Blogs > Liberty and Power > Where Did It All Go Wrong?

Jul 6, 2009 9:44 pm


Where Did It All Go Wrong?



Stephen Berry of the Libertarian Alliance provides an informed and insightful review of Pat Buchanan's recent book.

Berry explains how as the twentieth century unfolded successive British administrations embarked upon unwise policies that led to disastrous consequences for Britain and the West. He explains how they ignored Lord Salisbury's dictum that"Isolation is much less dangerous than the danger of being dragged into wars which do not concern us." And how, after the First World War, much of the British elite was (1)"obsessed, then as now, by the 'special relationship' with their American cousins," and (2) enthralled with Wilsonian internationalism.

Berry concludes:"Great play is still made of the UK resisting Germany and Continental Europe alone in 1940. This book explains how Britain had come to such a position and Buchanan makes it clear that the German military victories of 1940 were only part of the story. Pursuing a League of Nations agenda, antagonising Japan and Italy, keeping the Soviet Union at arms length were all a prelude to the disaster of 1940. Against a more astute German leader than Hitler these policies would certainly have led to the loss of the war. As it was, they merely led to the loss of the British Empire. Pat Buchanan has done a tremendous service by pointing all this out in his frank and well written book."

You can read the review in pdf format here.
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Jeff Riggenbach - 6/1/2009

Mealy-mouthed doubletalk, which boils down to the proposition that bombing civilian population centers should be regarded as an act of "self defense" in at least some cases, and is therefore legitimate and acceptable, though we must, of course, wring our hands and "criticize" the mass murderers who did it - afterward, needless to say, from the comfort of our armchairs.

I didn't say I was uninterested in scholarly discussion. I said I was uninterested in scholarly discussion with advocates of mass murder.

JR


Aeon J. Skoble - 6/1/2009

RE (a) - even in the part you've quoted here, I don't say what you claim I say. Deliberately bombing civilian population centers is something I argue is wrong. I agree with the just-war tenet that non-combatants cannot be the intended target of an attack. Now all bombing entails the risk if non-combatant deaths, which is why it's troubling, but if you disallow _all_ use of bombing, and your attacker doesn't, then you get conquered. Some war theorists have argued that the aggressor nation bears _all_ responsibility for non-combatant deaths - I don't agree with that, but the distinction between aggressor and defender is a real one. The defender nation must try to minimize non-combatant deaths, but it is nevetheless legitimate to resist the aggressor nation, even if that means some non-combatants do in fact die. So I'm hardly "advocating mass murder" - I _criticize_ operations that do not take seriously the obligation to avoid targeting non-combatants. For example, while I think the fight against the Axis was legitimate, I'd criticize the Dresden raid and the firebombing of Tokyo. So, re (b), you are indeed distorting and caricaturing my views. And if you are so uninterested in scholarly discussion, why come to this blog in the first place?


Jeff Riggenbach - 6/1/2009

(a) On May 6, 2009, Anthony Gregory posted a comment on “[t]hose who oppose torture but support bombing civilian centers that will inevitably kill innocent children.” He wrote that “[a]ll wars in the modern era are ‘criminal.’ Practically all bombings are war crimes. They are acts of mass murder . . . .”

The peace-loving Aeon Skoble replied:
“The problem with a blanket statement like this is that presupposes no distinction between aggression and defense. Imagine an aggressor state, we'll call it ‘Nazi Germany,’ which decides to conquer all its neighbors using tanks, bombs, shock troops, sceret police, the whole nine yards. Now imagine one of these neighbors, call it ‘England,’ prefers to retain its autonomy and wants to repel the invasion. On your view, England cannot morally resist the Nazis, since any feasible means of doing so might harm civilians. That's not to say that England ought not to attempt to minimize civilian deaths, or that England ought not to follow certain rules of military conflict. But on your view, they cannot resist the Nazis _at all_. That seems to be its own reductio ad absurdum.”

Let’s boil this down, shall we? Skoble avers that anyone who condemns bombing civilian population centers where innocent children live, anyone who regards modern warfare as criminal and bombings of civilian population centers as acts of mass murder, will be unable to resist an aggressor nation “at all.” Skoble avers, in other words, that "feasible" resistance against an aggressor nation like Nazi Germany *entails* bombing civilian population centers where innocent children live. Such acts are moral and conscionable, because they constitute “self defense.”

