Nicholson Baker


Friday, March 07, 2008

According to Nicholson Baker, we’ve got World War II all wrong. For his new book Human Smoke, Baker scoured newspaper articles, interviews, and accounts of atrocities, and he tells Kurt that the case for the "good war" just doesn't add up.

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Nicholson Baker

Comments [70]

lil'tomatobirdy from nj

(Thank you Nicholas Baker for bringing up this discussion with his book and NPR for featuring them on this site and on the air.

My next step is to read his book and to do some research of my own poking around in the library, on the internet and with our local reference librarians who do so love to dig for us.

I am grateful to share appreciation and mourning, with many other listener/readers, of the sacrifices of the many civillians
who were targeted and torturously killed or kept, and the civillians who became soldiers for many reasons and who gave their lives or their peace of mind, and many, pieces of their bodies to wage this war.

I take heart in NB's interested in studying, from the vantage point of time, how to keep others from meeting these fates.)

I implore those who participate in this post to do some digging too, whether or not you feel certain you do not want to read this book:

Particularly on sad phenomenae of Eugenics (internationally and in US) and of US Banking and War Industries in enabling the Nazis.

Nov. 15 2008 11:02 AM
Mark from Sydney

After reading these responses (many of which are written by people who admit to not having read the book), & then listening to the interview with Baker, I'm surprised at the number of people who have taken Baker's comments & thoughts & completely misinterpreted them to fit their own arguments.

This isn't a work of scholarship, & I don't think Baker would have us read it as such. He's simply collating a series of documents - of quotes, articles & the like - to stimulate further questions, rather than trying to present a book which has "all the answers".

IN reading the book, in listening to the interview, at no point do I get the impression that Baker is trying to rewrite history, or an anti-semite or apologist for Hitler.

At the end of the interview, Baker says that after reading all of the source material that he has, this is the conclusion that he has come to. However, it isn't the only conclusion, & he clearly states that others will come to different conclusions, which he will be interested in hearing.

I'd ask that before people criticise NPR for airing this interview & go on the rampage against Baker, that they read the book & take a closer listen...

Apr. 19 2008 07:38 AM
James Boggs

I don't know what's worse, the ignorance of Baker living in a fantasy land where the "real" bad guys were the winners of WWII, or some of the posted comments here that subscribe to the ideal that the world would never seem to suffer any cruelty if not for the imperialistic attiudes of the United States and its Western bretheren. Have you ever seen a nation ANYWHERE dominated and run by pacifists? There's a reason for that. To those who find this "book" informative or even historically accurate, pity is all I have for you.

Apr. 01 2008 04:21 PM
Chris from New York

Both my wife and I were appalled at the thesis of the book and its faux scholarship, as well as the self-righteousness of this fool Baker. A contemptible self-promoter, he will say anything to draw the media spotlight -- it's all he really cares about. Money is only a close second to these freaks.

Mar. 16 2008 10:34 PM
valerie GAgnon from Aleandria, VA

I am a French Canadien.
Three of my oncles fought in WW2........I new them well. My own grandfather was under strict survaillance by the Canadien Federal Authorities for not believing in the Great War ( as they called it)............
It was well understood by the intellectual elit of the time that a world war wouldonly benefit what has now come to be known as the War Industrial Complex.
None of my fighting uncles ( all of whom landed on D Day in Normandy) .......And I mean not one of them would have had the audacity and naivity to claim that the "War" was the only way out.

Mar. 16 2008 04:53 PM
valerie GAgnon from Aleandria, VA

..that we had an option ..........

Mar. 16 2008 04:31 PM
Ruth M. from nj

Did anyone else get the impression that Mr. Baker was saying that---

Hitler was an evil man------ way out of proportion to any mal intent by the population who lived within the parameters of his 'leadership'?

I did--and while listening to this piece I imagined that the alternative he may have been suggesting was assasination.

That the general population would be happy to be freed from the thumb of the monster?

I thought the point was that the scale of the war and destruction to lives was so so damaging to us all.

I have yet to get ahold of this book to see where NB goes with that.

