Monday, January 31, 2011

Concerning Israel's Anxiety About the Events Unfolding in Egypt

The foreign policy blogo-sphere has been understandably abuzz with the potentially revolutionary events happening in Egypt. I hadn't really intended on commenting on this remarkable event except that many of the blogs that I've been reading have frustrated me by downplaying the repercussions a regime change in Egypt might have vis a vis Israel. For example, at RealClearWorld in the context of a discussion of whether or not American aid to an autocratic regime in Egypt still makes sense writes this about Israel:

The first of these rationales (i.e., aid to Egypt as an incentive for maintaining a peace with Israel) has long stopped making sense. Egypt has kept peace with Israel not out of an abundance of good will but because they understand the folly of trying to defeat them. American aid or no, it's quite difficult to imagine the Egyptian military getting it into their heads that a war with Israel would be a good thing to start in the 21st century. (for the entire post go here)

Now before addressing this statement it might be best to briefly recap the historical relationship between Israel and Egypt:

1.) Egypt, along with other Arab powers, attempted to snuff out the newborn existence of the Jewish state during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war but failed. Diplomat Ralph Bunche was instrumental in getting the parties involved to sign a ceasefire.

2.) Israel, in collusion with France and Britain during the 1956 Suez crisis, captured the Sinai delivering a devastating blow to the Egyptian Army. However, under intense diplomatic pressure from the United States and other countries Israel subsequently withdrew from the Sinai.

3.) Israel delivered an astonishing defeat to Egypt (and other Arab states) during the 1967 Six Day War capturing, once again, the Sinai. Israeli peace overtures following the war were rejected by the Arab states including Egypt at Khartoum where the (in)famous three 'nos' were uttered: "no peace, no recognition, no negotiation".

4.) The new leader of Egypt, Anwar Sadat, launched a surprise attack on Israel on their holiest day which initiated the 1973 Yom Kippur War. The Israeli's eventually drove back the Egyptians but Sadat's prestige was nonetheless bolstered throughout the Arab world following the war.

5.) Following upon his amazing unilateral visit to Jerusalem, Sadat and then Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin through the brokerage of President Jimmy Carter (see the Camp David Accords of 1979) signed a peace agreement that required Israel to give back the Sinai to Egypt, which it subsequently did, in return for the recognition of the existence of Israel which Egypt gave.

6.) In 1981 Anwar Sadat whose peacemaking with Israel was highly unpopular with both the Egyptian people and the Arab world was assassinated which brought the current Egyptian leader, Hosni Mubarak, to power.

7.) Surprisingly, Mubarak maintained an albeit cold peace with Israel even aiding them in the prevention of some weapons from entering the Gaza strip.

So as you can see there exists a long mostly hostile history between the two countries even though Mubarak has kept a cold peace with Israel up til now. Therefore, a regime change no matter what its character would be of major concern to the Israelis. Moreover, this concern is less about the possibility of a conventional war with a new regime in Egypt and more about the consequences that could arise from an unstable regime change especially concerning the Egyptian/Gazan border. Israel cannot afford a regime that's unable and/or unwilling to help maintain the security on that volatile border. Instability at this border would mean more weapons for Hamas that could lead to another perhaps more devastating war between Israel and Hamas than that which occurred in 2008/09. My point is that Israeli anxiety about the ongoing events in Egypt is more about the potential consequences a revolution could have on the stability of the region and less about a fear that a regime change might lead to a future conventional war between the two countries. Therefore, Israel's angst is quite understandable and shouldn't be minimized.

Fortunately, there are other voices in the blogo-sphere that provide a more sound analysis of the revolutionary events going on in Egypt. For more read Daniel Drezner's insightful post here.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

"Are You Master of Your Domain?" On Masturbation and Seinfeld

Prior to deploying I had only seen a handful of Seinfeld episodes and though usually finding them funny to some degree I was never quite sold on the show. But I became a Larry David fan after seeing his performance in the Woody Allen film Whatever Works. Wanting to see more I briefly did some research (which usually entails perusing IMDB or Wikipedia) and discovered that Larry David was one of the co-creators along with Jerry Seinfeld of the eponymous Seinfeld. Thus, I decided that there was no better time than this deployment to give Seinfeld a shot. So I took a risk and bought the entire series after a failed attempt to download it. And thank the maker that I took this risk because I've enjoyed the show immensely.

