Was World War II a mistake?

A bestselling book by Nicholson Baker entitled Human Smoke argues that fighting World War II was a mistake.

But, but, what about the Holocaust? The Jews died anyway, says Baker. More lives were lost fighting the war than were worth the cost. Baker maintains that the pacifists of that time were right.

Where does one start with this? I fear, though, that the anti-war spirit is becoming so strong that this mindset will prevail in the West, and that it is already in Europe.

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • Bob Hunter

    Well, if the world’s terrorists and dictators catch this anti-war fervor, then more power to the movement – but I’m not holding my breath.

  • Bob Hunter

    Well, if the world’s terrorists and dictators catch this anti-war fervor, then more power to the movement – but I’m not holding my breath.

  • Bror Erickson

    Where does one start with this? You don’t. You can’t. This is such idiocy you can’t argue with it. It comes from a man, who has never had to experience violence on that level. Never known, never seen the plight of oppression. It is such a spineless jack*ss that in countries less opposed to violence, would be woken up in the middle of the night, beat, and forced to watch his wife being raped. Then he might see that there are things worth fighting for, that some men need to be stopped.

  • Bror Erickson

    Where does one start with this? You don’t. You can’t. This is such idiocy you can’t argue with it. It comes from a man, who has never had to experience violence on that level. Never known, never seen the plight of oppression. It is such a spineless jack*ss that in countries less opposed to violence, would be woken up in the middle of the night, beat, and forced to watch his wife being raped. Then he might see that there are things worth fighting for, that some men need to be stopped.

  • http://www.brandywinebooks.net Lars Walker

    So Baker would prefer to see a Europe dominated by a racist hegemony that enforces strict separation on the basis of race, with preferences for Aryan whites? One in which all non-European immigration and intermarriage would be banned?

    Somehow I doubt it.

  • http://www.brandywinebooks.net Lars Walker

    So Baker would prefer to see a Europe dominated by a racist hegemony that enforces strict separation on the basis of race, with preferences for Aryan whites? One in which all non-European immigration and intermarriage would be banned?

    Somehow I doubt it.

  • FullTime

    My mouth falls open. I cannot think of a way to start this comment without some sort of expletive, but I don’t want to sink to such a level, so I’ll just say, my mouth falls open.

    Last Spring I took a university class on German History in the 20th Century. Even my European-born, Liberal college professor never seemed to even hint that he thought anything near this. The facts of WWII were (as near as I could tell) told objectively from both sides. Even if you took the Holocaust out of the equation (which I cannot do) the war was needed. Hitler was not just killing Jews. He killed Catholics, Gypsies, Communists, Artists, the disabled; the lists goes on and on.
    How many French and Russian citizens died in the German conquest of Europe? American lives might have been saved, but would cowardly, ostrich-head-hiding American lives have been as worthy of being saved as the heroes who chose to go “over there” and fight and die for the sake of freedom and right?
    Would the Japanese conquest of the Pacific have stopped at Hawaii? Doubtful. If WWII had not been fought, The British would be speaking German and we could be speaking Japanese.

    I cannot fathom the stupidity, blindness, and historical ineptitude of not only this author, but also his publishers.

    (Coincidentally, my professor also never, despite making his opinion on Bush clear, likened the President to Hitler.)

  • FullTime

    My mouth falls open. I cannot think of a way to start this comment without some sort of expletive, but I don’t want to sink to such a level, so I’ll just say, my mouth falls open.

    Last Spring I took a university class on German History in the 20th Century. Even my European-born, Liberal college professor never seemed to even hint that he thought anything near this. The facts of WWII were (as near as I could tell) told objectively from both sides. Even if you took the Holocaust out of the equation (which I cannot do) the war was needed. Hitler was not just killing Jews. He killed Catholics, Gypsies, Communists, Artists, the disabled; the lists goes on and on.
    How many French and Russian citizens died in the German conquest of Europe? American lives might have been saved, but would cowardly, ostrich-head-hiding American lives have been as worthy of being saved as the heroes who chose to go “over there” and fight and die for the sake of freedom and right?
    Would the Japanese conquest of the Pacific have stopped at Hawaii? Doubtful. If WWII had not been fought, The British would be speaking German and we could be speaking Japanese.

    I cannot fathom the stupidity, blindness, and historical ineptitude of not only this author, but also his publishers.

    (Coincidentally, my professor also never, despite making his opinion on Bush clear, likened the President to Hitler.)

  • Greg

    The old right, the John Birch, Pat Buchannon, Herman Otten right would make a similar point. They would not contest that Hitler or Hirohito were evil dudes. They would argue that WW2 or WW1 for that matter were not in Americas best interest. Check out the Just War discussion at Lutherquest to see how many in the Lutheran Church have similar ideas.

