The New Revisionism: What if Hitler Won the War?

Mark Weber, David Irving, and the Institute for Historical Review take on Winston Churchill, Pat Buchanan, and American foreign policy

By Michael Shermer
Skeptic magazine – Nov. 2008 (Vol. 14, No. 3)


Saturday, June 24 [sic], 2008. Costa Mesa, California. In this coastal city in Southern California about 80 people — an assortment of devoted fans, sycophants, acolytes and financial supporters of David Irving and Mark Weber's Institute for Historical Review (IHR, the fountainhead of historical and especially Holocaust revisionism) — packed themselves into a smallish conference room with a dysfunctional PA system and a deafeningly-loud air conditioner that made it exceedingly difficult for the many septua- and octogenarians present to hear what their revisionist heroes had to say about their enduringly favorite passions and pastimes: Hitler and the Nazis, Jews and the Holocaust, and World War II and the decline of the West. But on these subjects a new revisionism is afoot. Consider just three short excerpts:

"All about us we can see clearly now that the West is passing away. In a single century, all the great houses of continental Europe fell. All the empires that ruled the world have vanished. Not one European nation, save Muslim Albania, has a birthrate that will enable it to survive through the century. As a share of world population, peoples of European ancestry have been shrinking for three generations. The character of every Western nation is being irremediably altered as each undergoes an unresisted invasion from the third World. We are slowly disappearing from the Earth."

"A hundred years ago, the West ruled the world. After a century of recurrent internecine conflict between the European empires, that is no longer the case. A hundred years ago, the frontier between West and East was located somewhere in the neighbourhood of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Now it seems to run through every European city. That is not to say that conflict is inevitable along these new fault lines. But it is to say that, if the history of the twentieth century is any guide, then the fragile edifice of civilization can very quickly collapse even where different ethnic groups seem quite well integrated, sharing the same language, if not the same faith or the same genes."

"Alfred Nobel, the manufacturer of explosives, was talking to his friend the Baroness Bertha von Suttner, author of Lay Down Your Arms. Von Suttner, a founder of the European antiwar movement, had just attended the fourth World's Peace Conference in Bern. It was August, 1892. 'Perhaps my factories will put an end to war even sooner than your congresses,' Alfred Nobel said. 'On the day when two army corps may mutually annihilate each other in a second, probably all civilized nations will recoil with horror and disband their troops'."

Was the Good War an Unnecessary War?

These observations come from neither David Irving nor Mark Weber. Nor are they from the lunatic fringe. The first is the opening passage of three-time presidential candidate and political analyst Patrick Buchanan in his 2008 book Churchill, Hitler, and the Unnecessary War, a history and social commentary that made the New York Times bestseller list and was the cover story for the June 23 issue of Newsweek. The second comes from the epilogue of the Harvard historian Niall Ferguson's 2006 epochal history, The War of the World, also presented in a three-part PBS documentary series. The third is the first entry in Nicholson Baker's 2008 anti-war book Human Smoke, widely reviewed and discussed by political pundits and talk-show hosts, which helped propel it as well onto the New York Times bestseller list. All three were pegged by Mark Weber as emblematic of historical revisionism gone mainstream.

This new revisionism aims to reconfigure "the good war" as "the unnecessary war" (Buchanan), combine the two world wars into one long ethnic and economic conflict that could have been avoided had England left Germany alone (Ferguson), and to demonstrate the moral equivalency between the Axis and the Allies in the outbreak and conductance of a war whose waging probably failed to help those who most needed it (Baker and Ferguson). Weber's lecture — "The 'Good War' Myth of World War Two" -- in fact, echoed these three mainstream historians, although according to Weber he wrote his lecture before these books were published. And in any case, says Weber, World War Two revisionism of this sort dates back to the 1950s when highly regarded academic historians such as Charles Beard and A.J.P. Taylor even then challenged the received wisdom that WWII was a "good war."

