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The Lessons of 1945

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Ian Buruma, author and professor of human rights and journalism at Bard College, looks at how Europe and Asia rebuilt after the war's devastation to people, infrastructure and institutions in his new book Year Zero: A History of 1945 (Penguin Press, 2013).

→Ian Baruma will talk about Year Zero with Martin Amis tomorrow at NYPL.  

 

Guests:

Ian Buruma

Comments [17]

@Bob from Pelham

I grew up in a household whose father was in a troopship on his way from North Africa to Japan when the war ended. I grew up in America (doesn't every high school American history class have at least one question on why Truman dropped the bomb?) and I know the standard line.

LeMay had already firebombed dozens of Japanese cities into non-existence. Hiroshima and Nagasaki amounted to just two more EVEN IF the damage was done by one bomb rather than thousands. USSR entering the war was a bigger threat for the Japanese.

I suggest you try the documentary - AT LEAST THAT ONE PART - and see if Stone's argument doesn't make you think a bit more about it. I am convinced that the war could have ended in the Spring of '45 IF the U.S. had been willing assure the Japanese that the Emperor would NOT be tried as a war criminal.

Was Henry Wallace's pacifism too naïve to have worked? I can't say but I can wish we had tried it.

Oct. 17 2013 03:39 PM
anna

sanych,
Good comment.
Yes, it's hard to believe.

Oct. 16 2013 10:51 PM
sanych

I am absolutely stunned by the guest's and BL's ignorance.

Ethnic Germans being pushed from territories in Poland and Czechoslovakia was not much different to what happenned recently in former Yugoslavia where it was decided that ethnic separation will eliminate future tension.

Prussia was not German to begin with. It was conquered by Germans who then wiped out local natives.

Nazis used the pretext of protecting ethnic Germans in order to start the war. Ethnic Germans greatly benefited during Nazi occupation and possibility of reconciliation with their compatriots was nil.

Also, the were no orders for the Soviets to rape women, although prosecution for crimes against Germans was lax.

Finally, while I agree that wars are evil and one must be careful before starting one, the implied comparison between the situation now and with Nazi Germany is mindboggling.

Oct. 16 2013 03:21 PM
Bob from Pelham, NY

@ RUCB_Alum: Wow, you watched one whole documentary (or at least Part 4 of a whole documentary) which you stumbled on while channel surfing, and now you're such an expert that you're sure about what would have happened?

You may be right in your opinion (and you're certainly entitled to it), but I suggest you do a lot more studying of the war in the Pacific (going back to at least the Japanese invasion of China in 1937, if not the invasion of Manchuria in 1931) before you blatantly proclaim other people wrong about one of the most debated issues in 20th century history. All the "facts" you cite are contested by other historians, most especially the unprovable assertion that the Japanese were within two weeks of surrendering anyway. Moreover, you need to put yourself in the time and mindset of the leaders who had to make decisions at the time, with imperfect information and confronting the very real horrors of the ongoing war -- it's easy to make accurate calls from a comfortable living room almost 70 years after the fact, not so easy at the time.

Oct. 16 2013 12:36 PM
anna

Correction.
My last sentence in my first comment should be:
"Yes, there was a difference between spending four years in the trenches without knowing what happened for your family (or even worse, already knowing) and participation in some fireworks over Dresden KNOWING THAT YOUR FAMILY IS SAFE AND SOUND IN MINNESOTA OR ELSEWHERE"

Oct. 16 2013 12:23 PM
anna from anna856@gmail.com

"The first thing that General Patton did when he became governor of Bavaria was to rehire all the Nazi bureaucrats, and to keep barbed wire around the DP camps where the Jews were"
Yes, and the Nazi propagandists and psychologists were located ... and brought to America ... to be useful. Scientists were treated nicely too and all the remaining Germans in Germany were treated nicely too and spent their remaining Nazi lives on the beaches of the world.

Oct. 16 2013 12:16 PM

@Bob from Pelham

You are wrong about that one.

