Murder (“The West”) Incorporated

Murder (“The West”) Incorporated

“Is World War II Still ‘the Good War’?” by Adam Kirsch. The New York Times Sun­day Book Review, 27 May 2011. Adam Kirsch, a senior edi­tor at The New Repub­lic, offers a thought­ful piece of decon­struc­tion which dredges up every major Churchill crit­ic of the past five years, all in one handy if ver­bose arti­cle. As a sam­pling of the Churchill fever swamps, it is unsurpassed.

The ques­tion we are asked to con­sid­er is whether World War II was real­ly a “good war.” War is hell, which is why west­ern democ­ra­cies like Britain and France spent six years try­ing to avoid it. Once it had begun, the (bare­ly) sur­viv­ing part­ner (Britain) had a choice between bar­bar­ians, one of whom hadn’t (yet) expand­ed beyond his bor­ders. Easy choice—especially with­out the ben­e­fit of hindsight.

Kirsch quotes Nor­man Davies’ No Sim­ple Vic­to­ry (which mir­rors Stan­ley Baldwin’s log­ic 75 years ago): “If one finds two gang­sters fight­ing each oth­er, it is no valid approach at all to round on one and to lay off the oth­er.” Maybe—if one of the two isn’t try­ing to erad­i­cate your country.

Mr. Kirsch is cer­tain­ly thor­ough, indus­tri­ous­ly Hoover­ing every far-out Churchill cri­tique, all of which he rep­re­sents uncrit­i­cal­ly: Gor­don Corrigan’s Blood, Sweat and Arro­gance, Richard Toye’s Churchill’s Empire, Christo­pher Catherwood’s Churchill’s Fol­ly, Nichol­son Baker’s Human Smoke, and Pat Buchanan’s Churchill, Hitler and the Unnec­es­sary War. This must be the first time a New Repub­lic edi­tor has nod­ded respect­ful­ly toward Pat Buchanan.*

Just when I was think­ing he had over­looked the most vir­u­lent myth of all, that Churchill some­how encour­aged and abet­ted the 1943 Ben­gal Famine, in the book Churchill’s Secret War), Kirsch dredges it up on the third page of this lengthy trea­tise. Churchill, that sly old impe­ri­al­ist, “refused to divert resources from feed­ing Britain to feed­ing India.”

Leave aside that this isn’t true. Are we to con­clude that it was bet­ter to starve one of the three major pro­tag­o­nists against Hitler than to starve India—whose 1943 famine was exac­er­bat­ed by Japan, with the help of  cor­rupt local officials?

To say Churchill “was fight­ing to pre­serve impe­ri­al­ism as well as democ­ra­cy” is a bad read­ing of his­to­ry. India’s inde­pen­dence was on track by 1935, that of the Domin­ions was assured by the Statute of West­min­ster in 1931. Churchill was fight­ing to pre­serve insti­tu­tions like The West, Inc., which allow peo­ple like Mr. Kirsch the free­dom to wring their hands over the dread­ful things we inflict­ed on Hitler’s Ger­mans. That the bomb­ing of Dres­den was request­ed by the Sovi­ets goes unremarked.

Final­ly, pre­sum­ably in a ges­ture toward equal time, Mr. Kirsch con­sid­ers Michael Burleigh’s Moral Com­bat:

Burleigh ful­mi­nates, “Wars are not con­duct­ed accord­ing to the des­ic­cat­ed delib­er­a­tions of a phi­los­o­phy sem­i­nar full of purse-lipped old maids.” This is crude and bad-tem­pered, but Burleigh’s defen­sive impulse is understandable.

I’m so pleased that Mr Kirsch finds Burleigh’s ful­mi­na­tions under­stand­able that I will offer him anoth­er, my favorite on the whole sub­ject, from Lady Soames: “My father would have done any­thing to win the war, and I dare­say he had to do some pret­ty rough things. But they didn’t unman him.”


* All these books received appro­pri­ate respons­es by qual­i­fied review­ers, to which I can direct any inter­est­ed read­er. I have not pro­vid­ed links to Ama­zon, because we read them for you, so you don’t have to.

2 thoughts on “Murder (“The West”) Incorporated

  1. Lady Soames: “My father would have done any­thing to win the war, and I dare­say he had to do some pret­ty rough things. But they didn’t unman him.” Quite right. And let me add that a good exec­u­tive -espe­cial­ly in time of war- has to be tough. Churchill under­stood that there could be no peace with a mani­ac like Hitler. Hitler had his V-weapons and if left alone he may have devel­oped longer range jet bombers and the atom­ic bomb. No one can doubt that Hitler would have used his A-bomb. It was absolute­ly imper­a­tive that the Nazi regime be expunged and their war-mak­ing pow­er destroyed. If you are in a life and death strug­gle as Britain was you have to win because as Churchill him­self said, “with­out vic­to­ry there is no sur­vival.” There was a man who could look real­i­ty in the face. We could use a man like him today.

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