Looking Back

War is Hell

April 14, 2017

Nobody knows how to stop the war because there are too many parties interested in prolonging it. Human beings, as Kershaw’s story of Germany in the last months of Nazi rule demonstrates, can endure what in prewar times they would have considered unendurable. They can also commit atrocities from which they would have shrunk in times of peace. The Holocaust itself was made possible only by the war. In the ’30s Jews were humiliated, were deprived of civil rights, were robbed, did time in concentration camps, were beaten up, some of them murdered, but mass extinction wasn’t yet on the program. A Germany that would be “judenfrei” was a Germany from which the Jews had been expelled. Likewise in the Middle East today, the crimes of Assad on the one hand, the Islamic State on the other, have been made possible by this war. Bombing raids won’t end it. More American troops on the ground might not end it, any more than reinforcement of the military effort in Vietnam delivered the promised peace with honor.

In 1943–44 the Allies demanded the unconditional surrender of Germany and eventually, at hideous cost, got it. But there is no single enemy to surrender in Syria, and there is no willingness to achieve a compromise peace. So the war drags on, and deeper American involvement risks leading President Trump into a quagmire. He should remember that the Vietnam War, originally popular, justified by the domino theory and the need to defend the spurious democracy of South Vietnam, destroyed LBJ. And what of value did the U.S. get out of this enormous expenditure of effort, money, and blood?

Quem deus vult perdere, prius dementat. An old lesson, one to which Hitler paid no heed, so ending demented in his squalid bunker, cursing the bombed and battered Germans who had proved unworthy of his genius.

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