The idea that Weber thinks needs revising is that the Second World War pitted freedom against tyranny, but according to Weber the reality is that the Allies included Britain and the USSR, the most imperial and tyrannical (respectively) nations on earth:

"At the outbreak of war in 1939, Britain ruled over the largest colonial empire in history, holding more millions of people against their will than any regime before or since. America's other great wartime ally, the Soviet Union, was, by any objective measure, the most tyrannical or oppressive regime of its time, and a vastly more cruel despotism than Hitler's Germany."

He labels as myth the idea that in World War II we witnessed the triumph of good over evil, and claims that in reality the Allies' goodness was indistinguishable from their opponents' evil. Weber:

"In fact, the record of Allied misdeeds is a long one, and includes the British-American bombing of German cities, a terroristic campaign that took the lives of more than half a million civilians, the genocidal 'ethnic cleansing' of millions of civilians in eastern and central Europe, and the large-scale postwar mistreatment of German prisoners."

Also labeled as myth is the belief that the Allies prevented Hitler from conquering the world, whereas it was America, Russia, and England who were set on a course for world domination. Weber:

"The three Allied leaders accomplished what they accused the Axis leaders of Germany, Italy and Japan of conspiring to achieve: world domination. During a 1942 meeting in Washington, President Roosevelt candidly told the Soviet foreign minister that 'the United States, England and Russia, and perhaps China, should police the world and enforce disarmament [of all others] by inspection.' To secure the global rule of the victorious powers after the war, the 'Big Three' Allied leaders established the United Nations organization to serve as a permanent world police force."

Weber argues that given that the United Nations has been unable to douse the flames of even tiny brushfires that periodically erupt throughout the world, we see how poorly this world police force has worked out.

Moral Equivalency in the Second World War

Continuing along the new revisionist track, these historians reassess who really benefited from the defeat of Germany and Japan. Although the United States emerged from the conflict as the world's foremost military, economic, and financial power, according to Weber, the war was a long-term setback for European culture and Western civilization. In support of this claim he quotes none other than Charles Lindbergh, aviation hero, crypto-fascist, and ideological leader of the America First isolationist movement. Writing a quarter of a century after the great conflict, Lindbergh lamented:

"We won the war in a military sense; but in a broader sense it seems to me we lost it, for our Western civilization is less respected and secure than it was before. In order to defeat Germany and Japan we supported the still greater menaces of Russia and China — which now confront us in a nuclear-weapon era. Poland was not saved … Much of our Western culture was destroyed. We lost the genetic heredity formed through aeons in many million lives … It is alarmingly possible that World War II marks the beginning of our Western civilization's breakdown, as it already marks the breakdown of the greatest empire ever built by man."

Genetic heredity formed through aeons? Could Lindbergh possibly mean an Aryan genetic heritage at the exclusion of all other peoples of the West? Perhaps his German wife and children — kept hidden for decades and only recently revealed through, ironically, genetic tests — know the answer.

Niall Ferguson also leans on the Germanophile Lindbergh in The War of the World. "Our men think nothing of shooting a Japanese prisoner or soldier attempting to surrender," Lindbergh recalled an infantry colonel telling him. "They treat the Japs with less respect than they would give to an animal." They? To whom is Lindbergh referring? Apparently his fellow Americans, now relegated to The Other. The Japanese fought to the death, says Ferguson in voiceover in his documentary, because they believed that the Americans were barbaric and would murder them in cold blood anyway, as images flash by of the Allied bombings of Hamburg (35,000-55,000 dead), Dresden (35,000 dead), Hiroshima (140,000 dead), and Nagasaki (80,000 dead).

Revisionists have long drawn the moral equation of Auschwitz = Dresden, and Treblinka = Hiroshima. It's a theme that appears time and again in revisionist literature, and now a Harvard historian has fallen into the trap. Although Ferguson concedes that Hitler "put a hit out on an entire race of people" and wanted to redraw the entire ethnographic map of Europe, and to achieve this the German people needed more lebensraum in the east, which meant "expulsion and extermination" of the current inhabitants, Ferguson then shifts to a moral equivalency argument:

"What happened here at Auschwitz was so monstrous, that when American and British and Russian tourists come here they derive a certain satisfaction from the idea that in fighting Hitler the allies were waging a just war. It's terribly easy to forget that in pursuit of victory the Allies also, though in different ways, meted out death to innocent men, women, and children. This wasn't simply a war between evil and good. It was a war between evil and lesser evil."

