Is War Ever Good?

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Nicholson Baker asks if there’s ever such a thing as a "good war" and makes a strong case for pacifism. His new book is Human Smoke: The Beginnings of World War II, the End of Civilization.

Event: Nicholson Baker will be in conversation with Simon Winchester
Thursday, March 20 at 7 pm
New York Public Library, South Court Auditorium
42nd Street and 5th Avenue
To buy tickets, visit SmartTix.


Nicholson Baker

Comments [18]

Ty Enright

Why indeed is WNYC giving a soapbox for this wordy and insensible author? He knew one person who had experience of WW2, his father in law became a pacifist, and by admission he learned almost no History in school. This is not a thesis that pacifism works. The author oesn't understand that it takes only one side to make a war, and that side is glad to kill pacifists like Nicholson Baker. The author has no case at all, and makes no case at all. What was this all about? The author implies that the Roosevelts are responsible for he Holocaust? And the nazis were just skinhead kids growing up in tough conditions?? (Except for a few adult Nazis!) This has got to be one of the dumbest interviews ever. His contention is that we attacked the Germans, not that the Germans made war upon the world. Julie Bersetin interviewer, must rue that she had to be at work that day. I wonder how Wnyc could ever explain bring this guy onto the air.

Mar. 22 2008 12:07 AM
George Fernandez from Warwick, NY

Had a reply but the site can't count or Word can't. I count 1476 of any type of character and it says over 1500. Don't have time to fight with bad software, so you're off the hook for now.

Mar. 20 2008 06:54 PM


Your response itself is painting with a wide brush while arguing not to do that.

Noone above said all Germans and Japanese are inherently horrible war-mongering people. Of course we are talking about the government policies, the leaders of that specific era. The US government now has an immoral conquering war bent right now which certainly doesn't reflect my views. I don't think anyone above suggested that ALL Germans or ALL Japanese are bad.

However, that being said to suggest it was some really tiny minority in both countries who were responsible is also naive. It took a lot of people to do the grunt work of those war machines. It is also completely innacurate to deny the goals of the Germans and Japanese war machines from that era. The Japanese WERE imperialist at that time. Read about what they did to Korea and China. To suggest that when someone points out that FACT it means they are saying ALL Japanese are bad or even that ALL Japanese shared those values is really reading a lot into it that was not there nor even implied.

If I point out how wrong the US policy of invading Iraq was, does that mean I am saying ALL americans are evil war-mongering imperialists? Obviously not. Same thing. Don't assume, just comment on what is actually being said.

Mar. 20 2008 02:12 PM
George Fernandez from Warwick, NY

Reading the other responses, I am disturbed by some. There is a tendency to group all Germans as Nazis and all Japanese as Imperialists (who the hell are Europeans and Americans to complain about Imperialism!). Yes, countries and their peoples are responsible for what their governments do and Germany and Japan paid prices not proportional to the harm they did, but nevertheless terrible. There is a tendency to group/stereotype all people into one group, with possible routes in bias or racism. This may be an appropriate mentality to have to be able to mount a war effort or in battle, but has no place in peace time. One point of my response is that there were factions in both countries that didn’t have annihilation or world dominance desires, possibly majorities. There was a vociferous, powerful, loud, bullying, extremist minority that wanted all that and more and the world gave them what they needed to come into control and their were too many people given to complete trust of authorities and those in power (as here in the U.S.). Did resource poor Japan really want to dominate the world? The war mongers there used fear of isolation and blackmail from powers that had the resources to coerce their country to war. Did the people in these relatively tiny countries, as a whole, really believe they could conquer and dominate the world, let alone the U.S.? Who knows, but don’t group them all into one belief and philosophy. Generally, that’s not the way people work.

Mar. 20 2008 02:00 PM
George Fernandez from Warwick, NY

The author is clueless with simplistic views. Never voice them to any Slavic peoples. Churchill and Roosevelt were the leaders the world needed. Hitler was the cause of the WWII in Europe, but what enabled Hitler's ability to get into power? What we as civilized society must always be wary of, the devil waiting to take advantage of the messes we create. France created the environment in Germany for Hitler. France reacted to WWI, which was caused by economic geo-politic (like in WWII in the Pacific) and Armies pushing their governments to arm to the teeth to protect those interests. Fear of Communism as well. In the presence of bullies, everyone is on edge.
Should we standby and allow aggression, ethnic cleansing. The host referenced another author. We can’t let our ideals blind us to knowing the depths of evil that people can descend to.
It wasn't a Good War, but a Horrific war. We were righteous in our goals and left the world better off, at least temporarily. Money yet rules, but, this will be hard for some, Thank God for the atomic bombings in Japan. The people of Nagasaki and Hiroshima should be honored as WorldWide martyrs for Peace. Sans terrible evidence of how awful warfare could still get, we would surely have had WWIII, WWIV, etc. Controversial but think about it. How would the Cuban Missile Crisis have turned out without that evidence? One thing to blow up a desert, but thousands of people wiped from existence in a terrible instant

Mar. 20 2008 01:35 PM

Let's get it straight.

As far as I have found the United States only turned away ONE boat of Jewish refugees fleeing Europe. Of course this is inexcusable. And I beleive they were not sent back to Europe but sent to the Caribean, only then to be sent back to Europe.

Mar. 20 2008 01:02 PM


Exactly. That is precisely why I reject the guest's biased set up question "Is war ever good". "Good"? No war is never good but WWII was necessary because Germany and Japan's goals were very straightforward...they wished to conquer and enslave everyone they could. There is no question about this. The Nazis were quite explicit about that and about exterminating "inferior"races.