Mar. 16 2008 07:55 AM
Berkshire from Omaha, Nebraska

The most charitable attribution I can make to Mr. Miller is that he is "naive." What troubles me is this another example of someone with an agenda attempting to rewrite history. The rape of Nanking, the Bataan Death March, the Holocoust were a plelude to to a totalatarian reorder of the world's society. Even with the benefit of hindsight I cannot imagine anythng positive about a world controlled by Nazi Germany and Imperialistic Japan.

Mar. 13 2008 11:40 AM
Susan Noyer Rosenbaum from southwest Iowa

I think his overall contention regarding WWII to be utterly absurd. Poppycock. Balderdash. Stupid. Ah, so now Hitler is just a sick, insane old man and so we should have let him alone? Perhaps as a less than amusing literary exercise he thinks he can create a new dialog? Maybe his personal heros are Henry Ford and Charles Lindberg, too?

Mar. 13 2008 11:04 AM
Hagop from Minneapolis, MN

With all due respect, I am appaled and offended by Mr Baker`s comments about World War II. The argument that Nazi bomber pilots were heroic is sickening. These men were fighting for and evil madman`s deluded cause. I am a dedicated scholar of world war II, and if Hitler would have won, it would have been catestrophic.

Mar. 10 2008 06:24 PM
ron from seattle

Mr. Baker has some points to wit --a)to control expansionist attitudes, the USA should have set permanent controls on the fuel supplies of germany at the end of WWI. This act would have been apart of the agreements that were signed by the USA to prevent Germany from ever having a build-up for war again after WWI.
b) USA was totally irresponsible in not keeping Germany at bay after WWI.
c) empire builders in the USA wanted another war because their livelihood depends upon having wars which is why we have had a series of wars -- Viet Nam, Korea, Iraq, etc
d) even if proper restaints had not been put on the fuel supplies of Germany after WWI, the bombing of Germany should have been LIMITED to the fuel supplies only. Such an approach would have ended WWII with much less human and property damage, would have shortened the war, and reduced dramatically the resentment that accrued by carpet bombing Germany.
e) making heros out of aviators and servicemen only encourages the madness of the war mongers
f) submarines, aircraft carriers, and troups could have been stationed at the fuel sources for Germany before WWII to prevent a basis for the expansionism of Hitler

Kudos to Mr. Baker for bringing the subject up. People have to think about the links between the current wars and past wars

Mar. 10 2008 03:17 PM
Curtis Scott

Those who fought in WWII are still the greatest generation, but it’s time to admit we’ve avoided discussing the Allied bombing of Dresden for sixty years, because that atrocity raises doubts about our myth of ourselves. Add Dresden to Tokyo, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and we should recoil. It’s hard to admit that, since Sherman invented Modern Warfare, targeting civilians has been the plan – harder still when it looks like revenge.
The legacy of WWII is that, for the first time in American history, we didn’t send the army home, or turn off the spigot of tax dollars flowing to military industry. From boots to bombers, the legacy of defeating the militaristic nations of Germany and Japan was to create the militaristic nations of the United States and the Soviet Union. Both adopted the ancient idea of global domination recently labeled “evil.” It is, or it isn’t. Baker holds an uncomfortable mirror, asking us to decide. As school principals live in fear of America’s obsession with answering fear and anger with bullets, how can we be surprised? We answered Saudi terrorists murdering Americans by killing Iraqi civilians; and journalists jostled to advance their careers by donning flak vests and riding in humvees. Truth?
Had we insisted that the Saudi family educate that nation’s masses with the trillions we’ve sent them, September 11 might never have happened. That’s Baker’s view. And he’s right.

Mar. 10 2008 09:20 AM
Nicholas Gervay from Los Angeles

No, he is not well-intentioned. We know these facts are distortions of reasoning. In Sartre's 'Antisemite and Jew', he states that the strength of fascism is their persistance in the face of liberals' reasoned dialogue and good intentions. Let's not give this snakeoil salesman the respect and benefit of the doubt that he does not deserve.

I believe that there is no 'good' war. In WWII, all people suffered - Jews, NonJews, US & German servicemen/women and the German people. Also, the US got into the war for many wrong reasons and too late, but in Europe, the outcome was just and made Europe and US huge powerhouses.

