Tag Archives: Political History

Moral Relativism and War

If you are of liberal political leanings you will probably not like this piece as I am going to proceed to attempt to demolish several sacred cows of contemporary liberal thought.  I unreservedly admit that I am politically conservative and further admit that I am not trying to be unbiased in his piece.  I am essentially venting my spleen at the half-truths and outright lies I so often find in books that purport to be histories but that are in reality only thinly disguised attacks on historical actors.  I find it typically liberal that such attacks are often made on those that cannot defend themselves, such as historical figures long dead.  I personally find the practice repulsive and try very hard to avoid doing the same thing in my own historical writing.  Then again, if you are liberal and don’t like it, I do not particularly care either.

I am currently reading House of War: The Pentagon and the Disastrous Rise of American Power by James Carroll.  The level of moral relativism within this book is unreal.  I figured it would be a leftist take on the Pentagon because there is a blurb of praise on the back cover from Howard Zinn, the ultimate leftist historian.  What I did not count on was the sheer level of Western hatred disguised as objectivity that I would find within the cover.  That being said, this is not a review of this book in particular but an examination of leftist historiography, particularly when it comes to military history, in General.

I have read many leftist histories over the years from Isabel Hull and Iris Chang to Thomas Fleming, Paul Fussell, Dave Grossman, and Howard Zinn.  One thing they all have in common from my perspective is a formless hatred of all things Western and a lack of a solid grasp on reality.  They don’t write history, so much as polemics designed to convince the reader that they know the big T truth and if you disagree with them then you are part of the problem. In short,  Leftist history is activist history.  It is the type of history that would have you believe that the best thing that could have ever happened to the world is if the population of Europe had been destroyed during the Black Death, if not even earlier, say perhaps before the Dorics moved into Greece during the second millennium B.C.

If you read leftist history everything not Western is great and everything that has the touch of the West on it is evil incarnate from the Greek settlement of southern Europe to the European colonization of the Americas and just about everything in between and since.  They would have you believe that Westerners deliberately introduced disease to the New World to decimate and subjugate the natives to deliberately keeping the peoples of Africa down since de-colonialization to economically exploit them some more.  That everything having to do with the Christian church is evil incarnate while Atheism is cool and Muslims are peaceful little sheepherders.  Every group out there with a grievance against the West is justified in not only having it but in doing whatever they can to attack the West and they are willing participants as they seek to undermine Western culture itself from the inside.

It is as if liberals truly believe that contemporary morals have a place in describing the actions of people in the past who ascribed to a wholly different moral code and that they are unable to make the distinction that while they personally find an action immoral, at the time it was made, the action may have been considered fully justified.  That is not moral relativism; that is reality.  Today we don’t think exposing unwanted children to die on a mountainside is morally justified but the ancient Spartans did and it is stupid in the extreme to condemn ancient practice on the basis of contemporary morality.

Let’s take just a few examples from popular Western history that have gained the currency of Truth in leftist circles.

1. Western Genocide against Indians – This one is so laughable I don’t even understand how the idea got so much currency.  Leftists would have us believe that Westerners deliberately introduced diseases such as smallpox into the New World during colonization to kill off the inhabitants and clam the land for themselves.  Of course that presuppose that 15 Century Spanish, Portuguese, and English explorers understand how diseases were transmitted.  That the Germ Theory of Disease did not gain wide scientific currency until the mid to late 19th century is conveniently ignored.  The most common invective hurled is that of the US Cavalry giving out smallpox covered blankets during the Indian Wars.  This claim was given credence by the now discredited Ward Churchill and has been pretty well destroyed by Thomas Brown in the Journal, Plagiary.Despite the subsequent disgrace of Churchill’s corpus of work the myth continues that the US Army deliberately triggered an epidemic of smallpox among native Americans to “get them out of the way.”  That claim is made elsewhere about Indians throughout the Americas.
While epidemics did occur, as Jared Diamond so persuasively argues in Guns, Germs, and Steel, it did not take deliberation for European diseases to decimate native populations.  All it took was one sick European infecting unknowing natives.  Widespread epidemics and subsequent population loss did occur in the Americas after the arrival of Europeans, that was the natural result of American populations being exposed to diseases for which they had absolutely no resistance, because heretofore these disease did not occur in the Americas.
The narrative that Europeans deliberately killed off huge populations of Indians suits the left though, so they will keep it alive and it is easy to do because so many people take the claim at face value and never bother to research it for themselves.