But there's one episode in particular that I want to mention, namely, "The Contest". It's about masturbation. More specifically it's about the four main characters' attempts to win a contest to see who can refrain the longest from masturbating. It's one of the best and funniest episodes but it's also culturally important for tackling what was then still a very taboo subject to refer to on TV (even though most humans and animals engage in this act). In fact, Larry David in the "Inside Look" on the DVD for this episode talks about how he was afraid that Jerry and the network would never green light this episode because of its subject matter and so left this episode and its description out of his list of upcoming episodes that he normally had displayed on his work board. But to his surprise Jerry was on board thinking it not offensive at all though it was him that suggested using a white glove approach to the topic by never actually mentioning the word masturbation which just made it that much better. And, surprisingly, the network gave their go ahead with some reservations of course. The end result is one of the best episodes of Seinfeld and Larry David rightly won an Emmy for the script.

I think what makes Seinfeld work so well is that many, if not most, of the stories are based on actual events that happened to Larry, Jerry, and the writers (including this episode) and its sophisticated handling of potentially offensive subject matter. I'm now in the fifth season and can say for certain that the risk was well worth it. Anyways, enjoy this clip from this famous episode (the embed is disabled so you'll have to click on the link):

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

JFK and Decision Making During the Cuban Missile Crisis

Dr. Albert Schweitzer's birthday is not the only anniversary that I've missed this month. January 20th was the 50th anniversary of JFK's famous inaugural address in which he told viewers to "ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country". Now personally I've never been a huge JFK fan believing that his glorification by historians and popular imagination has had more to do with his untimely death and a nation's wishful thinking about what could have been given the decline in American prestige due to the Vietnam War, Watergate, etc, that followed his assassination.

Yet he did blunder considerably in office especially with the Bay of Pigs fiasco which was just as unilateralist and interventionist a move as George W. Bush's invasion of Iraq though you never hear of such a comparison made (here I'm sympathetic with Nixon who often complained about the hypocrisy of the American public in willing to turn a blind eye to Kennedy's blatant lie to them about the Bay of Pigs but giving him no quarter after the revelation of the Cambodian incursion during the Vietnam War). Also I think that Kennedy could have done more diplomatically to prevent the erection of the Berlin Wall. And then there is Vietnam. While scholars are divided on the issue of whether or not Kennedy would have eventually committed US ground troops to Vietnam what is clear is that more than any of his predecessors Kennedy increased substantially our commitment to South Vietnam by sending thousands of military advisers. And of course there are his character flaws most notably his constant philandering. But this is not really a major issue for me since I wouldn't be surprised if 90 percent or more of those in power cheat on their spouses.

Nevertheless, I have gained a new appreciation of Kennedy after reading one of my books that has a selection on his handling of the Cuban Missile Crisis in October of 1962. The book is entitled Thinking in Time: The Uses of History for Decision Makers and is a an analysis of both successful and unsuccessful uses of history by those in a governing capacity. One of the models of success that the authors point out is Kennedy's successful diffusing of the missile crisis. Essentially, argue the authors, Kennedy was successful because of the following actions he took:

1.) Kennedy immediately formed a special committee, known as ExComm, in which in addition to his cabinet personnel he also included diplomatic veterans from the past including former Secretary of State Dean Acheson and former Russian diplomat Charles Bohlen.

2.) Kennedy successfully kept these meetings secret from the American public and the media so as not to be unduly influenced in his decision making.

3.) Kennedy was patient, refusing to be persuaded by some (e.g., General Maxwell Taylor) to pursue rash solutions such as immediately bombing the missile sites or invading Cuba. Instead, Kennedy continually asked for more options to be put on the table.

4.) Kennedy carefully weighed suggested historical analogies put forward to him such as the Suez Crisis and Pearl Harbor.

5.) Kennedy, after six days of meetings, made a decision that was neither weak nor excessively hostile, namely, to implement a blockade or "quarantine".

6.) Kennedy was willing to interact with the Kremlin on the assumption that Moscow wasn't monolithic in its policies but that there may be individuals within the organization who might be persuaded to come to a peaceful solution.

