good war bad war


Even a book as bad as “Human Smoke” (Simon and Schuster, 576 pages, $30), Nicholson Baker’s perverse tract about the origins of World War II, helps to confirm the continuing centrality of that war in our moral lives. Myths call forth debunkers, and the myth of “the good war” — that complacent phrase that camouflages the most deadly conflict in human history — has provoked Mr. Baker to remind us of some of the ways in which World War II was not good. There is nothing to object to in this: On the contrary, no one is more alert than the historians to the true ambiguities of the war. In particular, the terrible facts of the Allied bombing campaign — which inflicted unspeakable civilian casualties on Germany, without appreciably shortening the war — have been studied and debated more openly in the last few years than ever before.

The problem with Mr. Baker’s book is that he is not interested in ambiguity, but in countering the received myth of the good war with his own myth of the bad war. Mr. Baker’s ignorance, however, is much more disgraceful than the ignorance he seeks to combat — first, because he presents it as knowledge, and second, because World War II was, in fact, if not simply a good war, then an absolutely necessary one.

more from the NY Sun here.