2. The sanctity of civilians in wartime – There is a persistent assertion among both leftist historians and the media that throughout history the lives, property, and persons of civilians has been sacrosanct in war and the large scale killing of non-combatants is a new phenomenon.  Nothing could be further from the truth, the difference in modern times is that it is easier for a few men to kill lots of civilians, not that civilians have never been a legitimate target. You will not hear a liberal admit that anytime soon though.
You will never hear a liberal acknowledge the Mongol policy of massacring entire cities that refused to surrender.  That the rule in medieval Europe was that a city that had to be taken by force was sacked for 72 hours, that for hundreds of years Muslim slave traders preyed on European shipping in the Mediterranean, or that the ancient Goths and others who preyed on the edges of the Roman Empire routinely slaughtered entire villages as a way of solidifying their control of areas by spreading terror.  There has never been an absolute prohibition on killing civilians in warfare and what protections civilians have had, especially in modern times, comes out of the Western, specifically, Roman and Christian traditions.

3. Dropping the Atomic Bomb on Japan – The dropping of the bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World War II is a topic that has come in for considerable debate.  I have even read people that claim America should apologize and perhaps pay reparations for the bombing.  I am flabbergasted by this.  I simply cannot understand how America should in any way apologize for ending the war that Japan started or the manner in which they did so.  This argument even goes back and claims that Japan was goaded into war by American policy.  That is the “West is at fault argument” taken to its absurd extreme.  What is even more ironic and silly is that many of the folks who make this claim condemn America and then turn around and condemn Japanese wartime conduct out the other side of their mouth.  These people would have you believe that America is in the wrong for civilian deaths at Saipan and Okinawa during the war and that any place with civilians nearby was not a legitimate target.
I hate to disappoint people, but people die in wars, sometimes the dead are even civilians.  Civilians are not normally targeted but they are legitimate targets as civilians are the lifeblood of any society and nothing can convince a people that they have lost than seeing that their military cannot defend them.  Targeting civilians is a legitimate act of warfare.  Unsavory yes, but still legitimate.  The arrow, bullet, or bomb that can always miss a civilian has not been invented and probably never will be.  It would be imprudent in the extreme for a military force to hamstring itself out of fear of causing a single civilian death.  If they do that they might as well surrender because the military is then of no use to the society that sponsors it and it is to the sponsoring society that the military must answer, not that of the enemy.

 Rant over.  Feel free to comment, I am more than happy to debate on this.  (the usual comment rules apply)

1. Brown Thomas. Did the U.S. Army Distribute Smallpox Blankets to Indians? Fabrication and Falsification in Ward Churchill’s Genocide RhetoricPlagiary:  CrossDisciplinary Studies in Plagiarism, Fabrication, and Falsification. Vol 1, 2006 pp. 100‐129

 

Book Review: Breakout: Pioneers of the Future, Prison Guards of the Past, and the Epic Battle That Will Decide America’s Fate by Newt Gingrich

Breakout: Pioneers of the Future, Prison Guards of the Past, and the Epic Battle That Will Decide America’s Fate by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich would probably have been a more interesting book if it had introduced some new ideas.  Sadly, it does not.  The book is nothing more than a rehashing of the tired ideas that have been floating around in conservative circles for years.