7.) Kennedy was flexible diplomatically, ultimately, albeit secretly, agreeing to remove US missiles from Turkey in exchange for the removal of the Cuban missiles.

The result of course is that a crisis with the potential more than any other Cold War crisis to bring about nuclear war was prevented. And yet the authors are quick to point out that "It may be that the only decision-making that mattered was Moscow's. The main American contribution may have been delay that allowed the Soviets to collect themselves" (p. 7). Nonetheless, irrespective of Moscow's decision making process it's clear to me that Kennedy handled this crisis with diplomatic finesse. This, in my opinion, was certainly his finest hour. And thus, admittedly, I'm able to appreciate his presidency slightly more though I still think too many give him a free pass because he was assassinated.

On an administrative note there probably won't be any posts for a few days. It appears that I have one final mission to go on. That's the military for you.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Brief Thoughts Concerning the 68th Golden Globes

I missed the most recent 68th Golden Globes, but Peter Travers has provided an excellent summary of the top ten moments of the awards ceremony here. I'm very pleased with the outcome especially with the awards for best screenplay adaptation going to Aaron Sorkin, easily one of the best screenwriters in Hollywood today, for The Social Network, and to Steve Buscemi for best TV actor in this year's breathtaking new series from HBO, Boardwalk Empire. I downloaded and watched this new series here in Afghanistan and was immeasurably pleased with it especially by Buscemi's lead performance whose roles in the past usually have involved playing the goofy sidekick (e.g. Con Air) or the eccentric miscreant (e.g., Fargo). But here he terrifically plays the real life Prohibition Era Atlantic City criminal kingpin Enoch "Nucky" Johnson (though his name is slightly changed to Enoch Thompson for the show). Here's a brief preview clip:

The other big buzz from this year's Golden Globes awards ceremony centers around one of my favorite comedians, Ricky Gervais (known by most as the creator of the original The Office) who hosted the Golden Globes for the second year in a row. He's apparently catching some flak for his "no holds barred" routine (e.g., here). He especially made fun of Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie's The Tourist (based on the many reviews of this movie I've read Gervais' ridicule appears warranted in my opinion). What baffles me is why anyone is surprised by Gervais' antics. First, he warned several weeks ago that he would not "hold back" like he did when he hosted the Golden Globes last year, and, secondly, anyone familiar with any of his material, especially his stand up, knows this is perfectly consistent with his comic method. So you uptight Hollywood asses should just shut the "bloody hell up". Anyways, as a closing to this post enjoy this bit of Ricky Gervais stand up:

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Happy Belated Birthday to Dr. Albert Schweitzer

Dr. Mark Goodacre's entry on the 14th reminded me, shamefully, of the birthday of Dr. Albert Schweitzer. Most know Dr. Schweitzer either as the medical missionary who worked in the Congo or as the Noble Prize winning humanist who fought hard to ban nuclear testing. But he was also a renown philosopher, theologian, and biblical studies scholar. For my own part it's his work in religion, specifically concerning the historical Jesus that was of most importance to me when I was in undergrad. Most scholars in the few centuries prior to Schweitzer reconstructed the historical Jesus essentially according to their own individual inclinations at the time which with some variation usually entailed an emphasis on the ethics of Jesus with a rationalist explanation of the miracles attributed to him by the gospels (though some such as David Friedrich Strauss [1808-1874] went further and suggested that the miracles were simply mythical constructs).

Schweitzer basically demolished these previous studies in a published work entitled The Quest of the Historical Jesus which did two things: (1) exhibited how prior scholars had reconstructed the historical Jesus in their own image and (2) offered it's own interpretation and analysis with "late Jewish eschatology" as the essential paradigm in which to reconstruct the historical Jesus. Schweitzer's reconstruction of the historical Jesus resulted in a deluded apocalyptic fanatic who believed his preaching would bring about the "end". But when this failed Jesus thought he could then force the "end" to come by taking upon himself the Messianic woes (which according to some of the post-exilic Hebrew literature usually was thought to precede the end times) which took the form of being crucified. However, the "end" did not come and so in this sense Jesus' mission was a failure. But for Schweitzer, who remained very religious for the rest of his life, this did not mean that Jesus no longer had any significance for he famously concluded his reconstruction of the historical Jesus with the following:

