might be enhanced by strategic irrationality.

I don’t see why you consider strategies which make perfect sense in game theory terms to be irrational.

Much of the strategy of war may be focused on reducing the capacity of the enemy to continue to make war — attacking supply lines, stores, industrial capacity and the like, but the essence of war is the violence, itself: the infliction of suffering aimed at the moral will to continue, combined with a demonstration of the will to continue despite the suffering that must be borne in turn to carry on the violent contest.

If you can persuade your enemy that your goals are limited and not that bad, and that you need not be a permanent or often-repeated enemy, that can have a great big effect on their will to continue. But if you are convinced that their goals are completely incompatible with yours, that they will use any remaining resources to carry on fighting later, that there is no acceptable conclusion but total victory, then maybe there’s nothing for it but to fight until they are dead or enslaved.

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J Thomas 10.31.14 at 12:20 am

89 BW

Unconditional surrender was a perfectly sensible political means to political ends.

Yes, sure. I only want to point out that it is a strategy with undesirable consequences. But if your skills aren’t up to anything better then that’s what you’ll do, just like if you can’t think of anything better to do you will inaccurately bomb enemy cities, or nuke population centers, etc.

… war, itself is the moral transformation, a departure from the realm of rational exchange of benefits and responsible bearing of costs into an irrational exchange of destruction and mayhem.

Yes. So if you have a goal to get out of that hole, you should aim for a victory that is decisive, quick, and mild. Failing that, as it often fails, attempts to negotiate war might lead to amelioration of the war and a quicker end to it. That takes skill, and there’s a reasonable chance the skill won’t be available. But clumsy negotiation is not likely to lead to a worse outcome than demand for unconditional surrender. It’s reasonably cheap and relatively harmless.

The means of war are all criminal in normal society, but more than that, the rational calculus that applies means to ends is partially displaced in critical ways by a commitment to irrational fury in the application of force. A belligerent is attacking its counterpart’s willingness to bear the destructive punishing of war as well as the counterpart’s means to destroy in turn. That a rational calculus is applied to choosing how to do those things can not disguise the commitment to irrationality involved in crossing over into a state of war.

I see no need for irrationality in this, provided you can accept the somewhat inhuman starting assumptions to reason from.

This is what makes the concept of limits, of ethical or legal constraints in war so ambiguous. To make war is to commit to irrational fury and the suspension of most limits to the application of force. The point is sometimes made that war is rarely “worth the cost”, which is certainly true, but can miss that a commitment to irrationality is part of the essence of war.

This simply does not make sense to me. War need be no more irrational than high-stakes pokar.

In game theory terms, it is not difficult to see why it might be rational to choose to be irrational, why punishing a cheater or bully might require a willingness to both bear and impose costs out of all proportion to the costs or benefits of cheating itself, or alternatively, why successfully pursuing the career of a cheater or bully might be enhanced by strategic irrationality.

I don’t see why you consider strategies which make perfect sense in game theory terms to be irrational.

Much of the strategy of war may be focused on reducing the capacity of the enemy to continue to make war — attacking supply lines, stores, industrial capacity and the like, but the essence of war is the violence, itself: the infliction of suffering aimed at the moral will to continue, combined with a demonstration of the will to continue despite the suffering that must be borne in turn to carry on the violent contest.

If you can persuade your enemy that your goals are limited and not that bad, and that you need not be a permanent or often-repeated enemy, this can have a great big effect on their will to continue. But if you are convinced that their goals are completely incompatible with yours, that they will use any remaining resources to carry on fighting later, that there is no acceptable conclusion but total victory, then maybe there’s nothing for it but to fight until the whole population of one side or the other are dead or enslaved.

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LFC 10.31.14 at 12:52 am

BW 89
That contest between the will to power embodied in contending states was exposed directly in the two World Wars in ways that it has not been in most wars, historically, because most wars have been the quarrels of princes, not peoples.

Of course the “people in arms” goes back to Revolutionary France and the wars of 1792-1815. (See e.g. my review post on D. Bell, The First Total War).

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J Thomas 10.31.14 at 12:58 am

#90 Andersen

J Thomas’s argument amounts to “there are no war crimes,” which I would respectfully submit does not repay engagement.

I don’t see how you got that from anything I said. It looks like a big leap.

Anything that a group of nations says is a war crime is a war crime.

Because they say so.

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J Thomas 10.31.14 at 1:04 am

Ethics is for individual human beings; morality is very much for societies and states.

Morality is usually something that societies and states enforce on individual human beings. It mostly isn’t something that societies and states enforce on each other.

Unless you consider war the enforcement of morality on immoral nations. It’s hard for me to develop much enthusiasm for that concept.

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MPAVictoria 10.31.14 at 2:25 am

Shorter J. Thomas: “Yeah, well, you know, that’s just, like, your opinion, man.”

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ZM 10.31.14 at 3:41 am

This last swerve into whether total war is justified/necessary/more ‘social’ etc is interesting in the light of how the OP sees Arendt’s critics as engaging in ‘dayenu in reverse’, or finding that no explanation can ever be enough, or sufficient to explain the Holocaust.

Reading the comments it seems as if looking at and judging the Holocaust invites comparisons between the horrors of total war and the horrors of the Holocaust.

There were more each of Chinese and of Russian/Soviet fatalities in WW2 than Jewish fatalities in the Holocaust. And the total number of war dead was higher by around a factor of 10 than the dead of the Holocaust. This counting does not make the Holocaust less of an evil. But I don’t think the fact of the event of the Holocaust makes total war less of an evil either.

The World Wars were only ‘justified’ or ‘necessary’ because of the preceding centuries of European colonialism, which at the start of World War 2 was still an endeavour in process. I think all of European colonialism was wrong — these World Wars were not necessary at all in fact, just the awful outcome of centuries of European wrongdoing in the world. But this is hardly ever mentioned — most mention goes to how WW2 was so important to preserve ‘our way of life’ etc, which is just nonsense — all the other European powers with their carving up of the world were as much to blame for the World Wars as Germany, and in fact they did have to give up most of their colonies after WW2 and then turned to smaller conflicts, never-ending weapons development, and trade to exploit people in other countries instead to keep their ‘way of life’.

Following the European colonial incursion into the Pacific, traditional sorts of war practices in some islands were disrupted. Wars were normally ritualised to a degree that limited or constrained the sorts of activities and the extent of the war-making — for instance if clans went to war because someone from clan A killed someone from clan B – the men could spend several days shooting arrows without hitting each other in a ritualised sort of warfare before eventually one man from clan A was killed and then the debt was cancelled. But in some areas the colonial disruption of ritual life led to a period where these local wars became much more ungoverned in the forms and extent of extreme violence, rape, and slaughter.

I bring up this unconstrained violence in the Pacific following colonialism, because ww2 was unconstrained in many similar ways. I think it is important to remember the Holocaust was part of World War 2 — not a thing standing separate to World War 2. World War 2 included the Holocaust as well as other transgressive acts of violence such as firebombing, and atom bombing. Noting the sort of transgressiveness of the violence of WW2 should not be confined to the violence of the Holocaust.

It is quite difficult to think about I think — the idea of ‘normal’ violence, and ‘transgressive’ violence. I probably am more on the side of thinking all violence is transgressive, but then it does become difficult to distinguish between different types of violence. If you think of Hector’s dead body being dragged around and around , that is an old sort of transgressive and unrestrained violence. But the problem of distinguishing between different sorts of violence is that then you might end up normalising or making heroic some sorts of violence, like a Nestor .

This makes me think violence and war might not be appropriate subjects for philosophy’s way of thinking. Because philosophy generally likes to classify and standardise and universalise and rank; I think philosophy would always end up with something like ‘just war’ theory, just by its very way of thinking about matters.

This unsuitability of philosophy might be one reason that Arendt’s work is found to be deficient, because using philosophy she can really only come up with universals like ‘thoughtlessness’ or ‘over-socialisation’ that could be applied to all sorts of people and events — so then the Holocaust is to a degree normalised. But even people that normalise some forms of violence see the Holocaust as a unique evil — I am not sure that philosophy as way of thinking can deal very easily with a unique evil.

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J Thomas 10.31.14 at 10:29 am

This makes me think violence and war might not be appropriate subjects for philosophy’s way of thinking.

I’m not sure about philosophy, but surely various academic disciplines apply.

Sometimes people disagree.
Sometimes they can agree to disagree.
When they can’t agree to disagree, they feel the need to dramatise the disagreement, to show that the situation is unacceptable.
In the extreme case, at least one side tries to force the others to obey.

So for example people cannot agree to disagree about abortion, because some of them think it is murder and they cannot just accept that other people commit murder without any punishment.

So their first recourse is to try to get the laws changed to force the others to obey them.

When that does not work fast enough, some of them commit acts of violence to show that the situation is intolerable.

Similarly with slavery. Some people were unwilling to agree to disagree, they believed that slavery was intolerable and they would not allow it. When they could not change the laws fast enough, they committed violence (John Brown etc) and eventually started a war.

Any issue where people agree to disagree, will not spark a war. Wars end when one side agrees to obey, or when they agree to disagree after all.

In the meantime, they may escalate the violence, not much different from a “bidding war”. Or they may not. It depends.

None of this is exactly irrational, though it may be counterproductive. People make a show of claiming that they have irrationally limited their own choices, hoping to win or to get a better deal by making the other side think they won’t give in. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it costs everybody more than anybody gains. But it works often enough that people gamble on it.

People emphasize that “irrational” hardening because they hope to win from it. Armies are less enthusiastic about fighting when there is active diplomacy going on that might reach a negotiated settlement. Nobody wants to be the last soldier to die before a wimpy compromise. People who want a solid victory think of that as a bad thing. If the war gets less intense then some ways the diplomacy gets easier and other ways harder. Less hate and dread but also less urgency to reach a solution. That is not a bad thing for people who want less killing.

Imagine that in 1864 the yankees had offered a temporary deal. The war ends, no execution of confederate politicians or generals, slaveowners compensated somewhat for their losses, southern states accepted back as full partners in the union. Would the confederacy have accepted and saved some face? It would have cost the North less than the last year of the war cost them, and ended the war a year early. If they had made that offer a year earlier, with more compensation, it could have cost less than the last 2 years of the war. It probably couldn’t work while the southerners thought they were winning, and it couldn’t work while northerners felt deeply that slaveowners should get nothing. Also there was the secession issue, some yankees felt that it was worth a high price to establish that no state could ever secede, and only tremendous suffering could stamp out the idea that individual states had an out. We had to show them that they absolutely had to obey the federal government no matter what.

That is the fundamental problem with negotiated settlements to wars. If the enemy is not crushed, if their will is not broken, if they still have the idea that they can choose for themselves, then you’ll have it all to do over again next time. Only by demonstrating that you are the victor and they are the victims, that you are the master and they are the slaves, can you create a lasting peace.

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Peter T 10.31.14 at 10:42 am

J Thomas

There’s this practice called “scholarship”. It involves checking facts. Try it sometime – it avoids a lot of irritation. For instance, it took me two minutes on Wikipedia to determine that your claim on the 2 million disappeared East Germans was false. On the US Civil War and compensation, you might like to know that buying slaveholders out was explicitly rejected by the secessionists, even where, as in Maryland, they had no prospect of maintaining the institution by force.

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J Thomas 10.31.14 at 10:43 am

But even people that normalise some forms of violence see the Holocaust as a unique evil — I am not sure that philosophy as way of thinking can deal very easily with a unique evil.

It isn’t all that unique. It’s unique in detail, like every historical event is unique. But there have been lots of genocides. This one was quantitatively worse than usual, partly because the world population has gotten so high and partly because the nations have gotten so big. People want to blow it all out of proportion for political reasons, and probably also for cultural ones.

Philosophy as a way of thinking can’t deal very easily with people’s will to see something as a unique evil.

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Ze Kraggash 10.31.14 at 10:53 am

@113, I highly doubt that a disagreement on some moral issue (abortion, slavery) ever caused a full-blown war. It might cause some disturbances or minor terrorist incidents, or it could be used as a pretext (for the fools), but states don’t go to war to enforce their moral views. Also, demonstrating to people that they are the victims and slaves is hardly the recipe for a lasting peace.

This wasn’t your finest deep thought.

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ZM 10.31.14 at 11:00 am

J Thomas,

“Any issue where people agree to disagree, will not spark a war. Wars end when one side agrees to obey, or when they agree to disagree after all.”

I think wars are more often about gaining territory or power and authority over a people, rather than moral disagreements. The USA civil war was about slavery – but it was also about not wanting to allow the confederate states to secede from the union.

Also, your argument is a very good example of why I think philosophy is unsuitable for understanding wars. You end up normalising war with your story of how wars start: Sometimes people disagree; Sometimes they can agree to disagree; If not they go to war.

If you tell the history of the wars – then you can have a terrible leader who does this – a hot tempered unruly warrior who does that etc. All these people do the wrong things and there is a war because of their defects of character multiplied together. Older people like Nestor telling high tales of battle also have a defect of character that encourages younger men to go to war and kill or be killed.

I think this sort of account where you would account for all the defects of all the people who started the war and fought in the war is much better than a philosophical account that normalises war.

If you did it properly, not just an example in an internet comment you would write up very affecting scenes. You could put in some stirring death bed scenes to bring out sympathy for the foolish young men who are roused into fighting and get killed , scenes of their mothers crying at the news, scenes of cruel atrocities to civilians that occurred so as to show that some of the soldiers were very cruel and evil not just foolish young men , and some scenes of the leaders who are making all the heartless decisions to send soldiers to battle from the safety of rooms with leather lounge suites and velvet curtains and so on.

As you can see, done properly this would show the waste and cruelty and transgressions of war, not make it seem normal like the story of ‘sometimes people disagree, and then they might agree to disagree or go to war’.

As your example is the civil war, you might be concerned that you would not want to make the union side of the civil war look bad at going to war, since abolishing slavery was important.

So then you start the story before the war – the terrible story of the cruel enslavement of African people, not being treated as fellow men and women, but as property and start the terrible story of the war with such villainous deeds — and then you would have the anti-slavery reformers – but all their reforming might come to nought since the confederate states try to secede – and then President Lincoln in his coat is facing the grave choice of letting the villainy of slavery continue in the confederate states, or going to war and wasting so many lives , and even some of the union soldiers being terribly terribly unruled in their violence….

But you would need to include many everyday peaceful scenes , which makes all the deaths all the more heart tugging and tragic and presents a counterpoint to the violence – or else you would end up making it look like villainy and violence is so commonplace it is normal, and then you would have normalised war just the same.

“Only by demonstrating that you are the victor and they are the victims, that you are the master and they are the slaves, can you create a lasting peace.”

Maybe I have misunderstood – but I do not think that is a way of creating a lasting peace unless you hope to be master of everyone, and all of them slaves. And I just went to the trouble of showing how you should tell the story of the civil war so slavery is as bad as war, so going to war becomes a grave choice because not going to war is perhaps as bad as going to war since slavery is as bad as war. So you can’t then argue that everyone should be your slaves to make a lasting peace – that would completely ruin the point about slavery being as bad as war.

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ZM 10.31.14 at 11:02 am

“Philosophy as a way of thinking can’t deal very easily with people’s will to see something as a unique evil.”

Yes, that is probably why a philosophical approach will be met with the ‘dayenu in reverse’ criticism.

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J Thomas 10.31.14 at 12:17 pm

#114 Peter T.

On the US Civil War and compensation, you might like to know that buying slaveholders out was explicitly rejected by the secessionists, even where, as in Maryland, they had no prospect of maintaining the institution by force.

So? Was it rejected in April 1864? The south was decisively losing by that point, though it didn’t show all that much. The valley campaign was about to start, Sherman’s march to the sea was coming, etc. You don’t know whether the enemy has changed their minds until you ask.

For instance, it took me two minutes on Wikipedia to determine that your claim on the 2 million disappeared East Germans was false.

In 4.5 minutes the closest I found was this:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demographic_estimates_of_the_flight_and_expulsion_of_Germans

It is about Germans who were in eastern europe, who were persecuted and/or tried to get home.

The number of those who died was estimated at maybe 2.2 million, but more recently the number has been revised downward to more like 500,000 by throwing out all the cases where they couldn’t prove the people were killed.

The original numbers were criticized for various reasons — some of the dead could be considered not Germans living in Poland but in fact Poles, a few of them were German Jews, close to half were people who simply disappeared and nobody knew what happened to them so it’s only an assumption that they are dead, etc.

The original numbers may have been inflated for political purposes, and the proposed revised numbers may have been deflated for political purposes.

I also found this:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Forced_labor_of_Germans_in_the_Soviet_Union

The claim is that only about 220,000 germans were sent to Russia as slave laborers, from all of eastern europe, and by 1950 200,000 of them had been sent home.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Forced_labor_of_Germans_in_the_Soviet_Union
This one gives larger figures for germans sent to the USSR, and more deaths, partly because it includes different categories.

Some of the results are contaminated by 1.4 million germans who were Soviet citizens. these were mostly sent to concentration camps and maybe 45% of them died in the camps. But of course they were not german citizens, just as many of the germans who died in the disorders of eastern europe as the german occupation ended and the Soviet occupation began were Polish citizens, or Czech, or whatever.

So what I found was about ethnic germans in all of eastern europe except Russia, and the numbers for that are not very reliable. The numbers for East Germany should be easier, just find the German numbers for everybody who was living there in 1944 (though they had no reason to separate out those individuals since in 1944 they had no idea where the zones of occupation would be). Compare that to the census in East Germany after things got organized there. Count the people missing and find out what happened to them. I couldn’t possibly do that in 2 minutes, but it makes sense that if 2 million East Germans disappeared the people who for political reasons wanted to emphasize high numbers would have been quoting 4.2 million and not 2.2 million. So the people I heard that from probably got it wrong.

And of course, Germans were unpopular in eastern europe after the war, so a lot of them got killed in various ways. It’s certainly less the Russians’ fault if they fail to protect Germans from lynch mobs, than if they put germans in concentration camps and kill them. (But then they did that too, and by reasonable estimates maybe half a million or 600,000 or so died that way. But that’s only a deci-holocaust. And mostly Soviet citizens, while a whole lot of the Jews the Germans killed were Polish etc. I guess it makes some sort of subtle difference whether you’re doing it to your own citizens or not.)

For instance, it took me two minutes on Wikipedia to determine that your claim on the 2 million disappeared East Germans was false.

How did you do that in 2 minutes? It took me 4 minutes to find something related and several minutes more to deduce by unreliable logic that it applied to indirectly provide evidence about the original claim.

And how does any of this apply to the point I was making when I used the “I heard that” example?

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J Thomas 10.31.14 at 12:55 pm

#114 Ze Kraggash

I highly doubt that a disagreement on some moral issue (abortion, slavery) ever caused a full-blown war. It might cause some disturbances or minor terrorist incidents, or it could be used as a pretext (for the fools), but states don’t go to war to enforce their moral views.

Large groups of people seldom do things for only a single reason. Usually when people think about starting a war, there are various individuals or groups that have a veto or a quasi-veto. The more of them that line up on the war side, the more likely we get the war.

The military has a quasi-veto. Like, they don’t want to start a war with Iran today.

Often religious figures have a quasi-veto. When they come out in favor of a war, it makes the war more probable.

The public does better with some deep emotional rallying cry. That matters more when the war drags on. We did fine in Panama without one, but if somehow the war had dragged on then “Noriega is a drug lord” and “We were wrong to give them the canal, it’s ours!” would have worn thin. Similarly “Remember the Maine”.

It helps when there are specific strategic advantages to fight for — like the canal.

There are lots of factors. The more of them that line up, the more likely the war. People who have a fervent moral stand that somebody is getting away with something and must be forced into line, is one important factor.

Also, demonstrating to people that they are the victims and slaves is hardly the recipe for a lasting peace.

Well, but lots of people believe it is. It’s the strongest argument against a negotiated peace. See, if the evil enemy gets a chance for a cease-fire, they will build up their strength and whenever they think they have the best chance, they will attack again. It’s pretty much inevitable for evil enemies. It takes an unconditional surrender to give us the leverage to make sure they never get the independence to start another war.

Surely you’ve heard that argument? As recently as 2003? We’d beaten Saddam once, and now here he was, making trouble again. And he had so many surgically-altered body doubles that we couldn’t assassinate him. The only possible solution was to get rid of him once and for all and set up a liberal democracy in Iraq in his place.

Isn’t it plausible? If you can’t agree to disagree, and somebody will keep doing awful things until you make him stop, then the only possible solution is to kill him or control him so he doesn’t do what he wants but has to do what you want instead. When he knows you can whip him any time you want to, that he can’t get away with anything, so he doesn’t try to do what he wants but instead he does what you want, then he’s your slave and you don’t have to fight him.

Even if it doesn’t work, it’s the only imaginable good outcome. Except to, you know, *persuade* him. But you can hardly depend on that!

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Ze Kraggash 10.31.14 at 1:57 pm

I like reading your comments, J Thomas. Most of the time. I perceive them as ironic. I don’t know whether you write all this ironically or seriously, and I don’t really care, because perceived as ironic they are often entertaining. They make me smile. Thanks.

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J Thomas 10.31.14 at 2:26 pm

Thank you, Ze Kraggash. I am not being ironic.

When I was in junior high school I read a science fiction novel built around a concept called “general semantics”. This was a mental discipline that was supposed to give useful results. The claim was that people often respond to things automatically, without really thinking. But if you do what they called a “cortico-thalamic pause”, you can get past the instant automatic response. Then it might take a second or two for the automatic emotional response to kick in, because some human feelings come from hormones etc which take time to travel from their points of release to their destinations. The emotional stuff also colors our thinking. So you allow for that, and you wind up with a chance to evaluate things more carefully. This was supposed to have various advantages.

When I did a careful library search, I found that there really was a general semantics movement, and they really did advocate something they called a “general semantic pause”, and they promoted exercises to train it. I tried the exercises and could somewhat make them work.

Sometimes when I did that and things made sense, I noticed an automatic response. Something in me wanted to scream at me. “No, it doesn’t make sense! It can’t make sense! It isn’t supposed to make sense!” On various topics, I had an instinctive aversion to making sense. I was not supposed to think about those things. But usually I did anyway. And often other people would get upset. They would say I was cynical, or ironic, or nihilistic, or evil. Sometimes they would bring up irrelevant side issues to show that I was wrong about something and therefore wrong about everything.

I haven’t learned how to use this very well. Usually it doesn’t provide money-making ideas, though occasionally it does. I prefer to express it online where I won’t get punched in the jaw, I think my TMJ comes from getting punched in the jaw too much.

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Ze Kraggash 10.31.14 at 2:46 pm

So, the stuff about evil enemies who ‘we’ need to control is serious? How odd then that just last year you were voted the greatest threat to peace in the world today.

How can you not be ironic? What am I missing?

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J Thomas 10.31.14 at 2:52 pm

How can you not be ironic? What am I missing?

Sorry, I guess I was switching contexts. I try to see things from other people’s points of view, and sometimes I don’t label the switches in perspective carefully enough.

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Ze Kraggash 10.31.14 at 3:10 pm

Okay, then I got it right. It’s all good and clear.

126

Anderson 10.31.14 at 5:49 pm

I am trying to picture the U.S., having fought 4 years and sacrificed hundreds of thousands of young men, going on to enrich the defeated rebels by buying their slaves at 1861 prices.

… Nope. Can’t picture it.

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J Thomas 10.31.14 at 7:34 pm

#126 Anderson

I am trying to picture the U.S., having fought 4 years and sacrificed hundreds of thousands of young men, going on to enrich the defeated rebels by buying their slaves at 1861 prices.

… Nope. Can’t picture it.

No, I can’t either. I can sort of picture making the offer when the South appeared to be winning, knowing they would reject it. By the time they might be ready to actually make a deal, I expect the offered price would drop to less than it cost to run the war for a year.

I made a quick attempt to get numbers on the cost of the war, but most of the sources I found were kind of nutty. Estimates of the cost of the war to the North varied from around $3 billion to more like $7 billion. In 1860 the national debt was $65 million and in 1865 it was $2.7 billion, pus the government had issued a lot of unsecured greenbacks, and taxes were high. Say the last 12 months of the war might have cost $1.5 billion, plus continuing costs for veterans and veterans’ families over the next 60 years or so.

There were 3.75 million slaves, which would come out to $400 each, a princely sum. Far too high. It might make more sense to offer $100 each to the 1 million southern soldiers to help them get back on their feet as farmers etc. That would likely do more to help end the war, but of course you can hardly give $100 to the rebel soldiers unless you do it for 2.2 million yankee soldiers too.

I’d be tempted to offer to do one or the other and let them choose. But if you actually want an offer to be accepted you don’t want the other side to spend too much time fighting each other over it. Besides, that sort of thing makes them doubt your sincerity.

Looking at the inaccurate numbers, I think they probably could not afford so much. But there were useful offers they could make.

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Bruce Wilder 10.31.14 at 10:41 pm

J Thomas: Unconditional surrender reduces the distinction between war and genocide. If the other side says “Please, we want to surrender, we’ll do anything but please don’t genocide us”, you respond “Unconditional surrender only. We might genocide you after you surrender. You have to surrender with no promises of any sort, and then the war will be over.”

I think that’s a rather wilful misunderstanding of what “unconditional surrender” entailed. Presenting the count of Germans, who “disappeared” in the course of the war and subsequent displacement of population, implying a genocide, makes it offensive as well as wilful. Stupid should not be mistaken for an argument.

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Bruce Wilder 10.31.14 at 11:03 pm

Anderson @ 93: if you really want to say that torturing & shooting prisoners (military or civilian), burning them in their homes, etc., etc., after horrible etc., is not any worse than war in general, then you are certainly free to do so.

I do not want to argue that.

john c halcz: At any rate, “total war” and “genocide” are closely entwined matters. That systematic mass extermination of civilian populations accompanied a war of total aggression and conquest and that civilian populations were extensively targeted as a means of military strategy are not quite separate phenomena.

We certainly seem to have difficulty making useful and meaningful distinctions.

When I quipped @ 91, “Ethics is for individual human beings; morality is very much for societies and states”, I was perfectly aware that “morality” and “ethics” are often used interchangeably. I was suggesting that there ought to be different terms, representing different concepts, which would allow us to talk sensibly about the moral status of states and their policies or programs of action, as opposed to the choices and behavior of an individual relative to other individuals.

It is the relationship of the individual to the organization, with organization as a source of political power, that creates this puzzling situation in which an otherwise insignificant individual can see his power amplified, but his ethical sense and responsibility blunted.

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J Thomas 10.31.14 at 11:52 pm

#128 Bruce Wilder

“J Thomas: Unconditional surrender reduces the distinction between war and genocide. If the other side says “Please, we want to surrender, we’ll do anything but please don’t genocide us”, you respond “Unconditional surrender only. We might genocide you after you surrender. You have to surrender with no promises of any sort, and then the war will be over.”

I think that’s a rather wilful misunderstanding of what “unconditional surrender” entailed.

OK, how is “unconditional surrender” defined in your world?

Here’s how it’s defined in my world:

An unconditional surrender is a surrender in which no guarantees are given to the surrendering party.

In today’s world, you might figure that a nation which has signed the Geneva conventions etc has promised they will not do genocide, they will not do population transfer, they will not do collective punishment, etc. This is very much a response to WWII when those agreements had not been made.

These promises are not promises to the surrendering nation, to which no gurantees are given.

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ZM 11.01.14 at 12:45 am

To continue with the Robert Lowell perspective on Arendt’s book and related events – Robert Lowell’s conscientious objection to WW2 was based in part on his worry about the US terms of unconditional surrender.

From his letter to FDR:

“Dear Mr President:
I very much regret that I must refuse the opportunity you offer me in your communication of August 6, 1943 for service in the Armed Force. I am enclosing with this letter a copy of the declaration which, in accordance with military regulations, I am presenting on Septer 7 to Federal District Attorney in New York. […} You will understand how painful such a decision is for an American whose family traditions, like your own, have always found their fulfillment in maintaining, through responsible participation in both the civil and military services, our country’s freedom and honor.”

“Declaration of Personal Responsibility

Orders for my induction into the armed forces on September eighth 1943 have just arrived. Because we glory in the conviction that our wars are won not by irrational valor but through the exercise of moral responsibility, it is fitting for me to make the following declaration which is also a decision.

Like the majority of our people I watched the approach of this war with foreboding. Modern wars had proved subversive to the Democracies and history had shown them to be the iron gates to totalitarian slavery. On the other hand, members of my family had served in all our wars since the Declaration of Independence: I though – our tradition of service is sensible and noble; if its occasional exploitation by Money, Politics and imperialism allowed to seriously discredit it, we are doomed.

When Pearl Harbor was attacked, I imagined that my country was in intense peril and come what might, unprecedented sacrifices were necessary for our national survival. In March and August of 1942 I volunteered, first for the Navy and then for the Army. And when I heard reports of what would formerly have been termed atrocities, I was not disturbed: for I judged that savagery was unavoidable in our nation’s struggle for its life against diabolic adversaries.

Today these adversaries are being rolled back on all fronts and the crisis of war is past. But there are no indications of peace. In June we heard rumors of the staggering civilian casualties that had resulted from the mining of the Ruhr Dams. Three weeks ago we read of the razing of Hamburg, where 200,000 noncombatants are reported dead, after an almost apocalyptic series of all out air-raids.

This, in a world still nominally Christian, is news. And now the Quebec Conference confirms our growing suspicious that the bombings of the Dams and of Hamburg were not mere isolated acts of military expediency, but marked the inauguration of a new long-term strategy , indorsed and co-ordinated by the our Chief Executive.

[…] Our rulers have promised us unlimited bombings of Germany and Japan. Let us be honest: we intend the permanent destruction of Germany and Japan. If this program is carried out, it will demonstrate to the world our Machiavellian contempt for the laws of justice and charity between nations, it will destroy any possibility of a European or Asiatic national autonomy; it will leave China and Europe, the two natural power centers of the future, to the mercy of the USSR, a totalitarian tyranny committed to a world revolution and total global domination through propaganda and violence.

[…] With the greatest reluctance, with every wish that I may be proved in error, and after long deliberation on my responsibilities to myself, my country and my ancestors who played responsible parts in it is making, I have come to the conclusion that I cannot honorably participate in a war whose prosecution, as far as I can judge, constitutes a betrayal of my country.”

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LFC 11.01.14 at 1:33 am

john c. halasz @99

Wars are generally uncontrollable, with no plans surviving actual contact with the enemy and all that. Which is why they are never “justified”, only more or less necessary, and only ever an extreme last resort, at least from the standpoint of rational policy. But once a war is underway, morality is in abeyance and becomes corrupted into patriotic “justification”, while legal regulation of war is moot, insofar as what is at stake are competing claims to the identity sovereign rule, as the source of law.

I think some of this is quite wrong. Some wars (probably not many, but a few) are indeed justified. This has nothing to do with whether wars are “uncontrollable.” The justness of a cause (jus ad bellum) is independent of the rightness/justness of the means (jus in bello). A just war can be fought unjustly, and vice versa.

And I have rather little idea what “while legal regulation of war is moot, insofar as what is at stake are competing claims to the identity sovereign rule, as the source of law” means. It’s sounds like a mashup of Schmitt and some other people, but I really don’t know.

(Btw, there’s a recent book by Werner Sollors, Temptations of Desire: Tales from the 1940s, that has what I gather is a highly unflattering chapter about Schmitt. Haven’t had a chance to read it yet.)

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LFC 11.01.14 at 1:35 am

further to john c. halasz:
once a war is underway, morality is in abeyance

This means, to me at least, that there are no moral restraints on what can be done and what means can be used in war. Which as a proposition is dangerous and pernicious.

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LFC 11.01.14 at 1:46 am

Correction:
The Sollors title is Temptation of Despair, not Temptations of Desire. Which makes more sense. I’ve had a little wine, and it’s Halloween, so I prob. shdn’t be trying to write blog comments.

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john c. halasz 11.01.14 at 2:28 am

B.W. @129:

Insofar as morality and ethics are to be distinguished, morality concerns what is right and ethics concerns what is good.. Hence morality should be associated with private personal conduct and ethics with public and collective matters. If rightness trumps goodness or collective goods, then the collective or public good tends to suffer, since it is held hostage to competing claims to absolute rightness. “Social justice” is always a compromised formation, insofar as it is never completely right, nor completely good, but involves conflicts between the two. However, a good many issues at stake in the matter are not amenable to moral criteria, “obey” different criteria, and to try and subsume them in such terms does damage both to the right and the good.

I think what you mean by the “moral”, with respect to states, would be better termed “existential”. Just what sort of body-politic, given the constraints and conditions under which it operates, is it to be? By rendering such terms of political survival as “moral”, one gives way to the utter corruption of “morality”, and the absence of constraints.

For the rest, I think your comment is spot on.

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J Thomas 11.01.14 at 2:47 am

#113 LFC

“once a war is underway, morality is in abeyance”

This means, to me at least, that there are no moral restraints on what can be done and what means can be used in war. Which as a proposition is dangerous and pernicious.

It isn’t necessarily true.

Combatants often agree to social norms even in warfare. For example, it isn’t unusual for both sides to have chemical weapons, and have an implicit agreement not to use them. They both play tit-for-tat, they will use theirs if the other side does, but not before.