How did England and the United States become tyrannies comparable to the fascistic states they aimed to defeat?

"To win this war of the world the Western powers found that they had to ally themselves with tyranny, to adopt aspects of totalitarian rule in their own countries, and to use military methods that were comparable in their effects, if not in their intentions, with the very worst techniques of their enemies."

In the end Ferguson holds back from asserting full moral equivalency between the Allies and the Axis, but he does so in language that is discomfortingly obtuse:

"We allied ourselves with a dictator who was every bit as brutal as Hitler. We adopted tactics that we ourselves had condemned as depraved, killing prisoners and bombing civilians. And yet all of this is not to imply some simple moral equivalence between Auschwitz and Hiroshima. The Axis cities would never have been bombed if their government had not launched wars of aggression. And they would have kept on killing people had it not been for the determination of the Allies to prevail by fair means or foul. But what I do want to acknowledge is that the victory of 1945 was a tainted victory, if indeed it was a victory at all."

This particular moral equivalency argument has a familiar ring to it: David Irving made the same argument in his 1971 book Apocalypse 1945: The Destruction of Dresden. Calling the attack on Dresden "the worst single massacre in European history," Irving asks "Is there any parallel between Dresden and Auschwitz?" His answer has the nuance of a moral sledge hammer: "To my mind both teach one lesson: that the real crime of war and peace alike is not Genocide — with its implicit requirement that posterity reserve its sympathy and condolences for a chosen race — but Innocenticide. It was not the Jewishness of the victims that made Auschwitz a crime; but their innocence."

Baloney. Yes, the Allies killed innocents on the road to victory, but the killing stopped the moment the Allies won. The genocide of Jews by Germans ended on VE day, and the genocide of Chinese by Japanese ended on VJ day. Auschwitz and Nanking were no more. The Allies killed in order to stop the killing by the Axis, and for no other reason. The Axis killed for geography, for political control, for economic power, for racial purification, and for pleasure, and the killing would have gone on and on and on were it not for the Allies. Anyone unable to see the difference should have his license to practice history revoked.

The Decline of Civilization

Which brings us back to the new revisionists' deeper quest in revising the meaning of the Second World War, whether it was a victory, tainted victory, or no victory at all: the Decline of the West. The subtitles of the new revisionist books deliver the deeper moral angst in large font: "How Britain Lost its Empire and the West Lost the World" (Buchanan), "Twentieth-Century Conflict and the Descent of the West" (Ferguson), and "The Beginnings of World War II, the End of Civilization" (Baker). The echoes of Spengler thunder throughout the narratives. I asked Weber what, precisely, is in decline in the west. "First and foremost, there is a dysgenic trend," he pronounced without even a feint toward political correctness. "The average intelligence level is falling. Everywhere the most educated and cultured peoples are having the least number of children. Music, architecture, and art are in decline. There's a general discordance in culture."

Moreover, he added, "A healthy society is cohesive." What does that mean? "Ethnicity and race," he elaborated. Ethnicity, as in the shared beliefs of a people, as in a common religion? "No. Iraqis, for example, share a common religion, but their society is not cohesive. I mean racial or genetic cohesion." For example? Well, he said, "the Danes are reportedly the happiest people on earth. Certainly a key factor in that regard is the Danes' racial-ethnic cohesion." But Americans are incredibly successful -- the wealthiest and most successful nation on earth — but we are a racially diverse society. "The most significant fact of America's history and legacy is that it was settled by Europeans."

Counterfactual "what if?" history is a dangerous game to play, but it can be a useful one in teasing out causal variables in the past. This is what Niall Ferguson attempts to do in his 1999 revisionist history of World War I, The Pity of War, in which he argued counterfactually that had Britain stayed neutral in 1914, a continental skirmish would never have escalated into a world war, that Ferguson calls "nothing less than the greatest error of modern history." Without the First World War, millions of lives would have been saved, there would have been no 1917 Bolshevik Revolution and thus leaving Communism stillborn from Lenin's pen, and Europe would have been spared the ravishes of that particularly destructive ideology, along with its ideological twin, fascism, which would have never gotten a toehold in subsequent decades.