One thing this history begs me to ask is: today, why isn't our military in Darfour saving lives.

Mar. 10 2008 04:27 AM
Nicholas Gervay from Los Angeles

At the introduction I was suspicious for all the right reasons. But I gave it a listen I am glad that of this new dangerous propaganda of disinformation, in the name of revisionism. At first, I was hoping he would examine why we went to war, or the rise of US fascism - something new and compelling. No such luck. His leftist pascifism ranks with 'intelligent design' and 'Holocaust revisionism' in distorting facts to confuse people. According to him, Hitler was just a bad guy and think of all the lives saved had we not gone to war - end of story. As the child of a Holocaust survivor, I am insulted to be relegated to the class of subhuman since the 6 million Jews and 4 million nonJews that perished in the Holocaust don't even enter into equation beyond his statement of 'oh yeah and the Jews suffered'. While I do not hasten to call him an anti-semite (which I firmly believe), I am amazed that, if he weren't an anti-semite, he would consider himself a historian and educator.
Bottom line is that I am sure his book will sell briskly at the white supremacist bookstores, and he will become the new poster child of the neoNazi/white supremacist speaking tours. I predict that he will be the lead speaker on next year's Iranian symposium to debunk the 'myth' of the Holocaust.

Mar. 10 2008 04:09 AM
Doniphan Blair from oakland california

Poor Mr Baker, albeit well intentioned, is deluded saying Hitler attacked the Jews after the Allied bombing. Or that the choice is between seeing him as a perpetual motion machine or crazy or assuming Gandhi had some insight into WWII. The Nazis began their killing 1939 while the bombing of Germany started in 1944; Nazism was a movement that required perpetual war; and Gandhi learned little of real war fighting the English. Indeed, the reason Germany is peaceful now is due to total war and their acceptance that Nazism was unworkable in keeping with the theories of the great war philosophers from Sun-Tzu to Clausewitz. Sure, better choices could have been made but strategically there was only one way to save the Jews from annihilation. As the son of one of those Jews, and an air man bombingr Nazi Europe, I am aware of those issues. While a believer in pacifism, it is rational not romantic— the option producing the least death, which means fighting to the bitter end. Civilization, indeed the existence of Germany rests on the dirty work of those tainted soldiers who throughout history have defeated the brutes and psychotics. Left to their own devices, the Germans would have killed all the Slavs (Poland east), restarted the killing of German disabled and increased the killing of average German's until the same result occurred. Indeed Germany's comparatively minimal losses of only 5 million was provided by the Allies.

Mar. 10 2008 01:56 AM
Keith R.Stevens from Kalamazoo,MI

Just last week on Studio 360 I heard Susan Santag comment on how in WW I 90% of the casualties were military whereas in WW II the civilians shouldered 90% of the casualties. So quite clearly considering the technological advances of the inervening years a clear and deliberate decision was made to target civilians. And once its' beachead was secured this president has produced an opngoing and evolving perpetuity of parallels around the world and throughout the country. I'll spare you the details since we all struggle to repress them, but I feel this is the point of which MR. Bakers' query begs. Why? And for Whome?
The Great Wars' audacity and arrogance eloquently staged with accompaniment of their relatives, the economic forces an inevitable WW II which reciprocated with the opportunities afforded to the intervening years up to our current wars, with all the economic benifit allotted to those who take by those who give.
HUMAN SMOKE. The sacrifice of the elemental fuel was not MR. Bakers, but as Edmund Burke said "Those who don't know history are destine to repeat it." This most certainly includes those who are apologists.

Mar. 10 2008 01:56 AM
Laura from St. Paul Minnesota

Mr. Baker raises his only valid question when he asks, what more could be done, however he provides no answer of his own to this question and I find that, to be just one of the things disturbing about his argument. As others have stated, the idea that Hitler could've been talked to and left alone to do his thing is so without marit, that I can only sigh and shake my head. I think Baker was vague and a tad squirmy when the interviewer questioned him directly about his statement that there was no good outcome of WW II. I also think, that there should have been an unedited version provided of this interview. I can only hope that the interviewer didn't just give up and demand concrete answers to his questions. If he did, and this version is the only one out there, and I sincerely hope it isn't, then interviewing and journalism have sunk even lower than I had ever thought.