That failed in the Iraq/Iran war. The Iraqi army was threatened by large numbers of poorly-armed Iranian troops. The USA estimated that gas attacks would give Iraq an advantage, they were better able to make the attacks, and better able to resist them. We gave them the gas factories and monitored the results.

Armies often have an implicit or explicit tradition that soldiers who surrender will not be killed but will be taken prisoner and treated humanely. Sometimes that fails, particularly when it can be hidden, particularly early in the surrender process. Armies arrange prisoner exchanges, and track how humanely their own people were treated, to influence how they treat future POWs.

After big battles they may arrange temporary truces so the bodies can be moved from the battlefield or buried.

Warfare is a highly social, cooperative affair even among adversaries, and that cooperation can break down sometimes. Or sometimes it can be extended further.

In the Pacific WWII, the Japanese army developed a tradition that it was shameful to ever surrender. The US Marines particularly believed stories that surrenders were usually traps, with wounded soldiers booby-trapped etc. They often maintained a policy to take no prisoners. So for example, out of 22,000 Japanese troops on Iwo Jima, 789 became POWs.

Unlike the Nazis, the Japanese did not maintain their stocks of chemical weapons to use if the US troops used them first. The USA claims they did not use such things even though the Japanese could not hit back, and I have not seen anybody claim otherwise. We had plans to gas japanese cities, with an estimated 5 million deaths, as part of an invasion of japan. But it didn’t happen.

I think the Americans and Germans shared more culture, and so they fought with more rules. There was less overlap with the Japanese, and so the brutality was less rule-bound.

In a war people *can* throw away all the rules. But usually they don’t.

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john c. halasz 11.01.14 at 3:15 am

LFC:

There was a typo there. It should be ” the identity of sovereign rule”. That would be how I would characterize what is at stake in most, if not all, wars. IOW given that wars are generally a negative-sum, not merely a zero-sum, “game”, something must be super-added to whatever the originating and ostensible “issues” are, territory, resources, ethnicities, or whatnot, to explain why they occur. I generally don’t think wars advisable. But once they occur, I think legal norms, which must derive from some sovereign-like source, have been breached, else some other means of conflict resolution would have been of avail. So I tend not to think that “just war” theory, or claims to “international law” are of much use, in clarifying or resolving the issues. It tends toward pedantry, if not tendentious advocacy, without dealing with the power dynamics at stake. Most wars nowadays tend to be “asymmetrical” and “low-intensity” conflicts, which speaks to the power imbalances actually at work.

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ZM 11.01.14 at 3:17 am

“Insofar as morality and ethics are to be distinguished, morality concerns what is right and ethics concerns what is good.”

That isn’t correct.

If we look at the dictionary as I like to do then we see there is not too much difference between morals and ethics, and what difference there is, it is not the above given difference. The main difference is that in English if we like to borrow from the latin we use morals, and if we like to borrow from the Greek we use ethics.

Another main difference is that because of Aristotle’s great fame ethics is very much associated with his philosophy book on ethics – so the word ethics carries with it the idea of a system of morality . You do not often read a fairy tale and at the end say “X is the ethic of the story”, but you do this with morals, since they are not influenced by Aristotle ‘s fame to the same extent

moral :
Etymology: < Anglo-Norman and Middle French moral (late 13th cent. in Old French in phrase vertu morale : see moral virtue n.; c1370 modifying other nouns; 1403 in philosophie morele ; late 17th cent. in sense ‘founded on opinion, sentiment or belief and not on meticulous facts or reasoning’; mid 18th cent. in sense ‘relating to the soul or spirit, as opposed to the physical’) and their etymon classical Latin mōrālis concerned with ethics, moral < mōr- , mōs custom (plural mōrēs habits, morals (compare mores n.); of unknown origin) + -ālis -al suffix1. Classical Latin mōrālis was formed by Cicero ( De Fato ii. i) as a rendering of ancient Greek ἠθικός ethic adj. (mōrēs being the accepted Latin equivalent of ἤθη).

Moral seems to be in English in the 1300s, but first together with virtue as in moral virtue

a. Of or relating to human character or behaviour considered as good or bad; of or relating to the distinction between right and wrong, or good and evil, in relation to the actions, desires, or character of responsible human beings; ethical.
Recorded earliest in moral virtue n.

▸c1387–95 Chaucer Canterbury Tales Prol. 307 Sownynge in moral vertu was his speche.
▸a1402 J. Trevisa tr. R. Fitzralph Defensio Curatorum (1925) 81 (MED), No man may feyne þat the forseide heeste is cerymonial..For hit is verrey moral, longynge to good þewes.
▸c1449 R. Pecock Repressor (1860) 155 Sum vntrewe opinioun of men..is leding into deedis whiche ben grete moral vicis.

Ethics:
Etymology: Originally < Middle French ethiques, ethyques title of a treatise on morals by Aristotle, branch of knowledge dealing with moral principles (both c1370; compare earlier ethique ethic n.), use as noun of plural of ethique , ethyque ethic adj., after post-classical Latin ethica Aristotle's Ethics (c1330, c1440 in British sources; compare liber ethicorum book of Ethics (from c1250 in British sources)), itself after ancient Greek τὰ ἠθικά (plural noun) treatise on morals (Aristotle)

Moral principles, or a system of these.
1.
a. With sing. or pl. concord. Now usu. with capital initial. (The title of) a study of or treatise on moral principles; spec. that of Aristotle.

?a1425 Bible (Wycliffite, L.V.) (Claud.) (1850) Dan. xi. 36 Gloss., The filosofore in j. book of Etikis clepith fleisli liyf, ether lustful liyf, beestli liyf.
c1450 Pilgrimage Lyfe Manhode (Cambr.) (1869) 71 (MED), This is that Aristotle seith in etiques.
?1483 Caxton tr. Caton i. sig. avii, The phylosopher sayth in the viii book of ethyques, that [etc.].
1532 L. Cox Art or Crafte Rhetoryke sig. A.viv, Arystotle in the fyfte of his Ethikes deuideth Iustice in two speces or kyndes.
1550 R. Sherry tr. Erasmus Declam. Chyldren in Treat. Schemes & Tropes sig. K.vv, Thou shuldest reade ye offices of Cicero, or the Ethickes of Aristotle..

b. With sing. or †pl. concord. The branch of knowledge or study dealing with moral principles.

(a) Generally, or with reference to personal or religious responsibilities.
1589 T. Nashe Anat. Absurditie sig. Ci, Neither is there almost any poeticall fygment, wherein there is not some thing comprehended, taken out..of the Phisicks or Ethicks.
(b) With reference to a wider sphere that includes law and politics as well as personal conduct and religion.
1765 W. Blackstone Comm. Laws Eng. I. Introd. 27 Jurisprudence..is the principal and most perfect branch of ethics.
c. With pl. concord. Moral principles; maxims, precepts, or observations concerning these.
1651 R. Baxter Plain Script. Proof 288 God's laws, standing at the top of our Ethicks.

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john c. halasz 11.01.14 at 3:39 am

ZM:

Believe it or not, I didn’t learn philosophy from a dictionary.

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Bruce Wilder 11.01.14 at 3:49 am

The demand for unconditional surrender by the Allies was an explicit statement of what it would take to end the war and the war’s killing. The Allies were promising an end to the war in return for unconditional surrender. The fact that unconditional surrender carries no collateral promises is irrelevant, because the main point is that the fighting and killing stop.

To insist against all reason that unconditional surrender could have meant that the Allies would just go on killing Germans willy nilly because Germans had not exacted an explicit promise to the contrary is tendentious reasoning at best. At worst, it excuses Nazi Germany for the exceptional nature of their conduct during the war.

Unconditional surrender by a state (as opposed to an army) is a surrender of sovereignty. It was a prerequisite for the Allied policy of occupation and reconstruction under the supervision of the Allied powers. This was its political significance.

The implication that conventions of international law governing treatment of persons and conduct in war were solely a product of WWII is historically false. The Lieber Code was sent as instructions to the United States armed forces by Abraham Lincoln in 1863. The Hague Conventions were drawn in 1899 and 1907. The first three Geneva Conventions date to 1864, 1906, 1929.

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Bruce Wilder 11.01.14 at 5:04 am

john c. halasz @ 135

I have sometimes used “ethics” for the prescriptive rules of conduct that are part of the equipment of any institution, and then used “morality” for the more universal sense or appreciation of good and bad, right and wrong. I know others sometimes follow a similar convention, but not with enough consistency to create authority.

I don’t like to concede that morality is ever entirely “personal”, since it seems to me to be essentially social. Robinson Crusoe, without Friday, has no need of ethics or morality — he can bumble thru on taste, impulse and instinct. Neither morality nor ethics — however you distinguish one from the other — will make much sense without social interaction and cooperation. However we imagine morality and ethics arising in social milieu — whether from below or above, from within the sympathy and fellow affection of the heart or from without the expedient politesse of the madding crowd — it is social and therefore, inescapably political.

I’m not sure what you have in mind concerning the “existential” moral status of states. The state is, by definition, in the business of providing public goods and governing through the administration of justice in the arbitration of disputes. A particular state may not be competent or trustworthy in the execution of those tasks, but those are the tasks of the state whether well done or not. The role of the state in instituting the rules of the game of politics and social cooperation entails a great deal of moral reasoning. A state feeds on moral legitimacy and must be able to supply equity on demand. It is no accident that makes loyalty to the state a moral imperative of the highest ethical character, nor is it mere historical incident that the strongest states celebrate ideological commitments among their founding myths. Or that we are here discussing some of the greatest crimes in history as the product of a morally degenerate state.

It may be that the large bureaucratic organization has been ubiquitous for too short a time for humans to have a really good handle on ethics and morality in that context, even though it is how most of us live most of our professional lives now. Imho, where “total war” and genocide intersected was not the common reduction of ethics or moral vacuum, per se, but, rather, industrialization. It was the industrialization of warfare and the industrialization of inchoate reactionary political sentiments that created the common shocks of WWII. The shocking idea that the vaunted German industrial machine would implement the insane rantings of a vicious antisemitism as an industrial and logistical program of vast scope is what Arendt was left to reflect upon.

I though bob mcmanus’ comment was one of the best: that the critics do not understand Arendt because they are of a different generation — the critics have their own experiences as unexamined assumptions, and have too much difficulty in imagining Arendt’s experience.

This business of “unconditional surrender” seems like another thing a later generation just has a hard time grasping in the context of the experience of FDR’s generation. It is too easy to unknowingly abstract away from everything that mattered.

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faustusnotes 11.01.14 at 5:07 am

Dresden was a legitimate military target. It was a major rail interchange that enabled the Germans to shift soldiers from west to east, and the Russians wanted that logistic pathway disrupted because they were fighting across huge distances against heavily armed soldiers and they didn’t need more coming to get them. Dresden was also a major manufacturer of precision parts for bombers, fighters and artillery. The terror bombing more generally was also demanded by the Russians because it diverted equipment from the eastern front. During the terror-bombing period the Germans diverted significant and influential quantities of artillery and ammunition – artillery ammunition – to air defense. Without terror bombing that artillery would have been deployed against Russian soldiers. Aircraft were also diverted, so that by the end of the war there were almost no fighter aircraft disputing Russian air superiority over the battlefield.

It’s easy for non-Russians to view the terror bombings in terms of the imminent collapse of the war and the relatively easy combat task on the western front, but from a Russian perspective it was much more important. They were fighting on a huge front against a desperate and determined enemy who were throwing everything they had at them. The only thing that terrified the German leadership more than the Russians was the collapse of support at home, and they were genuinely worried about the effect of terror bombing on that support. Hence the diversion of resources, which saved many Russian soldiers’ lives.

When assessing western military tactics in WW2 we should always remember the awful sacrifice made by the Russians, and assess tactics in light of how they helped in that front. e.g. Lend Lease is routinely undervalued by armchair western commentators who want to complain about the US’s late entry to the war, because who cares if Russia gets a few thousand jeeps? Millions of Russians cared, but we don’t, etc.

Whether these tactical objectives justified the terror bombing is definitely debatable, but we should not start the debate by pretending that the bombing was tactically meaningless.

Similarly, fire bombing of Japan should be assessed not just in terms of its tactical validity, but the febrile atmosphere of exterminationism in American public discourse.

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Bruce Wilder 11.01.14 at 5:13 am

The Soviets invested after the war in propagandizing for the idea of the firebombing of Dresden as a war crime of stupendous size and significance.

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Ronan(rf) 11.01.14 at 5:18 am

I wouldn’t see war as a zero, or negative, sum game. Generally, afaict (though not always), they are complicated, extended negotiations over governance/territorial control etc , where numerous factions on both sides end up with limited , though meaningful, victories (so multiplayer games where rewards, and results, are ambiguous)..in that context international law can act as a disincentive for actors to do X , where X is seen as lessening their chances of acheiveing their war aims (and there is evidence that states do obey international law when they have signed up to certain treaty obligations, or where doing X can undermine support among important constituents)
Of course all of this is built into the particular international order we now live under, where the main powers have such disproportionate strenght that they can be more selective in what methods they utilise, and by extention outlaw in others .. but I wouldnt disregard international law entirely, or imagine international politics (even war) as zero sum.

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Ronan(rf) 11.01.14 at 5:20 am

crossposted with the last 4 comments

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john c. halasz 11.01.14 at 5:24 am

B.W.:

“It is no accident that makes loyalty to the state a moral imperative of the highest ethical character, nor is it mere historical incident that the strongest states celebrate ideological commitments among their founding myths. Or that we are here discussing some of the greatest crimes in history as the product of a morally degenerate state.”

You’re more Hegelian than I am.

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Harold 11.01.14 at 5:36 am

@128 and 130, I had also read recently, but I can’t remember where, that morality pertains to to the individual – or to relations between individuals — and ethics to the collective (such as medical or professional ethics). Because I couldn’t remember where I had read this, I thought I would wait for someone else to bring it up. Thank you, @130. I had never previously heard about the distinction of one concerning the right and the other the good.

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Harold 11.01.14 at 6:19 am

Though I see that “morality” is routinely used in discussing morality in international relations, so … I guess it is used differently in different fields.

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Ze Kraggash 11.01.14 at 8:52 am

jch: “I think what you mean by the “moral”, with respect to states, would be better termed “existential”. Just what sort of body-politic, given the constraints and conditions under which it operates, is it to be?”

Bingo. States are not human, they are not conscious, unable of self-reflection (or only metaphorically). They possess no morality (at least as I understand the word) whatsoever. Anthropomorphism only creates confusion.

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ZM 11.01.14 at 9:10 am

If States are not human what are they?

If the country Australia has an earthquake this is not a decision of the State. But if Australia goes to war like now on ISIS this is a decision of the State and it is quite obviously decided by humans. Not by rocks or trees or birds.

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Ze Kraggash 11.01.14 at 9:45 am

The state of Australia is a system, an organism. Yes, with some human input – and that is one of its characteristics. Soldiers marching in a parade are human, but it would seem odd to say that the military column ‘made the decision’ to keep moving monotonously across the plaza. Something similar (only much more complex) is happening with the state of Australia. At least this is how I see it.

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ZM 11.01.14 at 10:14 am

Australua is definitely not an organism – if you are talking about physically – it is an island continent.

Whether it is a system largely is depending on how loose your definition of a system is – if you mean politically then it is a federated Commonwealth monarchy.

By ‘Yes, with some human input’ I suppose you could be meaning that Australia is an island continent housing some millions of humans who formed a federation in 1901? This is rather more than ‘some’ unless you are pointing to the great importance of the environment and rocks and water and soil and other creatures etc who did not involve themselves in the making of a federation in 1901 – you would be right if that is your meaning.

You don’t seem to have much familiarity with armies – the soldiers join and have to practice marching to an excessive extent because the idea is to keep them very disciplined. The lower soldiers obey the orders of the higher up soldiers up to the very head level (except the very head level is the Queen and she lives in the UK and does not give our soldiers many orders she thinks of herself – usually the parliament or the ministers decide on the orders and then the Queen if she is amenable graciously orders the high soldiers to follow this order).

Anyway – as you can see if the low soldiers just started marching in a column without being told to do so they would get in a lot of trouble for marching without orders – spontaneous marching in columns would likely be punishable, and the low soldiers would be very cheeky if they started doing this.

So the soldiers go marching according to orders by humans at the higher level of soldiering.

In terms of a similar thing happening in Australia: now I have shown the soldiers marching do so following orders, you will be disappointed to know Australia as a federation is not run to such strict orders as soldiers.

The parliament consisting of humans makes new laws when parliament is sitting. But not everything is legislated for, so for instance the soldiers are likely told to get up at a set time eg. 5am in the morning. But the parliament does not order us all to get up at 5am in the morning, and people get up at various times depending on individual decision making and what time they should be at work or school, or if they want to go for a morning walk, etc. etc.

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Ze Kraggash 11.01.14 at 10:54 am

I was talking about the Australian state, not Australian rocks or its inhabitants.

Those Australians – human being living in Australia – who decided to go fight against (or for) ISIS, they did just that. They were motivated by (among other things) their moral judgement.

The Australian federal system, OTOH, processed a zillion inputs, followed a zillion instructions and rules (official and unspoken), and voila: it spat out the solution – war against ISIS. But the solution has not been produced by a human brain; it was calculated by a mechanism not capable of moral judgement. With some input from actual human beings, of course, but nevertheless.

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ZM 11.01.14 at 11:23 am

Well I don’t know how you think the federal system decided to go to war – the federal system is just the way our commonwealth parliament is organised and its specific powers compared to the powers of the states.

It was this Liberal-National government led by the Prime Minister. Lots of them were in the government that decided to go to war in Afghanistan and Iraq in the early 2000s too The Labor part also supports this war. The Green Party were against. The Prime Minister is very sporting and I dare say he thinks of war as an extreme form of sport – on d-day he made a very superficial speech on how great d-day was and now the Allies are all very wealthy countries promoting free trade.

maybe because you live in another country and are not subjected to hearing the speeches made by our parluamentarians you think it is not human – but let me tell you here in Australia if we keep up with the news we are always subjected to hearing the parliamentarians speeches and equivocations and blather about being in Team Australia, so they are very human I promise you. Their human thinking is such that they are so fearful of Middle Eastern terrorists they took away all the rubbish and recycling bins from our train stations – even here in this small town. As you can tell taking away all the bins from our train station is a very silly human idea.

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Ze Kraggash 11.01.14 at 12:23 pm

All those parties you mentioned are not human beings, they are entities representing something or other, according to some rules, within constraints, official and unofficial. They don’t have human mind. Similarly, the Prime Minister isn’t a human being either, rather it’s an ‘office’. It often happens that a person follows one line while in office, and then, having resigned, says, often passionately, something completely different.

Incidentally, those marching soldiers, they don’t necessarily need any direct command (and most certainly they don’t need any command every time they put one foot in front of the other). Perhaps they simply know that on this day of the week, at this hour, they need to fall into ranks and start marching. It’s in the constitution, or in the bible, or they were told by their parents. It’s a rule. The rules add up to a system. The system declares wars, big fools say to push on. But it’s not Human Endeavor, it’s State’s.

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LFC 11.01.14 at 12:58 pm

J Thomas 136
Warfare is a highly social, cooperative affair even among adversaries, and that cooperation can break down sometimes. Or sometimes it can be extended further.

I do not need a rather condescending lecture from you to illustrate a point that is (a) obvious and (b) with which I agree, as you would have probably realized had you bothered to read my comments in this thread.

You seem unaware of the distinction between the empirical (what happens) and the normative (a judgment about what happens). When I queried Halasz’s statement about “morality being in abeyance,” I was not suggesting that there are no ‘social’ conventions observed in war; I was saying that the statement “morality is in abeyance” suggests that moral judgments about what goes on in war are inappropriate (a suggestion with which I disagree). So your whole comment at 136 completely misses the point by providing empirical illustrations of social cooperation in war, which has basically nothing to do w the point at issue betw. Halasz and me.

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J Thomas 11.01.14 at 1:11 pm

#139 John Halasz

Believe it or not, I didn’t learn philosophy from a dictionary.

Of course meanings change, and there is no reason to think that any two people ever use a word with exactly the same meaning. Communication is a miracle, and everyday sort of miracle that people count on so much that often they think that any miscommunication must be intentional.

“I don’t just believe in miracles, I depend on them!”

I like the idea that ethics is about choices that an individual person chooses out of his sense of who he wants to be, while morals are things that we try to force onto other people.

I don’t know how many other people use the words that way. I often meet other people who do, and very often when I say how I want to use them other people agree to use the words that way.

Two different words, two distinct useful meanings that I want to have names for. What’s not to like?

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LFC 11.01.14 at 1:33 pm

j.c. halasz @137

I think there are two separate issues here. To keep things manageable I’ll restrict this comment to conventional interstate wars (country A vs. country B) which, as you rightly point out, don’t occur all that often any more (compared to other kinds of war: asymmetrical, low-intensity, civil, etc).

The two separate issues are:
(1) What causes A and B to start fighting? You say, in effect and as I understand your comment, that one has to look beyond the immediate issues in dispute and ask why they chose war rather than negotiation. That comports w/ Fearon’s 1995 article “Rationalist Explanations for War,” viewed by certain people as the most important thing written about the causes of conflict in the last 25 years (paraphrasing Phil Arena — see link in next box).

(2) Is just war theory tendentious and unhelpful and does it miss the ‘power dynamics’? That’s a separate question from (1). Just war theory does not aim esp. to capture the power dynamics. It aims to reach judgments about the acceptability of the means used in a war or about the normative weight of the stated reasons each side has for fighting. It’s possible that the second branch of this (the jus ad bellum inquiry) may not be illuminating or worth pursuing in cases where the stated reasons are pretexts and the ‘real’ reasons the war occurred have to do w Fearon-like “information problems” or “commitment problems.” But the other branch (the jus in bello) inquiry, which has to do w the normative acceptability of the means employed, is a separate inquiry that can be pursued regardless of what the causes of the war are/were.

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ZM 11.01.14 at 1:35 pm

Ze Kraggash,

“All those parties you mentioned are not human beings,”

Yes they are just parties of human beings. What else would they be? we don’t have koalas allowed to be in our parliament.

Although I would like to agree with you that the Prime Minister is not a human being ,since he is a very unkind man in many ways, I am sorry to tell you he is indeed a human. The Prime Minister is an office, you are correct, but it has to be filled by a human being. The only time it is sort of empty of a human being is when we are in caretaker government mode during election periods.

It is true sometimes people say one thing in office and then something else many years later – but people who don’t hold office are not such bastions of consistency never changing their minds that this is not evidence of the offices not being filled by humans.

I don’t know why you think that for the soldiers to be following orders the orders have to be so detailed as to tell them every single little movement (although wars would become very slow if this was the case, which might quell the enthusiasm for them).

We do not have in the constitution that upon such and such a day all our soldiers must go on a March and there must not be any ordering from superiors so as to look impromtu .

I think you have a strange idea of us here in Australia to think we have such a rule in our constitution. Our soldiers march by verbal order, not by constitutional rule.

We do have laws – but the parliament has to decide on each war separately. We do not just have a war law made in 1901 and then have since gone to all the wars since 1901 because of this war law. That would be nonsense.

The people in the parliament are responsible. The OP is on Eichmann – by your way of thinking Eichmann was not a man, just an office, and the holocaust was the fault of the system, not the fault of all the people enacting the holocaust including the man Eichmann.

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LFC 11.01.14 at 1:45 pm

Further to j.c.h.:

I’m pretty much leaving aside the “identity of sovereign rule” point. That’s sometimes what’s at stake, but it depends on the war aims and the particular issues. To take one example, in the Falklands War what was at stake was “the identity of sovereign rule” over the Falkland Islands, but not the identity of sovereign rule over/in the two belligerent countries as a whole.

The P. Arena link, fwiw (this is not my ‘thing’ but some people may find it useful and/or interesting, if they can follow it):
http://fparena.blogspot.com/2012/03/breaking-down-fearon-1995.html

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J Thomas 11.01.14 at 2:02 pm

#156 LFC

You seem unaware of the distinction between the empirical (what happens) and the normative (a judgment about what happens). When I queried Halasz’s statement about “morality being in abeyance,” I was not suggesting that there are no ‘social’ conventions observed in war; I was saying that the statement “morality is in abeyance” suggests that moral judgments about what goes on in war are inappropriate (a suggestion with which I disagree).

It looked to me like he was saying that there were in fact no social conventions in war, certainly no enforcement of social conventions. (As if when you start fighting, in opposition to social conventions, it’s no longer possible to enforce social conventions on you. Because what else are they going to do? Attack you with force of arms? They’re already doing that.)

And it looked to me like you were saying that independent of the facts, we should deplore the situation and we should talk about war as if there were in fact moral conventions, because something bad happens if we admit the truth. You did not say what the bad thing was.

And I wanted to point out that the fact is, social conventions do survive in war to a varying extent.

I’m glad that I misunderstood you. Now it sounds like you’re saying that whether or not people who are desperately trying to win a war take morals into consideration, we should judge them on the assumption that they should have.

I get the impression that your point is that we should not agree that war is hell and so accept that anything goes. We should instead tell the survivors who have done bad things in wartime that they are bad people, and boo them, maybe restrict their international travel, maybe if we get the opportunity put them on trial for war crimes. (If they lose and survive, of course. Usually we go a lot easier on the winners.)

That’ll teach them.

Did I still miss your point?

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Ze Kraggash 11.01.14 at 2:06 pm

“The OP is on Eichmann – by your way of thinking Eichmann was not a man, just an office, and the holocaust was the fault of the system, not the fault of all the people enacting the holocaust including the man Eichmann.”

I think it’s quite obvious that Nazism, the imperial Nazi-fascist state was the problem, yes, not Eichmann. Eichmann was a human being in office, and Arendt was interested in his psychological transformations.

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ZM 11.01.14 at 2:12 pm

But Nazism and the imperial Nazi-fascist state were the work of human beings – including Eichmann! The ideology and the state did not just suddenly come to exist and dominate out of thin air not having anything to do with human beings :/

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J Thomas 11.01.14 at 2:18 pm

#159 ZM

“All those parties you mentioned are not human beings,”

Yes they are just parties of human beings. What else would they be? we don’t have koalas allowed to be in our parliament.

I think you are arguing about a difference in meaning.

There is a concept that organizations are more than the sum of their parts. A human brain is more than just a bunch of neurons. A human body is more than a bunch of cells. A nation is more than a bunch of people.

So sometimes we treat nations as if they are entities and not just bunches of individual people who make individual choices. As if the nations make choices.

If you choose to think of it that way, nations are not very advanced as entities, not at all. Human beings make complex choices based on lots of information. So do amoebas. Sponges less so. I think nations are at a level of decision-making which is somewhere between a sponge and an amoeba.

Nations are not good at complex moral choices. Consider for example climate change. Almost any individual would make a choice better than the USA as a nation has so far. Some of the choices could later be determined to have been wrong, or somewhat right, etc. Hardly any of them would be “Let’s dither about it for 20 years until we’re sure it’s too late for our choice to matter”.

If we choose not to think of nations as entities in themselves, but only as complicated patterns of human beings, then each human being who is a cog in the machine can make his own moral choices, and the sum total of them can average out to something immoral. But none of them exactly made that choice, it was the complicated pattern they were stuck in that kept their own moral choices from having much effect.

Either way, the result is mediocre moral behavior on a large scale.

165

LFC 11.01.14 at 2:52 pm

J Thomas 161

your point is that we should not agree that war is hell and so accept that anything goes

Yes. And it seems to me the majority of people in the discussion on this thread agree with that as a general principle. (The disagreements tend to occur over how this general principle applies to particular situations.)

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faustusnotes 11.01.14 at 3:04 pm

I think this book gives excellent backing to Arendt’s thesis, carefully documenting the gradual escalation of mass murder through bureaucratic means. Corey Robin, have you read it?

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LFC 11.01.14 at 3:10 pm

P.s. to my comment @158:
There are cases where the question of why war was “chosen” as opposed to negotiation has a fairly obvious answer and doesn’t require fancy terminology. In the case of WW2, Hitler was unlikely to have been satisfied with anything short of the complete domination of Europe (incl. the USSR). That result was obvs. unacceptable to others, e.g. Britain and France, so a negotiated solution was impossible. I’m reasonably sure this kind of situation can be translated into Fearon et al.’s terminology, but I’m not sure in this case there’s all that much pt in doing so.

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Ze Kraggash 11.01.14 at 3:41 pm

“The ideology and the state did not just suddenly come to exist and dominate out of thin air not having anything to do with human beings”

Well, it came to exist and dominate because of a complicated web of social, economic, political, geopolitical and other circumstances. All those circumstances had something to do with human beings, but it’s not like they were willed by individuals. Industrial interests, bourgeois fear of bolshevism, disillusion with liberalism, the unfortunate situation in the Comintern, etc. Hundreds of ideologies existed, a few were going strong, one prevailed.

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bob mcmanus 11.01.14 at 4:13 pm

166: Looks excellent, took info down, I love this ground-up social theory. Not just Eichmann, but an army of technocrats. Probably not all of them “conservative” in 1930, or under different circumstances.

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Bruce Wilder 11.01.14 at 5:15 pm

J Thomas: Nations are not good at complex moral choices. . . . the result is mediocre moral behavior on a large scale.

I’ve sometimes suggested that nations as bodies making collective choices are primitive choosers in the way you outline — my metaphoric object of choice is the slime mold.

I think we should not imagine that morality or ethics ever reduces neatly to individual choice. Morality and ethics are social behaviors, and states are part of the apparatus that creates moral and ethical behavior — and improves it if you like. States are coordinating mechanisms — the regulation of business behavior, the common law, the grand principles of the Déclaration des droits de l’homme et du citoyen — these, too, are products of the state.

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J Thomas 11.01.14 at 7:18 pm

#167 LFC

In the case of WW2, Hitler was unlikely to have been satisfied with anything short of the complete domination of Europe (incl. the USSR).

It’s easy to decide that in hindsight. Were there circumstances where he would settle for less than complete satisfaction? Possibly, though it’s hard to be sure what would have happened if things were different.

There was the issue of german people living under foreign domination in neighboring nations. Of course he preferred that those foreign people live under german domination in their nations. This sort of thing is an unsolved problem. We papered it over later by saying that no nation has the right to do ethnic cleaning, period. But what happens when different ethnicities simply cannot find a way to live together in peace? We just say they have to. So we have continuing problems like Israel/Palestine where they cannot find a way to coexist, they cannot drive each other out, and they cannot kill each other in sufficient numbers to relieve the problem.

I don’t see a negotiated solution for that sort of thing. At various times in the past the USA has accepted lots of immigrants who didn’t get along in their own nations, and it’s mostly worked well for us. We could do that more, except right now we mostly don’t have many jobs available. With a good economic policy we probably would.

That isn’t the only issue. We don’t want to have a lot of noncitizens because that creates a two-tier society which is a moral hazard for us. But we also don’t want new citizens unless they buy into our values. But I think the big issue is the jobs. If things were different the USA would accept lots of people who are persecuted in their own homes, and the problem of ethnic cleansing would be somewhat alleviated.

So for example if the USA had welcomed nine million Jews from europe in the late 1930’s on, probably Hitler would have allowed it and the Holocaust would be much lessened. But what with the Depression and all, we weren’t ready to.

That does not deal with the problem of ethnic Germans being dominated in various parts of eastern europe. The obvious solutions of inviting them to the USA or inviting them to Germany would (I presume) not be satisfactory to Hitler.

Lacking an adequate compromise, it was only to be expected that Hitler would try to have it his way. It turned out that his army had a big temporary military advantage which gave them victories, so he pushed that as far as he could before it went away.

His personal ideology and the promises he made to his people probably had a part in it too. But if he had not lucked into a winning military team, he probably would have accepted much less.

This of course is only my opinion, informed by history and logic. Neither is reliable, nor is my intuition.

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Harold 11.01.14 at 8:37 pm

J Thomas, @171, in discussing the possibility/desirability of conditional surrender, you ignore the fact that the German High Command and their right-wing supporters in Italy (i.e., the Vatican) and other countries wanted to get rid of Hitler but to leave the outline of his policies (which dated from the time of the Kaiser) and their power intact. This is why conditional surrender would have been impossible.

As for letting the Jews of Germany, Poland, and the rest of Europe into the US that would also have been impossible given the prevailing, overwhelming anti-Semitic bigotry of our country at that time, not to mention the lack of jobs. Furthermore, during WW2 FDR was increasingly held hostage by a Congress with a right-wing, Jim Crow majority and had very little room for maneuver. The ensuing Cold War and right-wing witch hunts were largely a concession to these elements.

No one’s intuition or opinion is *entirely* reliable, but one can always improve them by checking facts and reading books. You ought to set a higher bar for yourself.

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J Thomas 11.01.14 at 9:19 pm

#172 Harold

J Thomas, @171, in discussing the possibility/desirability of conditional surrender, you ignore the fact that the German High Command and their right-wing supporters in Italy (i.e., the Vatican) and other countries wanted to get rid of Hitler but to leave the outline of his policies (which dated from the time of the Kaiser) and their power intact. This is why conditional surrender would have been impossible.

Conditional surrender gets much easier for a side which knows it’s losing. There is the problem that the soldiers are tempted not to fight as hard when a negotiated surrender looks likely. But the attacking soldiers don’t fight as hard either, so that somewhat balances out.