One would think that in 209 pages of text at least one original idea would appear.  The book is separated into 13 topical chapters with an introduction and a conclusion.  There is an extensive notes section and a surprisingly good index.

The topics cover everything from Education, to Healthcare, to Government and Business and much in between.  The essential argument of the book, and one I actually cannot disagree with is that the biggest problem in the US right now is government.  Government regulation and intellectual luddites are stifling innovation and holding the country back from making the conceptual leaps and paradigm shift that it is capable of to extend American leadership into the 21st century and beyond.

Speaker Gingrich makes an eloquent argument that over-regulation and political interests are holding the country back.  There is no reason for the current economic and societal malaise that we are not inflicting on ourselves.  I found especially demining his description of the over-cautious FDA drug and device approval process and the ways in which oil exploration and extraction in the US is being deliberately slowed and even stopped.  I share the Speakers concern that there is a large segment of people in America that actively want the country to fail and work to see that it does.  I find it equally dismaying that such people even exist.  What I don’t share is his optimism that there is a way out of the mess by working within the current system.  I hope that he is right and I am wrong.

Regardless, this is a well written book that explains the many issues presented in a rational and non-extremist manner.  Speaker Gingrich is a past master at making seemingly complex issues easy to understand, Breakout continues in that tradition and for that reason alone is worth reading.  I recommend this book to anyone interested in contemporary politics and the ways in which said politics are stifling progress both societally and technologically.

How History Repeats Itself

I apologize in advance for the blatantly political tone of this piece but I am flabbergasted by what I see happening on the eastern periphery of Europe and the anemic reaction to state on state aggression by the rest of the world.

I read this piece by Justin Logan from the Cato Institute this morning and was struck immediately on how similar in tone this piece is to the rhetoric of the pre-WWII America Firsters.  Is Estonia Worth a War?

I just ask myself are people so blind or so willing to seek peace at any cost that they will not stand up to tyranny until the cost of stopping it is orders of magnitude greater than if they had stood up for principle at the beginning?  The same kinds of arguments against involvement in WWII were made by isolationists in the US and appeasers abroad as Hitler’s Germany slowly re-armed and swallowed its neighbors in the years prior to WWII.

Largely the same process is in action in Russia today.  Whereas Germany felt slighted and unjustly treated after WWI modern Russia feels slighted and mistreated after the unsatisfactory (from their perspective) end to the Cold War.  It is interesting that roughly a generation passed between 1918 and 1939 and roughly a generation has passed between 1989 and 2014.  Russia was stripped of large swaths of territory in the wake of the fall of communism and Germany was stripped of territory, actually split into two separate blocks by the Danzig Corridor, in the wake of Versailles.  The German people felt they were not defeated, (hence the popularity of the stab in the back myth), while many Russians today feel that they were betrayed from within by Gorbachev and Co.  Hitler was an ideologue that fed on and amplified public perceptions of being unjustly handled by the Allies and Putin has done the same in Russia.  As Germany expanded it was only weakly opposed by the Allied powers and we are seeing the same sort of reaction in the West to Putin’s actions.

History seems to be repeating itself before our eyes as yet another European ideologue and dictator forges ahead towards war and an attempt to dominate its neighbors.  Is the West going to stand idly by and allow it to happen again until the cost of stopping it is immeasurably higher?  The stakes are higher this time around because Russia is a nuclear power.  The time to stop Putin and Russia is now and a serious demonstration of Western resolve would achieve without bloodshed what will costs thousands, if not millions of lives later on.

Has the West learned nothing from history other than that War is bad?  There are things worse than war, and if the Western leadership does not find their spine soon they will see what those things are.