"If the First World War had never been fought," Ferguson speculates, "the worst consequence would have been something like a First Cold War, in which the five great powers continued to maintain large military establishments, but without impeding their own sustained economic growth." A victory by Imperial Germany over her threatening rivals France and Russia would have created something like today's European Union, and Great Britain would have remained great in world empire. And, needless to say, a politically viable and economically stable Germany would never have spawned Adolf Hitler and the Nazis, and another 40 million deaths and untold misery and economic ruin throughout continental Europe would have been forestalled.

In a follow-up telephone interview, Mark Weber picked up where Ferguson left off, speculating on what might have happened if Britain and France had not declared war against Germany, and the Axis nations had succeeded in obliterating Soviet Communism. An Axis-dominated Pax Europa, he speculated, would have been culturally dynamic, socially prosperous, politically stable, economically sound, and technologically advanced. "A victorious National Socialist Germany probably would have carried out a space exploration program far more ambitious than that of the U.S. or the U.S.S.R. It would have developed an extensive continent-wide transportation and communications network, an exemplary environmental policy, a comprehensive health care system, and a conscientious eugenics program." Most importantly, Weber said with rising enthusiasm, "Europe would have remained European. It would have been amazing."

Instead, despite Hitler's efforts to make peace with England, the imperialist blackguard Winston Churchill fanned the flames of anti-German hatred and rallied both the British and (with the help of Franklin Roosevelt) the Americans to declare war on Germany and thereby brought about the end of European culture and racial unity. World War II was not a victory for the Allies; it was a defeat for all we cherish in Western values, and even though the conclusion of the Cold War brought the Soviet Union to an ignominious end, her ideology of universal egalitarianism lives on through the liberal democracies of the West.

What if Hitler Won?

It's hard to know where to begin deconstructing the new revisionism. The Italian physicist Wolfgang Pauli's withering critique of a colleague's paper comes to mind: "This isn't right. It's not even wrong." So much of the new revisionism is counterfactual history, and it is here where their analysis goes beyond wrong and into the realm of pure fantasy.

Counterfactual "what if" history is premised on what are called counterfactual conditionals. Conditionals are statements in the form "if p then q," as in "if Hitler fights England then he'll lose the war," where q (losing the war) depends on p (fighting England). Counterfactual conditionals change p to p' and thus make it counter to the facts, thereby altering its conditional element q into q'. Change p to p' (make peace with England) and instead of q you may get q' (win the war), as in "if Hitler does not fight England then he avoids an unwinable two-front war, defeats Russia, and wins the war."

This counterfactual conditional assumes that the outcome of the Second World War hinged on this single conditional. In reality, the outcome of the war depended on a long string of conditional terms in between the two termini. Instead of "if p then q," a more realistic conditional equation would be "if p, q, r, s, t, u, v, w, x, y then z." The counterfactual conditional, then, would be "if p', q', r', s', t', u', v', w', x', y' then z'." Add a few hundred more conditionals into the equation and we begin to approximate the rich causal tapestry that is human history. That is the state of the world in the run-up to the outbreak of both World Wars, and neither outbreaks nor outcomes were conditional on one small factor (p), whereby altering its condition (p') would change the entire sequence.