A central problem was that blitzkrieg warfare worked well. It’s much harder to make a deal with people who believe they can take whatever they want with little effort. (Note the problems of negotiating with Israel, for example.)

As for letting the Jews of Germany, Poland, and the rest of Europe into the US that would also have been impossible given the prevailing, overwhelming anti-Semitic bigotry of our country at that time, not to mention the lack of jobs.

Yes, I mentioned that problem. At some times Hitler made a point of offering to let Jews leave, and in his propaganda pointed out that nobody else wanted them either. If we had been willing to accept larger quotas, that would have been a good thing, I think.

Lots of people have weird ideologies, and usually they are willing to accept a lot of reality when they see that it is necessary. I can imagine circumstances where even Hitler might likely have made big compromises. But unfortunately we did not have those circumstances. The fact that the USA was not accepting many immigrants was unfortunate, but would not have been enough. It would help with some minorities that were oppressed by the Germans, but one of Hitler’s big problems was ethnic germans oppressed by others, and having them give up their ancestral homes and emigrate to the USA would not satisfy him at all.

The central problem was that his army was too good.

The USA had a similar problem recently. But we found we can defeat armies but we can’t occupy nations very well. We could also start losing on the military side pretty easily, depending on the vagaries of developing military technology. If our aircraft carriers get too vulnerable, I haven’t seen much evidence of a backup plan. That would hurt us a lot.

On land, our current approach is to have little mobile spotting teams who figure out where the enemy concentrations are so they can be bombed effectively. We don’t need much force on the ground to do that. If for any reason that stopped working — better anti-air, or anything that disrupted our electronic communication — we would be hurt. We have excellent ground units but current tactics depend on lots of air support. If they had to slug it out directly they’d take a lot of damage. Also we depend on lots and lot and lots of resupply, we run through stuff way faster than most armies. If that was threatened we could fail. When it got disrupted a little in the Iraq invasion, by unarmored civilian technicals behind our lines, it was a great big problem for a little while.

The USA tends not to actually negotiate much — we have the power so we persuade a bunch of other nations to agree with us, without actually listening to them much, and occasionally we stomp on somebody without giving them much chance to knuckle under. If we suddenly were not so strong, we’d need to adapt quickly.

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Harold 11.01.14 at 9:27 pm

J Thomas @ 173, Germany never surrendered after WW I. It was given an armistice. This and its relatively strong position allowed it to claim that it had really won the war but had been betrayed from within. A negotiated settlement (negotiated with whom? Hitler was opposed to negotiation) would have left German armies occupying most of Europe and would have led directly to WW3.

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ZM 11.01.14 at 9:53 pm

J Thomas,

“sometimes we treat nations as if they are entities and not just bunches of individual people who make individual choices. As if the nations make choices.

If you choose to think of it that way, nations are not very advanced as entities, not at all. Human beings make complex choices based on lots of information. So do amoebas. Sponges less so. I think nations are at a level of decision-making which is somewhere between a sponge and an amoeba.”

Although the insult value of calling our parliamentarians sponges or amoebas is rather high, I feel as a patriotic member of Team Australia I must come to the defense of our sponges and amoebas – I have never heard complaints about the decisions taken by our much loved sponges and amoebas that comes close to equaling all the complainst about our parliamentarians. I must therefore reluctantly conclude the parliamentarians remain mere humans and do not transform into sponges or amoebas upon taking office.

You are right that the people in parliament or in Australia generally are not isolated individuals. But that people communicate with one another, and we have a parliament since we were colonised by the UK and English people began a parliament some many centuries ago so we got them too (except more parliaments although we have a lower population), and we elect people to the parliament etc – does not mean that the parliamentarians are not human (except sometimes in the moral sense of being inhuman, ie. unkind/cruel).

You give the metaphor of since they make decisions in the parliament by voting rather than individually – they are like sponges or amoebas. But I am not learned in biology so I don’t really follow the metaphor very well,as I presume these forms of life do not make decisions by parliaments.

I did read about bees having debates about where to build a new hive by the bee scouts dancing their descriptions to the rest of the bees – then once the decide on which location is right they fly off and build a new hive. This is a bit more like a parliament I suppose, if you like a creature to liken our parliament to.

Or you might like the theory of the Queen’s Two Bodies – this is where the Queen has one personal body and one corporate body. So all her decisons as Queen are taken in her corporate body, but she reverts to her personal body for humdrum matters of little public consequence.

But unlike the ideas expresses in this thread, I think the Queen’s Two Bodies theorists were of the understanding that the personal body was the body of less moral virtue (this could have been as a result of all the intrigue and murdering of his wives etc by Henry VIII ) – and the corporate body was meant to be more virtuous, But the highest parliamentary office is meant to be the keeper of the Queen’s Conscience to try to ensure virtuous corporate body decisions (I say meant to be because the parliamentarians are not very good at keeping to the proper parliamentary system).

On your point of climate change – I am not sure you are correct about most people not making the decisions that the world’s parliaments have made (or as you say put off making).

Lots of people have very high ghg foorprints, through consumption, travel, animal products etc. As they are not voting on climate change – they can say “the parliament should prevent dangerous climate change” but then also continue in their consumption and high ghg emissions lives. So the global ghg emissions just continue growing, even though most people say dangerous climate change should be prevented.

Whereas – If the parliament did vote to prevent climate change and then make the appropriate policies, the appropriate policies would constrain all this extravagant consumption. But everyone who says they want climate change to be prevented could lower their ghg emissions significantly by themselves right now by not consuming as much, not travelling much, and not eating or wearing animal products.

So you can’t just blame governments – many people’s actions belie their words on ghg emissions and climate change.

We had to study the Holocaust several times in High School – I always wondered why everyday Germans participated in or let the Holocaust happen, I did not expect to see the same sort of thing in my own lifetime – but I think we see it in our actions causing climate change, and a friend says she never thought to see it but now sees it in our treatment of refugees. It is certainly a grimmer time than I ever imagined.

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J Thomas 11.01.14 at 10:15 pm

#174 Harold

J Thomas @ 173, Germany never surrendered after WW I. It was given an armistice. This and its relatively strong position allowed it to claim that it had really won the war but had been betrayed from within.

I think Germans pretty much knew whether they won WWI, regardless what they let people say.

A negotiated settlement (negotiated with whom? Hitler was opposed to negotiation) would have left German armies occupying most of Europe and would have led directly to WW3.

The USA, Britain, and Russia were also opposed to negotiation. We don’t know what Hitler would have done if he had opportunities that were not in fact available to him. I want to argue that in general it is in our interest to try to set up methods for negotiation, whether we want to make offers that have a chance to be accepted or not.

Early in the war, any negotiated end to the war would almost certainly have left German armies occupying most of Europe, because why would Hitler (or generals who replaced him) be willing to give up so much when they were winning? So negotiations after the big early victories and before the inevitability of defeats would probably not have worked out. Why would we concede them that? It might have been possible to negotiate lesser goals.

Closer to the end of the war we might possibly have negotiated an earlier end without giving up much that was important. Cut down on casualties, reduce the destruction, reduce the post-war starvation. There would be problems with intangibles. Would we be too upset about the Holocaust etc to actually agree to the minor concessions that would do so much good? Would the Germans decide again that despite the bombing and the casualties and the retreats etc, that really they had been winning when they got stabbed in the back *again* and start another war? Probably not, I don’t see why a surrender would keep the Warsaw Pact from developing pretty much the way it did, but with more people and more factories etc.

And of course the Germans may have refused to negotiate, right up until the red army reached Berlin. That’s always possible. Attempting negotiation doesn’t give any guarantees.

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ZM 11.01.14 at 10:54 pm

“A negotiated settlement (negotiated with whom? Hitler was opposed to negotiation) would have left German armies occupying most of Europe and would have led directly to WW3.”

For the moment leaving aside the atrocities of WW2 and the holocaust – I would like to point out Germany is one of the best countries on climate change – whereas all the Anglo countries are among the very worst and most intransigent. So having the Anglo countries be so dominant after winning WW2 has not actually been very good after all. If Germany had got a negotiated settlement and then occupied most of Europe as you say (maybe the UK too) – then maybe action on climate change would be better by now, and we would not currently be on track to 4-6 degrees of warming by the end of this century.

Climate change and the related loss of crops etc have already led to all this dangerous conflict in the Middle East since the Arab Spring (which was already destabilised through Anglo instigated wars previously) . These sort of conflicts could very easily escalate or be replicated elsewhere and lead into a greater war like WW2 unless all the countries start being more cooperative and working together properly.

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Bruce Wilder 11.01.14 at 11:18 pm

I found the way J Thomas made unconditional surrender equivalent to genocide disturbing. Emphasis added.

“. . . the difference between demanding unconditional surrender and then killing a whole lot of people afterward, versus requiring Jews to cooperate and then killing a whole lot of them, was that the Jews didn’t have a government to demand unconditional surrender from.

I interpreted this as just a little over-the-top literalism being misapplied to the “unconditional” part of “unconditional surrender”, but after reviewing some of the other comments in the thread, I’m not so sure. Emphasis added to highlight phrasing that concerns me, and in no particular order.

“After you surrender, when you’re going through the cavity search to make sure you don’t have anything to use if you change your mind and decide to resist after all, you get to wonder whether you made the right choice. But it’s too late then. It really doesn’t matter whether you decide it was the right choice or not. You are part of the spoils of war and your ass is not yours any more.”

“There wasn’t much food in occupied Russia. German soldiers caught by partisans while convoying through that area could expect to be eaten.

Sherman’s march to the sea for example was directed pretty much entirely against civilians. By proving that southerners could not protect their homes and particularly their women, he helped them admit they were losing.

“In the Pacific WWII, the Japanese army developed a tradition that it was shameful to ever surrender. The US Marines particularly believed stories that surrenders were usually traps, with wounded soldiers booby-trapped etc. [The US Marines] often maintained a policy to take no prisoners. So for example, out of 22,000 Japanese troops on Iwo Jima, 789 became POWs.”

On some issues, I guess I had chalked some of this fractured story-telling up to just not knowing important historical details or not being able to sort through the heritage of propaganda, but now I’m not so sure that there isn’t a troll under the bridge.

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MPAVictoria 11.01.14 at 11:57 pm

BW J isn’t a troll per se. He just takes being a devil’s advocate to a ridiculous extreme and then combines it with moral relativism. It can be extremely annoying.

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MPAVictoria 11.02.14 at 12:01 am

“If Germany had got a negotiated settlement and then occupied most of Europe as you say (maybe the UK too) – then maybe action on climate change would be better by now”

This requires us to believe that a violent, genocidal and oppressive NAZI one party state would behave the same way as a democratically elected coalition government. A belief that is optimistic to the point of giddiness.

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john c. halasz 11.02.14 at 1:05 am

Or JT just comments too much, beyond his ken, from a slightly autistic perspective.

182

bob mcmanus 11.02.14 at 1:25 am

BW re JT: “any accurately improper move
can poke through the thin sleeve of immediate reality” (Goffman 196lb: 81)

or not

Thomas Scheff:

“What [Goffman] meant was that those actors who behave im-
properly, breaking the rules, not only become alienated from whatever
transaction they are involved in, but also might catch an enlightening
glimpse of the nature of that transaction, that is, a glimpse of another reality
behind the conventional one. “

Participatory micro-sociology = trolling?

183

Bruce Wilder 11.02.14 at 2:14 am

MPAVictoria @ 180

Point taken. LOL

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J Thomas 11.02.14 at 2:24 am

#179 Bruce Wilder

On some issues, I guess I had chalked some of this fractured story-telling up to just not knowing important historical details or not being able to sort through the heritage of propaganda, but now I’m not so sure that there isn’t a troll under the bridge.

Since the historical record usually has some flaws, it’s hard to be sure what to accept. My Iwo Jima story I think is correct, a bit more than 200 Japanese were captured during the fighting, and more than 600 over the next month. A few held out longer. Flamethrowers were particularly useful for clearing out the caves that japanese soldiers were holed up in, usually there was no attempt at calling for surrender first and sometimes japs who attempted to surrender were burned. There were attempts to seal some of the caves with of course no attempt to call for surrender first.

http://media.nara.gov/nw/2570407/List_of_POWs_Captured_on_Iwo_Jima.pdf

Stories of cannibalism by russian partisans behind the german lines were common, after the russian “scorched earth” defense, there was simply not much food. Partisans could eat german rations if they succeeded in capturing them, and captured german soldiers as well.

There are not many reports of rape by Union troops during the Savannah campaign. Maybe a dozen or so records in the Union army records. A few thousand in diaries and letters of literate southern women. Why so few? One possible explanation is that the union soldiers were Christians, and also people of that time and place hardly ever raped anybody. And so foragers who worked alone or in small groups with little supervision, who found unarmed women with no witnesses and could do what they wanted, many of whom for years had not had sex except with prostitutes, who at war faced the possibility of dying before ever having sex again, almost always used their strong self-control. And after all, they were American soldiers, and we all know that American soldiers hardly ever rape anybody. Another possible explanation is that a smalll minority of foragers may have done a lot of rapes, sometimes killing the women and witnesses, and that given the culture women did not usually feel comfortable going to the Union army to press charges particularly when they had no food or shelter. They might have had higher priorities…. And given the stigma in that culture of being raped, it’s not surprising if only a few thousand of them would write about it privately.

I can imagine it either way. The historical record is not particularly reliable, agreed?

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Harold 11.02.14 at 3:25 am

The historical record is a lot better guide than endless free floating b.s.

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J Thomas 11.02.14 at 12:03 pm

#185 Harold

The historical record is a lot better guide than endless free floating b.s.

Harold, if you uncritically accept the received wisdom, the history written by the victors, then you get a certain bias. But if you try to correct for that bias you might get it wrong. There is no solution guaranteed to avoid error.

But I am particularly interested in what to do in the future. Eichmann is dead, whatever he was. How can we best deal with future Eichmanns? Is it possible to educate them not to be that way? (But it doesn’t take that many to do the jobs, a few percent of the population at most. And to some extent administrative competence can be replaced by computer programs.) People who are proud to get ahead, regardless of the bigger implications of their work? Like — the banking “industry”? The health insurance game? Those are far more abstract than just killing millions of people, but once you get on that slippery slope where does it stop? The US prison industry?

I am not clear in general how to get people to stop doing great evil without thinking about it. But I am pretty clear that wars would generally be helped by an honest attempt at negotiation. Notice what your enemy wants most, and what he might find acceptable. Look hard for a creative solution that does not violate your own core values and does not leave you weaker later, for further negotiation/warfare. Keep trying during the war, look for a way to achieve your goals that the enemy finds preferable to a longer war. Why not?

Well, because often the victors do not want a negotiated settlement. They want to crush the enemy.

“I am satisfied … that the problem of this war consists in the awful fact that the present class of men who rule the South must be killed outright rather than in the conquest of territory, so that hard, bull-dog fighting, and a great deal of it, yet remains to be done…. Therefore, I shall expect you on any and all occasions to make bloody results.”
William Tecumseh Sherman

Of course if you have to kill off a class of people to get peace, you do that. But isn’t it better to give them repeated chances to change their minds?

Recently, Bush gave the Afghan government an ultimatum, and they responded with proposals for compromise that might have given him what he said he wanted. Perhaps they might have given up more on further discussion. He said they had refused his ultimatum and he attacked, and we still haven’t sorted it out.

He made demands of Saddam, including that Saddam and his family accept exile. At the last minute, Saddam accepted his demands so Bush demanded more and then invaded before getting a response. He said Saddam was just trying for a delay. Maybe that’s true. Bush needed the war to be over before the summer heat, and he achieved that, kind of. It might have been better to schedule a fall campaign in the first place, but I don’t know all the constraints.

People talk like war is soooo terrible. But given a possible chance to stop a war short of total victory, usually they just don’t wanna.

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mattski 11.02.14 at 1:37 pm

There is no solution guaranteed to avoid error.

Therefore… I prefer to use my imagination!

188

J Thomas 11.02.14 at 2:36 pm

#187 Mattski

“There is no solution guaranteed to avoid error.”

Therefore… I prefer to use my imagination!

Yes, of course! If you make no attempt to adjust for biases in your data, you will be strongly influenced by the various people who try to bias your data with their own propaganda, etc. Plus you will have the random biases that come because some information is intrinsicly harder to get than others.

And if you are unimaginative in your search for bias, you will be misled by imaginative propagandists.

Are you making an argument against imagination? But is that not what Eicmann is being accused of? He uncritically believed the propaganda about Jews, he uncritically accepted his job, and the end result was he got killed for it — an outcome I doubt he even imagined in the early days.

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mattski 11.02.14 at 3:02 pm

Are you making an argument against imagination?

Not per se. The question is what is the proper role for imagination. Another question is–not to be disrespectful, BUT–can you take a hint??

if you uncritically accept the received wisdom, the history written by the victors, then you get a certain bias. But if you try to correct for that bias you might get it wrong.

By your own criteria your approach doesn’t seem to offer much traction. Also, why would you assume that Harold, or anyone else on this left-leaning blog, “uncritically” accepts conventional history? That sounds to me like you’re leading with your preconceptions.

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J Thomas 11.02.14 at 3:19 pm

#189 mattski

“if you uncritically accept the received wisdom, the history written by the victors, then you get a certain bias. But if you try to correct for that bias you might get it wrong.”

By your own criteria your approach doesn’t seem to offer much traction.

What would you suggest instead? Should I accept some sort of “conventional wisdom” which is obviously wrong? (But which a lot of people appear to accept anyway, unthinkingly….)

Also, why would you assume that Harold, or anyone else on this left-leaning blog, “uncritically” accepts conventional history? That sounds to me like you’re leading with your preconceptions.

Because he seemed to claim that his interpretation of history was better than mine, without giving any particular argument in its favor or even what his claims were. He wanted to call his interpretation “the historical record”.

In my experience, usually when people do that they have accepted somebody’s interpretation and they want to believe it is “true”. Or mostly true. Or so good that actually giving it critical attention is not worth doing.

I do not want to claim that any of my intepretations are correct, or better than those of the various professional historians who tend to disagree with each other. I want to claim that there is so much uncertainty in the matter that my interpretations are possible.

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mattski 11.02.14 at 3:53 pm

He wanted to call his interpretation “the historical record”.

I don’t think so. I think Harold was pointing to the fact that there is a record. It isn’t flawless and few claim that it is. We base our opinions of history on the historical record and on the opinions of others we happen to find persuasive. What you have a habit of doing, which others find troublesome, is lowering the bar from “probable” (because it has a basis in the record) to “possible” (because it has a basis in imagination.) We start out talking about history and we end up playing a game of, “well, it’s possible that such-and-such…”

I want to claim that there is so much uncertainty in the matter that my interpretations are possible.

QED

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J Thomas 11.02.14 at 4:31 pm

What you have a habit of doing, which others find troublesome, is lowering the bar from “probable” (because it has a basis in the record) to “possible” (because it has a basis in imagination.)

It sounds like you have some sort of complaint. But you haven’t said what you are bothered about.

Some people prefer to emphasize what they think they know, while I prefer to emphasize the uncertainty, how much we don’t know. So what?

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Harold 11.02.14 at 6:52 pm

J. Thomas. @192, etc. There is a reason why people are taught to read (and write) critically. A person who cynically (or lazily, more likely) refuses to read history because it is supposedly “written by the victors” and therefore, in his/her opinion, inaccurate, then will inevitably make many laughably ignorant errors of fact in trying to talk about it..

As a matter of fact, like many catchy folkloric slogans, it is false, since many defeated Nazi officials wrote their memoirs; and historians read and rely on those, as well, if they are serious too. (I notice. for example from a cursory glance that the Wikipedia article on the Munich Agreements, an attempt to negotiate by the allies, cites several such memoirs and accounts in its analysis of what happened there.) Not to mention that , as has been pointed out, some very good histories and extremely thorough histories, based on archival research, are being written now by both Germans and Japanese historians.

I would be very curious to know what books on the history of World War II, you yourself would read and recommend.

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Ze Kraggash 11.02.14 at 8:14 pm

Re: unconditional surrender.

Someone may have already mentioned that (I haven’t read everything carefully), but perhaps the significance of it is the possibility to prosecute/persecute leaders of the losing side. The only condition the people in charge really care about is their own safety and well-being. In the case of Japan, IIRC, the status of the emperor was indeed the main point of contention, quite openly. And in Germany, giving amnesty to the Nazi leaders probably wasn’t politically feasible, and therefore no chance of any “surrender with honor” there. It’s like, you know: if I have to die anyway, it’s better to go down swinging. That’s probably all there is to the mystery of unconditional surrender.

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J Thomas 11.02.14 at 8:46 pm

#193 Harold

A person who cynically (or lazily, more likely) refuses to read history because it is supposedly “written by the victors” and therefore, in his/her opinion, inaccurate, then will inevitably make many laughably ignorant errors of fact in trying to talk about it.

Sure. On the other hand, it is necessary to read history critically, to consider all the ways it could be wrong. Much of it was originally written by people who were making guesses and inferences themselves. They tried to make sense out of a confusing mass of disconnected facts. And in general, the farther you can step back from the facts and pay attention to theory, the more sense it will make. People who feel that they know what was going on, mostly have accepted theory even while they think they are paying attention to facts.

As a matter of fact, like many catchy folkloric slogans, it is false, since many defeated Nazi officials wrote their memoirs; and historians read and rely on those, as well, if they are serious too.

Sure, and those are unreliable as well. Ageing officials have had time to revise their memories, usually to feel better about themselves but also to make things make more sense. Things that were confusing at the time clear up as they hear explanations about things they did not then know. People who revise their memoirs to *make* them fit other documents are no better than the forgers who must do the same thing.

(I notice. for example from a cursory glance that the Wikipedia article on the Munich Agreements, an attempt to negotiate by the allies, cites several such memoirs and accounts in its analysis of what happened there.)

Sure. But there is an example where likely the small details are not so important. The central thing about Munich is to look at the British and French BATNAs. (BATNA — Best Alternative To Negotiated Agreement) In both cases, if they could not get an agreement the best choice they could bring themselves to, was to hope that Hitler had no big territorial ambitions, to hope that he would be peaceful. They were not ready to do anything in particular if he would not make an agreement. Given that, it hardly mattered whether an agreement was signed or not.

I would be very curious to know what books on the history of World War II, you yourself would read and recommend.

I pick and choose. There’s more available now than one person can read, and it’s hard to tell which of it is wrong.

Here are a couple of stories I heard with my own ears.

My second-oldest uncle carried a bazooka through Germany. He said he was lucky not to run into any tanks. The most vivid story he told me was about the time his platoon was camped out at a ritzy farmhouse. They found a big safe, and it took them most of a week to crack it open. And after they did, there was nothing in it but a bunch of worthless paper deutschemarks and twenty pairs of womens’ silk stockings.

One night at my uncle’s country store, when I was kid, a bunch of men were sitting around telling stories, and a quiet guy came in and started talking. He had been stationed at an airfield on a pacific island. After the war everybody wanted to go home, and once a day there was a plane leaving, always overloaded because the guys going home didn’t care that much about following the rules and they had lots of souvenirs and such. There was a little hill at the end of the airfield, and once a day the plane would crash into that hill. The pilots were new guys following the route from somewhere else and they didn’t understand about the hill. Every day they tried to warn the new guys passing through, and it didn’t work. He was on the crew that was supposed to suppress the fires and rescue the passengers. Every day. After two weeks the brass came in and shut it down until they could straighten it out, and then it mostly stopped happening. Years later, sometimes he’d wake up hearing the screams of the burning men. His voice broke and his hands shook while he talked about it.

He left, and one of the other men said he’d never really been right since he got home from the war.

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Harold 11.02.14 at 9:07 pm

Mr. Thomas, you don’t grasp the meaning of “reading critically”. It does not mean reading with an attitude of global skepticism. Among other things, it means making sure that a historian’s statements have factual support from archival and other documentation. But you did not answer my query about what specific books you have read about WW2 that you consider reliable.

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Bruce Wilder 11.02.14 at 9:07 pm

Ze Kraggash @ 194

“Unconditional surrender” was the allied policy because it related directly to the Allied goal of being free to re-make the state in Germany, Eastern Europe and Japan, a goal that was adopted because the experience of World War I, in which chaos and civil war was allowed to ensue following the armistice or other agreements to suspend hostilities.

The reasoning that asserts that not seeking unconditional surrender would “shorten” the war is overlooking this experience. World War I continued for a number of years in some places past its nominal end in 1918 (Brest-Litovsk and Armistice), 1919 (Versailles Treaty) or 1920 (Sèvres) and it is no exaggeration to suggest that the Second World War in Europe was, itself, a renewal of the First, due to the failed attempt to “negotiate” a practical and stable settlement that encompassed the institution of states with suitable boundaries and constitutions.

It is worth remembering that a major war can be seriously debilitating to a state, so that even a negotiated settlement with a foreign adversary can result in civil unrest capable of toppling leaders. The Germans didn’t kill the Czar. And, the French did not exile the German Emperor to Holland.

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Bruce Wilder 11.02.14 at 9:13 pm

Harold, I think jch had the right of it, and you might want to lighten up. There’s a theme of fascinations, as well as attempts to work out social mechanics, in J Thomas’ essays, that indicate that something other than reading comprehension is at work.

I am certainly among those, who have felt irritation, but I somewhat regret raising the issue as I did, though doing so has clarified my perceptions.

I think, maybe, we should all let it go.

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J Thomas 11.02.14 at 9:38 pm

#194 Ze Kraggash

Someone may have already mentioned that (I haven’t read everything carefully), but perhaps the significance of it is the possibility to prosecute/persecute leaders of the losing side. The only condition the people in charge really care about is their own safety and well-being. In the case of Japan, IIRC, the status of the emperor was indeed the main point of contention, quite openly.

Yes.

And in Germany, giving amnesty to the Nazi leaders probably wasn’t politically feasible, and therefore no chance of any “surrender with honor” there. It’s like, you know: if I have to die anyway, it’s better to go down swinging. That’s probably all there is to the mystery of unconditional surrender.

Often leaders do care about more than their personal survival, but their personal survival is still an issue.

How many innocent lives is it worth, to kill them?

The germans should have known they were in trouble by the Stalingrad defeat, February 1942. They should have been sure of it by Kursk, August 1943. They surrendered May 1945. They had to pretend they still had a chance, because there was the chance that something would come up — a secret weapon, a fractured alliance, *something* — that might let them survive. They gained nothing by falling into despair.

If they had the chance for a negotiated peace that gave the leaders some hope of survival, then they would have an incentive to notice how bleak their prospects were. They might not consciously realize that after a war they would be safer in foreign prisons than free among their own people, but that intuition might sneak up on them too.

The prospects for a negotiated end for the German part of WWII were not good, partly because our allies wanted to crush Germany permanently. But consider — we did a whole lot of things like Dresden with the excuse that we wanted to shorten the war, but we were not willing to negotiate a surrender to shorten the war.

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J Thomas 11.02.14 at 9:43 pm

#196 Harold

Mr. Thomas, you don’t grasp the meaning of “reading critically”. It does not mean reading with an attitude of global skepticism. Among other things, it means making sure that a historian’s statements have factual support from archival and other documentation.

No, Harold, that is not what “reading critically” means.

You must also consider the factual support that the archival and other documentation has. If the historian has accurately reported a passel of lies, what good is it? (Unless he is studying what lies people told.)

You must consider the possible and likely biases of each of your source documents or you aren’t covering the territory.

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Ze Kraggash 11.02.14 at 9:44 pm

“Allied goal of being free to re-make the state in Germany, Eastern Europe and Japan”

If that was their goal, they could make their condition: occupation and a free hand in remaking the state – and to the Nazi leaders, their families, and their property a free passage to any country of their choice, for example. Paulus surrendered in Stalingrad, and lived another decade; nothing to it. But like I said, this sort of terms probably wasn’t politically feasible: Hitler already was, well, Hitler.

Japan, though, was a bit different: they wanted to demonstrate their shiny new A-bomb.

202

J Thomas 11.02.14 at 9:52 pm

World War I continued for a number of years in some places past its nominal end in 1918 (Brest-Litovsk and Armistice), 1919 (Versailles Treaty) or 1920 (Sèvres) and it is no exaggeration to suggest that the Second World War in Europe was, itself, a renewal of the First, due to the failed attempt to “negotiate” a practical and stable settlement that encompassed the institution of states with suitable boundaries and constitutions.

Yes. When we imagine alternatives we cannot verify them. But imagine we had not negotiated an end to WWI but demanded unconditional surrender, with the abilities we had at that time to manage an occupation etc.

Do you suppose the result would have been much better?

203

MPAVictoria 11.02.14 at 11:17 pm

“You must also consider the factual support that the archival and other documentation has. If the historian has accurately reported a passel of lies, what good is it? (Unless he is studying what lies people told.)”

I am curious how fare you are willing to take this skepticism J. For example, what are your thoughts on Holocaust Denial? Do you think they have a point? That they are just showing a healthy caution?

I am not meaning to be offensive but I am curious how far you are willing to take this mental exercise.

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mattski 11.02.14 at 11:26 pm

JT,

It sounds like you have some sort of complaint. But you haven’t said what you are bothered about. .. Some people prefer to emphasize what they think they know, while I prefer to emphasize the uncertainty, how much we don’t know. So what?

I think I have indicated my complaints. To reiterate: you rely excessively on your imagination, you don’t appear to take your interlocutors reactions to heart, and, by implication, your prolixity is sometimes both disruptive and seemingly evidence that you prefer speaking over listening. Which isn’t conducive to a sagacious demeanor, if you don’t mind me saying so.

May I also reiterate Harold’s request for book references? If you don’t have any it might be good to say so.

205

LFC 11.02.14 at 11:55 pm

J Thomas @195

on Munich: “it hardly mattered whether an agreement was signed or not.”

It mattered from the standpoint of the resonance “Munich” acquired afterward and for the uses, and more importantly the misuses, to which the ‘Munich analogy’ was subsequently put.

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J Thomas 11.03.14 at 12:28 am

#203 MPVctr

<> m crs hw fr y r wllng t tk ths skptcsm J. Fr xmpl, wht r yr thghts n Hlcst Dnl? D y thnk thy hv pnt? Tht thy r jst shwng hlthy ctn?

thnk thr ws Hlcst. Smthng lk 6 mlln Jws cld nt b fnd ftrwrd, whch s sggstv. Smwhr btwn 5 mlln nd 8 mlln thrs ls dd, lrg frctn f thm n th cmps r dng frcd lbr. Th Grmn cmp rcrds ndct smthng lk 2.5 mlln Jws my hv dd thr, bt thr wr lts f wys fr Jws t d n WW bfr rchng cncntrtn cmps. Sm frctn wr klld n mbl nts bfr th prmnnt dth cmps, ftr ll.

Vrs ppl hv wrttn bt lvng thrgh th cncntrtn cmps. prtclrly rmmbr bks by Brn Bttlhm nd Crr Tn Bm. d nt blv tht Bttlhm md p hs xprnc. Th cncntrtn cmps wr rl, th Nzs ltrlly trd t wrk thr prsnrs t dth, nd mstly sccdd.

Th dth cmps whr thy klld ppl qckly vn whl thy hd bg lbr shrtg dn’t mk sns, bt cn’t xpct Nzs t mk sns, nd f t mght hppn tht th dth cmps wr vr-sttd, th rglr cncntrtn cmps wr qt hrrbl ngh t cll Hlcst.

hvn’t dn ny srt f cncntrtd srch n Hlcst dnl. Th prtclr dnrs lkd t wr prtty wmpy. Frst, sm f thm clmd tht mny fwr thn 6 mlln Jws rchd th cncntrtn cmps, whs nmts wr mjrty nn-Jwsh. Bt tht dsn’t mn mch. Scnd, thr ws th clm tht nt vry mny dd f cynd psnng. chmbr tht ws lbld s cynd dth chmbr t n cmp ( thnk schwtz) ws nt dqt fr tht jb — t ddn’t sl wll ngh, nd wld hv psnd th grds. ddn’t chck th physcl clms vry crflly bt thy lkd plsbl. Lkly tht prtclr plc ws sd t fmgt clthng tc, t mch lwr cncntrtns f cynd. Tht s nt vdnc tht fwr ppl wr klld, r vn tht thy wr nt klld by cynd, nly tht thy wr nt klld by cynd n tht prtclr plc. Thr ws clm tht G Frbn’s rcrds dd nt shw thm dlvrng ngh cynd t kll tht mny ppl. Bt cynd ws xpnsv nd rqrd spcl hndlng, whl crbn mnxd ws sy t cm by nd ws clmd t hv bn sd lt. f t ws lss cynd thn th cnvntnl wsdm sys, nd mr smthng ls lk C, tht dsn’t sy mch.

Bscly, th fw xmpls lkd t pprd t b ppl wh clmd tht th Hlcst ndstry ws wrng bt sm spcfc dtls, wh thn wr flsly ccsd f Hlcst dnl whn n fct thy dd nt dny th Hlcst bt nly dsgrd bt mnr dtls.

