The Friends of Uncle Joe
The year 2000 has brought a predictable flood of retrospection, with several equally predictable nominees for Man (or rather "Person") of the Century. These include Albert Einstein (chosen by Time), Winston Churchill (the choice of The Weekly Standard), and Franklin D. Roosevelt (the choice of several, including Arthur Schlesinger Jr. in the New York Daily News).
The gushing encomia deal very lightly, as one might also have predicted, with one fact common to all three: their fondness for Joseph Stalin, perhaps the Mass Murderer of the Millennium. Time fails to mention that the saintly Professor Einstein, a man of "humane and democratic instincts," was a relentless fellow-traveler who defended even Stalin's macabre 1938 Moscow show trials; the anti-Communist philosopher Sidney Hook recalled in his autobiography, Out of Step, that getting Einstein to criticize the Soviet Union was like pulling teeth.
Roosevelt's eulogists likewise avoid the subject of Stalin, for whom FDR had the highest regard, calling him "a Christian gentleman" during the Yalta conference. He had befriended Stalin from the first year of his administration, when he extended diplomatic recognition to the murderous pariah state. Time and again he chose to help "Uncle Joe" when he didn't have to, appeasing him from a position of strength. Even Neville Chamberlain never idealized Hitler as "Uncle Adolf." When FDR asked Pope Pius XII to condemn Hitler, Pius sent back word that if he did so he would also have to condemn Stalin; Roosevelt withdrew the request.
As for Churchill, we are assured that he had no illusions about Stalin, which only makes his wartime indulgence of the tyrant harder to excuse. His 1946 complaint (in a famous speech in Fulton, Missouri) about the "Iron Curtain" falling on Eastern Europe after World War II is treated as prophetic, when it was just the opposite: a totally hypocritical gesture. Anyone who didn't know what to expect of Stalin by 1946 -- or who could believe his guarantees at Yalta in 1945 -- was a moron. And Churchill was no moron, only a cynic feigning alarm at the obvious.
Stalin had shown his true colors long before Roosevelt and Churchill took on as their ally the brave, bluff "Uncle Joe." Had they never heard of the forced famine of Ukraine, the NKVD mass arrests, the Gulag camps, the purges and show trials, the murder of Trotsky, the invasions of Poland (with the Katyn Forest massacre of 15,000 Polish officers), Finland, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania? All these things, and more, revealed not only the brutality of Stalin but the logic of Communism itself, which had begun its reign in Russia with the mass murder of Orthodox priests under Lenin. Communism was in essence a reversion to the principles of primitive warfare, directed not only against external enemies but against its own subjects if they resisted (or were even suspected of a disposition to resist) its tyranny.
The alliance with the Soviet Union is a permanent bloodstain on the Western democracies. It was part of what F.J.P. Veale, a British jurist, called the Allies' "advance to barbarism" in his mercilessly trenchant book of that title. Long out of print, Advance to Barbarism is now available only from the Institute for Historical Review in Torrance, California. The book is both essential to read and difficult to obtain. It's remarkable for the iron logic with which Veale seizes on the damning casual admissions, and even the occasional twinges of conscience, of the victors of World War II. (He finds such twinges far more often in Churchill than in Roosevelt.)
The exaltation of the three Stalin-lovers as the heroes of the century, and saviors of civilization, is almost incomprehensible. It's as if we were asked to believe that three of the greatest men of the Middle Ages -- say, Innocent III, Dante, and St. Francis of Assisi had been friends and admirers of Genghis Khan.
The truth is that the Allied cause was as unholy as Hitler's. Veale ranks the Allies' policies of terror-bombing and "war-crimes" trials with Hitler's genocide as the distinguishing features of the "retrograde movement of civilization" that culminated in World War II. The readiness with which Churchill and Roosevelt embraced Stalin as an ally after Hitler attacked Russia in 1941 was only one signal of the new morality of warfare they were prepared to adopt; they so far forgave Stalin's part in the rape of Poland that began the war in 1939 as to entrust him, at the war's end in 1945, with control of Poland. War has always been terrible, of course, and mass extermination was a regular occurrence until the development of what may be called; without irony, the rules of "civilized warfare" late in the seventeenth century. At that time Europe's rulers, exhausted by bloody combat, came to agree on certain conventions: combat should be confined to soldiers in uniform; civilians and their property should be left alone; prisoners should be treated humanely; and defeated powers should be spared total devastation and indignity. These rules held until (and to some extent even after) World War I, replacing the logic of annihilation that governed primitive or "primary warfare" -- the unrestricted slaughter common between warring societies with no civilized principles in common.