(b) Why would I try to have a scholarly discussion with an advocate of mass murder? (In passing, let it be noted that I have never “caricatured” Mr. Skoble’s views. I’ve described them, in plain language. If he feels insulted by that, I can assure him he’d encounter fewer insults if he stopped advocating mass murder.)

JR


Aeon J. Skoble - 6/1/2009

Right, but (a) when did I say that? and (b) why do you think that it advances scholarly discussion to use insult and caricature?


Jeff Riggenbach - 6/1/2009

No, Horwitz isn't a warmonger, so far as I can ascertain at this point. He is, however, apparently bamboozled by Skoble's attempt to pretend that his view of warfare is just another position that reasonable, intelligent people of good will might adopt and should therefore be treated with respect.

Reality check: The view that it's perfectly okay to bomb innocent people and destroy their property because otherwise "we" would be unable to "defend ourselves" against "aggressors" is unacceptable in civilized company and is unworthy of any respect at all. Nor do I plan to extend it any.

JR


Steve Horwitz - 6/1/2009

Come on Jeff, lay off the personal attacks.

Aeon is hardly the hawk you've portrayed him as, and the tone of your comments are needlessly personal / ad hominem as well. He has an intellectual disagreement with you and you've turned it personal, even as he tries to keep turning the other cheek (which is an interesting thing for a supposed "hawk" to do).

As another member of this blog, I find your attacks on him to be really out of bounds, esp. because they're simply not true. At least do what good argument requires and present some damn evidence to back up your claims about Aeon's views.

Your views on WW II are totally in bounds, but your personal attacks aren't. This blog has tried, over the years, to maintain a better tone than that. Can you at least keep the pretense of being intellectual and civil, or is that too hard for you?

(And now, I'm sure, the inevitable "Horwitz is a warmonger too" reply...)


Aeon J. Skoble - 6/1/2009

I don't "own" it, but it's a group blog of which I'm a member. What's unprofessional is (a) lying (b) caricaturing and (c) insulting, none of which is conducive to scholarly discussion of issues.


Jeff Riggenbach - 6/1/2009

News bulletin for the ever-so-full-of-himself Aeon Skoble:

Libeerty & Power is not "your blog." You don't own it. You just turn up every time anyone criticizes any war anywhere and tiresomely trot out your shallow, unintelligent "arguments" for why it's perfectly okay to bomb innocent people and destroy their property. If you don't like the responses I post when you do that, don't read them.

And by the way, I'd love to listen to your explanation sometime of exactly why it is "unprofessional" to express disgust at that which is, in fact, disgusting (apologetics for the bombing of innocent people and the destruction of their property).

JR


Aeon J. Skoble - 6/1/2009

>"We've never met . . ."
>Yes, there is that to be thankful >for.

If you find me that hard to stomach, stop visiting my blog.

>the witless comments you post on >this board day in and day out

Day in and day out? Really? But look, I don't need to use this forum to express my disapproval of the Vietnam War because no one ever writes posts defending it. If anyone did that, I would. By contrast, though, people do make posts saying things along the lines of it not being necessary to use force against the nazis, or that it was immoral to take up arms againt the Brits in 1776. You needn't agree with me that those are both false, but they're hardly witless positions, nor do I post on that topic day in and day out.
Bottom line, your summary of my views is way off, and your tone is hostile and unprofessional. Like I said, if you don't like what I post, don't visit here.


Jeff Riggenbach - 6/1/2009

"This is either a bad trolling attempt, or an indavertantly hilarious attempt at ad hominem."

Actually, it was meant as neither. But you know what they say about the best laid plans of mice and men.

"We've never met . . ."

Yes, there is that to be thankful for.

" . . . or even corresponded except for some exchanges in comment threads, yet you think you can summarize my entire world view."

It does seem pretty obvious from your postings on this board.

"'You never met a war you didn't like.' Nonsense! I regularly defend the Revolutionary War and WWII against revisionists, and I defend the _concept_ of justified war against pacifists. But there are plenty of wars I'd argue we shouldn't have gotten involved with."

Sorry. I guess reading the witless comments you post on this board day in and day out for several years now hasn't been enough exposure to the depth of your thought to have revealed those wars you disapprove of. Where and when do you present this disapproval? In the shower? Once every few years?