"He comes to us as one unknown, without a name, as of old by the lakeside, he came to those men who knew him not. He speaks to us the same words, "Follow thou me!", and sets us to the tasks which he has to fulfill for our time. He commands. And to those who obey him, whether they be wise or simple, he will reveal himself in the toils, the conflicts, the sufferings which they shall pass through in his fellowship, and, as an ineffable mystery, they shall learn in their own experience who he is." (The Quest of the Historical Jesus, p 403)

Now Schweitzer's reconstruction of the historical Jesus has many problems but its key component, namely, the emphasis on the Jewish eschatological (apocalyptic) milieu as the paradigm for any reconstruction of the historical Jesus remains, in my opinion, unassailable. Schweitzer's work on the historical Jesus would go on to influence generations of scholars including the likes of E.P. Sanders (on whose work I have blogged about here, here, here, and here), Dale Allison, NT Wright, John Meier, et al. But eventually, Schweitzer went on to abandon his scholarly ruminations on the historical Jesus (though he did continue to dabble from time to time in Pauline studies) to become the great humanist that most remember him. He was certainly a great man and though I don't want to disparage his humanist activities it is somewhat unfortunate that he never contributed further insights to the field of historical Jesus studies. The irony here is that I too, at least for an indefinite period of time, have abandoned my own original field of study, namely, biblical studies and specifically the historical Jesus to work on other historical interests. Regardless, Albert Schweitzer was an amazing figure of history whose impact will continue to be felt. It is his memory that I wish to, belatedly, celebrate today.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011


After a grueling several days journey we've finally made it to Kabul, or rather to Bagram, just north of Kabul. It's a bit surreal to be posting this right now because I'm in a coffee shop far away from the threat of IEDs that I had been facing on a regular basis. Except for the occasional sounds of artillery in the night it doesn't even seem as if I'm in a war zone anymore. This is a pleasant reminder that I'm truly on the downward slope towards coming home. I'll begin resumption of posts either tomorrow or the next day. For now, it's time to relax.

Friday, January 14, 2011

No Posts For a Week or So

Unfortunately there will not be any posts for at least a week. My unit is making a big move from Kandahar to Kabul. It's only supposed to be a three to four day trip but the snow and ice in the mountains is already delaying the other platoons that left ahead of us so my guess is that it'll be about a week. Anyways, until then enjoy my friend Brian Taylor's very carefully reasoned take on the Tuscon tragedy:

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Some Reflections on Counterinsurgency

The kind of strategy the United States Armed Forces is said to be using in Afghanistan is typically referred to as counterinsurgency or COIN for short. And a major emphasis in COIN doctrine is a focus on "winning hearts and minds" . But when you mention this to the average combat soldier here their response will usually involve the rolling of the eyes or something akin to that. Why? This is because most soldiers believe that this particular emphasis of COIN puts their lives unduly at risk. And in some ways this is true. For example, the command in charge of the area that I'm currently in has a ridiculous policy that does not permit an overwatch to engage with someone that they clearly see burying something into or onto the side of a road. Instead, they simply are to note the location on a grid for a Route Clearance unit (what I am a part of) to come and investigate at a later point. Similarly, the current ROE (rules of engagement) are very strict requiring extensive authorization to fire back when fired upon.

But I'm personally still receptive to the whole "hearts and minds" emphasis. Perhaps this is because I've not been here long enough or been shot at enough or nearly blown up enough. Regardless, I believe the doctrine has merit. Its internal logic makes sense: an insurgency will always have a resource from which to draw if a population is in general disaffected with their current government and/or occupiers hence the need to win the "hearts and minds" of the people so as to reduce (and hopefully eliminate) the influence of an insurgency upon the them. But there are problems: the theory doesn't always work out in practice and most often collides with other, usually security, interests.

For instance, most of the time I'm a rear gunner which entails, in addition to pulling rear security, being the "traffic control" for the convoy. My job is to keep rear vehicles from coming too close (usually within 50 meters) and to never permit one to pass us and break up the convoy. The same goes for when I'm pulling rear cordon security in the event that we are investigating and/or BIPing (blowing in place) an IED. No one is allowed past us which is for their safety and ours. The trouble here is that it would be nice if a simple hand gesture would do the trick of communicating to the Afghans what I need them to do, or rather, not do. But most often this doesn't work and it means resorting to more aggressive measures in order to ensure complicity. When I have to do this it is frustrating because I can see the fear and sometimes anger in their eyes. But of course, with the language barrier and the exigency of the situations we are in, there's no way to let the locals know that it is in their best interest to stay back. Unfortunately we represent a major disruption to their lives which can cause them to be receptive to influence from insurgents.