For more than two centuries after the age of Louis XIV, European civilians were so unmolested that they often barely realized that their rulers were at war, and ordinary travel and commerce between countries usually continued during hostilities. The courtliness between rulers and officers of opposing armies, like the jovial fraternization between common soldiers as soon as peace was restored, is often hard to believe now. A sort of golden rule prevailed; each victor realized that he might be tomorrow's loser, so everyone tried to avoid leaving a legacy of bitterness by treating the vanquished reasonably and often generously. Peace treaties politely avoided any tone of blame or recrimination.
There were exceptions, of course. Napoleon's mass armies changed the character of war for a while; Lincoln's policy of waging war on civilian areas shocked European observers. Lincoln justified this on grounds that he was dealing not with a traditional war, but with a rebellion, in which the entire enemy population might be treated as criminals and traitors. The idealizers of Lincoln have blamed his policy on the generals who merely carried it out, especially Sherman and Sheridan. Of course even Lincoln was unable to apply this view consistently; to do so would have meant executing nearly every Southerner, soldier or civilian. But Lee's gallantry was more typical of the code of the professional man of arms. Veale notes that the South was more imbued with European culture, including military culture, than the North.
According to Veale, World War I was not truly a world war, but only the last and worst of Europe's civil wars. There were serious lapses from the code of civilized warfare: the British naval blockade of Europe caused mass starvation, for example, and Allied propaganda diabolized the Kaiser and the "Huns" with wild atrocity stories of bayoneted babies. But in the end, as usual, the parties convened after the war to make a settlement among themselves, although, for the first time, a non-European power had a say: the United States, led by the blundering Woodrow Wilson.
But in contrast to earlier peace settlements, Germany was unfairly blamed and cruelly looted, leaving Germans poor and starving. The bitter fruit of German "war guilt" set the stage for a far worse war, which would result in a settlement dictated, for the first time in European history, by non-European powers: the United States and the Soviet Union.
Shortly after World War I British military planners, contemplating war with France at the time, began to savor the possibilities of aerial warfare against civilian targets. By 1936, well before World War II, the British started preparing for an aerial war&emdash;a total break with the principles of civilized warfare. When the war came, they soon put this new idea into effect, catching the Germans unprepared. Such British military authorities as J.M. Spaight and Arthur "Bomber" Harris, looking back triumphantly at the success of terror-bombing, later wrote books gloating that the Germans had been caught flatfooted! Instead of adapting to the new technology of war, the Germans had continued to regard aerial bombing as mere tactical support for ground troops and the bomber as a form of airborne combat artillery; and because they didn't perceive the possibility of "strategic" bombing against the population and resources of an enemy country, the Luftwaffe had no heavy bombers with which to match the destructive fury of the Royal Air Force even for the purpose of retaliating against RAF strikes on German cities. Yet the boasts of men like Spaight and Harris didn't affect the popular view (and official story) that the Germans had originated the atrocity of bombing cities.
Official American propaganda likewise used the Japanese bombing of Chinese cities as a justification for fighting Japan, until the United States itself adopted the policy of bombing Japanese and German cities. Since this policy was accepted as legitimate when employed against diabolical enemies, it's now difficult for most people to recall the nauseous horror that bombing cities used to inspire. As Veale says, we have all become inured not only to atrocities in a holy cause but to the sort of "doublethink' that reasons: "We must be willing to slaughter innocent people in order to defeat our monstrous enemies, who slaughter innocent people."
The test came when, in 1940, Churchill's War Cabinet (in what Spaight would later praise as a "splendid decision") secretly adopted the policy of striking industrial areas of Germany outside the combat zone, vastly broadening the definition of "military objectives" and ensuring many civilian casualties. Two years later this policy was expanded under the Lindemann Plan to deliberately targeting the most thickly populated areas of industrial cities working-class neighborhoods near factories, where workers and their families lived in crowded tenements. Attacks on civilians were actually given priority over attacks on factories. Men, women, and children alike became "military objectives"; undefended cities like Hamburg and Dresden became furnaces in which people flung themselves into rivers to escape the terrific heat; old houses, churches, and other buildings that had survived from the Middle Ages were reduced to rubble by the latest methods, and oldest principles, of warfare. Even the confines of zoos were destroyed, and frantic wild animals roamed the streets. Burial of all the dead being impossible, funeral pyres disposed of bodies for weeks after the air raids.