  • Greg

    The old right, the John Birch, Pat Buchannon, Herman Otten right would make a similar point. They would not contest that Hitler or Hirohito were evil dudes. They would argue that WW2 or WW1 for that matter were not in Americas best interest. Check out the Just War discussion at Lutherquest to see how many in the Lutheran Church have similar ideas.

  • Ted Gullixson

    People can argue whether or not fighting the two World Wars were in the best interest of America. The fact is that we did participate and the world and the United States is a different world because of it.

    I think another question is more important: Since all things work together for the good of Christ’s Church, what blessings did God give His Church because of American participation in World War II? My answer is that American Christian missionaries were received by countries around the world because America was perceived as a nation that rescued people without demanding sovereignty over them. Perhaps students of mission history could verify whether or not this is a valid hypothesis.

  • Ted Gullixson

    People can argue whether or not fighting the two World Wars were in the best interest of America. The fact is that we did participate and the world and the United States is a different world because of it.

    I think another question is more important: Since all things work together for the good of Christ’s Church, what blessings did God give His Church because of American participation in World War II? My answer is that American Christian missionaries were received by countries around the world because America was perceived as a nation that rescued people without demanding sovereignty over them. Perhaps students of mission history could verify whether or not this is a valid hypothesis.

  • Don S

    The isolationist movement in 1941 was dominant in the U.S. Roosevelt worked very hard to convince the American political establishment to enter the war during 1940 and 1941, and did back door things like the Lend-Lease program to assist the effort in any way he could. I wonder at what point we would have voluntarily engaged in WWII if Japan had not attacked Pearl Harbor? What would we have done when we learned of the Holocaust? We’ll never know the answer to that, but hopefully we would have done the honorable thing ultimately.

    However, the fact of the matter is that a foreign nation engaged in an organized, unprovoked attack on our homeland, which triggered our entry into the war. How would Mr. Baker have wished us to respond to that I wonder?

    I’m afraid if our present anti-war activists had existed at that time, they would have cheered the attack as being justified because we were imperialists unjustly occupying and commandeering the native land of the Hawaiians.

  • Don S

    The isolationist movement in 1941 was dominant in the U.S. Roosevelt worked very hard to convince the American political establishment to enter the war during 1940 and 1941, and did back door things like the Lend-Lease program to assist the effort in any way he could. I wonder at what point we would have voluntarily engaged in WWII if Japan had not attacked Pearl Harbor? What would we have done when we learned of the Holocaust? We’ll never know the answer to that, but hopefully we would have done the honorable thing ultimately.

    However, the fact of the matter is that a foreign nation engaged in an organized, unprovoked attack on our homeland, which triggered our entry into the war. How would Mr. Baker have wished us to respond to that I wonder?

    I’m afraid if our present anti-war activists had existed at that time, they would have cheered the attack as being justified because we were imperialists unjustly occupying and commandeering the native land of the Hawaiians.

  • kerner

    To me the bigger question was why we got involved in WWI. To this day I don’t se why it was in the interest of the United States to get involved in what amounted to a power struggle between European colonial empires, none of whom were fighting for any idealistic just cause.

    WWII is, of course, another matter. The Nazis were a profoundly evil regime, but they weren’t the only one. The Soviet Union, our ally, was every bit as evil, and murdered as many or more people, as the Nazis did.

    So, consider: what if we had stayed out of WWII, and the Nazi’s had defeated the Soviets? Would we have developed a policy of containment, detente, and realpolitik, and would we have waged a 50 year “cold war” against the Nazis until they collapsed? Would we have figured a way to get along with Imperial Japan the way we did with Red China? Might the world be better off if we had done these things instead of what we actually did?

    I don’t think there is any way to know the answers to these things. By choosing to fight the enemies we fought at the time we chose to do so we greatly affected the way the world developed. On balance things seem to have turned out well for the United States, and maybe for the World. But there are way to many variables to say with any certainty that things would be better or worse if we had chosen differently.

    You could have this same discussion about any war, including the one we are in now. How we look back at it will depend a lot on what comes of it.

  • kerner

    To me the bigger question was why we got involved in WWI. To this day I don’t se why it was in the interest of the United States to get involved in what amounted to a power struggle between European colonial empires, none of whom were fighting for any idealistic just cause.

    WWII is, of course, another matter. The Nazis were a profoundly evil regime, but they weren’t the only one. The Soviet Union, our ally, was every bit as evil, and murdered as many or more people, as the Nazis did.

    So, consider: what if we had stayed out of WWII, and the Nazi’s had defeated the Soviets? Would we have developed a policy of containment, detente, and realpolitik, and would we have waged a 50 year “cold war” against the Nazis until they collapsed? Would we have figured a way to get along with Imperial Japan the way we did with Red China? Might the world be better off if we had done these things instead of what we actually did?