The challenge is to find a way to effectively balance genuine security interests with the goal of "winning hearts and minds". Often though the balance has to tip in favor of security interests. Such is the nature and complexity of COIN warfare. It makes one somewhat nostalgic for the days of conventional warfare when objectives were much clearer and more easily obtainable.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Buchanan and an Unnecessary War? (Conclusion)

My last several posts attempted to critically examine Pat Buchanan's assertion that WWII was an unnecessary war. By way of summary I essentially argued the following:

1.) Hitler was obsessed with solving "the Jewish Question" and obtaining Lebensraum. These two themes saturated his writings and speeches.

2.) A major focus of Hitler's foreign policy aims was the acquisition of a major portion of Polish territory (beyond Danzig) towards at least a partial fulfillment of his obsession with Lebensraum.

3.) Polish stubbornness was not really a factor for even if the Polish leadership had given over Danzig Hitler would still have invaded the country.

4.) The invasion of Poland would have resulted in the incorporation of millions of more Jews into the Third Reich pressing upon Hitler the need to find an expedient solution to his "Jewish Problem".

5.) The question of a British declaration of war is irrelevant since Hitler would still have a limited war with Poland to provide him the "cover" for his subsequent crimes against humanity, especially the Holocaust.

6.) Therefore, WWII was a necessary war.

To conclude, the thrust of my position is that even if we grant most of Buchanan's chief assertions that Churchill was a warmonger or that the Treaty of Versailles was unjust, etc, I maintain that Hitler still would have invaded Poland with the result that the Holocaust still would have occurred. A most disturbing implication then of Buchanan's position is that had no one intervened to stop Hitler many more millions of lives might have been lost than eventually were during WWII. No, it was both morally right and necessary, at whatever cost, to stop Hitler who in the final analysis ultimately bears the responsibility for starting WWII...

Usually at some point or another soldiers will begin to question whether the war they are fighting is a necessary war. And for the soldiers of WWII it was no different. One of my favorite episodes from the acclaimed HBO series Band of Brothers is the appropriately titled "Why We Fight". In this episode soldiers of the 101st begin to question why they have gone through hell for what appears to them problems related exclusively to Europe. The answer is finally revealed to them as they liberate their first concentration camp. And it is with a clip from this episode that I'll end this series of posts.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Buchanan and an Unnecessary War? (Part III)

Although Hitler began to initiate certain "crimes against humanity" long before WWII began I noted that for many this would probably not constitute a sufficient enough reason for waging war against Hitler because at that point it was still a domestic matter and even a good portion of non-isolationists would most likely be hesitate to advocate intervention then. So the sine qua non for maintaining the traditional argument of the necessity of WWII (or at least, minimally, of stopping Hitler) lies with Poland or more specifically with Hitler's geopolitical objectives concerning Poland. Recall that a major component of Buchanan's argument depends on the notion that Polish stubbornness in refusing to part with Danzig was a chief cause of the war. Thus to reiterate: according to Buchanan if Poland had simply acquiesced to Hitler's "just" demand to hand over Danzig he would have refrained from invading the country. (Remember the sequence here: no invasion of Poland, no British war declaration and therefore no war crimes).

But just as Buchanan failed to adequately take into account Hitler's obsession with the "Jewish Question" so too has his analysis of Hitler's foreign policy goals in regards to Poland been myopic. In addition to a preoccupation with the "Jewish Question" Hitler also consistently obsessed over Lebensraum or "living room (space)". This being the notion that Germany was in need of "breathing room" and that Eastern Europe, Poland in particular, would address this "need". (Incidentally this was not a theme exclusive to Hitler but formed a major part of German/Prussian thinking stretching as far back as the middle ages. Here then Hitler was, on this matter, in lockstep with traditional German foreign policy aims at the time.) But more importantly in relation to Poland, and I can't emphasize this enough, contrary to Buchanan Danzig was not really the issue, rather, it was the existence of Poland itself.