Meanwhile, Churchill and his cronies lied to Parliament, denying that they were practicing "indiscriminate bombing." In one sense the denials were true. The bombing was anything but indiscriminate, since killing and terrorizing civilians was not a side effect of error or carelessness but the fully conscious purpose of the Lindemann Plan. The full truth emerged only long after the war, in the early 1960s. But by then it all seemed ancient history to most people, few cared much about the truth, and the war's mythology was too firmly established to be shaken. Veale had already gathered the essence of the story before all the details were released, but even now his work is little known and the official wartime story is still vaguely accepted as essentially true.
At the time it was happening, the British public thought German charges of deliberate bombing of civilians were the products of Joseph Goebbels's propaganda machine. And when the Germans retaliated with the infamous Blitz against British cities, as Churchill foresaw, the Englishman in the street was outraged at Germany's hideous violation of civilized rules of warfare, never dreaming that his own government had purposely provoked it.
Hitler himself, according to his biographer John Toland, was so shocked by the British bombing of cities that he at first excused it as a mistake, due to the inexperience of British bomber pilots. He couldn't believe the British were capable of such savagery. It was three months before the Germans responded in kind. Even so, as Spaight later admitted: "Hitler assuredly did not want the mutual bombing to go on." Franklin Roosevelt and the Americans were quite willing to join in the new spirit of total war. Roosevelt, an acolyte of Wilson, had always yearned for war with Germany and the chance to build an American global empire; the American people had been roused to fury and racehatred by the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, likewise never suspecting that it had been in any way provoked."Sneaky Japs" seemed a sufficient explanation and no punishment seemed excessive.
A new book, Day of Deceit, by Robert B. Stinnett, argues that Roosevelt actually knew the attack was coming but excuses him anyway! After all, "the Pearl Harbor attack was, from the White House perspective, something that had to be endured in order to stop a greater evil the Nazi invaders in Europe who had begun the Holocaust and were poised to invade England." These words show how thoroughly the democracies still accept the notion that the end stopping Hitler (the "sneaky Japs" have receded from the picture) justified any and every means, including massive deception of the American public. As of 1941, of course, Hitler had not yet "begun the Holocaust"; besides, his persecution of Jews played no part in Roosevelt's callous calculations.
Goaded by Einstein and others, Roosevelt also launched the quest for the ultimate bomb, one that would incinerate whole cities in a flash. This final nail in the coffin of civilized warfare was originally intended for German cities; one wonders whether Americans might feel somewhat more rueful about it today if it had been dropped on Berlin and Munich rather than Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The use of this bomb more truly Roosevelt's bomb than Harry Truman's stands as the most inhuman act ofthe whole war, a fact that Allied harping on Nazi "war crimes" has successfully diverted most people from realizing. No American president has used power as ruthlessly as Roosevelt. His liberal admirers are somewhat embarrassed by his order to round up U.S. citizens of Japanese extraction -- a brazen violation of their constitutional rights but it was of a piece with his constant use of federal agencies to punish, smear, or disable anyone he deemed an enemy. The notion that FDR was somehow on the side of civil liberties is hard to fathom. His critics correctly sized him up as a dictator at heart. His affinity with Stalin was genuine. Both were exemplars of the total state and total war.
In another breach of the rules of civilized warfare, Roosevelt and Churchill insisted on unconditional surrender by the Axis powers, thereby prolonging the war and immensely intensifying its bitterness. They made it clear that there would be no mercy for the losers. As the war drew to a close, Veale notes, Roosevelt and Churchill were eager to placate Stalin, who at the 1943 Tehran conference had urged that 50,000 German officials be dispatched a la Katyn Forest. This was a little more than the democratic leaders figured their people could stomach, so they proposed an alternative Stalinist method: postwar sham trials, observing the superficial forms of judicial process. Stalin, sighing at this bourgeois sentimentalism, for once yielded. In fact he eventually staged thousands of war-crimes "trials" of his own, in which there were, of course, no acquittals to speak of.
When the trials began at Nuremberg, there were a few irregularities. The accusers (including Soviet "judges" with long experience in Stalinist jurisprudence) doubled as jurors; the court was never impartial; the accused were judged guilty before the proceedings began. The rules of evidence sharply limited the defense; the defendants were not permitted to argue that the Allies had committed the same acts they were being accused of.