"Where on earth you get a claim 'You never met a war you didn't like' is beyond me."

Of course it is. How could anyone not think as you do? What effrontery!

JR


Jonathan Dresner - 5/29/2009

Aeon, the point is not to rewind, it's to raise doubts about international involvement so that the US doesn't hinder the rise of the next Hitler or Stalin.


Aeon J. Skoble - 5/29/2009

"If the UK had stayed out of the First World War, a European war would not have become a global conflict and the entire sequence of events from the Bolshevik Revolution and the Versailles Treaty through to the rise of Stalin and Hitler would not have occurred."

First of all, there's no way to know this. But more importantly, there's no rewind. The Brits _did_ get involved in WWI, bad idea or not. So there really was a rise of Stalin and Hitler. That it was a bad idea to get mixed up in WWI says nothing about whether it was necessary to fight against the Nazis.


Aeon J. Skoble - 5/29/2009

This is either a bad trolling attempt, or an indavertantly hilarious attempt at ad hominem. We've never met, or even corresponded except for some exchanges in comment threads, yet you think you can summarize my entire world view. "You never met a war you didn't like." Nonsense! I regularly defend the Revolutionary War and WWII against revisionists, and I defend the _concept_ of justified war against pacifists. But there are plenty of wars I'd argue we shouldn't have gotten involved with. Where on earth you get a claim "You never met a war you didn't like" is beyond me.


Jonathan Dresner - 5/29/2009

Sorry, it should read "This counterfactual history: fantasy on wheels"

I've made the same point about causality to my students many times, but responsible historians recognize the limits of the method: once you get beyond one or two components in the chain of causality, you're just making stuff up.

I say this because of what I pointed out above. Not "an even more ugly set of outcomes" or whatever you're fantasizing about my thought processes. But that the components which made 20th century history such a hellish experience for so many humans don't magically dissipate because of a few diplomatic tricks.

Genocide was the natural result of racialism, nationalism and industrialization. Democide was the natural result of ideology (right and left) and nationalism and idustrialization. It was going to happen, barring a series of miracles much, much bigger than anything Mr. Buchanan has considered.


Mark Brady - 5/29/2009

All historians must necessarily engage in some sort of counterfactual history, at least implicitly. Even Jonathan. I suggest you're envisaging an even more ugly set of outcomes if the UK had not declared war on Germany in August 1914 and the U.S. had not intervened in April 1917. Which strikes me as mightily implausible.


Jeff Riggenbach - 5/28/2009

"I don't understand the popular meme that has WWII being 'a war that doesn't concern" the US or the UK.'"

Of course, you don't. You never met a war you didn't like. In your mind, once we've established who is to "blame," who was the "aggressor," then it's fine to proceed. It doesn't matter how many innocent people are blown up or maimed for life or how much of their property is destroyed. All that matters is the glory that belongs to "our" troops as they "fight the good fight" to exterminate the "aggressors" and anybody who has the misfortune to live near them.

JR


Jonathan Dresner - 5/28/2009

Because there never was a strong radical movement in Russia, no racism in Germany, no imperial ambitions in Japan, no chaos in China, no Franco-German tensions, no Balkan instability.....

Counterfactual history: fantasy on wheels


Mark Brady - 5/28/2009

If the UK had stayed out of the First World War, a European war would not have become a global conflict and the entire sequence of events from the Bolshevik Revolution and the Versailles Treaty through to the rise of Stalin and Hitler would not have occurred.


Aeon J. Skoble - 5/28/2009

I don't understand the popular meme that has WWII being "a war that doesn't concern" the US or the UK. While I realize counterfactual history is problematic, say no one had been in "the thrall of Wilsonian internationalism" - would that have meant that Hitler would not have wanted to conquer other countries? That he wouldn't have wanted to exterminate the Jews? It's one thing to criticize Wilsonian internationalism and to caution against getting involved in limited conflicts that are not your concern, but it's another thing entirely to deny that anyone ever poses a threat. On this kind of revisionism, the US was aggressive, but Hitler was not. That's insane. Hitler and his Japanese allies really did think they could conquer the world, and their actions cannot be characterized as a defensive response to American aggression.

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