Historically, for the Germans/Prussians (and Russians) the existence of Poland was an abberation on the European continent (this is in fact what formed the backdrop to the Nazi-Soviet Non-Aggression pact signed in Aug of 1939 that divided Poland between Germany and the Soviet Union). The territory that now forms Poland was at varying times either a part of the Prussian empire or Tsarist empire (or both) from 1795, the last time Poland was properly a country, until after WWI when the treaty of Versailles made Polish independence a reality once more. So it wasn't just that the Treaty of Versailles took away Danzig from Germany but that it dissolved a major portion of Germany's eastern territory in order to (re)create Poland. And so German foreign policy even during the Weimar era before Hitler stressed a desire to eradicate this part of Versailles. Now what Hitler did was to appropriate this strong German desire, combine it with the historic concern for Lebensraum, and intensify it to eventually include extension beyond Poland and ultimately to the Soviet Union. Therefore, it is extremely improbable that had Danzig been given over to Hitler that this would have satiated his eastern territorial ambitions. No, as consistently expressed by Hitler since at least Mein Kampf only the elimination of Poland as a political entity would have sufficed.

And so having been emboldened by a series of appeasements culminating in the Munich Agreement, Hitler, I submit, most surely would have invaded Poland irrespective of the solution over Danzig. Furthermore, regardless of whether or not Britain declared war on Germany, Hitler would've at least had a limited war with Poland in which to further extend his "crimes against humanity". More importantly, invading Poland would have saddled Hitler with millions of more Jews (and undesirable Poles for that matter) which would have served to intensify his "Jewish problem". Eventually then Hitler would have been driven to the same "solution" that he was in WWII, namely, the extermination of the Jews (and others that Hitler deemed undesirable). (In fact it is conceivable that the Holocaust would have happened much sooner without a wider war because Hitler would not have had the luxury of briefly contemplating deportation as a possible solution to the "Jewish Problem".) In other words either a limited war with Poland or a wider, world war would have resulted in the Holocaust. And thus the world surely would have had a strong moral mandate to initiate war against Hitler to put a stop to his "crimes against humanity". It is in this sense then that WWII was a necessary war because either way Hitler's foreign policy objectives would have resulted in the Holocaust.

Alright, in the concluding post to this series I'll try to sum up Buchanan's position and my arguments against it.

Friday, January 7, 2011

A Noteworthy Quotation

One of the books that I'm reading is Charles Lyell's classic Principles of Geology, and today I came across this quotation from Lyell that I felt was too good not to share:
An historian should, if possible, be at once profoundly acquainted with ethics, politics, jurisprudence, the military art, theology; in a word, with all branches of knowledge, whereby any insight into human affairs, or into the moral and intellectual nature of man, can be obtained. (p. 6, 1st ed)
Tomorrow I should have posted the third part to my series on "Buchanan and an Unnecessary War?".

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Buchanan and an Unnecessary War? (Part II)

Now on a narrow level Buchanan is correct: World War II was an unnecessary war. But this is only true in so far as all wars are in some abstract, general sense "unnecessary". War is a tragic event and so rightly should never happen. Yet they do, time and time again because war is an enduring characteristic of humankind, and where there exist nations with mutually exclusive interests, war will always be a distinct possibility. However, my major problem with Buchanan is not so much with his very flawed analysis of how WWII began (which will be touched on at a later point) but with the fact that he continues to emphasize in this program and in the parts of the book that I have read that when WWII did begin it still was an unnecessary war to fight and that the United States' security interests would have been better served by not intervening in the conflict. Now if Buchanan had been discussing WWI, the Korean War, Vietnam, Iraq I and II, Afghanistan, etc just maybe he might have something since I will concede (though not necessarily affirm) that it is possible to examine these conflicts much more skeptically in terms of threats to our national security interests.

But except for fringe revisionists like Buchanan most historians of American foreign policy admit that of all the wars that the United States has been in WWII is probably the one with the greatest amount of moral justification. Of course, nation states don't generally go to war for moralistic reasons but rather on the basis of perceived threats to their national security and as I intend to argue in a later post the United States was no exception when it came to WWII. But in terms of when the war began I and most other historians would assert that there was a strong moral component involved in defeating Hitler.

