Despite turning 180o on almost all of my historical perspectives, there are some establishment positions that, even for me, are hard to give up. Some of my reversals are well known to the readers of TJL. For example, The United States government is the cause of evil not good. Abraham Lincoln was a murderer, not a hero. The South was justified in seceding from the US, and the North was the aggressor for invading the South. Iran is not going to nuke anybody. AIPAC is a detrimental organization and should be shut down. Those who claim Israel controls much of US foreign policy are correct, not anti Semitic. The US should have sent Japan a letter of apology for the oil embargo after Pearl Harbor instead of declaring war.
And so on.
But for me, there was one major establishment position that still stuck in me like a dagger and was only loosened last week. That is, declaring and winning World War II was justified if only in order to save what was left of European Jewry.
On the face of it, this makes sense. Hitler is exterminating us wholesale, so naturally you want Britain, Russia, America to invade and stop it. They liberate death camps in 1945 and save what is left of the survivors. Obviously they should have invaded much sooner to stop it that much quicker, no? If only Britain and America had declared war in 1933 immediately when Hitler rose to power.
But then I read Ralph Raico, a libertarian historian and student of Ludwig von Mises. And he said something that totally took me for a loop. Here’s Raico, in his collection of essays, Great Wars and Great Leaders: A Libertarian Rebuttal: (My bold.)
In 1940 Churchill at last became Prime Minister, ironically enough when the Chamberlain government resigned because of the Norwegian fiasco—which Churchill, more than anyone else, had helped to bring about.80 As he had fought against a negotiated peace after the fall of Poland, so he continued to resist any suggestion of negotiations with Hitler. Many of the relevant documents are still sealed—after all these years81 —but it is clear that a strong peace party existed in the country and the government. It included Lloyd George in the House of Commons, and Halifax, the Foreign Secretary, in the Cabinet. Even after the fall of France, Churchill refused even to consider Hitler’s renewed peace overtures, whether sincere or not.
This, more than anything else, is supposed to be the foundation of his greatness. The British historian John Charmley raised a storm of outraged protest when he suggested that a negotiated peace in 1940 might have been to the advantage of Britain and Europe. A Yale historian, writing in the New York Times Book Review, referred to Charmley’s thesis as “morally sickening.” Yet Charmley’s scholarly and detailed work makes the crucial point that Churchill’s obdurate refusal even to listen to peace terms in 1940 doomed what he claimed was dearest to him—the Empire and a Britain that was non-socialist and independent in world affairs. One may add that it may also have doomed European Jewry.84 It is amazing that half a century after the fact, there are critical theses concerning World War II that are off-limits to historical debate.
Churchill’s refusal to listen to Hitler’s peace overtures may have doomed European Jewry. When I first read that sentence I did a double take. I didn’t even understand what Raico was saying on a basic level, the thought was so foreign to me. So I read it again. And again. Was I reading this right? How can that be?
Then I saw that little 84 footnote. And I read that. Here’s what the footnote said:
84 On March 27, 1942, Goebbels commented in his diary on the destruction of the European Jews, which was then underway: “Here, too, the Führer is the undismayed champion of a radical solution necessitated by conditions and therefore inexorable. Fortunately, a whole series of possibilities presents itself for us in wartime that would be denied us in peacetime. We shall have to profit by this.” The Goebbels Diaries, 1942–1943, Louis P. Lochner, ed. and trans. (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1948), p. 148.
When I read the footnote I understood. It was very possible that World War II cemented the Final Solution. Straight out of Goebbels’ diary. Without an all-out war, Hitler would not have been able to exterminate us on a systematic global scale. War enabled him to enact radical measures and we were doomed.
Had Churchill made peace with Hitler in 1939, it is much more likely that the worst that would have happened to the Jews is that most would have been slaves rather than be exterminated. Yes, Hitler would have killed Jews. Perhaps even hundreds of thousands. But in order to embark on a project to exterminate millions, you need the full support of an entire country, and Hitler could have only gotten that through war.
And then I just stared into space for a minute and said to myself, “Oh my God.”
It may have been Winston Churchill who set the Final Solution and the Holocaust in motion. Adolf Hitler was only the vehicle and the direct cause. Winston Churchill may have been the ultimate enabler.
And for all the naysayers out there who will point to British and American liberation of death camps in 1945, we all know that World War II had absolutely nothing to do with saving Jews. Churchill and Roosevelt could have saved every single Jew before the war by buying them out. They didn’t. They could have saved hundreds of thousands by bombing the camps or the tracks leading to them. They specifically didn’t. They were both complicit.
And deeper than that, the whole war, allying with Stalin against Hitler, made no sense. Stalin had killed many more innocent people by 1939 than Hitler did. And yet the allies sided with Stalin over Hitler. Here’s Raico again:
But the Churchill–Roosevelt intrigue should, one might think, matter to Americans. Here, however, criticism is halted before it starts. A moral postulate of our time is that in pursuit of the destruction of Hitler, all things were permissible. Yet why is it self evident that morality required a crusade against Hitler in 1939 and 1940, and not against Stalin? At that point, Hitler had slain his thousands, but Stalin had already slain his millions. In fact, up to June, 1941, the Soviets behaved far more murderously toward the Poles in their zone of occupation than the Nazis did in theirs. Around 1,500,000 Poles were deported to the Gulag, with about half of them dying within the first two years. As Norman Davies writes: “Stalin was outpacing Hitler in his desire to reduce the Poles to the condition of a slave nation.”103 Of course, there were balance-of-power considerations that created distinctions between the two dictators. But it has yet to be explained why there should exist a double standard ordaining that compromise with one murderous dictator would have been “morally sickening,” while collaboration with the other was morally irreproachable.
What is the moral difference between siding with Stalin to defeat Hitler, and siding with Hitler to defeat Stalin?
Had I been stuck in the Nazi death camps in 1945, would I have rooted for the Americans, British, and Russians to save me? Of course I would. But that doesn’t change any of the facts written above.
There were millions of innocent Russians that were surely rooting for the Americans to save them from Stalin, to no avail. In fact, America forcibly repatriated hundreds of thousands of terrified Russian political dissidents back to the Soviet Union after World War II. To their deaths. That is why the question of who killed more innocent people – Roosevelt/Truman or Hitler, is indeed not such a clear cut answer at all.
The few Jewish Holocaust survivors liberated by the Americans and British were simply the beneficiaries of a historical accident. Nothing more. If Stalin had specifically gone after Jews, Roosevelt and Truman would have, and indeed did – hand over to Stalin every Russian Jew they could get their hands on.
In the end, what I’m saying is this on a calculus basis. On a scale of horror 1-1000, 1000 being the most horrific, the Holocaust was a 998. Very few survived. Total annihilation would have been 1000. It happened together with World War II. The war did certainly did not help stop the genocide. Therefore, the chances of the scale of horror lowering to 600 or 700 without World War II are greater than it rising to 1000. And perhaps, World War II is what brought the Holocaust from a 600 to a 998 in horror.
Sure, historical hindsight is 20/20. But the point is, not even the most seemingly justified offensive wars are so clear cut.