Thr my b sm cdmcs wh d rl Hlcst dnl bt dd nt ntc thm. hv hrd f sm pltcl-frng ppl wh dd rl Hlcst dnl bt hv nt pd ttntn t thm. nd hv hrd tht sm rb pltcns md rl Hlcst dnl clms. Vrs rb ntns sm t hv vn lwr stndrds fr trth frm pltcns thn th S ds.

cld mgn cnsprcy bt dth cmps. Sm f thm lft ssntlly n physcl vdnc nd hrdly ny srvvrs. hvn’t chckd Grmn rcrds fr thm, f th Grmn rcrds hd bn dstryd tht wld b sggstv. Bt thn, why wld cnsprcy bthr t fk dth cmps? Th wll-dcmntd prts r bd ngh n thmslvs. t wld b gldng th lly.

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J Thomas 11.03.14 at 12:38 am

#205 LFC

“on Munich: “it hardly mattered whether an agreement was signed or not.””

It mattered from the standpoint of the resonance “Munich” acquired afterward and for the uses, and more importantly the misuses, to which the ‘Munich analogy’ was subsequently put.

Yes, that’s true.

And I guess if they hadn’t signed an agreement they would be going home naked. Hitler was going to do whatever he did and they would not do anything about it, and they wouldn’t even have the pretence that they believed he would stop there.

But I mean, it was only to help them pretend that things were OK. The actual agreement would not affect anything on the ground, it would only affect their attitudes, and the attitudes of their “allies” about them.

208

Corey Robin 11.03.14 at 12:39 am

I’ve disemvoweled J Thomas’s last comment. This thread is absolutely not going to descend into a lengthy and completely ill-informed discussion of what parts of Holocaust Denialism are true or not. J Thomas, if you try again, you’ll be banned. And everyone else, don’t ask him to recite his or anyone else’s opinions on this matter.

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J Thomas 11.03.14 at 12:39 am

m crs hw fr y r wllng t tk ths skptcsm J. Fr xmpl, wht r yr thghts n Hlcst Dnl? D y thnk thy hv pnt? Tht thy r jst shwng hlthy ctn?

Woo. I didn’t expect that.

210

J Thomas 11.03.14 at 12:46 am

No complaint, I just didn’t expect it. MPAVictoria, you successfully tricked me. Point to you.

211

MPAVictoria 11.03.14 at 1:12 am

My apologies Corey. It was inappropriate of me to pose the question.

212

Harold 11.03.14 at 2:13 am

As soon as Dresden was brought up, the thread started to go in the direction it did go. And, I dare say, not by accident.

213

MPAVictoria 11.03.14 at 4:41 am

Thinking back I should have asked the same question using the moon landing as the example. Would have worked just as well to illustrate my point with much less potential offence/Antisemitism. Again my apologies to Corey.

214

Harold 11.03.14 at 5:34 am

We were all tricked. I hadn’t realized “Dresden” and complaints about “unconditional surrender” are RW dogwhistles.

215

mattski 11.03.14 at 12:50 pm

214

Me neither, and I’m glad to know it now.

216

J Thomas 11.03.14 at 2:02 pm

We were all tricked. I hadn’t realized “Dresden” and complaints about “unconditional surrender” are RW dogwhistles.

I kind of knew about Dresden. One side says it was war crime, plain and simple, and the other tries to claim it was necessary. I think it was a rational strategy, part of total war. They didn’t just say “Hey, nobody’s busy next Thursday, let’s go out and kill 30,000 civilians”. By today’s standards it was a war crime, but most city bombing was similar. When you bomb a city with bombs that on average fall somewhere within 3 miles of their targets, you are not bombing military targets — you are bombing a city. They thought they were effective so they kept doing it. Ever since they’ve proclaimed that they now have “precision” bombing that won’t do that.

In Iraq they partly depended on GPS for their precision, and Saddam had GPS jammers which made their cruise missiles land at random. They wanted to blame Saddam for the civilian deaths. Like, “Our precision bombing *was* going to hit only legitimate military targets. It’s entirely Saddam’s fault that they killed random civilians! He did a war crime against his own people!”

The nuclear strikes are another dogwhistle. Lots of people want to argue that they were necessary, even though there were obvious alternatives. They should not have been necessary. But the US military organization was not good at switching strategies. One of the reasons was logistics. In those days logistics got planned by people with mechanical adding machines and typewriters. They moved masses of men and stuff and it was hard to change course. They planned to lose 98% of the first wave in the invasion of Japan, and when that didn’t happen they had a food shortage because they hadn’t shipped rations for the predicted casualties. Lots of tiny details had been planned for that invasion, and they were not ready to delay it to try out alternatives. It took the atom bomb and the surrender to get them to change their plans.

The difference between “There were no altenatives” versus “There were no alternatives that the US government was willing to consider” is perhaps a subtle one.

I have not seen “unconditional surrender” as another. It usually doesn’t come up. Right-wingers argue that it is a legitimate tool of war, and that only unrealistic fools who’re soft on the enemy oppose its use. They tend to say that if an enemy thinks they can negotiate a better end it makes them fight harder, and anyway there’s no excuse for compromise with evil, we need to crush it. Not particularly thought-out arguments, usually they say that everybody knows you don’t fight and negotiate at the same time, and they say I’m ignorant about history to not realize my proposal is nonsense. I think it doesn’t come up much for them. They don’t respond like it’s a liberal idea they know how to quash, they respond like it’s a crazy idea they aren’t familiar with.

217

MPAVictoria 11.03.14 at 2:27 pm

J I think you missed the point of those comments….

218

J Thomas 11.03.14 at 3:08 pm

OK, what was the point? Did RW not mean Right Wing?

219

MPAVictoria 11.03.14 at 3:10 pm

Well the key word was “dogwhistle”. I don’t want to be accused of tricking you again though.

220

LFC 11.03.14 at 3:51 pm

It makes little sense to discuss the bombing of Dresden in isolation. It was one instance, albeit one egregious instance, of a larger pattern of conduct.

Anderson’s comment @86 is an example of a constructive comment in that it specifically addresses a well-known argument (Walzer’s). I briefly indicated @103 why I think one particular aspect of Anderson’s point is questionable: According to Walzer (citing Frankland):

In November 1940, after the German raid on Coventry, ‘Bomber Command was instructed simply to aim at the center of a city.’ … [B]y early 1942, aiming at military or industrial targets was barred: ‘the aiming points are to be the built-up areas, not, for instance, the dockyards or aircraft factories.’ The purpose of the raids was explicitly declared to be the destruction of civilian morale. Following the famous minute of Lord Cherwell in 1942, the means to this demoralization were specified: working-class residential areas were the prime targets. Cherwell thought it possible to render a third of the German population homeless by 1943. [Just and Unjust Wars, pp.255-56, italics in original]

So the policy of area bombing, though it was firmed up in early 1942, seems to go back to late 1940 (when “Bomber Command was instructed simply to aim at the center of a city.”) Now, this particular matter of timing may not (or need not) make any difference to one’s judgment. The Battle of Britain (the air battle) was over by September 1940; the British won it; and Hitler ordered the dispersal of the invasion fleet on Sept. 18. One could argue that any ‘supreme emergency’ had passed at that point. One could also perhaps argue the other way, since Britain still was standing pretty much alone against Germany then (and continued to until June 1941, when Hitler invaded the USSR). By early 1942, though, it’s very hard to argue that any supreme emergency existed, and after Stalingrad and El Alamein, certainly not.

At any rate, I think this is the level of specificity at which such discussions are useful. By contrast, J Thomas’ comment @216 simply repeats the broad assertions (“it was a rational strategy, part of total war”) that he has made before and doesn’t really add anything useful.

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Anderson 11.03.14 at 4:13 pm

LFC @ 220: I agree that, inasmuch as the real slaughtering from the air didn’t begin until 1942, it’s probably moot whether one dates the attempt from earlier than that time.

Frankland was one of the official historians; according to Max Hastings’ useful book, Bomber Command, the decision evolved more slowly than that, and doesn’t appear to have been a snap “this is for Coventry!” decision (tho if I were justifying it after the war, I might well choose to dwell on it). (There are certainly newer books than Hastings’s; I look forward to reading the new book by Overy and the newish one by Hansen.)

The technical problem was simply that bombers could barely hit precise targets even by day, and day raids led to bombers’ being shot down by enemy fighters. Night bombing offered little hope of precision but was safer for the aircrews, and in the thousand-bomber raids, quantity made up for quality.

… Back to Eichmann and the Nazis’ perversion of language into an instrument of bureaucratic murder, Frederick Lindemann’s euphemism of “de-housing” for the program of burning down and blowing up Germans in their homes would have fit well into an SS memorandum.

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Anderson 11.03.14 at 4:21 pm

From the Nuremberg indictment, count three:

“All the defendants, acting in concert with others, formulated and executed a Common Plan or Conspiracy to commit War Crimes as defined in Article 6 (b) of the Charter. This plan involved, among other things, the practice of ‘total war’ including methods of combat and of military occupation in direct conflict with the laws and customs of war, and the commission of crimes perpetrated on the field of battle during encounters with enemy armies, and against prisoners of war, and in occupied territories against the civilian population of such territories.”

(So much for “total war” as an excuse for slaughtering civilians.)

“Throughout the period of their occupation of territories overrun by their armed forces the defendants, for the purpose of systematically terrorizing the inhabitants, murdered and tortured civilians, and ill-treated them, and imprisoned them without legal process.” (Note that the Allies’ goal of “breaking German morale” is indistinguishable from “terrorizing.”)

“The defendants wantonly destroyed cities, towns, and villages and committed other acts of devastation without military justification or necessity.”

… It may say something about the victors’ bad consciences that, as I think Arendt points out, no one was executed solely for crimes under Count Three; it was Count Four, crimes against humanity, that netted executions.

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J Thomas 11.03.14 at 4:58 pm

#220 LFC

It makes little sense to discuss the bombing of Dresden in isolation. It was one instance, albeit one egregious instance, of a larger pattern of conduct.

It makes sense to discuss that in some contexts, but OK, there was a larger pattern.

At any rate, I think this is the level of specificity at which such discussions are useful.

So they thought that hurting civilian morale was worth doing. “When the only tool you have is a hammer….”

But then over time they found that it was mostly not worth doing. What was worth doing was to attack oil facilities. A few firebombs that connected were enough, the many that missed did not matter. Germany’s oil shortage became critical. Wherever they went they confiscated horses because they could not afford to use motorized transport to bring fuel to the front — they needed the fuel *at* the front. They tried to use vegetable oil for fuel.

But too many bombers were lost when they attacked only oil facilities because then the Germans defended only oil facilities. Dresden was specifically an attempt to persuade the Germans to dilute their air defenses. It made sense in that context, even after they knew it was not cost-effective to bomb cities for their direct civilian-morale effect.

By contrast, J Thomas’ comment @216 simply repeats the broad assertions (“it was a rational strategy, part of total war”) that he has made before and doesn’t really add anything useful.

It’s possible that the arguments in Bomber Command at the time were scripted to fool people, and really they had other reasons. Maybe there were deeper psychological reasons to do it and the reasons they talked about were only conscious rationalizations. But not implausibly this might be the truth.

Of course they didn’t have just one reason, and finding out whether they could start a firestorm in a european city was an important experiment.

224

J Thomas 11.03.14 at 5:03 pm

#222 Anderson

(So much for “total war” as an excuse for slaughtering civilians.)

The Allies had the excuse that they found themselves in a total war. When your enemy is fighting a total war against you, what should you do? Fight by some sort of crippling rules that you expect will keep you from winning?

As it turned out, there was a strong argument that slaughtering civilians at the rate that the Allies accomplished, did not in fact help them win the war. It cost their own war effort more in explosives, gasoline, precision-parts etc, than it helped. But they weren’t ready to draw that conclusion until they had a lot of data to work with.

225

Anderson 11.03.14 at 5:08 pm

J Thomas, I am sorry that I do not find discussing this subject with you a rewarding prospect.

226

LFC 11.03.14 at 5:42 pm

@Anderson:
Thanks for the reminder re Hastings’ Bomber Command and the more recent books.

@J Thomas: I think I’ll leave it here and let any people still following this thread reach their own conclusions on these issues.

227

J Thomas 11.03.14 at 6:12 pm

#225 Anderson

J Thomas, I am sorry that I do not find discussing this subject with you a rewarding prospect.

Anderson, I accept your apology. It is probably not your fault anyway, I doubt you are responsible.

The apology is not really necessary, it is sufficient to simply not respond.

228

LFC 11.03.14 at 11:40 pm

I became aware of this book today (thanks to a univ. press catalog that came in the mail). Anyway, thought I might as well mention it before the thread closed.

229

Anderson 11.04.14 at 12:32 am

Thx, LFC. Mysteriously interesting.

230

J Thomas 11.04.14 at 6:24 am

#219 MPAVictoria

Well the key word was “dogwhistle”. I don’t want to be accused of tricking you again though.

I’m not particularly offended. I like to explore ideas that are not mainstream yet, and so of course people accuse me of ignorance because if I knew more about the subject I’d understand why the mainstream ideas have to be correct, and so on. And they try to be offensive. It goes with the territory. “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you….”

But it occurred to me to point out that when people try honestly to contribute, and you treat them as freaks, it doesn’t reflect well on your own humanity.

231

MPAVictoria 11.04.14 at 4:49 pm

“it doesn’t reflect well on your own humanity.”

Forgive me of I don’t take advice on the state of my soul from you J, but I don’t think you are qualified to judge me.

232

J Thomas 11.04.14 at 5:07 pm

Hey, don’t take my word for it. You get to choose your own ethics, ask your own soul.

Jesus said, “Judge not lest you be judged.”. He didn’t mention that other people will judge you no matter what you do, maybe he was talking about something else.

Anyway, I forgive you, independent of whether you have done anything objectly wrong, and independent of whether you or I or anyone think you have done anything wrong, and independent of whether you or I or anyone ought to think you have done anything wrong. I forgive you unconditionally.

233

Harold 11.04.14 at 5:17 pm

J Thomas has given evidence neither of knowledge about the subject beyond slogans and formulas nor of good faith argument.

To spell it out — and J Thomas to the contrary — it never has been and I daresay never will be part of the mainstream — there is a propaganda line equating allied bombing with Nazi atrocities and lamenting the lack of a separate peace, on the lines of : “war-is-hell-and-everyone does-it-and-therefore-all-sides-are/were-equally-guilty” so let’s not be beastly to the Nazis.

234

MPAVictoria 11.04.14 at 5:31 pm

@232

J I forgive you more than you could ever possible forgive me.

235

mattski 11.04.14 at 7:03 pm

MPAV,

Apropos of your queries–which I thought sensible–I met a man at a party several years ago who told me first that he believed the moon landings were faked and then that he thought the Holocaust largely a hoax. He didn’t think to ask if I had any Jewish ancestry, which I do.

236

Ronan(rf) 11.04.14 at 7:37 pm

I’ve a good few childhood friends, I have to say, who believe a variety of these conspiracy theories (one or two believe EVERY c-theory) Moon landings fake, no holocaust, flouride in water to control your mind,global warming a hoax by the Illuminati for some reason not specified. They seem to be disseminating globally through the internet and US militia-heads. Most of the conspiracies make no sense (or, shall we say, even less sense) in the culture (mainly Irish)my friends were raised in (as some are quite US specific) All of them are backed up by a pretty explicit doses of anti semitism.
But still, there’s nothing that can be done. Ive found none can be reasoned with in any meaningful way.

237

MPAVictoria 11.04.14 at 7:41 pm

“I met a man at a party several years ago who told me first that he believed the moon landings were faked and then that he thought the Holocaust largely a hoax.”

I find that people who believe one stupid thing often believe many. This seems to be doubly true when it comes to the stranger conspiracy theories.

238

mattski 11.04.14 at 8:06 pm

236, 237

Yup.

The damnedest thing is that sometimes they’re true!

239

Ronan(rf) 11.04.14 at 8:15 pm

Just to add – I wouldnt dismiss every conspiracy theory. Of course there are conspiracies, at times. Im talking more of ‘argument to lizard people.’
I dont know anything really about the assasination of JFK et al (although my priors are probably pushing me away from believing any CIA plot) but I might check that book out.

240

J Thomas 11.04.14 at 9:24 pm

#233 Harold

there is a propaganda line equating allied bombing with Nazi atrocities and lamenting the lack of a separate peace, on the lines of : “war-is-hell-and-everyone does-it-and-therefore-all-sides-are/were-equally-guilty” so let’s not be beastly to the Nazis.

That is not at all what I’m saying.

General Sherman’s argument was that war is hell so we do best to make it as hellish as possible so the enemy will be crushed faster and it will be over sooner. That was also basicly the approach of the guys who bombed cities full of civilians. I disagree in general, though it might be true sometimes.

I say that some wars are more hell than others. Often we do better to make wars less hellish. Particularly, we should make it easier for the enemy to surrender if they are ready to do so. Make it easier for them to see what our demands are. Make it easier to negotiate agreements about ways to reduce the suffering that do not particularly change who wins.

Completely apart from the question who is more guilty, wars create suffering. Europe did not have enough food and people starved. Ending the war earlier would have been good for everybody who was malnourished. It would have been good for everybody who was in concentration camps. It would have been good for everyone who was sent to death camps after the date the war would have ended. Not a question of being less beastly to the Nazis, but of saving more victims. What was that worth? It was not worth surrendering to the Nazis. It was not worth a long truce. It was not worth an attempt to ally with the Nazis against the Soviets.

Was it worth giving Hitler life in prison? Probably not. Maybe kill only the top 50 war criminals? Maybe. The top 100? Maybe. There were various offers we could make that might have shortened the war without giving up anything essential to us. There was the question of negotiating offers with the British and the Russians. And, ah, the French.

The Nazis and the Confederacy are the obvious cases where a negotiated conditional surrender has the least traction. So it’s notable that there’s a case for it even for those.

J Thomas has given evidence neither of knowledge about the subject beyond slogans and formulas nor of good faith argument.

Harold has given no evidence that he is competent to judge someone else’s knowledge about the subject.

When Joshua Burton wanted to prove that he knew about physics, he gave a link to his doctoral dissertation in physics. Where’s your doctoral dissertation specializing in WWII history, Harold?
You claim to be the expert, you should prove it.

241

Anderson 11.04.14 at 9:50 pm

there is a propaganda line equating allied bombing with Nazi atrocities

In an abundance of caution, please allow me to spell out that I do not make that assertion. Area bombing of cities was a war crime, but it was of a different kind altogether than the crimes against humanity committed by the Nazis, the attempted genocide (Jews, Romany) or enslavement (Russians) of entire ethnicities.

242

mattski 11.04.14 at 10:25 pm

Ronan,

Absolutely.

If you care to look into it, this is a great place to start. An amazing work of investigative journalism.

243

LFC 11.04.14 at 11:58 pm

Like Anderson, I obviously do not equate area bombing with the Nazis’ genocide and atrocities. I don’t think it necessary to say this, but since Anderson did, I will also. Nothing we said about area bombing suggested any kind of moral equivalence. [I did not really see explicit suggestions along that line in the thread (at least the non-disemvoweled portion, which is what I have read, and admittedly I prob. did not read every single word of every comment); however, if there were such suggestions they were not made by me or Anderson.]

244

LFC 11.05.14 at 12:13 am

On the question of a negotiated surrender: I think Hitler himself would never have agreed to any kind of negotiated end to the war that did not amount to a complete capitulation to his war aims. By the time one or two of Hitler’s underlings made efforts in early 1945, iirc, to see if a negotiated end was possible with the Anglo-American wing of the Allies, it was way too late for even a trial balloon of this sort. The Allies were obvs. not interested, Hitler was not interested. I didn’t follow closely the back-and-forth upthread about the surrender issue, but I think the whole point is moot. It’s not really all that interesting a counterfactual, even, in the context of WW2. If the assassination attempt on Hitler had succeeded, the story might have been different. But it didn’t.

245

LFC 11.05.14 at 12:20 am

P.s. I’m talking about the European theater in the comment @244. The war vs. Japan is a different issue in this context, and I don’t want to get into it here.

246

J Thomas 11.05.14 at 1:08 am

I think Hitler himself would never have agreed to any kind of negotiated end to the war that did not amount to a complete capitulation to his war aims.

That’s an obvious and reasonable interpretation about Hitler, and about Mussolini too. Our wartime propaganda cast them that way, and in my opinion it was likely correct. Still, there was nothing to lose by making the attempt.

By the time one or two of Hitler’s underlings made efforts in early 1945, iirc, to see if a negotiated end was possible with the Anglo-American wing of the Allies, it was way too late for even a trial balloon of this sort. The Allies were obvs. not interested,

If we had been interested all along, very likely their own trial balloons would have come sooner.

Hitler was not interested. I didn’t follow closely the back-and-forth upthread about the surrender issue, but I think the whole point is moot.

We made the point moot.

If the assassination attempt on Hitler had succeeded, the story might have been different. But it didn’t.

Given the bombing, and the various atrocities on the eastern front (by both sides, but it’s the ones committed on your own people that count when you’re thinking about surrender) the german people had every reason to continue to follow their current leadership no matter how incompetent. Because they had reason to think the enemy was worse. And they had the experience of WWI and their treatment after the war to go by also.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Assassination_attempts_on_Adolf_Hitler
There was more than one attempt on Hitler, despite the likelihood that the result would be to lose the war and receive no mercy. With a better sense of the consequences, and particularly the assurance that the conspirators would be forgiven by the victors, there might more likely have been a successful attempt. (As it turned out, a great many officers had done things that would have been considered war crimes if they had survived to be hanged for them.)

Hitler was probably a liability for the war effort and might plausibly have been deposed by people who hoped to carry out his plans more efficiently — which might have been bad for the Allies. By the time they were clearly losing, the people who could have killed Hitler and arranged a surrender likely felt that their chance of personal survival was best if they did their jobs competently and hoped that somehow a victory might still be possible.

If they had a sense that they personally would be better off with a negotiated surrender, and that Germany would be better off too, they might have done it. Shorten the war by even 6 months and many more civilians of various nationalities would survive. And the costs/potential-costs were low, provided that the Allies were not tempted to offer too much. (It seems unlikely to me that they would offer too much, more likely they would offer too little and have little effect for little cost.)

Yes, it’s all counterfactual, it didn’t happen and there’s no rational way to be sure what would have happened. Not unlikely Germans would distrust any Allied offers, having seen Wilson’s 14 points offered and then thrown away. Still, it would cost very little, and it might possibly shorten the war by a significant amount, and reduce the bloodshed and destruction. At the time we were justifying things like Dresden on the chance they would shorten the war.

I see no good argument against the attempt, the best I see is the claim that it would probably fail. (As area bombing of cities probably did fail to shorten the war.)

If it was harmless and maybe a benefit for WWII, when would it not be worth attempting?

247

LFC 11.05.14 at 1:59 am

I was referring to the July 20 (1944) plot. The opening of the Wiki entry says that the plotters assumed that the German army would continue to fight in the East (and not give up territorial conquests in the E.) while trying for a peace w the western Allies. That wd not have gone anywhere, so I shd retract my statement above, w/r/t this, that “the story might have been different.” As for the rest, I think BW upthread was wise in declining to go down counterfactual or other rabbit holes, as he put it, and I shd have followed that advice.

248

Harold 11.05.14 at 2:04 am

249

LFC 11.05.14 at 2:07 am

p.s. What I mean is, had the plotters succeeded I don’t know exactly what would have happened, but the western Allies would not have struck a deal allowing the 3rd Reich to continue in occupation of Poland, Czechoslovakia, etc, which is apparently what the July 20 plotters had in mind. (Anyway, I shdn’t have gotten into this subject at all.)

250

J Thomas 11.05.14 at 8:45 am

#248

Harold, thank you, that laid out very well important details of how the tragedy happened. It does not mention one of the big parts of it, that lots of the US public wanted an unconditional surrender so FDR needed to give them that, regardless of the extra suffering required. If he had participated in a negotiated surrender he would have had to explain why. It was easier to give the public what they wanted.

#247 LFC

The opening of the Wiki entry says that the plotters assumed that the German army would continue to fight in the East (and not give up territorial conquests in the E.) while trying for a peace w the western Allies. That wd not have gone anywhere, so I shd retract my statement above, w/r/t this, that “the story might have been different.”

So you assume that when the plotters found their plans did not survive contact with western negotiators, that they would continue unchanged?

I say there is no way to really know what the world would be like if things were different, but that attempts to negotiate a surrender would not cost much and might pay off.

251

Collin Street 11.05.14 at 11:46 am

> but that attempts to negotiate a surrender would not cost much and might pay off.

Sigh.

Munich.

252

J Thomas 11.05.14 at 1:04 pm

#254 Collin Street

Munich.

Before you use that as an example of a bad outcome, you must consider the counterfactual case of no attempt at negotiation and show why you think it would have been better.

253

Bruce Wilder 11.05.14 at 4:59 pm

The trouble with “considering” a counterfactual case is that a counterfactual case is no case at all; it is just a theory repeated in imaginative dress-up costumes, and can be as unconstrained by fact or logic as any dream, and just as likely to be a surrealistic representation of obsession.

What happened, happened. Imaginative counterfactuals can help us interpret what happened, by adding back the element of contingency to the decision-making, an element too likely to be elided in our retrospective interpretations. Because we know how things turned out, and face a need to compress a vast volume of information, it is too easy to turn history into a relentless unfolding of the inevitable. Judicious use of counterfactuals can illuminate how and why decision-making took the shape it did, under the pressure of radical uncertainty, speculative anticipation and risk-taking, before inevitability took hold in the singularity of outcomes.

It is a fact that the Nazi state persisted intact to the end, and never offered to negotiate an end to the war, and that fact makes most of the speculation J Thomas has offered into either idle, ungrounded fantasy or a repugnant argument in favor of a continuation of the Nazi state. The central premise of J Thomas’s argument — that negotiation to end the war short of surrender could have a superior outcome — is itself simply an elaborate and convenient fantasy, grounded in nothing more substantial than the conviction that we cannot know what might have happened in an alternative course of events, if such course were unconstrained by many of the facts of the actual course. There is nothing in J Thomas’s comments, but trollish logorrhea.

254

Anderson 11.05.14 at 5:10 pm

Kershaw’s book The End mainly sets out to answer the question, why *did* the Nazi state hang on? Worth a look to anyone curious about its persistence in the face of doom.

255

J Thomas 11.05.14 at 6:47 pm

#253 BW

It is a fact that the Nazi state persisted intact to the end, and never offered to negotiate an end to the war, and that fact makes most of the speculation J Thomas has offered into either idle, ungrounded fantasy or a repugnant argument in favor of a continuation of the Nazi state.

No. First, I am not arguing that the allies should have allowed a continuation of the Nazi state. There are people who think it should have been that way, based on what they found out later about the Soviet superpower. But even if we suppose they were right, my guess is that it would have been much too far a stretch. Americans particularly were not emotionally ready to switch alliances in a 1984 way. “We are at war with eurasia, we have always been at war with eurasia.” I think we were not capable of it, so I don’t need to consider whether it would have worked out. My guess is that if we had tried that, and the American people (and presumably the British too) could hold their noses enough to allow the deal to go through, we would find that we had to make compromises we were not capable of, and the deal would fall through. Leaving us with the USSR as an enemy prematurely. Just my guess, but to even discuss the possibility we have nothing but informed guesses.

So, we can study history to find out what probably happened. We fill in the holes in the narrative, we can assume that some of the facts were real and facts which contradict our ideas were not real. We can even make assumptions about how the events connected together, what caused what else. But you want to draw the line where we must stop, closer to the known facts than I want to.

That’s OK, you can draw it wherever your esthetic preferences lead you to. You can tell me that you disagree, not because your reading of the facts is so different that you think it would more probably have gone otherwise, but because you don’t think there are any facts that would apply. That’s OK too.

It bothers me some that you present your unfounded opinion as if it is The Truth. “The central premise of J Thomas’s argument … is itself simply an elaborate and convenient fantasy….”

I would prefer a more realistic appraisal. For example, “In my opinion there are not sufficient facts to decide whether J Thomas’s argument fits within the realm of the possible.”

“In my opinion the constraints of WWII were so binding that no important decisions could have been made differently. The Allies could not have offered surrender terms, and the Germans could not have surrendered any earlier than they did. In my opinion any discussion of alternatives is useless because there were never any alternatives.”

“In my opinion J Thomas is an ignorant fool who knows nothing about any war or about history, about politics, or sociology, or about negotiating techniques. Plus he is evil and he smells bad. In my opinion.”

Any of those would be preferable to your opinions disguised as fact.

256

mattski 11.05.14 at 6:50 pm

I appreciate your remarks, Bruce.

And also the book reference from Anderson. My WWII is sketchy at best.

257

Harold 11.05.14 at 6:55 pm

Bruce Wilder cuts to the chase.

It is remarkable how a thread that started with discussion of Hannah Arendt’s account of the Holocaust could have morphed into a lengthy bemoaning of the alleged victimization and suffering of the perpetrators.

258

J Thomas 11.05.14 at 7:04 pm

Munich.”

“Before you use that as an example of a bad outcome, you must consider the counterfactual case of no attempt at negotiation and show why you think it would have been better.”

The trouble with “considering” a counterfactual case is that a counterfactual case is no case at all; it is just a theory repeated in imaginative dress-up costumes, and can be as unconstrained by fact or logic as any dream, and just as likely to be a surrealistic representation of obsession.

OK. So, if somebody wants to decide that the attempt to negotiate a Munich was a mistake which indicates that other attempts to negotiate would also be mistakes, how should he do that based only on facts?

To decide that it was a mistake, wouldn’t he have to think that some alternative was better, and that the alternative was feasible? Without those it could have been merely an inevitable tragedy. Perhaps when the time comes that something similar becomes inevitable we can recognize through our study of history that it’s happening again and prepare for the inevitable horrors.

Of course any discussion about what was right or wrong or good or bad etc depends on theory. Dresden happened — if we want to argue that it should not have happened we do so from theory. The people who actually made the choice did not themselves see any better alternative, given what they knew, or they would have taken the alternative. We disagree based on our theoretical reasons. We think that morally it’s better to avoid war crimes than end the war quicker, that ending the war quicker was not an adequate excuse. Etc.

I think if you limit yourself to the facts, then you are limited to nothing more than the facts you have chosen to believe in.

259

J Thomas 11.05.14 at 7:27 pm

#257 Harold

It is remarkable how a thread that started with discussion of Hannah Arendt’s account of the Holocaust could have morphed into a lengthy bemoaning of the alleged victimization and suffering of the perpetrators.

I get the impression you’re talking about me, since there’s no one else here you could mean. This is not at all what I am saying, and it disturbs me that you could so massively miss the point. As if you read what you expect to see and not what is there.

The bulk of the Holocaust was done before 1943, but there were still 700,000 Jews killed in 1944-1945. If half of them could be saved, wouldn’t that be a good thing?

Well over 10 million slavs were killed, and over 2 million Poles who were not Jewish. The Germans did things like reduce the rations, encouraging malnutrition and epidemic disease. The sooner that ended, the better.

Europe simply did not have enough food. The Germans tried to take more than their share, of course, encouraging everybody else to die. The sooner that situation ended, the better.

For gods sake I’m not talking about being nice to the Nazis! I’m talking about ending the war and feeding the victims!

260

Harold 11.05.14 at 7:34 pm

Just to spell it out, according to a review of Kershaw’s book (which is not on Google books and not otherwise availabe to quote):

A sometimes overlooked fact is the disproportionate degree of casualties incurred in the closing months of the war. Not only were these militarily unjustifiable, they served no rational purpose. They did, however, fulfill Hitler’s Wagner-inspired romance with Götterdämmerung. This inane construct seemed to underlie much of Nazi ideology, doctrine and actions…to the detriment of at least 40 million casualties in the East, alone. Another overlooked “fact” (myth is a more accurate noun) is that the Allies’ demand for “unconditional surrender” was a major motive force in the continued German resistance: not at all true, according to Kershaw, and considerable evidence is mustered in support of that claim.

261

Yama 11.05.14 at 8:19 pm

I have rarely been so disturbed by CT in this thread. J Thomas has been offering a well argued view regarding uncertainty decision makers face. At no place do I see him sympathizing with Nazis or any other aggressors.

Bruce Wilder, in particular, is a disappointment here. He has been one of my favorite commenters here, always a font of wisdom.

262

MPAVictoria 11.05.14 at 8:43 pm

“J Thomas has been offering a well argued view regarding uncertainty decision makers face. At no place do I see him sympathizing with Nazis or any other aggressors.”

May I direct you to his comments at 206? I mean is this the guy you want to defend?

But hey we all get to make our own choices.

263

J Thomas 11.05.14 at 9:00 pm

#262 MPAVictoria

May I direct you to his comments at 206? I mean is this the guy you want to defend?

I call foul. My #206 was reasonable and fair, but it got censored for the moderator’s reasons, the reason he said was that he was not going to allow discussion of that topic.

Now you imply there was something wrong with my comment, but it has been censored so no one can see what I said, and we are forbidden to discuss the topic. If you were to make some sort of charge against me, which you have not but only snidely implied, I would not be able to defend it.

Usually I just let this sort of thing pass. Right-wingers do it *all the time*, and if I get sidetracked onto their offenses instead of my topic, then it’s like walking through acres of cooked oatmeal. But it seems more appropriate to point it out here.

