For those who may be interested, here’s a nice piece of writing about the Iditarod, one of my favorite subjects. No, seriously, sled dogs! That said, be warned: the essay is quite long, and some of it is maybe a bit overwritten in a familiar “I’m producing narrative nonfiction in the long shadow of David Foster Wallace” sort of way. Still, I think it’s pretty great.
Apparently the people in charge of the upcoming Dayton Air Show planned to reenact the destruction of Hiroshima. Leaving aside whether this was a good idea or a bad idea (NB: this was not a good idea), the article linked above prompted a reasonably interesting conversation over at unfogged about Truman’s decision to bomb Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
One of the regular commenters at unfogged, a talented historian named teo, shared what he described as a paraphrase of a Matthew Yglesias post on the subject from years ago:
It’s really hard for us to figure out how to judge Truman’s decisions because the context in which he was making them was almost unimaginably more brutal than our world today. Millions of people were dying as a matter of course throughout the war, as the result of decisions made by all the major players. As MY [editor’s note: Matthrew Yglesias] put it, paraphrasing somewhat because I don’t recall his exact words, “This is a war in which the ‘good guys’ consisted of the world’s greatest imperial power and an Apartheid pseudo-democracy, in alliance with Joseph Stalin. And they really were the good guys, because the other side was even worse.”
I think this is an important point and very well made. Also, as teo goes on to say, “This doesn’t inherently support either side of the argument over whether Truman should have dropped the bomb, but it provides important context.” Well, here’s more of that context:
That was Air Marshal Arthur “Bomber” Harris, speaking in early June 1942, just after the RAF leveled Cologne. The text of the original speech began with Harris saying,
The Nazis entered this war under the rather childish delusion that they were going to bomb everybody else and nobody was going to bomb them. At Rotterdam, London, Warsaw, and half a hundred other places, they put that rather naive theory into operation. They sowed the wind and now they are going to reap the whirlwind.
And now here’s a hasty transcription of the video (I hope) you just watched:
Let the Nazis take good note of the western horizon, where they will see a cloud as yet no bigger than a man’s hand. But behind that cloud lies the whole massive power of the United States of America. When this storm bursts over Germany, they will look back to the days of Lubeck and Rostock and Cologne as a man caught in the blasts of a hurricane will look back to the gentle zephyrs of last summer. There are a lot of people who say that bombing can never win a war. Well, my answer to that is that it has never been tried yet, and we shall see. Germany, clinging more and more desperately to her widespread conquests and even seeking foolishly for more, will make a most interesting initial experiment.
Eric and I cut the clip there. But for the purposes of the discussion at unfogged, and for the purposes of contextualizing Truman’s decision to drop the bomb, it’s worth considering that Harris concluded his remarks by noting, “Japan will provide the confirmation. But the time is not yet. There is a great deal of work to be done first, and let us all get down to it.”
In effect, Harris went on national television to say, “We’re about to commit a whole bunch of war crimes, including firebombing civilian targets. But because our enemy is so much more hideous than we are, nobody is going to bat an eye.” Which is to say, World War II sucked. But because the Nazis were so world-historically awful, we remember it as a good war. For the people who lived through it, though, it mostly wasn’t. There, that’s your context.
I also got the following e-mail a few minutes ago.
Just thank you for writing the book. Read it like a novel – fast and couldn’t put it down. Besides all the good things about it, the clincher and uniqueness is the balance. Not just the extraordinary balance, but the adeptness and depth within the balance. “Draw your own conclusion.”
a 38 year Colorado resident
white working stiff lover of history Colorado facts
I suppose I’ve had better days professionally, but I can’t think of any offhand.
I’ve only begun poking around Code Switch a bit, so I don’t yet have a strong opinion. But I do know this: Gene Demby is working there, and everything Gene writes is worth reading. Given that, I recommend bookmarking the site (or whatever you kids use in lieu of bookmarks).