So then what's the moral basis for affirming WWII as a necessary war to fight? The answer: Hitler's atrocious crimes against humanity, particularly the Holocaust. Surely, stopping Hitler by means of war in order to halt his terrible crimes against humanity would justify describing WWII as a necessary war would it not? In fact, Buchanan was asked this very question on the program by a perceptive viewer. His reply was two fold:

1.) Though acknowledging the evilness of Hitler and the Holocaust, Buchanan stressed that these crimes against humanity were first and foremost war crimes, and so

2.) if British diplomatic missteps and Polish intransigence hadn't caused the war then these crimes of humanity would have never occurred.

Besides being an appalling means of shifting the blame for these terrible crimes against humanity from Nazi Germany and Hitler to Britain and Poland this argument ultimately fails because it does not take into account the consistent obsession of Hitler with the Judenfragen, i.e. the "Jewish Question". (Here we are touching on an aspect of the aims of Hitler which if you will recall Buchanan states that Hitler had no concrete foreign policy objectives. On this score Buchanan's thought is simply derivative of A.J.P. Taylor's scholarship and thus by no means original). The "Jewish Question" preoccupied Hitler probably ever since at least WWI forming a major part of his notorious political treatise Meinkampf and continuing to be an obsession throughout his rule.

(Note that there is a broader debate here on the matter of Hitler's policy towards the Jews which pivots on the question of whether Hitler was an "intentionalist", i.e, was his objective from the very beginning the annihilation of at least European Jewry or was he a "functionalist", namely, was he wanting to get rid of the Jews but not by necessarily killing them only to be "forced" into that solution by the events of WWII? My own take on this is that Hitler was probably in spirit always an intentionalist but believing it not to be a pragmatic option was a functionalist in practice until circumstances during WWII made this option feasible.)

In fact, immediately after Hitler abolished the Reichstag (German Parliament) which enabled him to make policy by fiat one of his first decrees was the infamous Nuremberg Laws. These essentially began the systematic persecution of German Jews which among other things stripped them of German citizenship. The point here is that Hitler was already beginning his crimes against humanity before WWII began. Of course on this score Buchanan's rebuttal would probably take the form of claiming that no matter how terrible these actions of Hitler were they were matters of domestic concerns of Germany only with no bearing on the rest of Europe or the United States for that matter. Therefore, we need to look more specifically at Hitler's designs on Poland to further augment the argument that WWII was a necessary war. This we'll do in the next post...

To be continued...

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Buchanan and an Unnecessary War? (Part I)

One of the programs that I enjoy the most on Booktv is "In Depth" in which an interviewer (usually CEO Brian Lamb or his son) spends three hours with a noted writer discussing their published works as well as permitting viewers to submit their own questions to the guest. Before deploying to Afghanistan I was able to catch the entirety of Pat Buchanan's appearance on "In Depth". For those unfamiliar with him, Buchanan is a conservative political commentator who twice sought the Republican nomination in 1992 and 1996 and ran for president in 2000 on the Reform Party ticket. Yet he is perhaps best known for having been one of the original hosts on CNN's now defunct political debate program Crossfire where he advocated a strongly conservative position. But additionally Buchanan has authored numerous books one of which is entitled Churchill, Hitler, and "The Unnecessary War": How Britain Lost its Empire and the West Lost the World which is what I want to discuss in the next series of posts. But first here's a little snippet from the program where Buchanan talks about the book, specifically concerning Hitler and Churchill:

From what I can gather from the program the following is a summary view of Buchanan's position on WWII.

1.) Much, if not most, of the responsibility for causing the war lies with Winston Churchill and not, as it has traditionally been believed, with Adolf Hitler. Following the diplomatic historian A.J.P. Taylor Buchanan asserts that Hitler actually harbored no great war aims and any foreign policy "goals" that he might have had were limited to just some parts of eastern Europe, particularly Poland and the city of Danzig. Furthermore, relying again on Taylor, specifically The Origins of World War II (1967), Buchanan argues that Hitler was less a madman and/or evil fascist bent on conquering the world and more a shrewd opportunist who skillfully took advantage of the diplomatic blunders made by Great Britain (though it should be noted that Buchanan stated in the program that he does believe Hitler was Satanic and evil) . Churchill on the other hand was a warmonger whose battle rattling was a major factor in the diplomatic failures that led to WWII.