264

MPAVictoria 11.05.14 at 9:04 pm

Call foul all you want. Good people don’t write disertations on blogs about what part of holocaust denial may have a point. But as you said the management doesn’t want this to become a topic. So I will leave it here.

265

J Thomas 11.05.14 at 9:26 pm

#264

Now you more openly misrepresent me. Maybe good people do that sometimes, but I don’t think this is one of those times.

266

Anderson 11.05.14 at 9:29 pm

Kershaw calls unconditional surrender “undoubtedly a factor” but neither “decisive” nor “dominant” in the Germans’ choice to fight to the bitter end (page 387). “It provided useful justification for fighting on to the end. But it was not the cause of the determination to do so.”

A terrorized population and a Nazi elite that had “burned its boats” and exerted comprehensive control over German society, together with the support of the general-officer corps, is where Kershaw puts his finger: all being part of the Germans’ self-subjugation to Hitler. Having followed him in his crimes and in turning all Europe against them, the Germans believed they had no choice but to go down with him.

Anyway, unconditional surrender was a bit of a farce. It wasn’t really applied to Italy, and even the Japanese were allowed to insist on retaining their emperor. Surrender remained unconditional in Germany because the Germans didn’t seek conditions.

And had the Germans done so … exactly how likely was it that any such conditions could have been agreed to? As LFC notes upthread, leaving any of the Germans’ conquests in their hands was a non-starter. The Germans had wreaked horrible destruction in Russia – how was that going to be addressed?

Most important, *I* think, is that to the Allies, this was all a do-over of the Great War they had all lived through, which they believed had brought about this second one in no small part because the Germans quit while they were still ahead, and then cultivated their “stab in the back” myth on which Hitler rose to power. Europe could not afford for Germany to come away a second time sniveling that it hadn’t really been beaten.

267

MPAVictoria 11.05.14 at 9:54 pm

“The Germans had wreaked horrible destruction in Russia – how was that going to be addressed?”

Exactly. Even if you stipulate that the Nazis may have been willing to come to terms with the Western Allies, which they weren’t, there was no way the Soviets would have agreed to any kind of deal. You could have ended up with Soviet armies occupying all of Germany and Austria.

268

Harold 11.05.14 at 10:14 pm

JThomas @76 professes to believe that, in his words:
“Unconditional surrender reduces the distinction between war and genocide. If the other side says “Please, we want to surrender, we’ll do anything but please don’t genocide us”, you respond “Unconditional surrender only. We might genocide you after you surrender. You have to surrender with no promises of any sort, and then the war will be over.”

However, this is “imaginative” invention on his part.

“In modern times unconditional surrenders most often include guarantees provided by international law.” –wikipedia

Franklin Roosevelt, Fireside Chat (December 24, 1943):
“During the last two days in (at) Teheran, Marshal Stalin, Mr. Churchill and I looked ahead — ahead to the days and months and years that (which) will follow Germany’s defeat. We were united in determination that Germany must be stripped of her military might and be given no opportunity within the foreseeable future to regain that might.
The United Nations [i.e., the Allies] have no intention to enslave the German people. We wish them to have a normal chance to develop, in peace, as useful and respectable members of the European family. But we most certainly emphasize that word “respectable” — for we intend to rid them once and for all of Nazism and Prussian militarism and the fantastic and disastrous notion that they constitute the ‘Master Race.'”
***
Winston Churchill speech to the House of Commons (February 22, 1944): “the term ‘unconditional surrender’ does not mean that the German people will be enslaved or destroyed. It means, however, that the Allies will not be bound to them at the moment of surrender by any pact or obligation. There will be, for instance, no question of the Atlantic Charter applying to Germany as a matter of right and barring territorial transferences or adjustments in enemy countries. No such arguments will be admitted by us as were used by Germany after the last war, saying that they surrendered in consequence of President Wilson’s fourteen points. Unconditional surrender means that the victors have a free hand. It does not mean that they are entitled to behave in a barbarous manner, not that they wish to blot out Germany from among the nations of Europe. If we are bound, we are bound by our own consciences to civilization. We are not to be bound to the Germans as a result of a bargain struck. That is the meaning of ‘unconditional surrender.’”

269

Anderson 11.05.14 at 10:40 pm

Harold: exactly right.

Unfortunately, the Germans were really good at projecting their own barbarism onto their enemies … perhaps a backhanded recognition of their own guilt.

E.g., Goebbels in the Sportpalast speech:

“Behind the oncoming Soviet divisions we see the Jewish liquidation commandos, and behind them terror, the specter of mass starvation and complete anarchy.”

There were of course liquidation commandos, but they marched behind the German divisions in 1941, and they liquidated Jews.

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Harold 11.05.14 at 10:57 pm

@269, Indeed.

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J Thomas 11.05.14 at 11:40 pm

#266 Anderson

I think your analysis is reasonable.

We could have negotiated minor things — limited executions, etc. if enough other things worked out, that could have ended the war sooner. We couldn’t allow a negotiated end that left the Nazis in power, or that left Germany in control of land they took. I can imagine a possible compromise, that in at least some cases would be quite fair to the people who lived in those areas. But most of the were in the east where the Soviets were in control, and they did what they wanted. We didn’t want anything that looked like a compromise anyway.

Most important, *I* think, is that to the Allies, this was all a do-over of the Great War they had all lived through, which they believed had brought about this second one in no small part because the Germans quit while they were still ahead….

It’s hard for me to believe the Germans were ahead. They could have suffered more than they had up to that point, in some ways it could be argued that they weren’t as far behind as any of the others except the USA, but you’d have to pretend it was a zero-sum game to come up with a payoff matrix that put them ahead and even then you’d have to adjust it carefully.

But yes, various people among the Allies felt that the Germans thought like that, and that they absolutely had to get the stuffing completely knocked out of them to make sure they never started another war.

To the extent that their goal was to make sure the Germans bled and bled and bled, and not to get the war to end earlier, they would be dead-set against anything that could let the war end sooner. Never mind how many others died, make sure plenty of Germans die! The more that was true, the less sense it made to even try to negotiate.

We don’t like to remember feeling that way, today. But lots of stuff makes sense in that context. Dresden? Hey, they’re Germans. Burn them. Poison gas? They’re Germans, they don’t deserve air. Atom bombs? Oh, too bad they were already beaten. We could have dropped one each on Berlin, Hamburg, Munich, if they got so disorganized they couldn’t figure out how to surrender we could nuke their cities until we ran out of bombs. Serve them right.

Somehow I think it’s better to achieve the goal and stop there.

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Subdoxastica 11.06.14 at 12:12 am

Been following this thread with some fascination!

I have to agree with Yama’s sum up of the thread so far (with the caveat that I have not learned to read disembowelled comments so have no idea what 206 said and am not interested in opening that discussion). What is it about WWII and the Nazis in particular makes people so supercilious?

And Harold at 257? If you could please direct me to the historical record that details which of the Dresden firebomb victims were perpetrators of the Holocaust it would be much appreciated.

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Harold 11.06.14 at 1:49 am

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The Temporary Name 11.06.14 at 4:20 am

And Harold at 257? If you could please direct me to the historical record that details which of the Dresden firebomb victims were perpetrators of the Holocaust it would be much appreciated.

I imagine there was nobody about who noticed Dresden’s Jews getting shipped to Buchenwald or doing slave labour.

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Harold 11.06.14 at 4:26 am

What?

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The Temporary Name 11.06.14 at 4:38 am

Bleak irony. Dresden’s obviously a crime, but pretending there were no criminals incinerated is really fucking weird in a city full of factories worked by slaves.

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Subdoxastica 11.06.14 at 4:57 am

Thanks, Harold, for the link.

@ TTN I’m not sure if you can’t tell the difference between thinking some evil bastards might have been killed in the bombing versus everyone who was killed in the bombing was an evil bastard– or is it you didn’t want to mark the difference?

While the wiki article on the dresden bombing indicates that the bombings interrupted plans to ship the last remnants of Dresden’s Jewish community to the camps, it doesn’t state with confidence how many survived the bombing. Or am I wrong in assuming that factory slaves are magically less inflammable than Nazis?

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novakant 11.06.14 at 5:10 am

The trouble with these WW2 discussions is that deep down they tend to serve as a justification for post-WW2 aerial warfare, dehumanization of “the enemy”, a utilitarian calculus applied to civilian victims and American ethical exceptionalism.

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The Temporary Name 11.06.14 at 7:44 am

I’m not sure if you can’t tell the difference between thinking some evil bastards might have been killed in the bombing versus everyone who was killed in the bombing was an evil bastard

I did manage to say the Dresden bombing was a crime, yes.

280

Bruce Wilder 11.06.14 at 9:39 am

Yama @ 261,

I find it somewhat disturbing that anyone would confuse what J Thomas has been doing with “a well argued view”.

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J Thomas 11.06.14 at 11:14 am

#280 BW

I find it somewhat disturbing that anyone would confuse what J Thomas has been doing with “a well argued view”.

Thank you, I find your form this time somewhat improved.

When we argue from consequences, we have to predict the consequences. Since there was only one WWII we can only guess at the consequences, and so our guesses are the best we can do. I argue in general that in war, more communication with the enemy is better than less communication, at least up to the point of not revealing important secrets. WWII is not the only war this applies to, but people tend to use WWII as a counterexample — they argue that it proves the demand for unconditional surrender is a good way to end wars.

So far the arguments against I have seen include:

1. The enemy didn’t wanma. Hitler would never have agreed to any negotiation. But I don’t see this as an argument not to try. Of course the enemy gets a vote in whether to negotiate, but if you try and he refuses, you have not lost much.

2. We didn’t wanna. We wanted that unconditional surrender no matter how much it cost civilians in the occupied areas, or Jews, or Russians, or anybody but us. This is not a moral argument, more an immoral argument. But it may be an argument from consequence — if we didn’t wanna do it then nobody could make us, therefore it was not possible and any argument in favor crashes against the reality that it was not in fact possible.

3. We were incompetent at negotiation. If we tried to negotiate we would have given away the store, we would have wound up in an immoral alliance with the Nazis against the USSR and we would have agreed they could have all of eastern europe (and the USSR after we helped them conquer it). Presumably we would not have let them keep occupying France, but maybe we’d give that away too. Since we can’t be trusted to negotiate, unconditional surrender is the only remaining choice.

I regard all of these as possible, given the historical record. I don’t see any of them as really decisive except maybe #2. We made no serious effort to establish a communication channel with the German government because we didn’t wanna. Since we didn’t do it, when it was the obviously right thing to do, maybe we didn’t wanna do it so hard that we couldn’t try.

In contrast, we set up a phone line between the US president and the USSR premier, theoretically ready to use at a moment’s notice, because we realized that quick communication might be important. When the whole world was at stake instead of only a few million soldiers and a few tens of millions of foreign civilians, we thought it was a good idea.

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J Thomas 11.06.14 at 11:37 am

#278 Novakant

The trouble with these WW2 discussions is that deep down they tend to serve as a justification for post-WW2 aerial warfare, dehumanization of “the enemy”, a utilitarian calculus applied to civilian victims and American ethical exceptionalism.

Yes, but the arguments themselves could be objectively correct. I don’t want to say that true arguments should not be made because evil people will use them for bad purposes.

It’s possible that unconditional surrender is a good tactic for us, independent of the belief that we are the good guys and the enemy is the dehumanized bad guys and they don’t deserve to negotiate anything.

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Yama 11.06.14 at 12:32 pm

Bruce Wilder 11.06.14 at 9:39 am

My apologies Bruce, I should not have called you out. It is just that I learn a great deal from these sidetracks, and wish they would not descend into accusations of trolling.

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Anderson 11.06.14 at 12:51 pm

“Bleak irony. Dresden’s obviously a crime, but pretending there were no criminals incinerated is really fucking weird in a city full of factories worked by slaves.”

Who here pretended any such thing? But incinerating the slaves too, along with thousands of noncombatants, is the problem here.

It so happens there is a relevant moral tradition regarding the destruction of cities with innocents in them. See Genesis 18.

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J Thomas 11.06.14 at 1:17 pm

It so happens there is a relevant moral tradition regarding the destruction of cities with innocents in them. See Genesis 18.

Also Joshua 6: 15-25.

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Collin Street 11.06.14 at 1:40 pm

> I don’t want to say that true arguments should not be made because evil people will use them for bad purposes.

Look. Whether a statement’s “true” or not isn’t an inherent function of the words it’s made up from, because the meaning of the words — and thus the meaning of the statement — depends subtly on the exact context it’s said in.

[because there aren’t enough words to go around so concepts have to share words]

Which means [inter alia] that there are no statements that can be said to be unconditionally true or true in all contexts, and it’s a category error to conceive of truth as residing in a particular combination of words instead of a particular combination of words in a particular context; you can’t [in theory] say whether something is “true” or not until the words have been bound to a context.

[“in theory”: this usually doesn’t matter, because the effect is pretty small and most people correct for it automatically. But, well. It matters here.]

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J Thomas 11.06.14 at 1:48 pm

> I don’t want to say that true arguments should not be made because evil people will use them for bad purposes.

Look. Whether a statement’s “true” or not isn’t an inherent function of the words it’s made up from, because the meaning of the words — and thus the meaning of the statement — depends subtly on the exact context it’s said in.

Agreed. I have heard a claim that arguments which are true in our context should not be made because evil people will use them out of context for bad purposes. (Independent of whether they are true in that context, the purpose for using them that way would be judged bad.)

I disagree with that claim. We lose more than we gain by self-censoring ourselves to keep bad people from using what we say out of context. They’ll find ways to misrepresent us regardless, if they think we’re worth paying attention to.

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The Temporary Name 11.06.14 at 3:31 pm

Who here pretended any such thing? But incinerating the slaves too, along with thousands of noncombatants, is the problem here.

I found 272’s comment painfully forgiving of what Dresden was at the time, reminding me of people who go misty-eyed at the loss of the antebellum South in the US.

And to reiterate, I agree the bombing was a crime and killed innocents. Yet it’s not the biggest crime of the war on either side of the conflict.

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Subdoxastica 11.06.14 at 4:38 pm

@ 288

So my concern for innocent victims of the bombing (the reason I tried to underscore the distinction between victims and perpetrators in my comment @272) means I’m painfully forgiving of violence in general and Nazi violence in particular?

And given that @277 I expressly referenced the vulnerability of factory slaves to destructive force the of the bombing means I’m an apologist for slavery?

I’m having trouble crediting the idea that you seriously think that by discussing the victims of the Dresden bombing we are somehow not being sufficiently respectful of other victims of the war, some from even greater crimes.

Please, in the future, don’t confuse your seeing an opportunity for snark and taking it with what I may or may not feel and who I may or may not feel forgiving towards.

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The Temporary Name 11.06.14 at 4:40 pm

So my concern for innocent victims

I saw what you wrote. It’s nice that you pulled back somewhat in 277.

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J Thomas 11.06.14 at 5:22 pm

I found 272’s comment painfully forgiving of what Dresden was at the time, reminding me of people who go misty-eyed at the loss of the antebellum South in the US.

I don’t see that at all. Isn’t it interesting how much we read into a few lines of text, from context!

And to reiterate, I agree the bombing was a crime and killed innocents. Yet it’s not the biggest crime of the war on either side of the conflict.

Dresden gets talked about a lot because it’s easy to make the case that it did nothing to shorten the war, that nothing produced in Dresden or routed through Dresden was on the critical path.

With many other Allied atrocities it can be easier argued that they were necessary, that war is hell and we had an obligation to wage total war and reduce the enemy’s ability to fight, etc. Those arguments could be invalid on moral grounds, but it’s easier if there’s an argument that they didn’t even apply, that the war was close to over already and Dresden did not help.

I have an explanation that I have never seen elsewhere but which seems plausible to me, namely logistics. They had nothing like JIT, they had an unending supply of new bombs arriving and if they didn’t use them quick enough they’d run out of places to store them. But if they kept bombing bombing heavily-defended areas they would lose bombers too fast and would be unable to deliver their full quota of bombs.

As the germans lost territory the number of targets was shrinking, while their defenses were getting concentrated.

So by bombing an undefended site, they alleviated their problem — they disposed of bombs without using up bombers or pilots.

I don’t actually know how much this influenced their thinking. It was something that could have had a considerable influence without actually getting a lot of discussion in the sort of places you’d look for decisions about choice of targets.

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Ze Kraggash 11.06.14 at 5:39 pm

“We wanted that unconditional surrender no matter how much it cost civilians in the occupied areas, or Jews, or Russians, or anybody but us. This is not a moral argument, more an immoral argument.”

Moral/immoral’s got nothing to do with it. No matter how you look at at, from the realist, marxist, constructivist, or even liberal (my least favorite) international relations point of view, that war’s objectives didn’t include saving any Jews or Russians. Or, for that matter, any of ‘us’, as long as it wouldn’t jeopardize the strength of the US military.

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Harold 11.06.14 at 5:45 pm

Needless to say, I do not condone saturation bombing of civilians, destruction of cultural monuments, nor war in general. And I regret if, even for an instant, I might inadvertently have given the impression of considering the civilians of Dresden deserved punishment as perpetrators of Nazi atrocities, an obvious absurdity.

However, I think it should be recalled that the reason the bombing of Dresden in particular was deplored (as opposed to the bombings of Hamburg or Tokyo) is because of its importance as a cultural center of great architectural beauty, not because of the thousands of innocent people who lost their lives in the subsequent firestorm. I found out when I looked the topic up that it was Nazis propagandists who first immediately inflated the casualty figures of Dresden by a factor of 10 in order to showcase the supposed barbarity of the Allied forces and present themselves in the light of victims. Ironic, since it was they who initiated saturation bombing, had plans to raze the city of Paris, mocked the customary rules of war as obsolete vestiges of the age of chivalry, and despised the liberal ideal of universal human rights.

I did find the excellent Kershaw book sampled on google books and plan to obtain and read it.

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J Thomas 11.06.14 at 5:45 pm

No matter how you look at at, from the realist, marxist, constructivist, or even liberal (my least favorite) international relations point of view, that war’s objectives didn’t include saving any Jews or Russians. Or, for that matter, any of ‘us’, as long as it wouldn’t jeopardize the strength of the US military.

Moral/immoral’s got nothing to do with it.

I’m not quite sure what you’re saying but probably I agree with you.

Are you saying it was not immoral, but instead amoral?

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Ze Kraggash 11.06.14 at 6:48 pm

“Are you saying it was not immoral, but instead amoral?”

It’s just a category mistake. From the realist perspective, for example, states are actors pursuing their self-interest, interests of their ruling class. Individuals are not in the equation. They are like ants for a bulldozer building a road.

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Subdoxastica 11.06.14 at 6:58 pm

@ TTN

Which box of cereal did your super secret nazi/racist sympathizer detecting decoder ring come in?

What would be nice is you please stop implying that I am sympathetic to nazism/racism/slavery.

Are you going to apologize or continue with this juvenile behaviour?

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Subdoxastica 11.06.14 at 7:10 pm

And Harold, I apologize if you believe I was implying you supported saturation bombing of civilians. My comment was an attempt at respectfully indicating that one or two comments in this thread (not just yours) were conflating victims with perpetrators.

I do appreciate your civility and the link you provided.

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J Thomas 11.06.14 at 7:29 pm

#295 Ze Kraggash

From the realist perspective, for example, states are actors pursuing their self-interest, interests of their ruling class. Individuals are not in the equation. They are like ants for a bulldozer building a road.

I can see that in the abstract but I have trouble imagining the details.

For an ant nest, of course individual ants are not in the equation except that the nest needs to have enough of them. Individuals of other nests have negative value except for the grubs that can be captured and raised as their own.

I can see that for the Nazis. They were all ready to exterminate the lesser races and expand across europe by themselves. It doesn’t seem to fit the Americans nearly so well.

The American nest did not want to expand across europe. They wanted to trade with europe. A fair number of US soldiers brought home european wives, which somewhat increased the genetic diversity and the cultural diversity, a plus for the nation. It seems to me that the USA would have a goal to preserve the population. It takes around 20 years to replace a productive human, those are not resources to be just thrown away.

Americans might have wanted to preserve europeans to balance russians, and so might have wanted more russians killed. But what they actually got was a whole lot of Ukrainians killed. The Ukrainians were not the most loyal subject race for the Soviets. I’m not saying the Russians were happy to get them killed, but *maybe* they were happy to get them killed. If millions of Soviet citizens were going to get killed, those are good candidates for the ones they’d prefer.

I can see human populations as not valued the way sentimental individual humans would value them. But it’s hard for me to see them as not being in the equation at all.

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Ze Kraggash 11.06.14 at 7:41 pm

“The American nest did not want to expand across europe.”

Ha-ha. If so, why are they still occupying Italy, Germany, Japan, Korea? 40,000 US troops in Germany – 0 German troops in the US. 50,000 in Japan. Oh, I know, they are only there to help, of course.

300

Bruce Wilder 11.06.14 at 7:43 pm

J Thomas @ 281: When we argue from consequences, we have to predict the consequences. Since there was only one WWII we can only guess at the consequences, and so our guesses are the best we can do.

You want to make an argument that blames the U.S. and you’ve latched on to the policy of seeking unconditional surrender as your moral pivot point, where you can turn the whole narrative ’round and make all the horrors of the last 10 months of the Second World War the details of a moral indictment of the U.S. and the Allies. You made that clear in a number of your comments, including @ 271.

It doesn’t make a lot of sense factually, so, of course, you’ve hewed to counterfactual speculation and assertions, while congratulating yourself on your superior sensibility and intelligence. It’s been quite a performance.

301

MPAVictoria 11.06.14 at 7:46 pm

“I have an explanation that I have never seen elsewhere but which seems plausible to me, namely logistics. They had nothing like JIT, they had an unending supply of new bombs arriving and if they didn’t use them quick enough they’d run out of places to store them. But if they kept bombing bombing heavily-defended areas they would lose bombers too fast and would be unable to deliver their full quota of bombs.”

If we are going to just make things up I have a theory involving Reverse Vampires and the RAND Corporation that you may find very interesting….

302

The Temporary Name 11.06.14 at 8:02 pm

What would be nice is you please stop implying that I am sympathetic to nazism/racism/slavery.

All I’m accusing you of is being naive in your call for a list of holocaust perpetrators in the dead of Dresden. SS units from Dresden trained at Buchenwald to learn the art of mass execution, the city was slowly being drained of Jews, slaves made their way through the city to the factories, etc. In other words, I believe the list is longish.

None of which is to excuse indiscriminate slaughter, which was needless and immoral (as I think bombing is in general).

303

LFC 11.06.14 at 8:46 pm

@Ze Kraggash
Ha-ha. If so, why are they still occupying Italy, Germany, Japan, Korea? 40,000 US troops in Germany – 0 German troops in the US. 50,000 in Japan.

Personally I favor drastic reductions moving toward a complete phase-out of U.S. troop presence in Japan and Germany. But it’s worth noting that two actors that that would upset are the governments of Japan and Germany. Which doesn’t mean the U.S. shdn’t do it, but I think it is worth noting.

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J Thomas 11.06.14 at 8:55 pm

@300 BW

You want to make an argument that blames the U.S. and you’ve latched on to the policy of seeking unconditional surrender as your moral pivot point, where you can turn the whole narrative ’round and make all the horrors of the last 10 months of the Second World War the details of a moral indictment of the U.S. and the Allies. You made that clear in a number of your comments, including @ 271.

WTF?

If that’s what you thought I was doing, it makes your otherwise-inexplicable antagonism make more sense. I can see that you would feel badly toward somebody who did that. I don’t see why you thought that was my point, though.

OK, I’ll try for a moral stand. The Allies did some mean and crazy things, but to some extent they were driven crazy by the Nazis who were by almost any account crazier.

The Nazis were very hard to deal with. Possibly they got driven crazy by WWI and its aftermath, I’m not sure where to start assigning blame for being mentally unbalanced, but to my way of thinking assigning blame did not need to be central — we had to clean up the mess. Somebody had to do it, and that somebody was us.

The Nazis did *even more* crazy things when they saw they would almost-inevitably lose. Here’s a sort of analogy — if an armed crazy person has some hostages and is threatening to kill them, typically we get a SWAT team ready to kill him and hope most of the hostages survive. If you can persuade him to surrender before the SWAT team is ready, that’s *better*. It’s worth trying. Even if he has already killed or wounded some hostages, it’s better that he surrender sooner than kill him later. I say it’s better not to lie to him about how well he will be treated after he surrenders, because that can cause trouble if he survives, and also if other crazy people hear about the lies they will be harder to negotiate with when it’s their turn. Plus it’s generally better not to lie. But if it’s you doing it and you lie, I’ll say you shouldn’t have but I won’t try to get you fired or disciplined.

We would have lost very little by attempting to negotiate a surrender. There are plausible reasons to think it likely would not have worked, but I say the attempt was worth doing anyway.

I do not say that the fact that we did not do so, means that the last X months of WWII were all our fault.

I do say that next time we should try to negotiate early, because if we’re reasonably competent at it then it has very low costs and very low risks, and it might possibly do some good.

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LFC 11.06.14 at 9:03 pm

Ze Kraggash @295
From the realist perspective, for example, states are actors pursuing their self-interest, interests of their ruling class.

I realize you’re using small-“r” realist in the broad sense, but most self-identified Realists, esp. the so-called ‘structural Realists’, avoid Marxist categories and terminology (despite certain affinities betw. Realism and Marxism). Where it does come up as a category, though in somewhat more nuanced form than ‘the (singular) ruling class’, is in the work of those who pay more attention to the interplay of domestic politics and foreign policy (Snyder, Myths of Empire, wd be one example). There are Marxian IR theorists (Gramscian, world-system, uneven-and-combined-development, etc.), but that’s another matter.

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Ze Kraggash 11.06.14 at 9:35 pm

“But it’s worth noting that two actors that that would upset are the governments of Japan and Germany.”

I’m sure the governments of East Germany, Hungary, and a few other states (not to mention the government of Najibullah in Afghanistan) were terribly upset seeing Soviet troop leave. I doubt you were concerned for those, so how come you’re so fond of these? Anyway, like I said, I really dislike the liberal approach to international relations (which is what you represent, I imagine). I don’t think we’ll be able to discuss it.

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LFC 11.06.14 at 9:39 pm

Also, to say that for Realists individuals “are like ants for a bulldozer building a road” is pretty much a caricature, as Ze Kraggash probably knows. Esp. for the earlier generation of postwar Realists, moral considerations were never ignored: see e.g. Joel Rosenthal, Righteous Realists. Kennan wrote eloquently against nuclear weapons in the 1980s, and strongly opposed the development of the H-bomb 30 years earlier. Etc.

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J Thomas 11.06.14 at 9:41 pm

“Ha-ha. If so, why are they still occupying Italy, Germany, Japan, Korea? 40,000 US troops in Germany – 0 German troops in the US. 50,000 in Japan.”

Personally I favor drastic reductions moving toward a complete phase-out of U.S. troop presence in Japan and Germany. But it’s worth noting that two actors that that would upset are the governments of Japan and Germany. Which doesn’t mean the U.S. shdn’t do it, but I think it is worth noting.

If the German government does something the US government does not like, the US troops in Germany are not going to take over and install a new government that does what we want. So I would say that US troops in Germany are not occupation troops. They allow us to have bases there, which is something different.

On the other hand if the Panama government does something we don’t accept, we will take over and install a new government that does what we want. So for example we supported the Panama dictator Torrijos until he tried to overcharge us for the continuing treaty. Soon after he was killed and we supported the Panama dictator Noriega until he also acted too uppity and we got rid of him. It could be argued that we do occupy enough of Panama to easily conquer the rest whenever we want to.

But similarly we supported the filipino dictator Marcos, and our Marines sometimes went on “hunting trips” in the mountains killing his rebels, but then he got overthrown and we didn’t try to prop him up or replace him. The new government told us to go away and we just went away. The admirals said we didn’t need that base any more; maybe they weren’t just talking sour grapes.

Most places, US bases are not occupation. It’s something more complicated. I would prefer we shut down a whole lot of foreign bases, but it’s a complicated question and I probably haven’t considered all the important angles.

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LFC 11.06.14 at 9:42 pm

I’m sure the governments of East Germany, Hungary, and a few other states (not to mention the government of Najibullah in Afghanistan) were terribly upset seeing Soviet troop leave. I doubt you were concerned for those, so how come you’re so fond of these? Anyway, like I said, I really dislike the liberal approach to international relations (which is what you represent, I imagine).

I don’t ‘represent’ the ‘liberal approach to international relations’. I already said I am in favor of getting all US troops out of Germany, and at least most out of Japan.

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LFC 11.06.14 at 9:47 pm

J Thomas @308
US troops in Germany are not occupation troops. They allow us to have bases there, which is something different.

That is, basically, right. The question is does it make sense for the US to have 40,000 soldiers there in that kind of arrangement. I think not, but one cd debate it. (Anyway, it’s not the same as Soviet troops in E Germany or Hungary, but there’s no pt at all in arguing about that w Ze Kraggash.)

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Bruce Wilder 11.06.14 at 10:34 pm

J Thomas @ 304: I don’t see why you thought that was my point, though.

I get that you don’t have much self-awareness and that you take no responsibility for what you write. I think that has been your point, because you’ve made that point, over and over again.

@ 271: This is what you wrote:

. . . various people among the Allies felt that the Germans thought like that, and that they absolutely had to get the stuffing completely knocked out of them to make sure they never started another war.

To the extent that their goal was to make sure the Germans bled and bled and bled, and not to get the war to end earlier, they would be dead-set against anything that could let the war end sooner. Never mind how many others died, make sure plenty of Germans die! The more that was true, the less sense it made to even try to negotiate.

We don’t like to remember feeling that way, today. But lots of stuff makes sense in that context. Dresden? Hey, they’re Germans. Burn them. Poison gas? They’re Germans, they don’t deserve air. Atom bombs? Oh, too bad they were already beaten. We could have dropped one each on Berlin, Hamburg, Munich, if they got so disorganized they couldn’t figure out how to surrender we could nuke their cities until we ran out of bombs. Serve them right.

Of course, facts cannot constrain you; you choose your facts, as we see with this lurid nonsense about poison gas and nukes and not being able to surrender, but it gives you an opportunity to heap slanders.

@ 281:

So far the arguments against I have seen include:

1. The enemy didn’t wanna. Hitler would never have agreed to any negotiation. But I don’t see this as an argument not to try. Of course the enemy gets a vote in whether to negotiate, but if you try and he refuses, you have not lost much.

2. We didn’t wanna. We wanted that unconditional surrender no matter how much it cost civilians in the occupied areas, or Jews, or Russians, or anybody but us. This is not a moral argument, more an immoral argument.But it may be an argument from consequence — if we didn’t wanna do it then nobody could make us, therefore it was not possible and any argument in favor crashes against the reality that it was not in fact possible.

3. We were incompetent at negotiation. If we tried to negotiate we would have given away the store, we would have wound up in an immoral alliance with the Nazis against the USSR and we would have agreed they could have all of eastern europe (and the USSR after we helped them conquer it). Presumably we would not have let them keep occupying France, but maybe we’d give that away too. Since we can’t be trusted to negotiate, unconditional surrender is the only remaining choice.

I regard all of these as possible, given the historical record. I don’t see any of them as really decisive except maybe #2. We made no serious effort to establish a communication channel with the German government because we didn’t wanna. Since we didn’t do it, when it was the obviously right thing to do, maybe we didn’t wanna do it so hard that we couldn’t try.

Your excuse for all this nonsense is that facts do not matter. Other commenters have tried to bring facts to bear, but you continually ignore or dismiss them. You are not interested in engaging with what anyone else might say. @ 250: You politely acknowledged that Harold had provided a link to a work of scholarship laying out relevant details that tended to go against the case you had been building, but instead of dealing with facts, you took the opportunity to slander FDR and the American people:

. . . thank you, that laid out very well important details of how the tragedy happened. It does not mention one of the big parts of it, that lots of the US public wanted an unconditional surrender so FDR needed to give them that, regardless of the extra suffering required. If he had participated in a negotiated surrender he would have had to explain why. It was easier to give the public what they wanted.

So, in your view, the American people were bloodthirsty and FDR callous and lazy — I’m sure everyone was pleased that you found an opportunity to get that insight expressed.

And, it is not like you limit yourself to the negotiated surrender point. I mentioned it earlier: @ 136:

In the Pacific WWII, the Japanese army developed a tradition that it was shameful to ever surrender. The US Marines particularly believed stories that surrenders were usually traps, with wounded soldiers booby-trapped etc. They often maintained a policy to take no prisoners. So for example, out of 22,000 Japanese troops on Iwo Jima, 789 became POWs.

That was pretty clever of you, transforming the consequences of Japanese militarism into credulous Marines with a “take no prisoners” policy, morally responsible for horrific death rates. But, that’s what you do. Tirelessly, apparently.

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Ze Kraggash 11.06.14 at 10:43 pm

“I don’t ‘represent’ the ‘liberal approach to international relations’. I already said I am in favor of getting all US troops out of Germany, and at least most out of Japan.”

One doesn’t follow from the other. Troops can be stationed or they can be deployed when necessary. What I mean is that in your world the US probably is struggling not for domination, but to create democracies, enforce human rights, facilitate free trade, civilize savages, and so on.

“They allow us to have bases there, which is something different.”