Mar. 10 2008 12:41 AM
Mara from Portland, OR

You set up Nicholson Baker's ideas as heretical, and completely without merit, before he got a chance to speak. His idea that nations cannot bomb civility into a situation is very true--one nation may bomb another into submission, but at what cost? Is this really the ONLY way? Thousands or millions of civilian lives, and historic buildings forever gone? Nicholson is asking a rather simple question--isn't there a more intelligent way to stop an insane dictator besides bombing the hell out of his hostages, and involving (and bombing)many countries? That is the question he is asking, and as humans we'd better get more creative in solving these problems than using bombs.

Mar. 10 2008 12:18 AM
Christopher W Shelley from Portland OR

I teach American history here in Portland. This interview would be laughable except for the ernestness of Mr. Baker. If he is truly confused at the unmatched ferocity of the war, and at the sometimes bararous ways inwhich the Allies fought (the firebombing of Dresden was utterly without military purpose), he might read Lee Sandlin's "Losing the War," a long essay featured on "This American Life" a few years back. (Find it at Mr. Sandlin's website.)To make these assertions without talking to a veteran seems a bit silly to me. Context is everything.

Personally, it seems clear that the men and women who fought Japanese and Nazi fascism deserve our most humble gratitude.

They saved the world.

Mar. 10 2008 12:13 AM
TL Lull from Seattle, WA

RE: Nicholson Baker and his book Human Smoke:


TL Lull

Mar. 09 2008 11:07 PM
Margaret from Jesey City, NJ

Mr. Baker's commentary was a gift - as the child of a Quaker pacifist in England during WW2, I saw & heard another side to the 'popular' perspectives of the time. I remember the sound of Winston's voice, brandy-soaked and arrogant. Now I look forward to reading Baker's book, and commend you for bringing him to your program.

Mar. 09 2008 10:54 PM
William Daffer

I find Mr. Baker's claims patently absurd and his vague suggestion that the proper course wasn't to confront Hitler pathetically naive. If Mr. Baker thinks things would have turned out better if we'd just let Hitler have his head, so to speak, than I have a suggestion for where Mr. Baker's head is.

The error made in WWII was that the Allies didn't act sooner. For example: had the French intervened when Hitler reoccupied the Rhineland, Hitler might well have lost the support of the industrialists and the army, his government might have fallen and that theater may never have happened at all. There's a case of militarism that would have prevented millions of deaths.

Not that Mr. Baker's point about the ill effects of militarism isn't meaningful just horribly misplaced if he wants to make it about WWII. Sometimes it's good to be aggressive (as it would have been in WWII) and sometimes it's ill-advised (as in Iraq).

As the bible says: to everything there is a season. Sometimes it's the season for peace, and sometimes for war. The wise man distinguishes between the two and doesn't let an inflexible ideology (either militarism or pacifism) get in the way. Peace always requires the cooperation of partners, one which sometimes isn't forthcoming.

Sometimes to persuade someone that you want to live in peace you must convince them that the alternative is much too costly; for that you must be able to produce the alternative.

If you want to live in peace, train for war.

Mar. 09 2008 10:45 PM
Richard Kukowski from Beach, ND

Baker is obviously not a student of history. If he was, he'd know that the pacifism which
he advocates has never worked. Also, placing
the onus for the tragedy of WWII on the allies
is beyond comprehension. If he truly believes
the drivel he is spouting, the man is a candidate for a sanity hearing. This is an
extreme instance of trying to rewrite history.

Mar. 09 2008 10:36 PM
Gary Crethers from Long Beach,CA

What an apt description of the waste of human lives, vaporized under the deliberate incindiary bombings of Dresden and Tokyo, the atomic blast in Hiroshima and Nagasaki or Coventry and Stalingrad. No matter how you slice that cake, it led to untold human misery, the memory of which has kept most of Europe out of a major conflict since then, and the lack of such a memory has let the United States into one militaristic fiasco after another. It was not suprising that the US refused to be drawn into major conflicts after our own holocaust in the Civil War until after that generation had died out. Perhaps we need another such bloodletting to remind us that war is an unwaranted horror that brings misery to millions and millions of dollars to a few and it is for the profit to be had by the few that the many have to suffer.