By the time England declared war on Germany in September of 1939 — in response to Germany's invasion of Poland — the Nazi government had already embarked on a long string of conditionals that practically guaranteed they would end up in a two-front war. In violation of numerous points in the Versailles Treaty and the Locarno Pact (securing post-war borders east and west of Germany), and against the admonitions of the League of Nations, Hitler rearmed the Rhineland in 1936, annexed Austria in the spring of 1938, laid claim to the Sudetenland of Czechoslovakia in the fall of 1938, and seized Bohemia and Moravia in the spring of 1939, all while rearming the German military, building tanks, planes, and ships in both size and quantity strictly prohibited by treaty. Although he promised that he would make no more territorial claims in Europe in the Munich Agreement of September 30, 1938 (after which Chamberlain famously waved the agreement to a relieved British home crowd), in the early morning hours of September 1, 1939, the Nazis staged a phony "invasion" of Germany by Polish soldiers and then "retaliated" by launching an all out invasion of Poland with troops, tanks, and planes conveniently poised to strike along the 1,750-mile Polish border. Two days later, England — in keeping with her treaty agreement to defend Poland in just such an eventuality —delivered a war ultimatum to Germany: leave Poland or else. Hitler's reaction reveals his expectation that appeasement was indefinite. The German interpreter Paul Schmidt recalled what happened when he read the ultimatum to the Führer and his foreign minister Joachim von Ribbentrop: "When I finished, there was complete silence. Hitler sat immobile, gazing before him. After an interval that seemed an age, he turned to Ribbentrop, who had remained standing by the window. 'What now?' asked Hitler with a savage look."

Could Hitler have won a one-front war against the Soviet Union had the Western powers turned a blind eye to his territorial ambitions? It's possible, but not likely. That war did not hinge on the single conditional of merely being left alone by England and the United States. Many other conditions were at work throughout the new Nazi empire that was spread thin by the time Hitler invaded the Soviet Union, not the least of which was the Russian winter that would have bogged down the mighty German Wehrmacht no matter how many troops there would have been sans a Western front. Stalin had almost endless fodder to throw at the Nazis, and vast wastelands of space into which they could retreat until German supply lines were effectively dissipated and Nazi resources stretched too thin. Napoleon invaded Russia in 1812 under just such a counterfactual condition — at the height of his power, with virtually all of continental Europe either already conquered or under his control, and with the largest army ever assembled in European history — and failed nonetheless (422,000 men went in, less than 10,000 men came out). And Hitler was no Napoleon.

The notion that Hitler was a misunderstood peacemaker who simply wanted to create a Pax Europa is obscene. As he baldly explained in Mein Kampf: "This soil of Europe exists for the people which possesses the force to take it. The law of self-preservation will go into effect; and what is refused through amicable methods, it is up to the fist to take." Hitler's fist grabbed as much as it could on the appeasement platform of the British, and when they would appease no more, when they mobilized for war, when they lined up additional allies in the two mightiest empires on Earth — the United States and the Soviet Union (the latter having already been invaded by Nazi Germany), then and only then did Hitler decide that he needed some breathing room and make overtures for peace with the Western Allies. As he also proclaimed in Wagnerian tones in Mein Kampf: "The new Reich must again set itself on the march along the road of the Teutonic Knights of old, to obtain by the German sword sod for the German plow and daily bread for the nation." Certainly Churchill was an ambitious and opportunist politician (is there any other kind?) who ascended to the Prime Ministership on the failures of appeasement, but there would have been no Chamberlainian appeasement process had there been no Hitlerian land grab.

Rewinding the tape of history to 1914 and replaying it with a few conditionals changed here or there is fraught with the same problems that the replay of 1939 does — too many variables to be meaningful. The revisionist counterfactual here also turns on whether or not Britain engages in a war with Germany, this time over the question of Belgium neutrality, which England promised by treaty to defend (just as she had with Poland a quarter century later). England, in fact, could not sacrifice Belgium to Germany for two very good reasons: one, the Treaty of London (signed by France, Prussia, Austria, and Russia, along with England) guaranteed protection of Belgium neutrality in 1839 after the Belgium revolution and the formation of a parliamentary democracy (so this was no Johnny-come-lately agreement); and two, Germany had expansionistic aspirations for empire that included not just African and Asian colonies, but European continental control that no self-respecting empire could allow. In fact, the British Prime Minister William Gladstone insisted on enforcing the treaty throughout the nineteenth century in order to prevent the Low Countries from being controlled by any one great power.

