Tuesday, May 10, 2005

V-E Day anniversary roundup

I couldn't resist one last post on the 60th anniversary of V-E Day, which I blogged about a couple of days ago. Others have been commenting in the blogosphere as well, and some of these pieces are worth reading too. (Those of you getting tired of this topic: Don't worry, this will probably be the last post on this topic for a while.)

First off, Kevin at LeanLeft apparently agrees with me that Bush's regrets for the abandonment of the Baltic Republics, Poland, and Eastern Europe to Soviet Domination after WWII was simplistic, although he said it more strongly than I did:
Unsurprisingly, Bush is being a historical idiot here. The Red Army was massive, battle tested, possessing the best armor in the world at the time, and Stalin had no intention of leaving. The life of a permanent revolutionary and the brutal nature of intra-Communist politics had exacerbated Stalin’s natural paranoia. He did not trust the West – he remembered both the attempt of the West to restore the Russian monarchy after WWI and the delays in opening the Western front while his troops were bleeding in the East. The Nazi near success convinced him that he needed a buffer. He had it in Eastern Europe, he had the Army to defend it, and he would not willingly give it up. The United States would have had to have removed the Soviets by force.

That war would have been a bloody, horrible mess. Patton – darling of the right wing of the day – suggested rearming the Germans and using them to fight the Russians. Such a decision would have meant no Nuremberg and thus no reckoning for Auschwitz. And perhaps no public acknowledgment of the depths of the Nazi horrors. After all, the American and British publics would not have liked the fact that US soldiers where fighting along side people who were at least partially responsible for the Holocaust. And even that morally grotesque suggestion would not have been enough. At some point, nuclear weapons would almost certainly have had to have been used. And we haven’t even discussed what effect such a war would have had on the Pacific Theater. If it started before the surrender of Japan, does anyone think that the Soviets and the Japaenese would not have made common cause? And if it happened shortly after the surrender, it is entirely possible that the Japanese Army would have seen an opportunity to reverse its fortunes.
He has a point (particularly about the likelihood that a war with the Soviet Union jeopardizing our defeat of Japan and potentially preventing the perpetrators of the Holocaust from being brought to justice). However, it rather bothers me that Kevin seems to be so blithely dismissive of the domination of Eastern Europe by the Soviet Union for 45 years as "the best option available" to Franklin D. Roosevelt, before using President Bush's comments as an excuse to launch into an attack on Bush and the right wing. It would have been nice if he had more fully acknowledged just how horrible that "best option" was for those people who were unfortunate enough to be caught on the wrong side of the Iron Curtain in 1945. It is not necessary to be just "parroting the visceral hatred of FDR that the plutocrats of the day wallowed in and imparted to the far right of the Republican Party" to acknowledge that, even if all out war was probably not a viable option to stop this injustice, the U. S. did basically abandon Eastern Europe when Stalin broke the agreement at Yalta to allow free and fair elections and new democratic governments in Poland and its occupied territories.

In another vein, Professor Bainbridge ruminates about whether World War II could be truly considered a "just war," commenting on this article. Specifically, the making of common cause with Stalin against Hitler bothers him, as does the strategic bombing campaign (which I've discussed before in both the European and Pacific theaters). The latter bothers me more than the former (after all, after the German invasion of the Soviet Union, how could the Allies not have joined cause with Stalin, as distasteful as he was?). However, one also has to remember that bombing technology was so primitive and inaccurate that even "precision bombing" rarely hit its target with bombs in sufficient number to destroy it, and that, in 1942 and 1943, strategic bombing was the only real way that the Allies could do anything to prosecute the war other than at the fringes (North Africa, for example). Stalin was demanding that something be done, accusing Churchill and Roosevelt of letting the Russians do the fighting and dying while they sat back.

The bombing campaign probably did help end the war faster, although not by destroying German industry, as intended:
But bombing Germany did divert air cover away from the Eastern Front. In the spring of 1943, 70% of German fighters were in the western European theater, leaving German ground forces in the east increasingly vulnerable to Soviet air attacks. Lack of air cover was one of the reasons the German tanks were beaten at Kursk.

Strategic bombing also greatly hampered Albert Speer's considerable efforts to mobilize the Nazi economy for total war. In January 1945, Speer and his colleagues calculated the damage done in terms of what they couldn't produce: 35% fewer tanks than planned, 31% fewer aircraft and 42% fewer trucks. The impact of bombing on the Japanese economy was even more devastating.
But, as the Professor reminds us, that the logic of total war overtook us as well, at a moral cost.

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