Hey, you chose what the cause and effect are here, and I am sure you’re convinced it’s the truth, and that’s obvious, end of story. Fine.

313

mattski 11.06.14 at 11:43 pm

What is it about WWII and the Nazis in particular makes people so supercilious?

Stunning display of projection.

The Temporary Name, I admire your restraint. And your judgement too.

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ZM 11.07.14 at 12:15 am

“But similarly we supported the filipino dictator Marcos, and our Marines sometimes went on “hunting trips” in the mountains killing his rebels, but then he got overthrown and we didn’t try to prop him up or replace him. The new government told us to go away and we just went away. The admirals said we didn’t need that base any more; maybe they weren’t just talking sour grapes.”

The U.S. is now back to wanting influence over the Philippines as part of the “pivot to Asia” strategy (please do not pivot back to Asia – the last time caused too much war and trouble ).

China got very cross over this in 2011, and said they would punish the Philippines by not trading with them so much. China got a bit cross with Australia in 2011 too, when our government agreed to have a US military base in Darwin, but was more polite and said we must consider things carefully and not “play China for a fool”.

In April this year Obama announced “The Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, which has been under negotiation for eight months, is “the most significant defense agreement that we have concluded with the Philippines in decades,” said Evan Medeiros, National Security Council senior director for Asian affairs. The accord will give U.S. forces temporary access to select Philippine bases and allow them to position planes and ships there.”

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LFC 11.07.14 at 12:19 am

Ze Kraggash
What I mean is that in your world the US probably is struggling not for domination, but to create democracies, enforce human rights, facilitate free trade, civilize savages [sic], and so on.

The phrase “civilize savages” indicates that this is trolling. For the rest, I see little pt in getting into a discussion of US f.p. w ZK.

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J Thomas 11.07.14 at 12:52 am

#311 BW

To the extent that their goal was to make sure the Germans bled and bled and bled, and not to get the war to end earlier, they would be dead-set against anything that could let the war end sooner. Never mind how many others died, make sure plenty of Germans die! The more that was true, the less sense it made to even try to negotiate.”

Maybe we had to have an unconditional surrender because the US public would not stand for anything else. The attitudes I described were certainly there to some extent among the US public, I saw it in “Life” and “Look” and “Readers Digest” magazines left over from the war. More intense against the Japs for some reason. (Is it offensive I use the word “Japs”? That’s the word they used, when they were not being particularly rude. )

If we’re discussing the reasons why we could not offer to negotiate, that may be one of them.

“We don’t like to remember feeling that way, today. But lots of stuff makes sense in that context. Dresden? Hey, they’re Germans. Burn them. Poison gas? They’re Germans, they don’t deserve air. Atom bombs? Oh, too bad they were already beaten. We could have dropped one each on Berlin, Hamburg, Munich, if they got so disorganized they couldn’t figure out how to surrender we could nuke their cities until we ran out of bombs. Serve them right.”

Of course, facts cannot constrain you; you choose your facts, as we see with this lurid nonsense about poison gas and nukes and not being able to surrender, but it gives you an opportunity to heap slanders.

?? What do you see as slander here? Do you say there was no argument for genocide of supposed “Aryans” in 1944? It was never our official policy, but it was not an outlandish opinion among US civilians, now was it?

“2. We didn’t wanna. We wanted that unconditional surrender no matter how much it cost civilians in the occupied areas, or Jews, or Russians, or anybody but us. This is not a moral argument, more an immoral argument.But it may be an argument from consequence — if we didn’t wanna do it then nobody could make us, therefore it was not possible and any argument in favor crashes against the reality that it was not in fact possible.”

Your excuse for all this nonsense is that facts do not matter. Other commenters have tried to bring facts to bear, but you continually ignore or dismiss them. You are not interested in engaging with what anyone else might say.

?? Do you disagree that one of the major arguments presented in this comment thread against any attempt to negotiate with the Germans, is that we did not want to?

BW #197

“Unconditional surrender” was the allied policy because it related directly to the Allied goal of being free to re-make the state in Germany, Eastern Europe and Japan, a goal that was adopted because the experience of World War I, in which chaos and civil war was allowed to ensue following the armistice or other agreements to suspend hostilities.”

LFC #244
“By the time one or two of Hitler’s underlings made efforts in early 1945, iirc, to see if a negotiated end was possible with the Anglo-American wing of the Allies, it was way too late for even a trial balloon of this sort. The Allies were obvs. not interested, Hitler was not interested.”

Anderson #266
“Most important, *I* think, is that to the Allies, this was all a do-over of the Great War they had all lived through, which they believed had brought about this second one in no small part because the Germans quit while they were still ahead, and then cultivated their “stab in the back” myth on which Hitler rose to power. Europe could not afford for Germany to come away a second time sniveling that it hadn’t really been beaten.”

When I repeat it, you say I’m fantasizing.

So, in your view, the American people were bloodthirsty and FDR callous and lazy — I’m sure everyone was pleased that you found an opportunity to get that insight expressed.

Surely you agree that the politics back home mattered. And the arguments that are presented today — that we had to make sure the Germans knew they were completely beaten, that we wanted a free hand remolding them into something new, without any obligations beforehand, that we did not want to negotiate — do you think those were not popular opinions then? You believe I’m making it up?

“In the Pacific WWII, the Japanese army developed a tradition that it was shameful to ever surrender. The US Marines particularly believed stories that surrenders were usually traps, with wounded soldiers booby-trapped etc. They often maintained a policy to take no prisoners. So for example, out of 22,000 Japanese troops on Iwo Jima, 789 became POWs.”

That was pretty clever of you, transforming the consequences of Japanese militarism into credulous Marines with a “take no prisoners” policy, morally responsible for horrific death rates. But, that’s what you do. Tirelessly, apparently.

Are you now denying the facts?

My point was not that the Marines were morally responsible. My point way back then was that war is a cooperative effort, that there is almost always some agreement about how to do it, often a great deal, and sometimes there is more agreement than other times. The USA and Japan did not have as much agreement about how the war was supposed to go as the USA and Germany did. So rules of war that were often respected between the US army and the German army, were respected less between the US and the Japanese. Once again you have imagined criticism of the USA that I did not write. You keep doing that. When I give facts you disagree with the meanings you yourself attach to them.

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ZM 11.07.14 at 1:06 am

While Japanese war methods may have been very awful (my Grandfather was a soldier and my mum says he found it very hard to forgive the things he saw done by Japanese soldiers in the war) – it is important to note the preceding events – the totally unprovoked European colonial and mercantile incursion into Asia!

Japan wished to be a power like, eg. Great Britain, rather than be ransacked for resources and labour. In the aftermath of WW2 there was facilitation of Germany and Japan into the ranks of powers – but this is still very unfair as powers rely on the subordination of other countries for resources and cheap labour. Germany and Japan escaped that but other countries did not. Because of this we have unending wars trying to keep other countries subordinate to maintain this unfair relationship between countries.

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J Thomas 11.07.14 at 1:13 am

#315 LFC

“What I mean is that in your world the US probably is struggling not for domination, but to create democracies, enforce human rights, facilitate free trade, civilize savages [sic], and so on.”

The phrase “civilize savages” indicates that this is trolling. For the rest, I see little pt in getting into a discussion of US f.p. w ZK.

The US government and media have been characterizing ISIS as savages, but they haven’t talked like they want to civilize them, more just kill them until there aren’t enough left to matter.

I think he’s sincere and not trolling, but the gap between your concepts and his might be too big to be worth discussing.

#312 Ze Kraggash

“They allow us to have bases there, which is something different.”

Hey, you chose what the cause and effect are here, and I am sure you’re convinced it’s the truth, and that’s obvious, end of story. Fine.

No, I’m saying it’s complicated. Sometimes we are really occupying places, like Panama. Other times we have friendly relations with governments that are too weak to oppress their people without our military support in the form of training, supplies, technology, and maybe a little actual subtle violence. The Philippines under Marcos may have been like that, Chile under Pinochet, maybe Egypt under Mubarak, lots of potential examples. Sometimes we pay nations to let us set up bases that threaten their neighbors but not them. Sometimes we have actual allies that let us have bases. It’s complicated, it doesn’t just go one way.

As to our intentions, we’re still the only world superpower. Whatever our other intentions, doesn’t it make sense that one very high priority would be that we remain the only world superpower? That priority might inevitably lead to various predictable consequences.

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mattski 11.07.14 at 1:17 am

JT 316

The quotation you put up from Anderson a) does not speak directly to US policy and b) does not say that the Allies “did not want to” negotiate. It says that Europe felt it would be unwise to leave Germany with room for lunatic theories about why they lost. Europe, in this scenario, may well have wanted to negotiate to minimize casualties and yet made the decision that it would be imprudent to do so.

But, fwiw, I find it bizarre that you avoid the granular discussion of facts which, to most reasonable people, makes the entire topic of unconditional German surrender trivial.

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Bruce Wilder 11.07.14 at 1:29 am

J Thomas @ 316

You write, but you refuse to read.

No one disputes that unconditional surrender was the policy the Allies adopted. You alone think that policy was obviously foolish or adopted for sadistic and immoral reasons, and maintained inflexibly in a way that prolonged the war. You alone present arguments that excuse the behavior of the Germans and slander the motives of the Allies, with little or no factual basis.

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Bruce Wilder 11.07.14 at 1:33 am

J Thomas: Do you say there was no argument for genocide of supposed “Aryans” in 1944? It was never our official policy, but it was not an outlandish opinion among US civilians, now was it?

QED

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J Thomas 11.07.14 at 1:39 am

#317 ZM

While Japanese war methods may have been very awful … – it is important to note the preceding events – the totally unprovoked European colonial and mercantile incursion into Asia!

Yes, for any moral question we can — if we want — split into two sides. One comes up with excuses for the bad things somebody has done, and the other argues why those excuses are inadequate.

And the obvious excuse is to blame it on somebody else’s earlier bad behavior.

So we can blame Israel’s excesses on Hitler, we can blame Hitler on the bad outcomes of WWI, we can blame those on the hate triggered by the German/Austro-hungarian military tactics of the war. Those may have come because the conventional wisdom said that — rather like global thermonuclear destruction — any world war would be so horrible that there was no way to plan to win it. Rather than fall into complete despair, they planned a way to win quickly and avoid the horribleness. It didn’t work…. But the CW was that the war would inevitably be horrible with no meaningful victor, the idea was that the war would never actually happen. Kind of like MAD. Looking back, they were wrong to set things up that way. (If we had actually had a big nuclear war that would have been strong evidence that we were wrong to set things up that way, but maybe we were lucky.)

Putting all that aside, I don’t think I benefit by deciding who to blame it on. I can blame it on crazy people, or the people who drove them crazy, etc and it’s all a waste. I do better to look for ways to get from here, where we are, to where we want to be.

When I look at goals, I don’t really want to figure out who to blame, I don’t want justice for the past. What I want — I can’t say it any better than Strugatsky. ‘HAPPINESS FOR EVERYBODY, FREE, AND NO ONE WILL GO AWAY UNSATISFIED!’

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J Thomas 11.07.14 at 1:58 am

#320 BW

No one disputes that unconditional surrender was the policy the Allies adopted.

Agreed.

You alone think that policy was obviously foolish or adopted for sadistic and immoral reasons, and maintained inflexibly in a way that prolonged the war.

Not me alone.

#260 Harold

“Another overlooked “fact” (myth is a more accurate noun) is that the Allies’ demand for “unconditional surrender” was a major motive force in the continued German resistance: not at all true, according to Kershaw, and considerable evidence is mustered in support of that claim.”

Various people believe this, and Kershaw argues that they are wrong to believe it. I do not claim that the Allied refusal to attempt negotiation was a major motive for German resistance. They certainly had others! My claim is not as strong as these other people. I claim only that by refusing to attempt to negotiate, we failed to discover factors that might have gotten them to surrender earlier. If we had tried that and they had responded, we would now look back at the history and trace out the reasons why they did it. To some it would look almost — inevitable.

I don’t know what would have happened. I only say that it had little cost and little risk to find out, and we chose not to.

You alone present arguments that excuse the behavior of the Germans and slander the motives of the Allies, with little or no factual basis.

You keep repeating that I do this thing which I deny. I am not interested in excusing the behavior of the Nazis. The only faint possibility of an excuse I can imagine is a sort of insanity defense. We agree they were insane? That is not much of an excuse to my way of thinking.

I can imagine ways that they may have thought those behaviors were necessary. I could probably trace out logical arguments why they might have thought that any other choice would have worse consequences. I somewhat remember arguments along those lines, and I might find the sources. But that is not an excuse! Understanding how somebody thinks, does not excuse their behavior.

“It was never our official policy, but it was not an outlandish opinion among US civilians, now was it?”

QED

?? Do you deny the reality? Or do you say I am a horrible person to say it.

Let me attempt to expand your reasoning.

“J Thomas says that during WWII some of the American public were no good shits. (Apart from being racist chauvinists etc.)”

“J Thomas would not talk that way unless J Thomas was a no good shit.”

“Therefore J Thomas is a no good shit.”

Is that what you’re saying?

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ZM 11.07.14 at 2:04 am

J Thomas,

“One comes up with excuses for the bad things somebody has done, and the other argues why those excuses are inadequate.
And the obvious excuse is to blame it on somebody else’s earlier bad behavior.”

It is not making “excuses” to bring up the unprovoked European incursions into the Asian-Pacific in discussions of the world wars. In the case of Australia where I live the European incursion is also associated with genocide (re: the OP) in the minds of many Australians.

“When I look at goals, I don’t really want to figure out who to blame, I don’t want justice for the past. What I want — I can’t say it any better than Strugatsky. ‘HAPPINESS FOR EVERYBODY, FREE, AND NO ONE WILL GO AWAY UNSATISFIED!’”

The injustices of European colonialism/incursions are not yet in the past — they continue today — just look at all the vulnerable countries now exploited by the powerful ones .

The idea of there being a contraction of wealthy economies and convergence of all economies is threatened as inequality within countries makes this unwanted as the costs of contracting wealthy economies is borne by the most vulnerable wealthy countries eg. Greece; or by the most vulnerable people within countries e.g.. those who rely on government income support and services. And then you have the rise of UKIP and Golden Dawn, which is all too much like pre-WW2 political turmoil for my liking.

Since we do not live on a planet that expands in accordance with the expansion of the human population and the expansion of human desires for consumption — you would have to address present injustices (with roots in past injustices) in order to attain your goal of “Happiness for everybody…”

325

J Thomas 11.07.14 at 2:18 am

#324 ZM

The injustices of European colonialism/incursions are not yet in the past — they continue today — just look at all the vulnerable countries now exploited by the powerful ones .

That’s true.

Since we do not live on a planet that expands in accordance with the expansion of the human population and the expansion of human desires for consumption — you would have to address present injustices (with roots in past injustices) in order to attain your goal of “Happiness for everybody…”

We will have to end the continuing behaviors that cause so much suffering. I don’t see that talk about “justice” helps with that, except to claim legitimacy. If someone is doing something bad, and he claims he has the right to do bad things because X, you can argue that it’s an injustice and that he must be made to suffer for his crimes, and in some people’s minds that gives you the right to stop him and severely reduce his ability to fight back.

It’s possible that there are a fraction of powerful people who will prevent any reform if they can. Maybe it’s necessary to kill that fraction before any meaningful progress can be made.

For the good of all of us
Except the ones who are dead.

I’m not ready to assert that has to be true. I want to believe that it might be possible to do good things without necessarily having to kill anybody.

326

mattski 11.07.14 at 3:03 am

JT,

?? Do you deny the reality [popular US support for perpetrating genocide against Aryans]? Or do you say I am a horrible person to say it.

How about producing some evidence? There’s a novel idea.

327

J Thomas 11.07.14 at 4:23 am

#326 mattski

How about producing some evidence? There’s a novel idea.

I started to see what I could find online, and then realized that doing this would lead to more accusations that I must be a bad person to say such things. As near as I can follow the reasoning, if I talk about people saying mean things about what they want to do to Nazis, I must be complaining that Nazis ought to get treated better, which makes me a Nazi-lover. If I’m going to do this research for you guys (and I don’t know ahead of time how much I’ll find here, my original sources are likely not online or behind paywalls, and probably some links would be to bona-fide germanophile sites which discredit themselves by existing and would discredit me if I quoted them), well, what’s in it for me?

Anyway, consider what kind of US attitudes were required to get the Morgenthau plan approved as official policy. (It did not stay approved, common sense eventually won out.)

Here’s some stuff about japanese POWs that should show I wasn’t making that up all by myself.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Japanese_prisoners_of_war_in_World_War_II

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The Temporary Name 11.07.14 at 4:34 am

I wonder how a guy called Eisenhower would have felt about an Aryan genocide.

329

MPAVictoria 11.07.14 at 4:55 am

“Anyway, consider what kind of US attitudes were required to get the Morgenthau plan approved as official policy. “

The Morgenthau plan was rejected because it was felt that it would cause unacceptable German civilian casualties. It is not any kind of proof of a plan for an Aryan Genocide. You really are just making stuff up.

330

Harold 11.07.14 at 5:14 am

It is particularly laughable since there are no such thing as Aryans.

331

ZM 11.07.14 at 5:18 am

I think maybe there are Aryans, but they happen not to be Germans. I think they’re from India and maybe the Steppes.

332

Harold 11.07.14 at 5:35 am

The ancient Persians designated themselves that. They also called themselves the Medes, Bactrians, and Sogdians (famous for their swirl), and, of course, Pars.

333

Ze Kraggash 11.07.14 at 7:16 am

” Sometimes we have actual allies that let us have bases.”

It’s odd, though, that all the places with massive contingents of US troops used to be occupied by the US (Italy, Germany, Japan, Korea), and that’s when the bases were installed. I don’t see how it’s different from the USSR/Eastern Europe situation.

Aside from that, you said earlier: “They allow us to have bases there”. But consider Cuba, where for the last 55 years or so they don’t, yet the base is still there.

As for ‘civilizing savages’, I concede it’s redundant, since I listed ‘enforcing human rights’, which is a euphemism describing the same thing. Fine.

334

Bruce Wilder 11.07.14 at 7:27 am

Qatar and Singapore?

335

Harold 11.07.14 at 7:40 am

The almond groves of Samarqand,
Bokhara, where red lilies blow.
And Oxus, by whose yellow sand
The grave white-turbaned merchants go.
***
“Enforcing human rights?” Ha!
***
http://www.bibliotecapleyades.net/imagenes_sociopol/globalmilitarism58_05.jpg

http://www.bibliotecapleyades.net/imagenes_sociopol/globalmilitarism58_14.jpg

336

Ze Kraggash 11.07.14 at 9:13 am

What about this guy, Robert Cox: http://www.theory-talks.org/2010/03/theory-talk-37.html ?

337

J Thomas 11.07.14 at 9:26 am

#330 Harold

It is particularly laughable since there are no such thing as Aryans.

Oh, come on. Next you’ll be telling us there’s no such thing as Santa Claus. Or justice. And yet these concepts have a great big effect on people even if they technically do not exist.

Genocide is a slippery concept, isn’t it? Like, how many Iraqis have to die before it’s genocide? Surely more than a million. Or two million. There were more than 25 million of them. If we consider Iraqi Sunnis? Iraqi Kurdish Sunnis? The labels are all kind of squishy, aren’t they?

Some group of people develops a sense of tribal identity, and they have a scientificly false origin myth — has that ever happened before?

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paleolithic_Continuity_Theory
Here’s an idea I find exciting. It’s probably not true in all details, but there might be a lot to it.

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J Thomas 11.07.14 at 10:17 am

#333 Ze Kraggash

” Sometimes we have actual allies that let us have bases.”

It’s odd, though, that all the places with massive contingents of US troops used to be occupied by the US (Italy, Germany, Japan, Korea), and that’s when the bases were installed. I don’t see how it’s different from the USSR/Eastern Europe situation.

You do have a point there. During the Cold War, the USA and the USSR were “The Big Two” and they managed not to have a global thermonuclear war. It’s understandable that there would be US troops in West Germany. On a smaller scale, the US troops in South Korea got presented to US citizens as a “tripwire” we provided to calm South Korean fears. If North Korea attacked, our troops would be right there getting slaughtered and we wouldn’t put up with it the way we might if it was entirely South Koreans getting killed. It was a promise that we’d help them defend their nation. But I have to admit we did a singularly bad job of assisting them in getting democracy.

We have more troops in Kuwait than Italy, but that’s another place we fought and it’s next door to Iraq where we fought, and next door to Saudi Arabia where we’re not welcome, and not that far from Iran where I hope we don’t fight.

I’m not clear what the algorithm is. Something like:

A. Keep US troops in places where we fought before so we can be ready to re-fight the last war.
B. Keep big bases where we already have big bases and don’t have to make new arrangements to buy or rent large tracts of land.
C. Keep more US troops in places where the locals don’t strongly object, like Germany, Kuwait, Korea etc and not places where they do strongly object like the Philippines, Panama, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, France, etc.

Small numbers of soldiers can go lots of places for various purposes — maintaining supply dumps, impressing the natives (by theoretically training them in our military methods), etc.

There would be various exceptions like Gitmo which you pointed out. It’s complicated and there may not be any simple rule.

So anyway, if you want to think of it as a US empire, I can’t think of any solid evidence against that point of view. But it might be valid to also think sometimes we have real allies. Like our NATO allies Greece, Turkey, and Albania that helped us attack Afghanistan to protect the North Atlantic.

I think there might be some validity to that alternate point of view also.

339

J Thomas 11.07.14 at 11:03 am

#329 MPAV

The Morgenthau plan was rejected because it was felt that it would cause unacceptable German civilian casualties.

Look it up. There was more than one reason JCS1067 got rejected in 1947.

340

mattski 11.07.14 at 11:54 am

JT

I started to see what I could find online, and then realized that doing this would lead to more accusations that I must be a bad person to say such things.

It appears you eschew evidence in favor of imaginative generalizations. (And changing the subject to the Japanese.)

You know, the beauty of evidence is that you aren’t saying it. It speaks for itself.

341

Anderson 11.07.14 at 1:03 pm

Genocide vs “Aryans”?

When ya sound like warmed-over Goebbels, it’s time to stop. Or time for people to stop discussing with ya.

FDR for instance said some ugly things about taking the war to the German population. He never suggested wiping out the Germans. As opposed to what the Germans had in mind for the Jews. It’s the difference between war crimes and crimes against humanity. Look it up.

342

J Thomas 11.07.14 at 1:25 pm

#340 mattski

You know, the beauty of evidence is that you aren’t saying it. It speaks for itself.

I have repeatedly found that not to be true here.

Like, I reported that japanese soldiers hesitated to surrender, and US soldiers hesitated to accept japanese surrender. And I got accused of blaming US soldiers for horrendous death rates.

I gave factual accounts of the ABC reasoning about Dresden, though I didn’t give links. And I got accused of saying that our war crimes were just as bad as Nazi war crimes so we should have been nicer to the Nazis.

I’m not making this up.

343

LFC 11.07.14 at 2:35 pm

Ze Kraggash @336:
What about this guy, Robert Cox?

In the opening answer of that 2010 interview, Cox says he sees two scenarios: (1) the emergence of a more multipolar world (“a plural world w several centers of power” or something along those lines, i’m not going back for the exact phrasing, is how he puts it); (2) the emergence of a geopolitical contest betw what Cox, resurrecting Mackinder, views as the ‘Eurasian’ ‘heartland’ vs the ‘rimland’ (ie mostly the US). To sketch scenario #2, Cox has to call NATO a “peripheral” (non-‘Eurasian’) alliance, which does not make a whole lot of sense if you look at NATO’s membership, and he asserts, not too persuasively, that the world views US bases as “encirclement.” I don’t think resurrecting Mackinder’s 1904 “The Geographical Pivot of History” is esp. convincing as a guide to the current scene, but YMMV.

You — Ze Kraggash — think Cox’s scenario #2 is more likely than his scenario #1. I don’t, though I think one cd have a mixture of both scenarios. (At this level of generality, it’s not easy to say.)

The pt is these things are not black-and-white. You (Ze K.) want to paint a picture in which the US is trying to cling to its position of world ‘dominance’ and doesn’t care about anything else in terms of its foreign policy. Countries, however, incl the US, have multiple aims, not just one. At some pt in the relatively near future, China will overtake the US as the country w the largest GDP. The US will continue to be the militarily strongest country for quite a while and will prob. continue to have a network of bases, but economic power will continue to shift to other countries. (That’s one reason the Obama admin wants the ‘TransPacificPartnership’ trade agreement, even if it doesn’t frame it in those terms.)

Taking yr (Ze K’s) list of supposed US foreign policy goals according to the “liberal” view: “enforce [I wd say “promote”] human rights” is somewhere on the list of priorities, but not v. high. “Create democracies” is basically not on the list in the current admin. “Facilitate free trade” is much higher on the list than the other two.

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MPAVictoria 11.07.14 at 2:53 pm

“Look it up. There was more than one reason JCS1067 got rejected in 1947.”

Your insane.

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J Thomas 11.07.14 at 3:49 pm

#343 LFC

You (Ze K.) want to paint a picture in which the US is trying to cling to its position of world ‘dominance’ and doesn’t care about anything else in terms of its foreign policy.

I’d say that maintaining ‘dominance’ has to be a very high priority, because when you lose that it starts looking harder to achieve any other goals. That might be an illusion. Maybe the appearance of dominance makes it harder to get honest cooperation from other nations. But it’s a compelling illusion, hard to trust that it’s wrong.

Countries, however, incl the US, have multiple aims, not just one.

Yes. For any given action, the more of the goals that line up so it appears to support them, the more likely the action will be taken. The collective choice process is surely more complicated than that, but I think that’s a good first approximation.

At some pt in the relatively near future, China will overtake the US as the country w the largest GDP.

Seems plausible. I don’t see anything on the horizon to keep that from happening. By capitalist thinking they’re due for a financial crisis and a big recession, but they don’t have to do it that way. I can imagine the Chinese communist government telling their people “Look, you gambled your money on the capitalist stock market. What did you expect would happen? So work hard and earn more, and we will find a better way for you to invest your savings.”

The US will continue to be the militarily strongest country for quite a while and will prob. continue to have a network of bases,

Yes, but military dominance appears to shift suddenly and at unexpected times. Both on land and sea, we tend to think of air superiority belonging to the most expensive warplanes. If the technology shifts to large numbers of cheap drones, or something else, we are likely to keep our investment in super-expensive piloted planes because our aviation aces won’t admit it’s changed until they’re forced to by defeats. So while the tech changes that make us obsolete may be small and incremental, the realization that we have lost comes as a sudden shock at a time we don’t predict.

but economic power will continue to shift to other countries.

Yes, I see nothing yet that would change this.

Taking yr (Ze K’s) list of supposed US foreign policy goals according to the “liberal” view: “enforce [I wd say “promote”] human rights” is somewhere on the list of priorities, but not v. high.

It ranks lower than supporting any useful ally. It’s a useful tool to berate our enemies and get public opinion to support action against them.

“Create democracies” is basically not on the list in the current admin.

Yes, the Bush administration talked about it, but they seemed to think it was inevitable and they didn’t have to do anything. So they concentrated on making sure that the democracy they created in Iraq included nobody who had cooperated with the Ba’ath regime and nobody religious. Somehow the guys they tried to promote did not have a tremendous amount of public support….

Now if Obama talks to a foreign head of state and tells him that his nation is not democratic enough and suggests ways to make it more democratic, that’s just friendly advice. No problem with that! But if he tells the people of that nation that the USA will give technical support and maybe air support for a revolution to create a democratic government, that’s downright unfriendly. The foreign head of state might reasonably regard it is not that different from a declaration of war.

Opportunities to create democracy and still be polite to everybody do not come all that often.

“Facilitate free trade” is much higher on the list than the other two.

That one is pretty much complete on our side.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_embargoes
We already have PNTR with pretty much everybody we aren’t seriously annoyed at.

We are not so good at getting other nations to reciprocate.

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Ze Kraggash 11.07.14 at 3:54 pm

I was not talking about any administrations; administrations are almost never run by liberals (in the IR sense). The only one I can think of was Gorby’s in Russia, and we all know how that one ended. I meant liberal intelligentsia, a-la Fukuyama or some such. Their ideas, their paradigm.

“Cox has to call NATO a “peripheral” (non-‘Eurasian’) alliance, which does not make a whole lot of sense if you look at NATO’s membership”

Well, in this context Eurasia is not the whole Eurasian continent. From what understand, the division is between the Atlantic powers and those on the Eurasian landmass outside Western (and possibly Central) Europe. Far as I can tell, it’s getting popular now, and the ongoing US aggression (or whatever you may want to call it) in Ukraine may give it some energy.

“Countries, however, incl the US, have multiple aims, not just one.”

Well, I don’t think they do have multiple aims. To me, they look like fairly unsophisticated organisms.

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J Thomas 11.07.14 at 4:06 pm

#344 MPAV

“Look it up. There was more than one reason JCS1067 got rejected in 1947.”

Your insane.

You didn’t look it up, did you?

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/JCS_1067
Wikipedia gives a mainstream view.

The Washington Post urged a stop to helping Dr. Goebbels: if the Germans suspect that nothing but complete destruction lies ahead, then they will fight on.[38] The Republican presidential candidate Thomas Dewey complained in his campaign that the Germans had been terrified by the plan into fanatical resistance, “Now they are fighting with the frenzy of despair.”[39]

General George Marshall complained to Morgenthau that German resistance had strengthened.[40] Hoping to get Morgenthau to relent on his plan for Germany, President Roosevelt’s son-in-law Lt. Colonel John Boettiger who worked in the War Department explained to Morgenthau how the American troops who had had to fight for five weeks against fierce German resistance to capture the city of Aachen had complained to him that the Morgenthau Plan was “worth thirty divisions to the Germans.” Morgenthau refused to relent.[41]

On December 11, OSS operative William Donovan sent Roosevelt a telegraph message from Bern, warning him of the consequences that the knowledge of the Morgenthau plan had had on German resistance; by showing them that the enemy planned the enslavement of Germany it had welded together ordinary Germans and the regime; the Germans continue to fight because they are convinced that defeat will bring nothing but oppression and exploitation.

Note that just because General Marshall etc thought that the publicly-revealed Morgenthau plan increased German resistance does not make it true. It’s possible that they would have fought just as fanatically no matter what we said.

On 10 May 1945 President Truman approved JCS (Joint Chiefs of Staff policy) 1067 which directed the U.S. forces of occupation in Germany to “…take no steps looking toward the economic rehabilitation of Germany [nor steps] designed to maintain or strengthen the German economy”. The net effect was that Germany wasn’t allowed to realistically produce goods for export in order to purchase food; millions of Germans were supplied only meager starvation rations, with 1947 being the worst year. It took two years (1945 to 1947) of death and disease, and fears that starving Germans might “go Communist” before U.S. Secretary of State James F. Byrnes made his Stuttgart speech. ….

Dismantling of (West) German industry ended in 1951, but “industrial disarmament” lingered in restrictions on actual German steel production, and production capacity, as well as on restriction on key industries. All remaining restrictions were rescinded on May 5, 1955.

Of course, just because Germany was not allowed to rebuild and some Germans starved, does not mean that anybody in the USA wanted that result. We could have been doing it for two years by accident.

And JCS1067 was milder than Morgenthau’s version. It allowed US administrators to choose to go slow on destroying German industry, if they wished, so that when it was repealed there was more mothballed stuff left than there would have been with the original plan.

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MPAVictoria 11.07.14 at 4:42 pm

And you take this as proof the US wanted an Aryan Genocide?

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J Thomas 11.07.14 at 4:57 pm

#348 MPAV

And you take this as proof the US wanted an Aryan Genocide?

Where do you get this stuff? I started out saying it was not an outlandish opinion, not that it was ever a majority view.

You give the strong impression you did not look at the single link I provided.

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MPAVictoria 11.07.14 at 5:04 pm

You continue to claim that you are bring misread. Perhaps the problem is not the readers but you? Just food for thought.

Okay let’s get in to this. What percentage of the population of the US, the UK and the commonwealth countries wanted an Aryan Genocide? You say the opinion wasn’t outlandish. At what point does an opinion stop being outlandish?

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J Thomas 11.07.14 at 5:56 pm

#350 MPAV

You continue to claim that you are bring misread. Perhaps the problem is not the readers but you?

Perhaps so. Maybe there’s some sort of issue of dogwhistles. Mention the wrong keyword and they respond by instinct.

At what point does an opinion stop being outlandish?

Maybe when it gets reported in the mass media without disclaimers, like it’s an ordinary reasonable idea?

You guys keep reacting like you have never heard of US WWII war hysteria. How come?

You lived through 9/11 when the USA went collectively insane for awhile. Did you think it was the first time?

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MPAVictoria 11.07.14 at 6:04 pm

“What percentage of the population of the US, the UK and the commonwealth countries wanted an Aryan Genocide?”
I ask again.

And do you have quotes from Churchill or FDR calling for a Genocide?

You seem to be making use of the Cavuto Mark.

http://www.newshounds.us/2006/09/14/jon_stewart_explains_the_cavuto_mark.php

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Harold 11.07.14 at 6:17 pm

@347 That particular wikipedia article is not a “mainstream view” as is noted in the preliminary warning notice to the article.