In Niall Ferguson's counterfactual vision, England allows the Germans to march straight through Belgium and into France (following the famous Schlieffen Plan, "letting the last man on the right, brush the Channel with his sleeve"). A lightning war by Germany against France, says Ferguson, would have meant "the victorious Germans might have created a version of the European Union, eight decades ahead of schedule." A European Union under Kaiser Wilhelm II? Unlikely. With his accession to power in 1888, Germany embarked on imperialistic empire building through territorial expansion and colonial building. The Kaiser wanted to match (and eventually succeed) Great Britain colony for colony and ship for ship in his foreign policy practice of gunboat diplomacy, which resulted in a financially ruinous naval arms race with Great Britain that led both countries inexorably toward conflict in 1914. Four years later Germany surrendered the German Grand Fleet at Scapa Flow, along with her nascent empire at Versailles.

The idea that upon the defeat of France and the solidification of his empire both at home and abroad the Kaiser would have cheerily handed over the reigns of power to the people and willingly turned his imperial empire into a liberal democracy with a common currency and open economic borders is an even more absurd "what if" counterfactual than Hitler's Pax Europa.

The Aristocratic Romance

Most of this new revisionist counterfactual game playing is peripheral to the central issue of 20th century European history — race, ethnicity, and eugenics. There seems to be a longing for a return to more rigid top-down controls over the unwashed and ignorant masses, a reversion to a constitutional monarchy, perhaps, or a benevolent dictatorship. Let's call it the Aristocratic Romance, where everyone knew their place in the rigid class system and those at the top called the shots. Of course those who desire the return to such a society always think of themselves as being in the chosen few in control. This is why, in contemplating new laws and decrees that place restrictions on people's freedoms, that one imagine oneself as not being in the group most likely to benefit from such social changes.

The historical reality of such societies is that the vast majority of the people — the group you and I and the revisionists are most likely to be in — would be dirt poor, uneducated, with next to no power or liberty, toiling endless hours for the benefit of someone else. The Aristocratic Romance is about as realistic as the Society for Creative Anachronism, where people engage in fantasy role playing as knights and princesses, or the various reincarnation groups where everyone thinks that they were once Napoleon or Marie Antoinette, instead of the blacksmith or charwoman they most likely would have been. In any case, why restrict such retrograde fantasies to a century or two? Why not go all the way back to the Divine Right of Kings, and while we're at it why not turn the clock back to the romance of the Middle Ages with Feudal lords and their castles and manors, and further back still to chiefs and chiefdoms, or even bands with their big man on top? Nice work if you can get it, which almost no one can.

The Aristocratic Romance, however risibly ridiculous it may seem, it still not the deeper problem with the new revisionism. The elephant in the room is racial and ethnic cleansing. There is no doubt that had Hitler been triumphant it would have meant the end of European Jewry (along with other "undesirables"), and perhaps the end of the Jewish people entirely. The Holocaust was not the unfortunate byproduct of war, or collateral damage amidst the larger carnage. Years before the war even started, Hitler went after the Jewish people with a vengeance. The Nuremberg racial laws of 1935 deprived the Jews of German citizenship and prohibited them to marry or have sexual relations with racially pure "Aryans." In 1938 Jews were prohibited from practicing medicine, the law, and even from commerce, and in November of that year Kristallnacht left Jewish homes, synagogues, and especially businesses looted and smashed by Nazi thugs. It was just the beginning of the pathway to extermination that proceeded thusly:

  1. Verbal abuse
  2. Physical abuse
  3. Marital restrictions
  4. Physical isolation
  5. Forced emigration
  6. Forced deportation
  7. Death through starvation and disease
  8. Death through overwork
  9. Death through extermination
  10. Death through marches

As Hitler told his adjutants three days after the Wannsee Conference that outlined the policy against the Jews and coordinated the efforts of all the departments who were responsible for implementing the final solution: "The Jew must clear out of Europe. Otherwise no understanding will be possible between Europeans. It's the Jew who prevents everything. I restrict myself to telling them they must go away. But if they refuse to go voluntarily, I see no other solution but extermination." So much for the enlightened rule by educated, intelligent, and cultured European aristocrats.