Mar. 09 2008 10:25 PM
Tom M from USian

Mr. Baker seems to have uncovered a potent cultural time bomb - those who condemn his book, or him, on the basis of a radio interview might do well to look into the underlying assumptions driving their resistance to, apparently, even making a beginning toward learning from the past. Whether one agrees with what seems to be his thesis (it is unclear to what extent he even is arguing a single thesis, it seemed more an attempt to open a dialogue) or not, to wax rabid at his effort to think, as opposed to reiterate what we already know, is unhelpful. It is quite possible that the book, simply by offering a new perspective on what has become stale, unfertile terrain, could spur new research, ideas, analyses of the complex and multidimensional power structures and decision processes that were operating. To question these would be to open our understanding of our present reality to potentially valuable insights. Mr. Baker may have raised historical imagination by a notch - if so, this is no trivial matter.

Mar. 09 2008 10:05 PM
Andrew Cheatham from Pittsburgh, PA USA

I have spend a great many hours, officially and unofficially, listening to veterans speak about their role in World War Two.

Regardless of the best cover and concealment sixty five years' passage offers Baker's opinion, I choose to give more weight and credibility to the words of those who were involved.

The conviction of these individuals' commitment was forged from experience not propaganda. None of those whom I have sat with began their service as a zealot or partisan believer. They either happened to be in the service when the balloon went up or were moved by the events globally and locally to step up and serve in the capacities they found themselves able to offer.

There should be no doubt that concentrated study of any major event, when performed well after the dust has settled, will bring forth questionable outcomes and decisions from events past. Mr. Baker simply doesn't provide me with the proof necessary to disregard the way these years are organized in my mind.

Mar. 09 2008 09:25 PM

It seems like people are getting a little to upset over this mans OPINION. And the fact that people are bashing NPR for airing him is absurd. If you don't agree with him simply dont buy his book. I think it was brave of NPR to cover this mans story because if I recall it is their job to cover all sides of "the matter". I don't agree with his ideas but why should that mean he has no right to express them on probably the only network that will allow it? They are HIS IDEAS not NPRs. Get over it.

Mar. 09 2008 07:13 PM
x man

I have studied WWII for several decades.
I know many WWII veterans.
In fact, my parents met during the war - in a labor camp.
I myself collect and restore WWII signal corp equipment.
I agree with with nuch of Mr. Bakers views.
This country is still paying for WWII in maby ways. Our role as world policeman is still being maintained.'
There is much to be said about the heroism of those who fought - on both sides.
But as a war, well 50 million people died, it truly was a disaster...

Mar. 09 2008 07:05 PM
Jacqueline Dennis from Nashville

Yet another pedantic approach, pulling apart history from a distance with no true concept of reality.

To suggest that the approach to the Nazi war machine and its SS and Gestapo murder squads is to talk a bit more, maybe with a nice cup of tea and a fluffy cushion or two is ludicrous and an insult to all those who gave their lives and lost their husbands and sons.

Mr Baker wanted and found a topic to write about which no-one has written about before rather than exploring a topic of true interest and worth. Has this been written purely to get onto the academic reading lists of universities? What a money spinner!

Baker spoke of Hitler as "insane", to imply that a leader with serious insanity issues can be negotiated with and asked to please stop killing people and torturing the Jews is simply another lesson in ignorance from this man who, it appears, has no experience of the mentally ill either.

Lack of action is why tragedies like Rwanda happen, it is why Darfur is still going on and Zimbabwe is allowed free reign to abuse and suppress its people.

I'm sure Winston Churchill made mistakes, I know that Franklin Roosevelt took his time to assist and on several occasions promised help only to renege before finally helping the Europeans fight and win.

If we lived in a world where no-one has the strength and tenacity of Churchill, the only people surrendering will be us, over and over again. That will be the day I ask you to stop the world and let me get off.