The founding myth of an “Aryan” identity was constructed by such as Rosenberg and Goebels, and is not used by anyone except maybe the Klu Klux Klan.

Timothy Snyder writes (reviewing Kershaw’s book):

Kershaw’s subtitle speaks of the “defiance and destruction of Nazi Germany.” Defiance there was, from the Nazis’ own perspective, not only from 1944 but from the very beginning. They had always seen themselves as the beleaguered victims of grand conspiracies; their end at the hands of a great coalition was the homecoming of reality to illusion. Their idea of rule was certainly destroyed: Hitler killed himself, his regime collapsed, his ideas were discredited by defeat. But Germany itself, though heavily damaged and completely occupied, was not destroyed. The scale of human losses was of course enormous, and far greater than that of the British or the Americans, but less than in the eastern lands that the Nazis had seen as colonies, and less than is often thought or claimed. Goebbels added a zero to the total of German dead in the bombing of Dresden, changing 25,000 to 250,000 and creating an enduring myth. The number of Germans killed during the frightful evacuations and ethnic cleansings at war’s end was (and is) similarly exaggerated. Kershaw notes with typical perceptiveness and fairness that, since Germans suffered so much more at the end of the war than they had earlier, they were wont to think, though quite wrongly, that their own experience of 1944-1945 was as bad as the war had gotten.

WHAT KERSHAW CALLS the end was, of course, also a beginning. The wartime German empire was dismantled, and postwar Germany became two states rather than one. The Federal Republic of Germany became a prosperous democracy, an American ally, and an organizer of European integration; the German Democratic Republic was a Soviet satellite and, for a time, an apparent example of the economic promise of communism. Both of these Germanys were new homelands for twelve million or so resettled German refugees. Rather than Germans becoming the racial masters of a depopulated East, Germans from the East moved west to Germany, more than making up for German war losses. These people, it goes without saying, could not have escaped intermarriage and assimilation over the centuries in Eastern Europe. They were Germans, but they brought variety.

http://www.newrepublic.com/article/books/magazine/96102/cruelty-and-collapse

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J Thomas 11.07.14 at 6:37 pm

#353 Harold

@347 That particular wikipedia article is not a “mainstream view” as is noted in the preliminary warning notice to the article.

??? WTF ???

Here is the warning notice I see.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/JCS_1067

This article’s lead section may not adequately summarize key points of its contents. Please consider expanding the lead to provide an accessible overview of all important aspects of the article. (March 2013)

Did you see some other warning notice?

I thought better of you.

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bianca steele 11.07.14 at 6:41 pm

Harold: The founding myth of an “Aryan” identity was constructed by such as Rosenberg and Goebels, and is not used by anyone except maybe the Klu Klux Klan.

In fact, V. Gordon Childe’s The Aryans, a Study of Indo-European Origins, was published in London in 1926, and interest in the idea of a specifically Indo-European, or Aryan, culture, which spread over and united Europe (not Celtic, etc.), predated that, and was assumed to have identical boundaries with specific features of linguistic and material culture. Of course, by the post-WWII era, it had been entirely discredited, and the theories of those who’d actually supported fascism had had those elements purged. But in the 1920s and 1930s the search for the Indo-Europeans it seems to have been a common bourgeois leisure pursuit, which they’d have put up on their blogs if they’d had them in those days.

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Harold 11.07.14 at 7:08 pm

@355 Even in that book , which he later repudiated, Childe discounts the idea of a so-called “Nordic race” (pp. 162-63). This was the fantasy of the “scientific” racists, (dubbed by Childe the “anthoporsociologists”) beginning with the Frenchman Gobineau and his followers and on to the American pro-genitors of the Klan, adopted by the Germans. The wikipedia article on this is not too bad.

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bianca steele 11.07.14 at 7:19 pm

@356 Yes. I always want to keep in mind that people have different ideas about what “racial” or “racist” or “racialist” mean, but that’s true.

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Harold 11.07.14 at 7:34 pm

“Because the early Hindus and Persians did really call themselves Aryans, this term was adopted by some nineteenth-century philologists to designate the speakers of the ‘parent tongue’. It is now applied scientifically only to the Hindus, Iranian peoples and the rulers of Mitanni whose linguistic ancestors spoke closely related dialects and even worshipped common deities. As used by Nazis and anti-semites generally, the term ‘Aryan’ means as little as the words ‘Bolshie’ and ‘Red’ in the mouths of crusted tories.”

— Gordon Childe criticizing the Nazi conception of an Aryan race, What Happened in History, 1942.[45]

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MPAVictoria 11.07.14 at 7:47 pm

Thank you bianca and Harold. I feel like I learned something from both of your posts.

/bianca I did not capitalize your name because you don’t in your posts. Happy to capitalize it in the future if that is your preference.

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J Thomas 11.07.14 at 8:09 pm

#355 Bianca Steele

“Harold: The founding myth of an “Aryan” identity was constructed by such as Rosenberg and Goebels, and is not used by anyone except maybe the Klu Klux Klan.”

In fact, V. Gordon Childe’s The Aryans, a Study of Indo-European Origins, was published in London in 1926, and interest in the idea of a specifically Indo-European, or Aryan, culture, which spread over and united Europe (not Celtic, etc.), predated that, and was assumed to have identical boundaries with specific features of linguistic and material culture. Of course, by the post-WWII era, it had been entirely discredited….

This stuff was a debased version of linguistic etc ideas which had at that time not been scientifically discredited. Lots of people were ready to believe it. A whole class of linguistic theorists still believes something like it.

I recommend the following:
http://www.panshin.com/trogholm/wonder/indoeuropean/indoeuropean1.html

The writer is an amateur and I don’t claim she has everything right, but she writes so clearly that it’s a great intro to an unusual approach. Don’t believe her conclusions without checking — but that’s true of everything, right?

It was taken for granted in the early 20th century that the prehistoric past could best be understood in terms of warfare and colonization, just like the present. Wherever archaeological evidence suggested a change in culture, the assumption was that one people had replaced another — or, at the very least, had subjugated another and become their rulers. And the wide distribution of certain language families was taken to mean that their original speakers had been particularly powerful and ruthless warlords.

In particular, the presence of Indo-European languages everywhere from England to India was assumed to have been a product of the invention of horse-chariot technology shortly after 2000 BC. The original Indo-Europeans were imagined as a horde of aristocratic Bronze Age warriors who came hurtling out of the steppes, overwhelming the simple peasant cultures of Europe and even toppling the supposedly decadent high civilization of the Indus Valley.

Despite its troubling racist overtones, that point of view was still dominant when I went to college in the 1960’s. However, by the 1970’s it had started to lose ground. I remember being particularly startled when I read a book called Bronze Age migrations in the Aegean; archaeological and linguistic problems in Greek prehistory (1973) and discovered that there hadn’t actually been very much Bronze Age migration in the Aegean. Even the Mycenaeans — who had previously been considered a prime example of invading Indo-European chariot-warriors — were now reassessed as a purely local development.

That reassessment created real problems. If the ancestors of the Myceneans were already living in Greece by 2300 BC — before the invention of the horse-chariot — they could not have arrived as horse-chariot warriors. And if the chariot-warrior explanation of Indo-European expansion no longer held true for the Greeks, then perhaps it no longer held true anywhere.

….

I eavesdrop on the online discussions of the professional Indo-Europeanists from time to time, and although they keep arguing about the “where” of an Indo-European homeland, they don’t seem to be coming up with any new approaches to the problems of “when” or “how.” In the meantime, radically new ideas have been percolating up from an unexpected direction — not among the Indo-Europeanists themselves, but among the Uralists.

The Uralic family of languages includes Finnish and Hungarian, but most of its members are found to the east of Europe, in the Ural Mountains and northwestern Siberia. Unlike the Indo-Europeanists, the Uralists never seem to have gotten their heads filled with romantic stories about great migrations and heroic conquests. Instead, their central theme is, “We have always been here” — and now the DNA evidence appears to be backing that up. It looks as though speakers of Uralic have lived in pretty much the same place since the Paleolithic, only moving a ways south and then back north again in response to the advance and retreat of the ice.

But if Uralic speakers were already in roughly their current location by the Paleolithic, it becomes difficult to see how Indo-European speakers could have slipped past them and gotten into Europe. The obvious conclusion would be that the Indo-European languages have also been in Europe since the Ice Age, a surprising conclusion but one that matches well with both the DNA evidence and the archaeology. That is the premise of the new and still controversial Paleolithic Continuity Theory of Indo-European.

So OK, the best anybody could tell, warriors with chariots overran everybody and imposed IE languages on them. Nobody had a better idea, and so they believed it, and the Nazis used it. Then when the people who came up with the ideas saw how horrible the Nazis were, they recanted. “No, I was wrong! The Nazis used my ideas, and the Nazis are wrong, so I’m wrong too!”

My take-home lesson is don’t believe stuff because it looks like the best explanation so far, or because it’s the only explanation you can think of. Believe it when there is so much evidence that you cannot doubt it. Premature belief causes Nazis. (That last was excessive, of course if the Nazis didn’t have Aryans they would have used something else. It’s poetry.)

[As a digression, one classic use of chariots, beyond a mobile archery platform, was to break through enemy lines, creating a gap that infantry could exploit, then wreak some havoc behind the lines before breaking through again from the back. And in the Volsung saga, Sigurd got his big military successes with heavy cavalry, he would break through the enemy line, attack them from behind, and break through again, repeatedly. It might be a coincidence that the german army did something similar.]

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MPAVictoria 11.07.14 at 8:13 pm

“My take-home lesson is don’t believe stuff because it looks like the best explanation so far, or because it’s the only explanation you can think of. Believe it when there is so much evidence that you cannot doubt it. Premature belief causes Nazis. “

“I have an explanation that I have never seen elsewhere but which seems plausible to me, namely logistics. They had nothing like JIT, they had an unending supply of new bombs arriving and if they didn’t use them quick enough they’d run out of places to store them. But if they kept bombing bombing heavily-defended areas they would lose bombers too fast and would be unable to deliver their full quota of bombs.”

The same person posted BOTH of these comments…..

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J Thomas 11.07.14 at 8:36 pm

#361 MPAV

“My take-home lesson is don’t believe stuff because it looks like the best explanation so far, or because it’s the only explanation you can think of. Believe it when there is so much evidence that you cannot doubt it. Premature belief causes Nazis. “

“I have an explanation that I have never seen elsewhere but which seems plausible to me, namely logistics. They had nothing like JIT, they had an unending supply of new bombs arriving and if they didn’t use them quick enough they’d run out of places to store them. But if they kept bombing bombing heavily-defended areas they would lose bombers too fast and would be unable to deliver their full quota of bombs.”

The same person posted BOTH of these comments…..

Any chance you can get help on your reading comprehension problem? Or maybe it’s logic you don’t get. You have some sort of fundamental problem.

Did it look to you like I claimed I *believed* my unique explanation for the bombing? There’s nothing wrong with proposing as many explanations as look sort of plausible. The more you have to work with, the less likely you will get fixated on one to the point you can’t imagine any others.

363

Yama 11.07.14 at 9:07 pm

Ya got yourself a stalker, JT.

364

MPAVictoria 11.07.14 at 9:17 pm

“Ya got yourself a stalker, JT.”

Sorry if I find the endless bullshitting annoying….

365

William Berry 11.07.14 at 9:25 pm

In re, the aryan discussion:

We must not forget the good Professor (“ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny) Ernst Haeckel.

He might have been the greatest artist (with possible exception of D. Wentworth-Thompson) in the history of biology, but, well before most others (Gobineau to Chamberlain, et al) he was definitely a proto-theorist of white, Northern Europeans as the Master Race.

And an actual, significant influence on Rosenberg and the nazis, as well.

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The Temporary Name 11.07.14 at 9:36 pm

☉☉
__

367

ZM 11.07.14 at 11:19 pm

J Thomas,

“Did it look to you like I claimed I *believed* my unique explanation for the bombing? “

It is sometimes a bit difficult to tell the comments you make and also believe , apart from the comments you make as general examples or where you are teasing out the logic of an idea. Possibly it would be appreciated if you could think of some wording to preface the latter to make it easier, eg. “As an example, someone might posit…”

368

ZM 11.07.14 at 11:34 pm

There is an interesting chapter on Aryan invasions over four millennia in a book I read some time ago now called Culture Through Time . Edmund Leach wrote the chapter, it touches on some of the historiographical questions that have been raised during the thread

“The cultural values of western scholars of the twentieth century lead us to believe that “good” history *really records* what happened in the past while “bad” history does not, but the basis on which we can make this kind of distinction is always very insecure. “Bad” history is seldom constructed out of fantasy; it is simply that we tend to accept as good history whatever is congenial to our contemporary way of thinking. The good history of one generation becomes the bad history of the next.
From this point of view all history is myth. But the converse is not the case… History is anchored in the past, it is time bound, it cannot be repeated. Myth is timeless; it is constantly being reenacted in ritual performance.”

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J Thomas 11.08.14 at 12:27 am

#367 ZM

“Did it look to you like I claimed I *believed* my unique explanation for the bombing? “

It is sometimes a bit difficult to tell the comments you make and also believe , apart from the comments you make as general examples or where you are teasing out the logic of an idea. Possibly it would be appreciated if you could think of some wording to preface the latter to make it easier, eg. “As an example, someone might posit…”

!! Thank you.

I had been doing it the other way round, if I believed something I’d say “I believe that…” and if I thought something was particularly likely I’d say “I think it’s likely that” and if an idea sounded unusually good I’d say “This idea seems plausible to me”.

Oh wow. If people thought each time I explored an idea that I was claiming it was The Truth, no wonder they’d be upset. I’ve explored ideas that contradict each other — only a troll would claim they were all true.

That doesn’t explain the bad-faith arguments, but if they thought I was a troll making lots of random claims at The Truth that I didn’t document were True, they might be annoyed enough to do all sorts of things. And then when I complained about them doing mean illogical things they’d probably wonder at my chutzpah since it would look to them like I was doing stuff at least as bad.

I don’t know that this is what happened, but it’s at least reasonably plausible to me. The only other hypothesis I found was that when I used particular keywords they assumed I was making the same arguments that other people who used those keywords made, and they responded to those arguments without actually reading what I said. This is more specific — anything could be a keyword that sparks irrational opposition, as opposed to specific ideas that I claimed Truth about particular things. This would entirely explain MPAV’s #361, which otherwise requires some sort of weird lapse in logic, though it does not specifically explain some of MPAV’s other attacks, like the claim that I thought the US government was openly, transparently, trying to kill all the Germans so that I should find quotes from FDR where he said that.

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john c. halasz 11.08.14 at 12:47 am

J Thomas:

If you’ve hogged a large percentage of comments on a thread and if you feel an over-riding need to defend and justify each of you comments, might that not indicate some defects in, for lack of a better term, your historical epistemology?

371

MPAVictoria 11.08.14 at 2:02 am

“Do you deny the reality [popular US support for perpetrating genocide against Aryans]?”

I believe this was you. This is what I mean when I say you are bullshitting. Show me proof that there was ever popular support for genocide against the Germans?

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J Thomas 11.08.14 at 2:27 am

#371 MPAV

“Do you deny the reality [popular US support for perpetrating genocide against Aryans]?”

I believe this was you. This is what I mean when I say you are bullshitting. Show me proof that there was ever popular support for genocide against the Germans?

I’ll spell this out for you. You have been playing a game that’s separate from the facts. Like, you asked me about Holocaust denial. Of course what I had done was to actually look at what people called Holocaust denial. look at what the original sources said instead of what people said about them, and then looked for evidence that supported or opposed their claims. That’s how reasonable people do it. But not in this case, here. You basicly argued that I was a no-good-shit because I didn’t simply reject the possibility out of hand.

Similarly, I talked about US Marines who were reluctant to take prisoners, and I provided evidence for that. But it wasn’t about the evidence, the argument was that I was a no-good-shit for talking about it.

I talked about Dresden and the reasons that the guys at ABC said they made that choice. But the opposing argument was that I was claiming that the Allies did war crimes just like the Nazis, so they were all just as bad and therefore we should have been nice to the Nazis, and that made me a no-good-shit.

I didn’t want to waste my time researching links for you, if the only result was that you decided I was a no-good-shit for talking about it in the first place.

It isn’t trivial researching WWII stuff. Like, if Goebbels said something, does that count as evidence? It only counts as evidence about what Goebbels wanted Germans to believe, he lied a lot. But our own people lied a lot too. It was wartime, they wanted to confuse the enemy and they wanted to keep their own side’s morale up. My rule of thumb is that if a document was classified then, the people who wrote it probably believed what they wrote. But if it was not classified then all bets are off, you must consider whether they had reason to publish that lie, and whether there is physical evidence to support or deny it. Why should I do all that if you are going to ignore it?

So I asked who was ready to deny it, so that if I went through that effort I could at least have the satisfaction of telling them afterward that they got it wrong, if the evidence did turn up on the internet. I read paper copies with my own eyes, but I can’t show that to you.

“Do you deny the reality [popular US support for perpetrating genocide against Aryans]?”

But nobody came out and denied it, they just kept vilifying me.

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MPAVictoria 11.08.14 at 2:31 am

“You have been playing a game that’s separate from the facts”

Projection all the way down….

Don’t make claims if you don’t have evidence. Or if you do say ” I am talking out of my ass but possibly…..”

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Bruce Wilder 11.08.14 at 3:55 am

J Thomas supplied roughly one-third of the verbiage in a thread of over 370 comments, typing over 20,000 words!

Let’s at least acknowledge the industry involved.

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MPAVictoria 11.08.14 at 4:02 am

“Let’s at least acknowledge the industry involved.”

Good point!

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Harold 11.08.14 at 4:27 am

“Sir, a man might write such stuff for ever, if he would abandon his mind to it.” –Samuel Johnson

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mattski 11.08.14 at 1:07 pm

You speak true, Bruce.

All things considered it was an edifying thread.

:^)

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J Thomas 11.08.14 at 1:11 pm

#374 BW

J Thomas supplied roughly one-third of the verbiage in a thread of over 370 comments, typing over 20,000 words!

Let’s at least acknowledge the industry involved.

Thank you. And I also want to recognize your effort in writing the macros to count it. Debugging stuff like that is not completely trivial.

You suggested back in #198 that we should all let it go, but you did not manage to do that then.

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The Temporary Name 11.08.14 at 2:29 pm

You suggested back in #198 that we should all let it go, but you did not manage to do that then.

It’s a human failing to be annoyed when blowhards won’t give up. When the blowhard is me I am embarrassed.

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J Thomas 11.08.14 at 4:43 pm

#379 TTN

It’s a human failing to be annoyed when blowhards won’t give up. When the blowhard is me I am embarrassed.

So, you appear to imply that I am a blowhard. You attempt to insult me.

But throughout I have suggested reasonable hypotheses and people strongly disagreed without having evidence that actually applied.

Originally we were discussing Eichmann, and the possibility that more-or-less-normal people can become bureaucrats who facilitate horrible things. I suggested Dresden as another example. The general response was that Allied bombing of cities was a war crime and there is no possible justification for it, but it was not as bad as the Holocaust and was not comparable and there is no comparison between the Americans and British who did it versus Eichmann, and nothing to be learned from noticing how they could do it and sleep soundly at night etc.

There was a claim basicly that war is not diplomacy by other means but a breakdown in reason, and that we cannot expect the horrors of war to be over until the insanity has run its course. People argued that regardless war in general is qualitatively different from the Holocaust, and does not in any way justify the Holocaust. I claimed that war is a highly cooperative social venture, and sometimes things do break down — I gave the example of the war between Japan and the USA as an example where some of the rules broke down.

I claim that it is valuable during war to keep channels open for negotiation, that this can sometimes reduce the intensity of wars and sometimes lead to them ending sooner. I claim the possibility that WWII might have ended sooner if we had attempted that. Various people pointed to evidence that in fact WWII did not end sooner when we did not attempt to negotiate, and they claimed this was evidence that it could not have done any good. Also there was the indirect claim that Munich showed that attempts to negotiate an end to the war might likely have left the Nazis in control of europe, which made negotiation too risky. Also we could not have negotiated because the Germans had done such horrible things that there was nothing to negotiate about, we could not negotiate with such monsters, we knew it would be morally wrong to try it. Or something like that. I translated it as “We didn’t wanna” which got some objections that the meaning was something else.

I have considered things that might be useful for thinking about Eichmann and potential later Eichmanns, and things that might be useful for thinking about war and how its destruction might be lessened. In response people tell me that I am wrong and that I cannot validate my claims, and they do nothing that proves their own competing assertions which they claim are true.

I continued to describe the flaws in their arguments. They got annoyed because I didn’t stop sooner? OK. That’s par for the course.

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bianca steele 11.08.14 at 5:01 pm

J Thomas: I feel queasy about the idea of quoting someone’s personal comments from elsewhere when they don’t have the ability to respond. (The author seems to be male, incidentally, contrary to your statement.) Your imagined idea about how ideas evolve, however, is kind of silly.

You (or Harold and others) might be interested in this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anatolian_hypothesis.

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bianca steele 11.08.14 at 5:09 pm

@365 Haeckel was also an influence on James Joyce.

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J Thomas 11.08.14 at 7:24 pm

#381 Bianca Steele

I feel queasy about the idea of quoting someone’s personal comments from elsewhere when they don’t have the ability to respond. (The author seems to be male, incidentally, contrary to your statement.)

She seemed to me to be blogging her ideas as if she was publishing. If somebody says something about them I think she’d be interested in I’ll drop her a line. I believe her husband maintains the website.

Your imagined idea about how ideas evolve, however, is kind of silly.

I have no idea what idea you’re talking about. If you say more I expect I’ll be interested.

You (or Harold and others) might be interested in this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anatolian_hypothesis

Yes, I found it interesting as did Cory Panshin. To my way of thinking the arguments for it are weak and the arguments against are very weak. It’s like saying that English must be very recent because we wouldn’t have the word “car” before the automobile and we wouldn’t have the word “credit” before the charge card. Renfrew tried to tie together technological changes that might let a language dominate wide areas, with the known linguistics. It seems like a reasonable thing to do.

Panshin takes the idea farther, she puts together the genetic evidence, the linguistics, the archeology, and the geology stuff (ice ages etc). When she ties it all together in the simplest package the data fits, she finds the biggest migration of genes came with the Aurignacian and Gravettian expansions, in the high paleolithic. The agricultural revolution that Renfrew talks about may have contributed 20%. So she associates Basque etc with Aurignacian culture and PIE with Gravettian, and she assumes that Gravettians swept across europe when they were pre-adapted to the early stages of an ice age. The ice age left various groups isolated, and the half-dozen different IE families would date to that.

It makes sense, but the available information is so sparse and muddy that it’s too soon to be sure about much.

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LFC 11.09.14 at 3:26 pm

J Thomas @380:
Originally we were discussing Eichmann, and the possibility that more-or-less-normal people can become bureaucrats who facilitate horrible things. I suggested Dresden as another example. The general response was that Allied bombing of cities was a war crime and there is no possible justification for it, but it was not as bad as the Holocaust and was not comparable and there is no comparison between the Americans and British who did it versus Eichmann, and nothing to be learned from noticing how they could do it and sleep soundly at night etc.

This summary of what J Thomas calls “the general response” is inadequate.

(1) Virtually no one, with the possible exception of J. Thomas himself, defended the bombing of Dresden, but anyone who read the thread could discern a range of views on area bombing in general, albeit the differences between commenters were, on the whole, nuanced rather than stark. No point in rehearsing this again. J. Thomas himself insisted, more than once, that Dresden had a “rational” justification as part of a ‘total war’ b/c the Allies thought it would divert German antiaircraft batteries from the defense of oil installations.

(2) “nothing to be learned from noticing how they could do it and sleep soundly at night etc”: Anderson explicitly said that the issue of comparative psychology (my phrase, not his) might be worth exploring, and I, after initially disagreeing, said that it might be.

To wit: Anderson @67:

The crimes weren’t on a par with the Holocaust, but the psychology of people who burn up thousands of noncombatant adults and children is worth comparing to Eichmann’s, whether or not it proves similar

.

Me @68 (responding):
“Maybe. (I’m not sure what I think on this point.)”

So your summary, J Thomas, misrepresents the thread.

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J Thomas 11.09.14 at 3:33 pm

J. Thomas himself insisted, more than once, that Dresden had a “rational” justification

No, I insisted that it had a rational *explanation*. Not the same thing.

Anderson explicitly said that the issue of comparative psychology (my phrase, not his) might be worth exploring, and I, after initially disagreeing, said that it might be.

OK, that’s one yes and one don’t know.

So your summary, J Thomas, misrepresents the thread.

Most summaries must misrepresent what they summarize, particularly when there’s a lot of diversity. I didn’t intend to describe everything that happened, I highlighted some things that were interesting to me in my own context. If you would like to make your own summary of the thread, that you feel represents it well, I’ll be interested.

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LFC 11.09.14 at 3:37 pm

No, I insisted that it had a rational *explanation*. Not the same thing.

Ok, I’ll accept that correction.

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mattski 11.09.14 at 4:28 pm

JT,

If you don’t mind, I think people have a problem with your fast, loose & prolix style. When push comes to shove you seem to rely on ‘reasoning in a vacuum,’ rather than doing the work of looking at the nitty gritty details. So, paradoxically, he who writes most observes least…

At 327 you responded to my request that you back up your claim that there was significant popular support in the US for wiping out the “Aryan” race.

I started to see what I could find online, and then realized that doing this would lead to more accusations that I must be a bad person to say such things.

Looks like you were inclined to find an excuse not to do the work of digging into the details even if it meant that your claims were baseless. Justifying this strategy, at 342 you wrote,

Like, I reported that japanese soldiers hesitated to surrender, and US soldiers hesitated to accept japanese surrender. And I got accused of blaming US soldiers for horrendous death rates. .. I gave factual accounts of the ABC reasoning about Dresden, though I didn’t give links. And I got accused of saying that our war crimes were just as bad as Nazi war crimes so we should have been nicer to the Nazis.

This looks like you are confusing your own casual descriptions of events with evidence. I don’t think they’re the same thing. Unless you’re an eyewitness you need a source for evidence.

Trying to wrap things up at 380 you say,

I claim that it is valuable during war to keep channels open for negotiation, that this can sometimes reduce the intensity of wars and sometimes lead to them ending sooner. I claim the possibility that WWII might have ended sooner if we had attempted that.

I don’t think anyone on this thread would disagree with the first sentence. I think the second sentence shows that you’re not inclined to get closely acquainted with the actual history.

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J Thomas 11.09.14 at 5:30 pm

#387 mattski

Looks like you were inclined to find an excuse not to do the work of digging into the details even if it meant that your claims were baseless.

If I don’t provide internet links for you, that does not make my claims baseless.

“Like, I reported that japanese soldiers hesitated to surrender, and US soldiers hesitated to accept japanese surrender. And I got accused of blaming US soldiers for horrendous death rates. .. I gave factual accounts of the ABC reasoning about Dresden, though I didn’t give links. And I got accused of saying that our war crimes were just as bad as Nazi war crimes so we should have been nicer to the Nazis.”

This looks like you are confusing your own casual descriptions of events with evidence. I don’t think they’re the same thing. Unless you’re an eyewitness you need a source for evidence.

I provided a wikipedia source about the lack of Japanese POWs and the reasons for it. I could not provide a link for the claim (which I did not make) that this made the US Marines evil people who were entirely responsible for the deaths. On Iwo Jima, for example, they did in fact accept more than 600 surrenders out of the 15,000+ Japanese on the island. They did this at some personal risk.

Allied Bomber Command published their reasoning about Dresden. I could probably find it if you are interested. Do you care? Do you care enough to read it all if I do provide it? I don’t see that there should be anything controversial about my claims about what they said they were thinking. The only controversy about this is what it means in the bigger scope of things. But if you care enough to actually read it, I’m willing to look for it online. I have the impression though that you don’t actually care about it, you only want a club to beat me with.

“I claim that it is valuable during war to keep channels open for negotiation, that this can sometimes reduce the intensity of wars and sometimes lead to them ending sooner. I claim the possibility that WWII might have ended sooner if we had attempted that.”

I don’t think anyone on this thread would disagree with the first sentence. I think the second sentence shows that you’re not inclined to get closely acquainted with the actual history.

Well see, if from your close acquaintance with the actual history, you are ready to claim that no matter what we did there was absolutely no possibility that the war could have ended any sooner, shouldn’t you document that?

You have given links to some things that make it plausible that it might not have ended sooner. But if you are making this absolute claim, isn’t it your responsibility to prove it?

I gave a link which I think makes it plausible that our demands could have had an effect. The Morgenthau plan was published and was not rejected by the Allies until later. There were reports at the time that this stiffened German resistance compared to before that publication. Of course they might have been lying or mistaken — just because there are documents does not prove anything much — but it is there.

I think if you want to prove that no Allied offers or demands could affect the end of the war, a good starting place would be to show that the experts at the time who believed that Allied demands were affecting the war were wrong.

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Harold 11.09.14 at 10:53 pm

Reports that leaks about Morgenthau’s proposal *might* stiffen the German resistance came not from “experts” but from opponents of Roosevelt, such as Dewey, who said that “It *might* prolong the war, not that it had prolonged the war. The other alleged “expert” was Goebbels, who seized on leaks about the proposal for use in his propaganda. The wikipedia article on Morgenthau relies not on an expert but rather on a book by Michael Beschloss who is not a historian but an MBA. Bonafide professional historians such as Gerhard Weinberg, Kershaw, Timothy Snyder, and Michael Balfour, to name a few, do not support the idea that the allied requirement for unconditional surrender prolonged the war or leaks about discussions within the Roosevelt administration prolonged the war.

Contrary to what J Thomas asserts, the allies were interested in negotiating with the leaders of the 1944 Nazi putsch, but not after they heard what these revanchists, who retained the mentality of WW1, had to offer (all this took place in 1944, so it was a matter of hypothetical postponement by months, not years).

Getting back to Morgenthau, he was unpleasant person who was universally disliked in Washington. According to Morgenthau’s own posthumous, self-serving diaries, President Roosevelt gave him the impression that he approved of his plan. Roosevelt often gave people similar impressions to their face. His words and actions said otherwise and not surprisingly everyone else in Washington and in the press vociferously opposed the proposal from the outset. Whatever the defects of the treatment of Germany after the war, what happened after the war cannot be said to have prolonged it — obviously. As a matter of fact, as things turned out, a lot of Nazis. and West German politicians generally, seem to have been bribed and pacified in the post-war period with assurances that their services would be used by the West to fight communism.

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mattski 11.09.14 at 11:42 pm

JT,

Allied Bomber Command published their reasoning about Dresden. I could probably find it if you are interested.

Not being snarky here: this is confusing. The request for evidence concerned the claim that there was significant popular support in the US for committing genocide against Aryans. Does the Allied Bomber Command report, if that is what you are referencing, address this question? That seems doubtful to me. And you haven’t to my knowledge claimed that it does. And why should your wiki link on Japan even bear mention? Nobody asked for it. There is a clear, albeit racial/cultural and therefore uncomfortable, distinction between popular US attitudes re Germans vs US attitudes re Japanese. The Japanese also made an unprovoked attack on our territory which the Germans did not. So, yes, I think you were just changing the subject.

Well see, if from your close acquaintance with the actual history, you are ready to claim that no matter what we did there was absolutely no possibility that the war could have ended any sooner, shouldn’t you document that?

The only problem with this is that I never claimed close acquaintance with the history of the war (quite the contrary, I admitted my ignorance) AND I never claimed “there was no possibility the war could have ended sooner.” Fair?

What I saw was you making unsubstantiated claims, and, I gleaned from the comments and cites of others on the thread (with fairly impressive knowledge of the history) that there appears to be a decisive weight of evidence in favor regarding an early negotiated end to the war as both vanishingly unlikely AND unwise. The reasons have been discussed quite adequately in the course of this thread.

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J Thomas 11.10.14 at 12:20 am

#389 Harold

Reports that leaks about Morgenthau’s proposal *might* stiffen the German resistance came not from “experts” but from opponents of Roosevelt, such as Dewey, who said that “It *might* prolong the war, not that it had prolonged the war.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/JCS_1067#Wartime_consequences

General George Marshall complained to Morgenthau that German resistance had strengthened.[40]

On December 11, OSS operative William Donovan sent Roosevelt a telegraph message from Bern, warning him of the consequences that the knowledge of the Morgenthau plan had had on German resistance ….

President Roosevelt’s son-in-law Lt. Colonel John Boettiger who worked in the War Department explained to Morgenthau how the American troops who had had to fight for five weeks against fierce German resistance to capture the city of Aachen had complained to him that the Morgenthau Plan was “worth thirty divisions to the Germans.”

I don’t know much about Boettiger, he could have been a political drone who didn’t actually know much about the war. But I would tend to consider General Marshall and William Donovan experts in the war they had recently been experiencing.

You ignore them because they don’t support your narrative, perhaps?

Contrary to what J Thomas asserts, the allies were interested in negotiating with the leaders of the 1944 Nazi putsch, but not after they heard what these revanchists, who retained the mentality of WW1, had to offer

There’s no reason not to talk to them, if your own negotiators will be safe. OK, say they demand that Germany keep all their eastern conquests. You can say no and make them a counter-offer. Or suggest a compromise. For example, offer to set up Alsace, Sudetenland, maybe parts of Poland etc as independent nations that can then merge with any nation they choose to. If they think they might get those areas back, they may go for it. Offer to take actions to moderate Soviet reprisals against German civilians. If they can’t hold onto their eastern conquests anyway, their demands may become less extreme.