Perhaps the gues thinks singing kumbayah and throwing up a peace sign would have worked to stop Hitler....or more appeasement but anyone with a cursory understanding of WWII and what led up to it would understand how incredibly stupid a premise that is.

Mar. 20 2008 12:52 PM

Your guest seems to have a very weak grasp of history. I would suggest he study HITLER and his actual aims. Deterence would not have worked and as was said above would have only played into his plans. It is a ridiculous notion. Did Churchill and FDR do things that were wrong and questionable? Without a doubt. Does that mean that we shouldn't have went to war with Hiler? Hardly. Very weak and unconvincing argument on the part of your guest.

Mar. 20 2008 12:47 PM
Cory from Crown Point, NY (Adirondacks)

Being a sounding board for this profoundly immoral propaganda is inexcusable. If you can't respond intelligently and provide some balance, don't put it on. As Niall Ferguson concluded, Germany and Japan set forth on a singleminded plan to murder and enslave the rest of the world. There was no possibility of internal opposition having any effect. Although the US refusal to allow Jews in was inexcusable, once the war began there was no way for them to escape. Total war was the only option to bring an end to their murderous plan. War is inherently inefficient. To kill one German munitions worker, it was necessary to kill 10 or 100 noncombatents. That was the only moral response to German and Japanese evil.

Mar. 20 2008 12:47 PM
Chris from NYC

Mr. Baker should read The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. In listening to the interview he constantly proposes rhetorical questions about WWII and the Nazis which, back then and in reality are not rhetorical. The one I found to be the most striking was the question, could a more diplomatic route have been followed inside Germany in regard to dealing with Hitler before WWII began. The answer is an emphatic NO. Read The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich and you will understand why. See how Hitler came to power. How he dealt with people and how his henchmen dealt with people. HItler had his politcal rivals executed and imprisoned in concentrations camps about 6 months after he became chancelor . There was no option to negotiate with the Nazis.

Mr. Baker seems to be an armchair historian which is a dangerous thing because his intepretation is actually not an interpritation but a re-interpretation. And asking the question of whether it was necesary to build 4 engine bombers to deal with the Nazis is a ludicrous questions because the answer is an emphatic yes. Why I say the question is ludicrous is because is raises a doubt which should not be there. The doubt that there was another option in dealing with Hitler. There was none. Hitler even said it himself time and time again that the only way to divert what he wanted was to rain death from the skies and to destroy Germany

Mar. 20 2008 12:45 PM

Sontag may be right about the difference between WWI and WWII but the concept of "Total War" actually did begin in WWI not WWII

oh and contrary to what was just said, it was started by the Germans when they attacked British factories from Zeppelins. The rationale was that the factory workers were producing bombs so they were combatants as well.

Mar. 20 2008 12:44 PM
Jess from New York

I am rather shocked by what I am hearing from Mr. Baker, particularly the idea that the worst that would happen if Hitler hadn't been confronted directly is a couple of decades of dictatorial rule in Central Europe. His disregard of the full historical context and revision is nothing short of appalling. To begin with: Hitler's aims were, from the beginning, to extend German Lebensraum well into Eastern Europe, and it is hard to believe that just leaving him alone would have stopped that. Second, the idea that just ignoring and isolating Hitler would have saved Jewish lives transcends naivete to be almost sinister. The Jews of Germany, Central and Eastern Europe were in immanent danger from Hitler, as had been shown from the beginning of his ascent in 1933. Jews were, furthermore, completely restricted from immigration into the US or the British Empire by laws that predated Hitler by a decade.

I could go on...Baker, you seem to consider yourself a historian; I am grateful that few within the academic historical profession to which I belong would share your self-perception.

Mar. 20 2008 12:44 PM
bill hirshberg from nyc

the statement your guest made that deterence is a weak idea because it does not prevents war is wrong. deterance does not prevent war it prevents the well defended nation from being attacked. your guest is basically an idiot.

Mar. 20 2008 12:41 PM
bill hirshberg from nyc

giving hitler eastern europe an evacuating the jews out would have allowed hitler to have the oil and resources he needed to attacked the soviets and win. it would have been the biggest mistake possible.

Mar. 20 2008 12:39 PM
chestinee from Midtown

Did the author explore who set this up to make money? (Union Banking Corp (of which Prescott Bush was a shareholder) financed Hitler's rise AND the Russians) the war machine is still driving us. That's as dark as dark gets, I think

Mar. 20 2008 12:31 PM

The problem with he question is the word "good". The question should be rephrased with "necessary", which seems more appropriate. War is never "good" but is at times necessary. I think it is unquestionable that WWII was necessary once Hitler started trying to conquer the western world and exterminating people.

Mar. 20 2008 12:29 PM
Ralph Seliger from Manhattan

If you average out the murders of Jews during the Holocaust, it was over 4,000 per day (equivalent to more than one and a third 9-11's everyday). The only way this came to an end was with the military defeat of the Nazi regime.

Mar. 20 2008 12:19 PM
Stephen from Brooklyn

In terms of US history, the only war that could possibly seem valid, not good, was the second world war. It was necessary, but only because the the west initially supported and tolerated a frankenstein type monster in aka Hitler in trying to create a buffer against Bolshevkism.

Mar. 20 2008 12:04 PM

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.

Get the WNYC Morning Brief in your inbox.
We'll send you our top 5 stories every day, plus breaking news and weather.