Speaking of racial purity, it seems appropriate here to point out that very few of the Nazi leaders bore any resemblance whatsoever to the racial stereotype of the godlike Aryan Übermensch. Heinrich Himmler was squatty and nearsighted, Herman Goering was an obese glutton, Joseph Goebbels was diminutive and deformed, Albert Speer was balding, as was Adolf Eichmann, who also wore coke-bottle thick glasses, and even Hitler himself was a physical wreck. By their own criteria, all of them should have been sterilized before passing on their defective genes.

Extermination of masses of people racially or ethnically different from those in power is the logical outcome of the Aristocratic Romance and the belief that there is (or can be) such a thing as pure race and ethnicity. There is no such thing, of course, as modern genetic science has unequivocally demonstrated. Every person on Earth comes from a single population of a thousand to ten thousand individuals who migrated out of Africa and began to colonize Europe and the rest of the world sometime between 100,000 and 160,000 years ago. Black Australian aborigines, for example, are genetically more closely related to Southeast Asians than they are to black Africans because the route of migration was from Africa through Southeast Asia into Australia. The similarities between Australian aborigines and Africans, and the differences they show with Southeast Asians, are literally only skin deep. The principle holds for all peoples around the world, and our racial similarities vastly outweigh our racial differences.

We are one race, one folk, one people.


About the Author

Michael Shermer is publisher and editor-in-chief of Skeptic magazine, a quarterly periodical based in southern California. He is also executive director of the Skeptics society (www.skeptic.com), a monthly columnist for Scientific American, and an Adjuct Professor of Economics at Claremont Graduate University. He received his B.A. in psychology from Pepperdine University, M.A. in experimental psychology from California State University, Fullerton, and his Ph.D. in the history of science from Claremont Graduate University (1991).




Mark Weber responds:

A Defective Look at World War II

In a key paragraph of his article on "The New Revisionism," Michael Shermer writes that killings of innocents by the Allies in World War II "stopped the moment the Allies won," that the Allies "killed in order to stop the killing by the Axis, and for no other reason," and that killings by the Axis "would have gone on and on and on were it not for the Allies."

Let's take these points in order:

In fact, killings and oppression by the Allies continued after the end of the war. In a 618-page book published last year, After the Reich: The Brutal History of Allied Occupation, British historian Giles MacDonogh details how some three million Germans, military and civilians, died unnecessarily after the formal end of hostilities.

Perhaps the most shocking outrage he recounts is the slaughter of a quarter of a million ethnic Germans in what is now the Czech Republic. The wretched survivors of this ethnic cleansing were pitched across the border, never to return to their homes. There were similar scenes of death and dispossession in Pomerania, Silesia and East Prussia as the age-old German communities of those provinces were likewise brutally expunged.

Some thirty-forty thousand Germans died in American custody after US authorities had first stripped them of their status as prisoners of war, thereby unlawfully depriving them of their Geneva convention rights. Many more German prisoners perished after the end of the war in Yugoslavia, Poland and other countries, while millions toiled for years as slave laborers in Allied custody.

Germans were not the only victims of postwar Allied brutality. Across central and eastern Europe, the heavy hand of Soviet rule continued to take lives of Poles, Hungarians, Ukrainians, and people of other nationalities.

No sentence is more central to Shermer's main thesis than his extraordinary assertion that "the Allies killed in order to stop the killing by the Axis, and for no other reason."

Not even Winston Churchill dared to claim that Britain -- the first of the "Big Three" Allied powers to enter the war -- was waging war against Germany "to stop the killing." In memorable speeches delivered shortly after becoming prime minister in 1940, he vowed that Britain would continue fighting to insure the survival of the British empire "and all that the British empire has stood for," and for the "survival of Christian civilization."

Sir Basil Liddell Hart, an outstanding twentieth-century British military historian, described the motives of the British and French leaders in going to war against Germany:

"The Western Allies [Britain and France] entered the war with a two-fold object. The immediate purpose was to fulfill their promise to preserve the independence of Poland. The ultimate purpose was to remove a potential menace to themselves, and thus ensure their own security. In the outcome, they failed in both purposes. Not only did they fail to prevent Poland from being overcome in the first place, and partitioned between Germany and Russia, but after six years of war which ended in apparent victory they were forced to acquiesce in Russia's domination of Poland – abandoning their pledges to the Poles who had fought on their side."