It’s true the plot unravelled in autumn 1944 so at that point even if it had succeeded it could not have ended the war a whole year sooner. But that was their last hail mary pass, when they were about to be caught and executed. When did they first contact the Allies? Earlier negotiation might have made more difference. But as you point out, we did not want to negotiate with them because we didn’t like them or what they stood for. We just didn’t wanna.

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MPAVictoria 11.10.14 at 1:25 am

J what do you think the soviet reaction would have been to the west conducting negotiations with the Nazis?

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J Thomas 11.10.14 at 1:44 am

“Like, I reported that japanese soldiers hesitated to surrender, and US soldiers hesitated to accept japanese surrender. And I got accused of blaming US soldiers for horrendous death rates. .. I gave factual accounts of the ABC reasoning about Dresden, though I didn’t give links. And I got accused of saying that our war crimes were just as bad as Nazi war crimes so we should have been nicer to the Nazis.”

This looks like you are confusing your own casual descriptions of events with evidence. I don’t think they’re the same thing. Unless you’re an eyewitness you need a source for evidence.

Not being snarky here: this is confusing. The request for evidence concerned the claim that there was significant popular support in the US for committing genocide against Aryans.

Oh. You quoted two things I said, that people argued I lacked evidence for. I provided evidence for one of them. I offered to look for evidence for the other, though so far when I have provided evidence I only got more blame.

Now you tell me that you aren’t interested in the things you quoted, but only in something else.

“Well see, if from your close acquaintance with the actual history, you are ready to claim that no matter what we did there was absolutely no possibility that the war could have ended any sooner, shouldn’t you document that?”

What I saw was you making unsubstantiated claims, and, I gleaned from the comments and cites of others on the thread (with fairly impressive knowledge of the history) that there appears to be a decisive weight of evidence in favor regarding an early negotiated end to the war as both vanishingly unlikely AND unwise.

So you don’t know yourself, but you listened to people make claims and you chose which one was right based on your own ignorant judgement. OK.

The reasons have been discussed quite adequately in the course of this thread.

Well, it depends. If it’s true the Germans were so deadset that they would never agree to any conditional surrender, that is not an argument against making the attempt. For all we knew they might become ready to negotiate, the only way to find out was to keep trying.

The second argument against is that if we negotiated we might pull another Munich, we might agree to give the Nazis a functioning Nazi empire forever. I think this is ridiculous. We were extremely unlikely to do that.

The third argument against is that if we negotiated we might let them pretend they hadn’t lost the war, so they would do more terrible things in the future. So we had to make sure the German people suffered horribly for their crimes. Anything that reduced their suffering before or after the unconditional surrender was therefore bad. And in fact we did follow basicly the Morgenthau plan for 2 years, before we gradually relaxed it.

This third argument grades into the idea that genocide of the Germans would be a good idea. How many of them do you have to kill before they truly believe they’re beaten? How many do you have to kill before it’s genocide?

There’s a pretty large literature that claims 9 to 11 million Germans were starved in the 1945-1950 period. I have not looked at it much and I have some doubts. It tends to be people who want to believe it, who care about the outcome which may give them some biases. Of course almost everybody cares about the outcomes and has some biases, but these may be a little more than usual. And independent of how good their data is, it does me no good to quote sources you will reject based on who they are.

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ZM 11.10.14 at 2:06 am

“J what do you think the soviet reaction would have been to the west conducting negotiations with the Nazis?”

The Soviets are actually given as a reason for UK and US firebombing of Dresden – that although bombing created huge numbers of civilian casualties and Churchill pondered over whether it was making the Allies as bad as the Germans, the Soviets were bearing the worst of the German assaults and the fire bombing of cities including was in part to show continued UK and US efforts to the Soviets.

A UK soldier Victor Gregg was in Dresden as a POW during the bombing and has made it clear in his memoirs he thinks it was a crime by the Allies and would rather he had been shot by German forces than see civilians, particularly women and children, go up in flames.

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Collin Street 11.10.14 at 2:06 am

JT: if you can’t give someone the last word then you’ve got no control over your own participation. All someone needs to do is post a you-bait thing and you’re in their control; as long as they keep responding to you you’ve trapped yourself.

If you want any autonomy you need to walk away from things.

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MPAVictoria 11.10.14 at 2:14 am

Really interesting ZM. Thank you for that.

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LFC 11.10.14 at 2:53 am

ZM @394
The Soviets are actually given as a reason for UK and US firebombing of Dresden

Commenter faustusnotes argued @142 that the Western Allies’ bombing of German cities caused a diversion of resources from the Eastern Front, thereby saving Russian soldiers’ lives. That may be true, but it doesn’t justify the bombing. You (ZM) assert that the bombing of Dresden was partly done to “show continued US and UK efforts to the Soviets.”

Unfortunately I’m not familiar with the details of the decision-making w/r/t the Dresden bombing, not having read Hastings’ Bomber Command or something comparable. The one thing I have to hand right now is that in Europe Since 1870 (Harper & Row, 1973), p. 414, James Joll wrote that the bombing of Dresden “originated in a belief, already known to be mistaken before the bomber force set out, that an armoured division was passing through the city on the way to Hungary, so that the raid would demonstrate Anglo-American support for the Soviet Union” (italics added). If that’s right, then I suppose it’s possible someone in authority said something like: ‘Well, we know the German armored division isn’t passing through Dresden after all, but let’s do the raid anyway, because it’s too late to call it off [or insert some other reason: morale, diversion of resources, etc].’ But as I said, I don’t know the details of the decision-making and am not in a position to dig for them right now.

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LFC 11.10.14 at 3:03 am

Btw, there is a fairly recent bk on the early yrs of the Allied occupation of Germany, reviewed on H-Net (I haven’t read the review yet) here:
http://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=25814

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ZM 11.10.14 at 3:07 am

LFC,

I do not like studying war very much so I am not across all the detail either. I think though that it is not just specifically Desden that was firebombed to show support for the Soviets who had the worst losses, but firebombing cities in general, which there was consternation about since the practice was recognisably even at the time a war crime .

Another piece suggests this could have been a double edged sword – that showing Siviets the bombing not just showed US and UK participation but showed their superior technological capacity because they were already planning to see the Soviets as enemies after WW2.

“3) Though the Russians were allies, Churchill and Roosevelt had already decided that Stalin would be a major problem after the end of the war. Therefore, as the Red Army advanced against an army that was effectively defeated, it had no idea as to what an equal and possibly superior military force could do. Therefore, Dresden was bombed to show the Russians the awesome power of the Allies and to act as a warning to them not to stray from the agreements they had made at the war conferences.

An internal RAF memo spreads some light on the reason for the bombing:

“Dresden, the seventh largest city in Germany and not much smaller than Manchester, is also far the largest unbombed built-up the enemy has got. In the midst of winter with refugees pouring westwards and troops to be rested, roofs are at a premium. The intentions of the attack are to hit the enemy where he will feel it most, behind an already partially collapsed front, to prevent the use of the city in the way of further advance, and incidentally to show the Russians when they arrive what Bomber Command can do.”
RAF January 1945″

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Peter T 11.10.14 at 3:17 am

Dresden was bombed partly because the campaign had by then a large amount of inertia, but also on military grounds. The allies worried about German withdrawal to a “redoubt” in the mountain country of Bavaria and Austria – a worry caused by Germans boasts of a last stand, by knowledge that support for the Nazis had been high in Bavaria and by the continuing resistance of the German armed forces. Dresden was the major rail chokepoint between north and south, and the logistic centre of any such move. In hindsight, these worries were unfounded, but given the toll the Germans continued to exact even up to the last days (the Red Army lost 80,000 dead taking Berlin), they can hardly be blamed for worrying.

Cities are centres of production, key transport nodes and natural centres of resistance. They are, therefore, inevitably targets, and have been so as long as war has existed. And, since the civilian population is what makes them function, these have been targets too. There are very few old European or Asian cities that have not been destroyed or depopulated at one time or another – often on more than one occasion.

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LFC 11.10.14 at 3:28 am

I just glanced quickly at the Wiki article ‘Dresden firestorm’, and in view of some of the things that were said upthread, the following section on German defensive measures is relevant:

Although 84 heavy anti-aircraft guns had been deployed around Dresden in the summer of 1944, by the middle of January [1945], these had all been withdrawn to the east to counter the Soviet offensive. Ten Messerschmitt Me 110 night fighters … based at Dresden-Klotzsche airfield were deployed against the first wave of RAF bombers, but they were ineffective because of the British radar jamming operation. A further eighteen fighters from the same unit were held on the ground because of “bad fighting conditions”. Their pilots had the frustrating experience of watching the burning city in the distance while sitting in their cockpits awaiting orders to take off.

Of a total of 796 British bombers that participated in the raid, six bombers were lost, three of those hit [accidentally] by bombs dropped by [RAF] aircraft flying over them. On the following day, a single US bomber was shot down, as the large escort force was able to prevent Luftwaffe day fighters from disrupting the attack.

If this is correct, it appears that the British and US bombers were met by some fighter planes but not much (if any) anti-aircraft fire, the “84 heavy anti-aircraft guns [that] had been deployed around Dresden in the summer of 1944… [having] been withdrawn to the east to counter the Soviet offensive.” So if one of the Allies’ tactical/strategic reasons/objectives in bombing Dresden, as suggested upthread, was to get the Germans to divert anti-aircraft batteries from other uses to defend the city, that particular objective would seem to have failed.

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J Thomas 11.10.14 at 4:10 am

#395 Collin Street

if you can’t give someone the last word then you’ve got no control over your own participation. All someone needs to do is post a you-bait thing and you’re in their control; as long as they keep responding to you you’ve trapped yourself.

Yes, that’s true. Notice who in this thread has said they were going to quit, and then did not.

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ZM 11.10.14 at 6:24 am

I have found an article on Dresden that seems to sum up work on the topic, and looks at the reasons behind the bombing of Dresden. I will quote it fairly lengthily since Dresden has become such a bone of contention.

Biddle, T. D. (2008). Dresden 1945: Reality, History, and Memory. Journal Of Military History, 72(2), 413-449.

“The Dresden raid is not normally associated with highly- concentrated, accurate bombing, and yet it was the precision of the target marking in the initial wave that enabled the intense accretion of small fires needed to create a firestorm.

Achieving this level of technical mastery had taken years of trial and error. Sir Arthur Harris had taken the helm of Bomber Command in late February 1942, one week after that force had formally switched its focus to the nighttime attack of cities.

…the observation about war industry in the city must be used carefully because that industry was not the central reason why Bomber Command attacked the city on 13-14 February, or the why the Americans attacked the city’s marshaling yards on the 14th. Instead, Dresden’s location was determining.

The seventh largest city in Germany at the start of World War II, it sat in the middle of important east-west and north-south traffic routes, and was at the junc- tion of three trunk routes of the Reich’s railway system. Those facts in themselves were enough to put Dresden in the crosshairs in 1945, but the story of why Dresden was targeted—and targeted in mid-February—deserves further explanation.

Following the Normandy breakout and the battle at the Falaise Gap, the late summer of 1944 had been heady with momentum and optimism for the Anglo-Americans…. But this sense of imminent victory flagged in the autumn as forward momentum bogged down or was badly punished, as at Arnhem.

New German weapons—including V-2 rockets and Messerschmitt 262 jet fighters—made it seem that Anglo-American optimism had been premature. Poor weather tormented Allied bomber crews and lifted the effective summertime pressure they had placed on waning German oil supplies. The V-2s, in particular, seemed to be a sinister manifestation of the long-dreaded “secret weapons” that the Allies had feared might emerge from Germany during the course of the war. Indeed, the V-2 was the world’s first ballistic missile; unlike the slower V-1, it could not be shot down in flight.34 Raining down on London from September 1944 onward, it placed further pressure on the war-weary British homefront.

In December, Hitler launched a counter-attack in the west…

Anglo-American intelligence estimates reflected the air of crisis. In Britain, the Joint Intelligence Sub-Committee (known as the “JIC”) reported on 16 January 1945 that the “probable worst case scenario” is that the Russian winter offensive and Allied spring offensive in the West might achieve “no decisive success”, thus forcing upon the Allies a renewal of the offensive in the West “in about mid-August 1945” coordinated with a major Russian summer offensive….—this was hardly a welcome prospect.

On the same day, the Deputy Chief of Air Staff (Intelligence) proposed that the JIC prepare a report evaluating the potential impact of heavy air attacks on Berlin in conjunction with the Soviet offensive.

Several days later, on 21st January, the U.S. Strategic Air Forces Intel- ligence Office argued that Anglo-American armies had lost the initiative in the West, and that the Luftwaffe had been able to rebound “to a degree not considered possible by Allied intelligence some eight months ago.”

On January 25th the JIC suggested an urgent review of the utilization of the strategic bomber forces, insisting that: “The degree of success achieved by the present Russian offensive is likely to have a decisive effect on the length of the war.” Well-timed attacks against Berlin would assist the Russians, especially if these could be coordinated with the isolation of East Prussia and the fall of Breslau.

Significantly, the report stated that: “a heavy flow of refugees from Berlin in the depth of winter coinciding with the trekking westwards of a population fleeing from Eastern Germany would be bound to create great confusion, interfere with the orderly movement of troops to the front, and hamper the German military and admin- istrative machine.”

In a discussion of strategy held the same day the report appeared, Commander-in-Chief of Bomber Command Sir Arthur Harris suggested to Deputy Chief of Air Staff Sir Norman Bottomley that Leipzig, Chemnitz, and Dresden—in addition to Berlin—might be profitable targets for aiding the Russian advance.

An aggressive intervention by Prime Minister Winston Churchill—made on the eve of the Yalta discussions—pushed the process along. Churchill inquired what plans the RAF had for “basting the Germans in their retreat from Breslau.” The Prime Minister had read the intelligence reports, and was anxious that the war effort not be allowed to stall.

In addition, [Churchill] had wanted for some time to prove to the Russians that the Anglo-American Combined Bomber Offensive (C.B.O.) had served as a kind of second front, aiding them in their pitched battle with the Wehrmacht.

Air attacks on cities in eastern Germany would not only coordinate inter-Allied efforts and thus help to advance the Red Army, but would re-emphasize the contribution of strategic bombing to Allied victory, and help, perhaps, to impress upon the Soviets the might of Anglo-American air power in 1945.

Sir Arthur Harris was told promptly that Chief of Air Staff Sir Charles Portal was amenable to attacks on Berlin, Dresden, Leipzig, Chemnitz, and “any other cities where a severe blitz will not only cause confusion in the evacuation from the East but will also hamper the movement of troops from the West.” (In his letter to Harris, Sir Norman Bottomley directed: “…you will undertake such attacks with the particular object of exploiting the confused conditions which are likely to exist in the above mentioned cities during the successful Russian advance.”)

The next day, 1st February, Spaatz articulated the same plan to those gathered at the Allied Air Commanders’ Conference at Supreme Headquarters, Allied Expeditionary Forces (S.H.A.E.F.). Attacks on synthetic oil would remain the first priority, but the second priority would now be Berlin, Leipzig, Dresden, “and associated cities where heavy attack will cause great confusion in civilian evacuation from the East and hamper movement of reinforcements from other fronts.”

Subsequently, the Vice-Chiefs of Staff approved these priorities, and by the 6th of February they had been approved as well by the British Chiefs of Staff, then in Yalta.

The way in which Gen. Spaatz understood this guidance—what he agreed to as a result of his consultations with the British—is important. Spaatz had heard the specific language of the plan—indeed he had read it aloud to his fellow commanders—and had agreed to it without requesting a change. Raids in the second priority category had a particular purpose: to aid the Soviet advance by causing disruption and confusion behind German lines. Spaatz would not have thought of these simply as further attacks on communications targets since “communications” were the third, distinct, target category listed in the guidance.

While Spaatz did not intend to change his long range bombers’ tactics of operation, he nonetheless would have understood that his agreement with the British created a separate category with a specific rationale: to hinder the German Army’s ability to fight a war of maneuver by causing chaos behind their lines.

These decisions were rendered in unemotional, bureaucratic tones; there appears to have been little debate over them. This absence of debate reflected the degree to which the long war had hardened attitudes that, in 1939, were still sensitive and hopeful. In September 1939, President Franklin D. Roosevelt had issued an appeal for every government engaged in war to affirm publicly that it would not be the first to bomb civilians or “unfortified cities.”
….
The absence of debate reflected, as well, the urgency and anxiety that colored Anglo-American deliberations at that moment in the war. The shocks and setbacks of the late fall and early winter 1944-45 had demolished the optimistic hopes held by many in the late summer and early autumn of 1944, following the Normandy breakout.

On the same day, Arnold pointed out that his superior, General George C. Marshall, “has been pressing in Washington for any and every plan to bring increased effort against the German forces for the purpose of quickly ending the war.” Arnold told Spaatz, “I want to impress upon all of your people that we will accept with satisfaction any increase in tonnage, no matter how small, provided you will drop it where it will hurt.”

The spectre of the First World War’s stalemated western front began to loom large. The only remedy, it seemed, was to fight even more ferociously to avert an unwanted extension of the long, costly, and wearisome battle in Europe. Scrambling for troops, neither the British nor the Americans were in a position to re-double their efforts on the ground.

The tool available to them was the one they had embraced years earlier: bombers.

Determined to avoid a replay of the Somme and Passchendaele, Anglo-American planners and politicians had grasped at an expedient form of weaponry that seemed a natural follow-on to the great naval fleets of an earlier age. Now they would use it, in its most unbounded and unconstrained form, in a bid to keep the European war from dragging on into 1946.

These decisions were grave in their implications; they signaled a stripping away of those last boundaries remaining around the use of strategic bombers.

The language of the instructions that would guide the Dresden raid—“where heavy attack will cause great confusion in civilian evacuation from the East and ham- per movement of reinforcements from other fronts”—was vague and impersonal.

Enjoining bombers to “cause great confusion” and “hamper movement of reinforcements” allowed planners to avoid the true meaning of those phrases: the blurring effect of euphemistic language seemed to create an environment in which moral dilemmas could be sidestepped.

What this language really meant, however, was that the Allies would use aerial bombing to create an obstruction between advancing Russian troops and Wehrmacht supplies and reinforcements—and that obstruction would be comprised, in part, by human beings.

It meant that the Allies were prepared to use the presence of large numbers of refugees on the eastern front as a lever against the Wehrmacht—as a means of hindering Germany’s ability to conduct efficient maneuver warfare.

Raising fires in German cities did not trouble [Sir Arthur Harris ]: he was convinced that the alternative would be a vast increase in the casualty figures for Allied armies, and a likely repetition of the terrible, prolonged battles of 1914-1918.
….
The Americans had entered the war convinced that they would bomb specific industrial targets visually, from high altitude bombers flying in self-defending groups. But like the British, the Americans found themselves making significant wartime modifications to their prewar bombing doctrine.
….
Even though the Americans strongly preferred to strike specific industrial sites (and flew to those whenever weather permitted), the bulk of their raids through cloud were, in essence, area raids.

In order to distinguish their efforts from those of the British, however, the Americans continued to use language that depicted them as “precision” bombing of specific military targets. The insistence on this particular language reflected ongoing American sensitivities about the ethical questions raised by strategic bombing.

But the limited impact of aerial bombing had caused the Americans no end of frustration during the war.

This frustration with the length of the war eventually caused the Americans to become more amenable to waging air attacks designed, at least in part, for their psychological effect on the enemy.

On 3 February 1945 the Americans launched a major raid against the Berlin city center. The attack, unusual among American attacks in Europe because it specifically designated a “city center” as the target, was undertaken to test German morale and governmental coherence, and to offer assistance to the Russians by causing disruption and confusion on a vast scale.

Lieutenant General James Doolittle, commander of the Eighth Air Force and committed proponent of the selective targeting of industry, raised objections to the February 3rd raid—in large part because he felt it would violate “the American principle of precision bombing of targets of strictly military significance.”

But Gen. Spaatz, who did not lack sympathy for Doolittle’s argument, insisted that the raid go forward.

The previous autumn Spaatz had protested to Eisenhower about any drift away from precision targeting of military-industrial sites, but had been told by the Supreme Allied Commander that he should be “prepared to take part in anything that gives real promise to ending the war quickly.”

the Americans had erected a kind of cognitive self- defense that linked intention and outcome in problematical ways: the actual effect of the late-war, large-scale raids on marshaling yards, was devastating and often indiscriminate.

Certainly Bomber Command had been responsible for the great bulk of the damage done to Dresden, and the Americans had launched raids that were intended to be more discriminate in nature than the British attacks. Nonetheless, the Americans had followed on Harris’s heels and launched two raids intended to disrupt transport, cause confusion, and burden relief efforts in a city swollen with the desperate and the displaced.

Even if the Allies did not conceive of this as terror bombing, it did not take a leap of imagination to envision the devastating impact that these raids would have on the souls who lined the streets and crowded the public buildings.

On March 6, 1945 longtime critic of Bomber Command, Member of Parliament Richard Stokes raised questions about the Dresden raid in the House of Commons. The answer, delivered later by a deputy of the Secretary of State for Air, stated: “We are not wasting bombers or time on purely terror tactics. It does not do the Hon. Member justice to come here to this House and suggest that there are a lot of Air Marshals or pilots or anyone else sitting in a room trying to think how many German women and children they can kill.”

On its own terms the response was true enough, but it begged the question of why the Allies, rather than seeking to avoid a vulnerable, non-combatant population, had instead taken advantage of it.

Throughout the war, Churchill had been affected each time the public debates on morality came into view; though he tried to suppress his internal conflicts, they sometimes came to a head. At Chequers in late June 1943 the Prime Minister was shown a film made from footage taken during Bomber Command’s attacks on Ruhr towns. Suddenly, he sat bolt upright, asking, “Are we beasts? Are we taking this too far?”

Whatever nervousness American policymakers may have felt about Dresden, however, was not reflected in the Far Eastern theater of war. The Americans firebombed Japanese cities until that war ended with two dramatic, history-changing explosions. And the Americans turned to firebombing North Korean cities after the Chinese overran Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s United Nations Forces late in 1950.

Only by countenancing the fears, deep concerns, dashed hopes, and weariness of Allied leaders in December 1944 and January 1945 can we fully understand how they came to embrace plans that, in essence, allowed refugees to become a lever against the Wehrmacht’s ability to wage war.

The very existence of those plans, however, ought to give pause to all of us, and to generate further questions and debates among those who study human behavior in wartime.

Perhaps the deep symbolic significance of Dresden has accrued over time because it speaks so directly to the level of vigilance needed to control the most destructive of human forces once they have been loosed by war…”

404

ZM 11.10.14 at 6:24 am

um, that was rather more lengthy than i thought in the comment box…

405

J Thomas 11.10.14 at 10:08 am

#401 LFC

If this is correct, it appears that the British and US bombers were met by some fighter planes but not much (if any) anti-aircraft fire, the “84 heavy anti-aircraft guns [that] had been deployed around Dresden in the summer of 1944… [having] been withdrawn to the east to counter the Soviet offensive.” So if one of the Allies’ tactical/strategic reasons/objectives in bombing Dresden, as suggested upthread, was to get the Germans to divert anti-aircraft batteries from other uses to defend the city, that particular objective would seem to have failed.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oil_Campaign_chronology_of_World_War_II

The attacks on oil production had succeeded better than any other air attack. It reduced the supply of fuel to the front, which directly helped the Russian ground attacks. It had become the first priority for air attacks, because it worked. Attacks on transport centers mostly had not worked. They did too little damage and the damage was repaired too quickly. The hope was to delay transport of essential supplies etc to the front, and the delays were not large enough to help much. Attacks on industrial production had had some effect, but production increased pretty quickly after each attack. One of the hopes for bombing civilians was to kill the skilled workers who were so good at reorganizing.

Why not concentrate on the limiting factor?
http://wattsupwiththat.files.wordpress.com/2009/09/leibigs_barrel.png
If the enemy has more tanks than they have fuel for, isn’t it better to reduce their fuel production than their tank production?

The germans realized that their oil supply was critical and they defended those heavily. The Allies lost a lot of planes attacking those place. So they invented a new idea — attack cities too. This was an old idea that hadn’t particularly worked before, but maybe it would work this time. The cities were mostly undefended.

You argue that the Dresden bombing did not have the effect of increasing city defenses because the city was undefended, but if one of the points of the attack was to persuade the Germans to defend their cities, doesn’t that make sense? If the city was already defended they wouldn’t be attacking it to persuade the Germans to defend it, would they?

But this is tactical thinking. As ZM describes, the strategic reason to resume city bombing which had not been limiting in the past, was that they were dissatisfied with the pace of the war and wanted to try anything else that might possibly help speed the German defeat.

406

ZM 11.10.14 at 11:37 am

J Thomas,

” The Allies lost a lot of planes attacking those place. So they invented a new idea — attack cities too. This was an old idea that hadn’t particularly worked before, but maybe it would work this time. “

In “Dresden 1945: The Devil’s Tinderbox” Alexander McKee — who had been a soldier in the Canadian Army and witnessed Allied bombing ‘friendly’ French towns — says that aerial bombardment of cities was already spoken of in UK military strategy well before WW2.

He sees it as having started following the disastrous German Gotha air raids on London in 1917 a committee was set up under South African General Jan Smuts to create an Independent Air Force, to be equipped as the Gotha forces . The report by this committee envisioned air raids as the future of war (tones of the Vietnam and the Middle East?):

“The day may not be far off when aerial operaions with their devastation of enemy lands and destruction of industrial and populous centres on a vast scale, may become the principal operations of war, to which the older forms of military and naval operations my become secondary and subordinate.”

An Italian General published a book with similar ideas Air Supremacy in 1921.

Army and Naval officers apparently worried about how Air Force people seemed to plan to make war on civilian populations instead of on armed forces , and military people had arguments about this topic all through the 1920s and 1930s. The Royal Historical Society in 1980 published a book on this debate called The Shadow of the Bomber: the Fear of Air Attack and British Politics 1932-1939.

In 1929 Sir G Milne (Chief of the Imperial General Staff) opposed Lord Trenchard’s doctrine as a doctrine that “put in plain English amounts to one which advocates unrestricted warfare against the civil population of one’s enemy.”

An Admirality internal memo in 1932 said “Air bombing is very aggressive and in no way defensive… The Army and the Navy do not want [bombers]. Only the Air Ministry want to retain these weapons for use against towns, a method of warfare which is revolting and Un-English”

The argument that the British had to use air craft against civilian populations was mounted even before WW2 began by Air Commodore Charlton in 1936 because of “barbaric races” who might commit the same “atrocity”. Charlton in 1935 wrote about starting infernos as great as the Great Fire of London in cities by bombing , thus causing “undisciplined flight” of civilians from cities, “disintegration” of transport systems, and “dislocation” of food supplies. ‘Contemptuously he spoke of “labouring masses”, herded together in old houses, “the most difficult people to control (factory workers in particular), who will be more susceptible than most to dismay and stampede.”‘

The book says although air power theorists existed in places other than England, it was only England that took their advise so much and designed their Air Forces accordingly (Americans designed an Air Force for more precision attacks – but didn’t think of Continental weather conditions).

The author recalls that as a young man he himself “was interested in the books of the air power theorists, which I still have on my shelves; but I was naive, re-reading them now is like browsing through a British Mein Kampf. The horror to come is all there between the lines. What they are really advocating is an all-out attack on non-combatants, men, women, and children, as a deliberate policy of terror”

407

Anderson 11.10.14 at 2:12 pm

ZM is correct on the early roots of terror bombing.

Re: Dresden, and Berlin in the same month, American frustration at Germsn resistance appears to have motivated resort to area bombing, over the protests of some officers who knew exactly what they were doing. Brigadier General Charles Cabell, USAAF: “This is the same old baby-killing plan of the get-rich-quick psychological boys, dressed up in a new Kimono. It is a poor psychological plan and a worse rail plan.” Hansen, Fire and Fury, at 255.

P. 256, BG George C. MacDonald pointed out futility of such attacks as “morale” busters and summed up well:

“If such a practice is sincerely considered the shortest way to victory, it follows as a corollary that our ground forces, similarly, should be directed to kill all civilians and demolish all buildings in the Reich, instead of restricting their energies to the armed Army.”

The USAAF ceased area bombing a week later.

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Anderson 11.10.14 at 2:37 pm

Re: 407, compare SS Panzer “Das Reich” at Oradour. Frustrated with Resistance hindrance of their journey north to oppose the Normandy invasion, the Germans murdered 100s of civilians in no way connected with Resistance, including a church full of women and children.

This had the desired effect of stunning local Resistance forces into suspending operations vs Das Reich – a military purpose was achieved. Yet no one denies it was a war crime. Had the Germans burned it down from the air, would that have been a material difference?

409

LFC 11.10.14 at 3:11 pm

J Thomas
You argue that the Dresden bombing did not have the effect of increasing city defenses because the city was undefended, but if one of the points of the attack was to persuade the Germans to defend their cities, doesn’t that make sense? If the city was already defended they wouldn’t be attacking it to persuade the Germans to defend it, would they?

Point taken.

410

LFC 11.10.14 at 3:17 pm

Anderson @408: Interesting; there’s a book on Oradour and how it’s been remembered, Martyred Village, that I happen to have but haven’t read.

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LFC 11.10.14 at 3:25 pm

p.s. Thanks to ZM for the research (haven’t closely read those excerpts yet).

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Anderson 11.10.14 at 3:33 pm

410: I’ve just read Max Hastings’ book on Das Reich, which is really about its march north and the efficacy vel non of Resistance efforts. (He is skeptical.) His conclusion describes how the atrocity was still being commemorated in Oradour when he wrote, with garlands of flowers hanging on balconies here and there … the balconies where the Germans hanged some of their victims.

The leaders of the atrocity conveniently died in the ensuing campaign, but Hastings quotes an anonymous SS Panzer source who relates how one of them told him he didn’t understand what the big fuss was about – “we did this all the time in Russia,” or words to that effect. For some reason I think that is worth adding here.

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Anderson 11.10.14 at 3:53 pm

406: just for fun, allow me to point out that the Italian general of whom you speak, Douhet, was also a committed fascist who had a post under Mussolini for a while. Splendid role model for devising one’s theory of aerial warfare.

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J Thomas 11.10.14 at 9:27 pm

#406 ZM

“The day may not be far off when aerial operaions with their devastation of enemy lands and destruction of industrial and populous centres on a vast scale, may become the principal operations of war, to which the older forms of military and naval operations my become secondary and subordinate.”

Yes. If a new form of warfare might result in victory, then anyone who can afford it must at least look for ways to defend against it.

But military people and bloggers both often think that “The best defense is a good offense”. If the enemy knows you can use the new ways to hit them harder than they can hit you, you can persuade them not to use those methods and then you can win using less barbaric ways.

But if the traditional tactics start looking too costly or too slow etc, then there’s the temptation to use the new weapons anyway.

So the USA considered using nukes in Korea because it looked hard to get a victory without them. There were various reasons not to:

1. In those days our supply of nuclear bombs was limited, and we needed to keep our stockpile.
2. If we got into a big war with China we would need all the nukes we had for that, particularly if somehow the USSR got involved.
3. North Korea did not have many good targets for nukes.
4. It would be wrong.

As far as I know the Allies never used poison gas in WWII. There was a case where poison gas was being transported on a ship that got bombed in an Italian harbor, and various people died because the crew didn’t know about it — the only people who actually knew what the cargo was died in the attack and so nobody else knew what to protect against. They tried to keep such things secret, but if you actually use it, it’s hard to keep it secret from surviving victims, and US veterans are likely to talk about it in later years.

There were US plans to use poison gas on Japanese cities during the occupation. I don’t know the details, these were probably worst-case contingency plans. The Japanese government had plans to get old women and children to collect bamboo spears with sharpened bamboo points, and they were supposed to attack US troops, and keep attacking until either the US troops went way or the Japanese were all dead. I would consider that a reductio ad absurdum, but bureaucrats tend to keep doing their jobs even when the result is absurd. US bureaucrats assumed that the Japanese response to invasion would go the way the Japanese bureaucrats ordered, so they expected more than a million US casualties. If we had to kill them all anyway, why not do it efficiently?

But mostly we didn’t use it, and nobody used it on us.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poison_gas#Nazi_Germany

He submitted the question “Why was nerve gas not used in Normandy?” to be asked of Hermann Goering during his interrogation. Goering answered that the reason gas was not used had to do with horses. The Wehrmacht was dependent upon horse-drawn transport to move supplies to their combat units, and had never been able to devise a gas mask horses could tolerate; the versions they developed would not pass enough pure air to allow the horses to pull a cart. Thus, gas was of no use to the German Army under most conditions.

I read that Goering said the Allies were stupid not to use gas on German transport, that the war would have ended much sooner if they had. This time around I did not find any direct online quotes from that interrogation. I did find another interview with him that might be interesting though off-topic.

http://www.historynet.com/lost-prison-interview-with-hermann-goring-the-reichsmarschalls-revelations.htm

The site claims it was ignored for 60+ years. I have not done any checking to see whether it is a forgery.

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