 

Book Review: The True German: The Diary of a World War II Military Judge

[FULL DISCLOSURE: I received my copy of this book free from the author. I was not paid for this review and the opinion expressed is purely my own]

The True German: The Diary of a World War II Military Judge by Werner Otto Müller-Hill is one of those rare books that come out of war.  A diary written by someone to satisfy themselves with no expectation that it will ever get published.  As such, it provides an almost unique view into the mind of the person writing it.  The vast majority of war memoirs are self-serving and written to make a point.  Diaries tend to be less so, and this one in particular as it was written for the specific purpose of allowing the author to vent his spleen of thoughts and opinions that he simply could not openly express in Nazi Germany without risking death or imprisonment. The book is 186 pages of text and covers the diary entries from March, 1944 to June, 1945.

What is striking about this diary is that it was written by somebody who was part of one of the vital aspects of the totalitarian regime that kept the Nazis in power, a military judge.  Müller-Hill is remarkable in that although he was a military judge, he was not a hanging judge as so many Nazi era judges were.  Indeed, he boasts in the diary that he never sentenced a man to death although he was pressured to do so.  He always managed to find a sentence that avoided the firing squad.

Werner Otto Müller-Hill had served Germany in World War I and was 54 years old when World War II started in 1939.  His age and experience color his observations throughout his diary and he constantly compares the Nazis to the Kaiser era.  This is interesting because he is someone with intimate knowledge of both eras.  He makes several predictions in his diary that turned out to be prescient.

However, the most striking thing that comes out when reading the diary is how Müller-Hill struggled to reconcile his role in the Nazi war machine with his own conscience.  What comes out is the internal debates of an ordinary man who knows he serves an inhuman regime but finds himself powerless to do anything to stop the destruction of the country and people he love.  He does what he can but knows that will never be enough.  This book is a step to putting to rest the myth of a Germany full of Nazis and goes far toward showing that some, if not most, Germans were opposed to the regime but unable to do anything because of the iron grip of the police apparatus the Nazis built.  If anything, the lesson to be learned from this diary and the Nazi era is not that Germans are evil but that if tyranny is not stopped early resistance can become almost impossible.  This diary represents the story of one person who could not fight openly yet still resisted the regime in whatever way they could.

The True German: The Diary of a World War II Military Judge is compelling reading and I highly recommend it to anyone who has an interest in World War II and the Nazi era in Germany.

Von Saucken – The Last Aristocrat

Today’s generation can be forgiven for seeing the Second World War’s common participants as engaging in a battle of ideologies. That being said, the Waffen SS were the ultimate outsiders who became the ultimate insiders. During the blitzkrieg into Poland the Wehrmacht saw them as little more than auxiliaries, along for the ride. It is therefore interesting to appreciate the fact that the majority of the Heer were not ideologues, and therefore why they were capable of constantly putting up amazing fronts against an opponent (Russia) that outnumbered them 13:1.

The German military predated the rise of national socialism and shared few values with the Fuhrer and his henchmen. German military officers usually hailed from rigid class hierarchies that could trace their bloodlines back 600 years to the Teutonic Knights.

Stereotypically, this is the image we have of the Kaiser, the pickelhaube, and the monocle, and this was actually the attitude of the majority of Germany’s fighting men during the second World War. In other words, the majority of the Heer’s warriors were primarily interested in fighting to preserve Germany’s honor after what they viewed as the betrayal of Versailles.

No man exemplifies this aspect of the Wehrmacht as much as Dietrich von Saucken. The Panzer leader famously refused every formality when greeting the fuhrer, hands on his cavalry sword he made a slight bow and proclaimed his lack of intention to fight under the NS brass. The two men’s eyes met and the fuhrer’s will crumbled, as he allowed the cavalry officer to lead his own kampfgruppe.

Like Ernst Junger his only interest was a deep sense of personal honor that his Junker ancestors instilled in him.

If we are to understand the motivations that led Germans to fight under the banner of National Socialism, we should remember that the majority of the fighting men were ideological anachronisms, products of 19th century thinking, at best.

To appreciate this truth is to begin to understand why German officers, from Rommel on down often had a reputation for honorable dealings with their opponents, despite the broad brush we often paint their side with.