Mar. 09 2008 12:38 PM
Christopher Sweitzer from Pittsburgh, PA

While I share Mr. Baker's view that there must have been some better way to deal with the Axis than mere brute force, I am still hard pressed to say what alternative might have been effective. However, the most egregious military action taken by the Allies must have been the use of the atomic bomb. This atrocity was committed after the Japanese had been all but defeated, their navy (and thus offensive capability) reduced to shambles. I doubt that the U.S. government genuinely believed the atomic strike necessary; it seems more likely that it was a demonstration of force to intimidate our Soviet allies. Not only were the targets (Hiroshima and Nagasaki) chosen to maximize civilian casualties, but this excessive display of power led to the global nuclear arms race. I must conclude, along with Mr. Baker, that World War II was not a simple case of "good guys vs. bad guys". Such is rarely the case in war.

Mar. 09 2008 11:12 AM
James Kirk from Boston

From time to time I have flirted with the notion of total pacificism as an intellegent form of utopia. But such a utopia is the same as time-travel, faster than light travel, invisibility and RNA pills that turn one into anything they wish. To disect these many ideas would take volumes, so allow me to address just one: The holocaust did not occur because of WWII. The German "stabbed in the back" notion came into vouge right after WWI, perhaps as some kind of Freudian reaction to numerous German desertions. There was much ethnic-cleansing before 1939 including crystal-night and concentration camps.
Assuming pacificism is impossible, war is best prevented by a lack of weakness. Indeed Winston Churchill (not a hero of Baker's apparently) said that WWII was one of the most easily preventable wars in history.

Mar. 09 2008 10:36 AM
Gerard Meehan from Newark Delaware

Thankfully America is so secure given our weaponry that we can tolerate a certain degree of pacifism, that is useless ideas and useless people. No need exists to spread non violence as the answer, as that is the default position of most human personalities. If only America's enemies could be so inclined, then the triumph of the open society would be assured. (If only the terrorists would read his book and take it to heart, think of the progress we would make)
Mr. Baker, in the liberal vernacular, is a hater whose goal is to weaken America. The issue of dead, wounded and suffering for him is an abstraction. And to claim that war is dreadful contributes nothing to the conversation. Peace is easy to attain, simply give up. The trouble then is haggling over the price. Unfortunately it becomes a Sophie Choice, where you lose your children and not just your honor.
If you wait for war to be the last last absolute last resort, and only when complete proof of self-defense is made, well.. at that point you have no martial virtue to exercise at all. You've succumbed to the Stockholm Syndrome. Ghandi does have a point, to be a pacifist out of calculation is not to be a pacifist at all. When the ideology fails, and it will fail of course, then one starts from the beginning. To give pacifism a fighting chance you must take it on faith and hope for the best. However the more warlike cultures are taking "their" ideology on faith as well. Guess who wins?

Mar. 09 2008 10:16 AM
Ken Armstrong from Athens, Ohio

Nicholson Baker says it is worth asking the question, i.e. was WWII the right response to a middle-aged madman. If this is what Baker proposes is at the core of WWII, what would be the right response to him? To say his case is weak is an exaggeration. His is not a serious, dignified inquiry, but an indulgence fit for an audience of education critics and mental health workers.

Mar. 09 2008 10:09 AM
Robert Patterson from San Francisco, CA

I have not yet read "Human Smoke" and it does not appear that many other posters have either. I have read the New York Times review of it and a long excerpt of it from the Simon and Schuster website. The excerpt contains what appear to be small portions of newspaper articles and books quoting active participants in the war and little or no comment from Mr. Baker. It also begins before World War I.

I was astounded by some of the contemporaneous statements made by key participants such as Winston Churchill. It may be that this book can provide a fresh perspective, even if the statements are an unbalanced selection to support Mr. Baker's thesis. They are still quoted statements given in real time before and during the conflict. As we know, history is written mainly by the victors. It is important to be fully aware of the cost to, and actions of, both sides in any war, even the "good" one.

Before I heard the Studio 360 interview I wanted to read the book and I still will, but more for the raw data that it contains then for Mr. Baker's thesis, with which I disagree. By putting it into context with other histories and accounts of the war we as citizens can be better informed and better prepared to perhaps help prevent our country from entering conflicts that are not as seemingly clear cut as World War II.

