Saturday, May 14, 2005

War and Revisionism

In his National Review Online column, Dr. Victor Davis Hanson takes on revisionist interpretations of World War II. As Dr. Hanson notes, these viewpoints are based on the same kind of historical ignorance and moral relativism that color the attitudes of many towards the War on Islamist Terrorism:

There is a pattern here. Western elites — the beneficiaries of 60 years of peace and prosperity achieved by the sacrifices to defeat fascism and Communism — are unhappy in their late middle age, and show little gratitude for, or any idea about, what gave them such latitude. If they cannot find perfection in history, they see no good at all. So leisured American academics tell us that Iwo Jima was unnecessary, if not a racist campaign, that Hiroshima had little military value but instead was a strategic ploy to impress Stalin, and that the GI was racist, undisciplined, and reliant only on money and material largess.

There are two disturbing things about the current revisionism that transcend the human need to question orthodoxy. The first is the sheer hypocrisy of it all. Whatever mistakes and lapses committed by the Allies, they pale in comparison to the savagery of the Axis or the Communists. Post-facto critics never tell us what they would have done instead — lay off the German cities and send more ground troops into a pristine Third Reich; don’t bomb, but invade, an untouched Japan in 1946; keep out of WWII entirely; or in its aftermath invade the Soviet Union?

Lost also is any sense of small gratitude. A West German intellectual like Grass does not inform us that he was always free to migrate to East Germany to live in socialist splendor rather than remain unhappy in capitalist “subservience” in an American-protected West Germany — or that some readers of the New York Times who opposed Hitler might not enjoy lectures about their moral failings from someone who once fought for him. Such revisionists never ask whether they could have written so freely in the Third Reich, Tojo’s Japan, Mussolini’s Italy, Soviet Russia, Communist Eastern Europe — or today in such egalitarian utopias as China, Cuba, or Venezuela.

Second, revisionism requires knowledge of orthodoxy. One cannot dismiss Iwo Jima as an unnecessary sideshow or allege that Dresden was simple blood rage until one understands the tactical and strategic dilemmas of the age — the hope that wounded and lost B-29s might be saved by emergency fields on Iwo, or that the Russians wanted immediate help from the Allied air command to take the pressure off the eastern front in February 1945.

But again, most Americans never learned the standard narrative of War II — only what was wrong about it. Whereas it is salutary that an American 17-year-old knows something of the Japanese relocation ordered by liberals such as Earl Warren and FDR, or of the creation and the dropping of the atomic bomb by successive Democratic administrations, they might wish to examine what went on in Nanking, Baatan, Wake Island, Guadalcanal, Manila, or Manchuria — atrocities that their sensitive teachers are probably clueless about as well.

Remembering World War II

As someone who has read a lot of history, it is immensely frustrating to hear people carry on about Hiroshima, while having no idea what terms such as Unit 731, the Rape of Nanking, or Bataan Death March mean. It is a sad commentary on the politically correct excuse for history that is taught in our schools and universities.


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