    I don’t think there is any way to know the answers to these things. By choosing to fight the enemies we fought at the time we chose to do so we greatly affected the way the world developed. On balance things seem to have turned out well for the United States, and maybe for the World. But there are way to many variables to say with any certainty that things would be better or worse if we had chosen differently.

    You could have this same discussion about any war, including the one we are in now. How we look back at it will depend a lot on what comes of it.

  • Bryan Lindemood

    It sounds like Nicholson Baker writes some pretty good fighting words. And God be praised that He always raises up someone who will fight for what they believe is the right thing to do; and those who do not have the ability to see any right thing to do will not fight – or at least not very well. This is another reason to know what you believe and why you believe it. Because then you can fight with joy and whether you live or die, win.

    Despite Roosevelt, American involvement in WWII was a just response. Yay Just War and Defensive non-intervention! Tension in a sinful world is always better than unity over worldly matters.

  • Bryan Lindemood

    It sounds like Nicholson Baker writes some pretty good fighting words. And God be praised that He always raises up someone who will fight for what they believe is the right thing to do; and those who do not have the ability to see any right thing to do will not fight – or at least not very well. This is another reason to know what you believe and why you believe it. Because then you can fight with joy and whether you live or die, win.

    Despite Roosevelt, American involvement in WWII was a just response. Yay Just War and Defensive non-intervention! Tension in a sinful world is always better than unity over worldly matters.

  • Bruce

    Unfortunately, Kerner, the issue was not limited to just “the Nazis against the Communists”. If that had been the case, then perhaps standing by and letting them have another go at each other (“General Winter” style, as indeed happened) might have been a wise option.

    In the end, it was Hitler’s greedy desire to get back at Stalin for Stalin’s treachery that took much of the steam out of the Nazi effort, and in fact shortened the war for our “real” allies. Had Hitler just focused on what was on his plate already–the control of Europe and eventual control of England–it would have meant almost certain Nazi control of all of Western Europe. War Two is a great study in a long process of making hard political choices. We gave up the Phillipines, for example, and the thousands of American service men there in order to focus attention on the European theatre.

    And it is true: when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, they danced in the streets of Paris. Occupied Europe knew that this would cause the war planes of the mighty USA to fly over Europe in their cause.

  • Bruce

    Unfortunately, Kerner, the issue was not limited to just “the Nazis against the Communists”. If that had been the case, then perhaps standing by and letting them have another go at each other (“General Winter” style, as indeed happened) might have been a wise option.

    In the end, it was Hitler’s greedy desire to get back at Stalin for Stalin’s treachery that took much of the steam out of the Nazi effort, and in fact shortened the war for our “real” allies. Had Hitler just focused on what was on his plate already–the control of Europe and eventual control of England–it would have meant almost certain Nazi control of all of Western Europe. War Two is a great study in a long process of making hard political choices. We gave up the Phillipines, for example, and the thousands of American service men there in order to focus attention on the European theatre.

    And it is true: when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, they danced in the streets of Paris. Occupied Europe knew that this would cause the war planes of the mighty USA to fly over Europe in their cause.

  • Alex Bertrand

    Most politically correct teachers and textbooks will tell you that American involvement in WW2 was just and necessary. However, many facts baffle me as to why we would ever get involved.

    Consider this: One of our allies was the Soviet Union, which was led by a man who, in many ways, was just as evil as Hitler.

    Consider this: Many prominent Americans, such as Herbert Hoover, Sinclair Lewis, and Gerald Ford, opposed the war.

    Consider this: Textbooks say that FDR’s stance was originally anti-war. The fact is, he flat out lied to the American people when he said we would not be involved even as he violated neutrality laws we had passed by sending aid to Britain. And by aiding Britain, he made us a belligerent ( in other words he INTENTIONALLY PROVOKED the Axis into attacking us.)

  • Alex Bertrand

    Most politically correct teachers and textbooks will tell you that American involvement in WW2 was just and necessary. However, many facts baffle me as to why we would ever get involved.

    Consider this: One of our allies was the Soviet Union, which was led by a man who, in many ways, was just as evil as Hitler.

    Consider this: Many prominent Americans, such as Herbert Hoover, Sinclair Lewis, and Gerald Ford, opposed the war.

    Consider this: Textbooks say that FDR’s stance was originally anti-war. The fact is, he flat out lied to the American people when he said we would not be involved even as he violated neutrality laws we had passed by sending aid to Britain. And by aiding Britain, he made us a belligerent ( in other words he INTENTIONALLY PROVOKED the Axis into attacking us.)


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X