Even at that, the Germans were never tried for bombing civilian areas, because the Allies didn't want to risk calling attention to the fact that they themselves had initiated this particular "crime against humanity." The novel charge of "waging a war of aggression" was never defined, because no definition could be found that would cover the German invasion of Poland without also covering Soviet invasions of Poland and several other countries to boot.
Such treatment of prisoners of war was also a novel departure from the old rules, which the Allies justified by arbitrarily declaring the captured German military officers to be civilians. This made them eligible to be tried as criminals under the inchoate new rules. The purpose of the trials was not to do justice or to determine guilt according to normal standards of law (which forbid ex post facto trials), but to give the Allies a propaganda victory on top of their military triumph.
In essence, the Germans were convicted of losing the war. The only real "war crime;' as Veale points out, was being defeated. The honorable German admiral Erich Raeder, for example, was convicted for invading Norway, though he had merely beaten the British to the punch on the eve of their own planned invasion. The whole thing was a shameless break with precedent, but it set its own precedents for the pursuit of aging "war-criminals" that still continues. When similar trials were held in Tokyo two years later, an Indian jurist who participated decried the proceedings: "The farce of a trial of vanquished leaders by the victors was itself an offense against humanity." No Western jurist had found the courage to say as much at Nuremberg.
Under the circumstances, it's easy to understand why some students of the war even doubt that Hitler's persecution of Jews, revolting as it was, amounted to a "Holocaust" or extermination program. It may have happened as the official story has it, and Veale, who questions most of the Allied claims, expresses no doubt of it; but if so, it's about the only thing the Allies told the truth about. At any rate, the story of the Holocaust is suspiciously convenient for those who were willing to commit such horrors that only something like an enormous program of mass murder could divert attention from their own guilt. With all due respect for those who really suffered at Hitler's hands, some skepticism is in order. Whatever the truth, Hitler is not the only one who deserves lasting infamy. So do several Persons of the Century. Veale deals lightly with the postwar mass deportation of large populations, including the "repatriation" of millions to the Soviet Union (and certain death) during what was later known as Operation Keelhaul. At the time when Veale wrote, shortly after the war, little had been published about these final Allied favors to Uncle Joe. Since then, James Bacque and other historians have concluded that the Allies also starved millions of Germans after the war, a policy that was interrupted only by the breach between the democracies and the Soviet Union; luckily for the surviving Germans, the Cold War necessitated a new alliance with what was left of Germany.
Since the Cold War began, the democracies have repudiated Stalin and Communism. But that does nothing to remove the great bloodstain of World War II, still liberalism's holy war. The democracies were Stalin's eager partners in atrocity and mendacity, and they committed plenty of crimes of their own that can't be blamed on Uncle Joe. And for what it's worth, the Allied atrocities seem to have failed on their own terms. Most analysts agree that they intensified the war without really affecting the outcome. Veale argues that the diversion of RAF bombers to Germany may even have changed the outcome of the Battle of France in 1940, when one defeat might have toppled Hitler and cut the war short. In the end the victors succeeded chiefly in hardening their own consciences, while giving Stalin the spoils.
Some sort of pragmatic defense of the war might have been made on the frank grounds of power: Churchill and the British wanted to oppose German power, which threatened their own global empire (while speaking frankly of "the British Empire" in private, for propaganda purposes Churchill called his cause "democracy" in public); Roosevelt wanted also to stop the Japanese, those insolent yellow dwarfs (as Veale caustically puts it) who dared to challenge the white man's rule in the Far East.
But Roosevelt and Churchill chose to wage the war as a Manichaean crusade against evil, while cutting their cynical deal with the devil in the Kremlin (not to mention the one in hell). Their partnership with Uncle Joe, their resort to aerial mass murder, and their participation in postwar enormities destroyed any moral claim they made for the war. Sooner or later the accepted view of this heroic epic is going to have to be drastically revised, as Veale perceived immediately after the war ended.
The Allied crimes have never been acknowledged, except as wartime necessities justified by noble ends; and the Allied criminals have never been brought to the dock. Instead, they are still honored as heroes of the twentieth century. (Even the memory of the odious "Bomber" Harris long ostracized with distaste and moral embarrassment by the British Establishment for his rather unseemly enthusiasm for killing civilians -- was recently honored by the erection of a statue in London.) And the entire American establishment still has a stake in the mythology of World War II; its legitimacy rests largely on its boast that it saved the world from Hitler. It can afford neither to disown its alliance with Stalin nor to face the implications of its having befriended him. It still condemns the "isolationists" who knew exactly what Stalin was a decade before Churchill acknowledged it at Fulton.