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Jewish World Review May 25, 1999 /10 Sivan 5759

Sam Schulman

Sam Schulman
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Kosovo's History Lessons

(JWR) ---- (
WE'VE BEEN TREATED to endless treatises on how history helps us to interpret the Kosovo crisis (from me as much as from anyone). But Kosovo might help us reinterpret history as well.

Take the cold war. Where are they, the pacifists who used to jeer at the struggle against totalitarianism? Now that we need them, where are Gar Alperovitz and Robert Jay Lifton? Lifton is the Yale shrink who enlivened the cold war era with naïve theorizing about fear of the atom bomb among us children. To him, the ever-present threat of nuclear annihilation had permanently distorted our psyches, causing any number of neuroses and eating disorders. (Hilariously he believed that children through human history until 1945 lived secure and happy lives, and that if leaders on both sides could only understand how the bomb messed up our heads, they would instantaneously disarm.) Since the cold war ended without discernible change in human nature, Lifton has been silent on this question.

Alperovitz wrote the most elaborate of the ridiculous anti-Hiroshima books of 4 years ago, retroactively proposing to the late Harry Truman a convoluted process of reasoning which he ought to have followed in 1945. With Gar at his ear, Truman would have realized that his fears about the costs of invading Japan were overblown and would happily have forsworn dropping the a-bomb, to become a moral hero.

NATO has achieved none of its war aims, but over these kinds of crankery I scent victory. Could an alternative to the use of a magical weapon like the a-bomb have occurred to Truman in 1945? After watching how the fate of three captured GIs instantly outweighed the moral imperative of our crusade against the genocide Milosevic, no one could think so. After seeing how everyone prefers to kill many hundreds of Serbian civilians rather than risk a single military casualty, no one could ever think so again.

Common sense always suggested that there was no political way to avoid any action, however brutal, that might possibly end World War II a day sooner or a soldier's life earlier. Later, during the cold war, there was no way that the leaders on either side would have embraced a hot war killing millions in order to avoid nuclear tension. Intellectuals evidently regard armies as expendable in a way that other do not. Unfortunately for Secretary Albright and Tony Blair, our citizens are curiously reluctant to risk the lives of American soldiers in moral experimentation.

But more absurd and ugly are the Holocaust-jockeys, who are trying to justify NATO's bombing-only policy by appealing to Hitler's war against the Jews.

This process involves several steps. First of all, the second World War has to be transformed into a crusade to prevent the Jews from being liquidated- in which the enemy was genocide itself not Germany and Japan. Yeah, that's how it was, says Daniel Jonah Goldhagen (the Harvard scholar who wrote Hitler's Willing Executioners) in a breathtakingly illiterate New Republic piece. The allies fought to establish the "principle that a people that participates in or endorses systematic mass murder by its government…can be occupied and have its country reshaped according to democratic principles."

The ugliness of the sentence mirrors the idiocy of the thought. Of course the truth is nearly opposite. The leaders of the war parties in the US and England struggled to dissociate their war aims from the plight of the Jews in Germany. The reason was not anti-Semitism, but fear of being seen to be philosemitic. The English-speaking publics would not stand for a war whose main purpose might have been to benefit the Jews-Roosevelt and Churchill knew this, as did most Jewish leaders at the time. But never mind that-the war was won, and in a process that didn't begin until the 1950s, anti-Holocaustology has been installed as the war's official purpose. This is regarded as flattering to the victors, I suppose, but mystifyingly many Jewish writers have collaborated in shaping this ridiculous myth.

Thanks to this myth, but also to the efforts of anti-cold warriors like Lifton and Alperovitz, we now live in a world in which no foreign power can be opposed unless it can be likened to Nazis killing Jews. Goldhagen, who has made a career out of erasing the distinction between ordinary citizens and Nazi monsters, does his bit, declaring that Milosevic differs from Hitler only in degree. But he's not the worst. Look! Trains-full of refugees in Macedonia. As John Podhoretz points out in the New York Post, the First Lady thinks immediately of a couple of Oscar-winning movies she saw about the Holocaust (both diversely featuring non-Jews as heroes, Jews only as victims) in which trains play a big role.

Why should we bother getting history right? That we fought Hitler to liberate the extermination camps - well, isn't it pretty to think so. That we fight Milosevic (daintily, by bombing civilian targets) because he is a genocide inspired by Hitlerian racist theories-this is a lie which does not flatter us for having to tell it, and which convinces no one, least of all those who tell it.

JWR contributor Sam Schulman is deputy editor of Taki's Top Drawer, appearing in New York Press, and was formerly publisher of Wigwag and a professor of English at Boston University. You may contact him by clicking here.


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04/27/99: A Sahibs' War
04/21/99: The Two Bills
04/13/99: The Imp and the Ingenue
04/05/99: Col. Blimp is Alive ... and in Washington

©1999, Sam Schulman