The Japanese were within two weeks of surrender regardless. The documentary raises doubt over whether the loss of Hiroshima and Nagasaki had anything to do with their surrender. The entry of USSR (also August 9) had far more to do with the surrender than our bombing. IF the US had been willing to a Japanese surrender that did not try the Emperor as a war criminal, they would have surrendered in May.

Oct. 16 2013 12:11 PM
anna from new york

"the Allied soldiers also didn't have their families wiped out, burned, shot, raped etc, so maybe the soviet soldiers had a bit more anger towards the Germans, including the German population"
Exactly.
I hit the ceiling when I hear Americans bragging that the NAZIS preferred to surrender to Americans because they knew that they would be treated better. They were correct and the most monstrous among them were treated soooo nice by the the Fords, by the Lindberghs, by the Butlers (hey, Columbia remove this plaque from the building) and other assorted Nazis.
Yes, there was a difference between spending four years in the trenches without knowing what happened for your family (or even worse, already knowing) and participation in some fireworks over Dresden.
Not understanding the difference is barbaric.

Oct. 16 2013 12:08 PM
anna from new york

I didn't hear the entire program.
I wonder who was behind the convenient for Germans theory that what happened happened because "good, poor Germans" had been punished unfairly and therefore must be rewarded after the WWII (for what exactly?) so they won't do it again.
So, the Germans were rewarded. I know of a Polish woman who became seriously ill after her visit to West Germany in the 1970s. The unfairness of German reality, particularly in comparison with Polish reality, was too much for her.
Just last year, someone I know mentioned that her German boyfriend, a retired factory worker, who spends his very comfortable retirement traveling abound the world (he just deserves it) commented: "IF the Germans did this to Jews, it isn't nice."
There is a new book on the charms of German women during WWII, read it so maybe your manipulated and idiotic "feeling for them" will diminish.
The Russians entered Germany when many of them already knew what had happened to their families. Idiotic and empty American "liberals," who do nothing in life but strike compassionate poses, don't care about anybody, including their families, but it doesn't mean that Russian soldiers were similar.

Oct. 16 2013 12:00 PM
Amy from Manhattan

I'm sorry the "warning" part didn't come till the end. I'd like to know what Prof. Buruma thinks can be done differently after a war to prevent the kinds of things he told us about. What would be better approaches to take, & what would it take to put them into place?

Oct. 16 2013 11:52 AM
Bob from Pelham, NY

@ RUCB_Alum - Yes, things would have been different. Among other things, many of us baby boomers would not have been born, as our fathers would have died in a land invasion of Japan. Changing the time line of history would be tricky and always would have unexpected and unintended consequences (as all us baby boomers learned through the many iterations of the Star Trek franchise!)

Oct. 16 2013 11:43 AM
jgarbuz from Queens

The first thing that General Patton did when he became governor of Bavaria was to rehire all the Nazi bureaucrats, and to keep barbed wire around the DP camps where the Jews were. He considered all Jews as communists. Americans have no clue.
By contrast the Russian looted everything out of eastern Germany and 14 million ethnic GErmans were booted out of eastern and central Europe.

Oct. 16 2013 11:42 AM
Jane from Brooklyn

the Allied soldiers also didn't have their families wiped out, burned, shot, raped etc, so maybe the soviet soldiers had a bit more anger towards the Germans, including the German population

Oct. 16 2013 11:42 AM
jgarbuz from Queens

The only thing "the world" learned from WWII was to punish Israel. Nothing else. I should write a book.

Oct. 16 2013 11:37 AM
jgarbuz from Queens

I was born in a DP camp in Germany after the war.

Oct. 16 2013 11:35 AM
Lars Hanson from New York City

Could Ian Buruma comment on Roberto Rossellini's film "Germany Year Zero" (1948) and if that incredible film is the basis for the title for his book?
I look forward to reading his book.

Oct. 16 2013 11:35 AM

Stumbled into Part 4 of ShowTime's "Untold History of the United States" last night. It was about The Bomb and ended with a serious consideration of how different our world could have been if FDR had stuck by his guns and had Henry Wallace (rather than Harry Truman) as his VP.

Imagine world history without The Cold War.

Oct. 16 2013 11:10 AM

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