"Yes, it was a good war," writes Richard Cohen in his column challenging the thesis of pacifist Nicholson Baker in his new book, "Human Smoke," that World War II produced more evil than good.
Baker's compelling work, which uses press clips and quotes of Axis and Allied leaders as they plunged into the great cataclysm, is a virtual diary of the days leading up to World War II.
Riveting to this writer was that Baker uses some of the same episodes, sources and quotes as this author in my own book out in May, "Churchill, Hitler and 'The Unnecessary War.'"
On some points, Cohen is on sold ground. There are things worth fighting for: God and country, family and freedom. Martyrs have ever inspired men. And to some evils pacifism is no answer. Resistance, even unto death, may be required of a man.
But when one declares a war that produced Hiroshima and the Holocaust a "Good War," it raises a question: good for whom?
Britain declared war on Sept. 3, 1939, to preserve Poland. For six years, Poland was occupied by Nazi and Soviet armies and SS and NKVD killers. At war's end, the Polish dead were estimated at 6 million. A third of Poland had been torn away by Stalin, and Nazis had used the country for the infamous camps of Treblinka and Auschwitz.
Fifteen thousand Polish officers had been massacred at places like Katyn. The Home Army that rose in Warsaw at the urging of the Red Army in 1944 had been annihilated, as the Red Army watched from the other side of the Vistula. When the British celebrated V-E day in May 1945, Poland began 44 years of tyranny under the satraps of Stalin, Khrushchev and Brezhnev.
Was World War II "a good war" for the Poles?
Was it a good war for Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, overrun by Stalin's army in June 1940, whose people saw their leaders murdered or deported to the Gulag never to return? Was it a good war for the Finns who lost Karelia and thousands of brave men dead in the Winter War?
Was it a good war for Hungarians, Czechs, Yugoslavs, Rumanians and Albanians who ended up behind the Iron Curtain? In Hungary, it was hard to find a women or girl over 10 who had not been raped by the "liberators" of the Red Army. Was it a good war for the 13 million German civilians ethnically cleansed from Central Europe and the 2 million who died in the exodus?
Was it a good war for the French, who surrendered after six weeks of fighting in 1940 and had to be liberated by the Americans and British after four years of Vichy collaboration?
And how good a war was it for the British?