2.) The Versailles Treaty which brought an official end to WWI was excessively harsh in its treatment of Germany, especially with the additions of the so called "war guilt" and reparation clauses. These punitive measures resulted in a widespread sense of resentment among the Germans against the former allied powers which influenced the thinking of such people as Adolf Hitler. And so Hitler was quite justified in his desire to annex the predominately German speaking Sudetenland from Czechoslovokia and the city of Danzig from Poland which were unjustly taken from Germany via the Treaty of Versailles. (Additionally Buchanan asserts that Neville Chamberlain was right to "appease" Hitler at Munich.)

3.) Polish intransigence, especially over Danzig, was another major cause of WWII. Because Danzig is more demographically German and was acquired by Poland unjustly through the Treaty of Versailles the political and military leadership of Poland should have been willing to forgo Danzig since as was stated previously this was the extent of Hitler's territorial ambitions concerning Poland.

4.) Reminiscent of the statement, usually attributed to Bethmann-Hollweg, that Britain went to war in WWI over a 'scrap of paper' (Britain's treaty with Belgium) Buchanan similarly states that it was Britain's futile treaty guarantee to Poland that it would go to war to defend the country if it were ever attacked by Germany that was the proximate cause for WWII. Britain was not in a position to guarantee anything to Poland much less military assistance and so it was foolhardy for them to sign this treaty that ultimately led to the war. (Note that Buchanan also asserts that it was Britain's foolish guarantee that "bucked up" the Polish leadership which helped to cement their tough position on Danzig.)

To sum up, Buchanan's thesis is that everything under the sun except Hitler's foreign policy ambitions was the cause of WWII, i.e., Versailles, Churchill, Poland, and a foolish treaty were the the true architects of an unnecessary world war. Furthermore, states Buchanan on the program, the world would have been better off to have allowed Hitler to have his way with Europe once the war began and that the United States should have never intervened in what was purely a "European" conflict. (Another part of Buchanan's argument that I don't have space to deal with here has to do with the way British and American Asian policy steered Japan into the arms of the axis powers).

Now none of this is too terribly surprising coming from Pat Buchanan because when it comes to foreign policy he is a self described isolationist, i.e., he believes that the United States should stay out of world affairs as much as possible and focus purely on domestic concerns. (Isolationism echoes the views of some of the founding fathers who back then asserted that we should "avoid entangling alliances" [Washington] and refrain from "seeking monsters abroad to destroy"[John Quincy Adams]. This made sense then when we had two vast oceans separating us from the often tumultuous affairs of Europe but is in my opinion an antiquated and naive view to hold today. ) Therefore, Buchanan's foreign policy beliefs force him to view any engagement on an international level negatively and WWII is for him no exception.

But this isn't where I want to focus my criticisms nor do I wish to attempt to rebut point by point his arguments since I have not fully read the book. That would simply be unfair. Instead what I want to do in the next couple of posts is to focus on the question of the "necessity" of WWII by way of the Holocaust...

To be Continued...

Sunday, January 2, 2011

A Review of Seth Jones' "In the Graveyard of Empires"

Though I'm in Afghanistan I won't be able to blog on specific things that I'm doing here (OPSEC) but from time to time I'll try to offer some general observations on my time here. But first I thought it would be appropriate to link to a review (well less a review and more of a summary) that I wrote on one of the many books concerning Afghanistan that I read before deploying here, namely, Seth Jones' In the Graveyard of Empires. Here's the link:

My Librarything review of In the Graveyard of Empires

Saturday, January 1, 2011


1.) This is my second go at a blog. The archives for my first one are to the left.

2.) I'm a former religious studies student and current soldier in Afghanistan.

3.) I was at one time pursuing a Phd in New Testament studies but left graduate school because my scholarly interests had since changed (evolved?). I now wish to do graduate work in history, specifically diplomatic and/or world history.

4.) This blog will reflect all of my interests including the banal ones. However, posts concerning history in one degree or another will probably constitute a good portion of the blog. Also, personal anecdotes will appear from time to time.

5.) This blog has a definite end point in mind.

Comments, so long as they are civil, are most welcome.