13 June 2008

Because It's There

Those famous words were spoken by British climber George Mallory in 1924 when he was asked why he wanted to climb Mount Everest. I believe that this is as good an answer as any other - to an unanswerable question.

For some reason I recalled this while reading the CNN article about the book Human Smoke by one Nicholson Baker.

Even the staunchest opponents of the wars in Vietnam and Iraq are loath to take issue with World War II, the quintessential conflict between good and evil that became the model of a morally just war.
This opening sentence of the article is faulty in my opinion: I wouldn't characterize the WW II as good vs. evil. It was rather less evil vs. more evil, but both Mr. Baker and the author of the article are confined to the Western-centric view of the war - more about it later. Meanwhile, I have realized the reason for recalling Sir George's words. Baker, as many other revisionists of history, is most probably driven by the same motive - because the history is there. Of course, a strong political belief (pacifism in his case) and unerring 20-20 hindsight, selective to the point of almost total blindness, don't cause any harm to this endeavor.

In fact, as many of history revisionists have discovered, the business definitely has its perks. Such as the 15 minutes of glory, lucrative publishing contracts and a shoal of supporters, no matter how small a fringe they belong to. Of the seven billions world population even a fringe is enough to create a considerable source of pride, glory and income. But this is less important - after all, the roads to stardom are not paved by model behavior - in most cases.

So what is the main point of the book, according to the CNN article?
Baker said he was surprised and shocked at the way Churchill responded to Hitler's attacks on Poland and other neighboring states by launching a relentless bombing campaign against German cities as well as a blockade that was designed to starve the enemy into submission.

"He was acting like a bloodthirsty maniac during that period. That has to go back on the record in all of its unpleasantness. We can't learn from a hero like that. It's a mistake to say that because Hitler was bad, we have to clean up the image of Churchill. Churchill was also bad," Baker said.

Baker maintains that Churchill's bellicose actions and Roosevelt's eagerness to supply Britain with ships and planes served only to prop up Hitler's standing with Germans and strengthen his hold on the country.
Now, the point is not necessarily new. In fact, the "pacifist" movement that protested any attempts to curb the Nazis' expansionist moves was quite strong in pre-war Britain and fairly sizable in US as well. That some of the "pacifists" were quite overt in their support of Nazi ideology is another point worth remembering. I don't know whether Mr Baker touches upon it in his book.

So - the main, and not too revolutionary, point of Mr Baker's book is: why, oh why, haven't Churchill and Roosevelt talked to Hitler, why haven't they tried to understand an pacify him?

Yeah. Indeed, why haven't people tried to talk with Genghis Khan, Alexander the Great, Pol Pot, why don't they talk enough to Kim Jong-Il, not to mention Sheik Nasrallah, Mugabe and myriad other tyrants and mass murderers throughout the history? Surely, given some frank and convincing talking-to, all these people could have been persuaded to become no more harmful than lambs. After all, Hitler has done no more than "attacks on Poland and other neighboring states". That could have been a result of temporary indigestion which is an occasional burden for a vegetarian like Hitler.

Hmm... there must be some snag in the above logic. Somehow Mr Baker forgot that Poland and "other neighboring states" happened to become occupied as a result of these "attacks". With well-known consequences. Unless, of course, Mr Baker thinks that the consequences could have been avoided as well by talking to Hitler in a right way. Or, as it may happen, Mr Baker just isn't interested very much in the fate the befell all these Eastern heathens.

And this is the second important point: for some reason, as I have mentioned at the start of the post, Mr Baker focuses on Hitler - Churchill - Roosevelt trio, disregarding the Eastern side of the map. Whether it comes from ignorance or from some intentional oversight I wouldn't know. The CNN article disregards the issue as well. But I couldn't.

You see, my problem with Baker's theory is of a practical nature. Given, for the purpose of the exercise, that by cuddling up to Hitler instead of confronting him, Churchill and Roosevelt could have prevented Nazis' westward expansion, what about the Operation Barbarossa? Conceived and planned in meticulous detail long before the beginning of WW II, this operation eventually failed and was the ultimate cause of the downfall of the most evil regime in history.

But what if Baker's villains, Churchill and Roosevelt, have decided to stay away from assistance they have generously provided to the Soviet Union, as Baker's guidance would have been? What if the Red Army failed in its resistance? For me the answer is quite simple - I wouldn't have been born and somebody else would have had to respond to Mr Baker's well-meaning drivel.

On the other hand, both Baker and his readers would have been exemplary citizens of the Third Reich and a post like this one would have hardly be possible in the circumstances.

Oh well. The post is getting too long, the weather outside is getting too attractive. Time to forget Mr Baker and his crapola and deal with more pleasant matters.

Only... maybe later in the day I could raise Kim Jong-Il on Skype and talk him into stopping the starvation of his people and accumulation of all kinds of Dongs - medium or long range as they may happen to be. After all, he is so ronely, and a good talking-to may just be what the doctor recommends.


Cross-posted on Yourish.com.