India – which in 1939 included what is now Pakistan and Bangladesh – did not go to war against Germany "in order to stop the killing by the Axis." The millions who lived in the Indian subcontinent were thrust into war by declaration of the London-appointed Governor General, without even a pretense of consultation with the people involved. Additional millions in South Africa and other British possessions were similarly enlisted into World War II on the Allied side by imperial edict.

The Soviet Union certainly did not enter the 1939-1945 war "to stop the killing." After the Red Army attacked Poland in September 1939, the Soviets incorporated more than half the territory of the Polish republic into the USSR. And when Soviet forces invaded Finland two months later, they hardly did so "to stop the killing."

Nor did the United States enter the conflict for that reason. It formally entered the war only after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, more than two years after the killing had commenced in Europe.

Shermer's assertion that killings by the Axis "would have gone on and on and on were it not for the Allies" is "what if" history – no different than the speculative musings of Niall Ferguson and other dissident historians that he so sharply criticizes.

Shermer asserts that Hitler decided to "make overtures for peace with the Western Allies" only after the Soviet Union and the United States had entered the war. In fact, Hitler sought peace with Britain and France in October 1939, right after the end of the Polish campaign, as well as during the "phony war" period of late 1939 and early 1940. Then, after the fall of France in June 1940 -- months before the USSR and the USA were in the war -- Hitler made a renewed effort to conclude peace with Britain, most dramatically in his Reichstag address of July 19, 1940.

How sincere were these efforts? Hitler's policies and private remarks, as well as his public statements, all indicate that his eagerness for peace was heartfelt. It was the Allies, not Hitler, who implacably rejected any possibility of a negotiated peace. The Allied leaders' insistence on "unconditional surrender" needlessly prolonged the suffering, destruction and death, and encouraged Germans to fight to the bitter end.

Shermer concludes his essay with an emphatic assertion that humanity is "one race, one folk, one people." This is nonsense. To claim that Japanese, Nigerians, Swedes and Mexicans all constitute "one people" and "one folk" is patently absurd.

Michael Shermer's look at the "New Revisionism" is not a reasoned critique based on a sober and informed review of the historical record, but rather a defective, "politically correct" polemic that mirrors the social-political outlook that prevails in our society.


For Further Reading

James Bacque, Crimes and Mercies: The Fate of German Civilians Under Allied Occupation, 1944-1950 (Toronto: Little, Brown and Co., 1997)

Nicholson Baker, Human Smoke: The Beginnings of World War II, the End of Civilization (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2008)

Patrick J. Buchanan, Churchill, Hitler and 'The Unnecessary War': How Britain Lost Its Empire and the West Lost the World (New York: Crown, 2008)

William H. Chamberlain, America's Second Crusade (Chicago: 1950)

Alfred-Maurice de Zayas, Nemesis at Postsdam (Lincoln, Neb.: 1990)

Alfred-Maurice de Zayas, A Terrible Revenge: The Ethnic Cleansing of the Eastern European Germans, 1944-1950 (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1994)

John Dietrich, The Morgenthau Plan: Soviet Influence on American Postwar Policy (New York: Algora, 2002)

"Irving Describes His Austria Imprisonment at IHR Meeting" (IHR: June 2008)
( http://www.ihr.org/news/june08meeting_report.html )

Ralph Franklin Keeling, Gruesome Harvest: The Allies' Postwar War Against the German People (IHR, 1992). Originally published in Chicago in 1947.

Giles MacDonogh, After the Reich: The Brutal History of the Allied Occupation (New York: Basic Books, 2007)

Mark Weber, "New Book Details Mass Killings and Brutal Mistreatment of Germans at the End of World War Two" (IHR: Summer 2007)

( http://www.ihr.org/other/afterthereich072007.html )

Mark Weber, "The 'Good War' Myth of World War Two" (IHR: May 2008)
( http://www.ihr.org/news/weber_ww2_may08.html )