Mar. 09 2008 04:07 AM
Adnan from Boston, MA

I find Baker's reasoning naive, incomprehensible, and even false in one instance: he claims that the outcome of WWII couldn't have been worse, yet this is something he simply cannot know. He states that Hitler would have grown old and died, but dictatorships have a way of perpetuating themselves. Who knows how many people the Nazis would have killed if they had been placated?

What Baker and pacifists fail to understand is that there are warmongering people and peoples who do not understand reason, and only understand force. My wife and I both come from Albanian villages, in Kosovo and in Albania proper, that were repeatedly attacked by Serbs throughout the 20th century, along with the surrounding areas. Most of the Jews of Serbia were dead by 1941, far earlier than anywhere else in the Balkans. During the Bosnian War, when the Serbs understood that the West's threats were idle, they proceeded with their carnage and committed genocide. Only Western bombs halted their advance, but since they were later rewarded with half of Bosnia, they tried their luck in Kosovo too. The result: one million people forcibly expelled, tens of thousands murdered and raped. The Serbs have yet to apologize, and instead continue to portray themselves as victims. Baker would do well to travel a bit around the Balkans.

The philosophy of turning the other cheek is a fundamental denial of two human drives: survival and competition. Only disincentives keep people in check.

Mar. 09 2008 01:44 AM
George Guerci from Tarrytown, NY

War is usually the combination of bad government and an ignorant citizenry. These were present in the 1930s as well as today. The hypocrisy of the "allied" governments of the U.S., France and Britain in matters related to imperialism, racism and inequality was just as much a cause for war in 1939, as were the aggressive dictatorships of Italy, Germany and Japan.

Where was the outrage when Italy and Germany aided Franco in overthrowing the democratic government of Spain in 1936? Where is the outrage today when state-sponsored terrorism is conducted by the same U.S. government in the Middle East? It isn't a matter of "good guys and bad guys" but powerful oppressors and defenseless, oppressed people who will resort to violence when they are left without hope, as well as without defenses.

What difference is there really to a kind of terrorism that hijacks planes and flies them into buildings, killing thousands of innocent people or a policy of embargos and bombings that kills hundreds of thousands of innocent people as was done to the Iraqi people throughout the 1990s or to the Palestinians and Iraqis these past few years?

There isn't any more time to wage war. There is only the exigency of working to create peace; the alternative is more violence, fear and death.

I think I would enjoy reading Human Smoke.

Mar. 08 2008 09:07 PM
Paul Solenick from White Plains, NY

Assuming that Nicholson Baker is an American citizen, he can thank his lucky stars that he is, because being an American gives him the right to say anything he wants, without fear of retribution on the part of those offended. That being said, his words were an insult to every American veteran who sacrificed life an limb to protect this country and the free world during World War II. That includes my father and mother, who were both veterans.
I find it hard to believe that Mr. Baker can honestly think that Hitler and the Nazis would not have developed the nuclear bomb and used it against us if given more time to do so during the 1940's. His attitude of appeasement and pacifism would have resulted in exactly that outcome. It is only because of timely, direct and forceful action on the part of the United States and the Allies that this terrible eventuality did not come to pass.
I always find it amazing that intellectually gifted individuals such as Mr. Baker can come to the conclusions that they do. Then I remind myself that too many intellectuals have too much time on their hands to think and develop these hair-brained theories. Mr. Baker, you need to get out into the real world, and do some real work. Get a job that requires physical labor, sweat, and effort. See what America is made of. Your attitude might change.

Mar. 08 2008 07:25 PM
Carl B

To me the quality of this discussion shows why we DO need a book like Baker's. It's this dichotomy between 'total war'/let Hitler take over Europe. No one here is willing to engage the question "was there any thing that could have been done"?
Baker's pacifism may be way, way off the mark in the case of Hitler, I suspect it IS. But no one is willing to ask a tough question. Same simplistic thinking that got us into Iraq: go to war or do nothing? There are ALWAYS other options, and just because they weren't tried in WWII doesn't mean they didn't exist. Did the Allies try to get the jews out of Europe? 10,000 kids to Britain, 1000 to US. That's not much to feel patriotic about. 6 million dead by the time we 'liberated' the rest.

Mar. 08 2008 06:35 PM
Krendel from Swarthmore, PA

Perhaps if his newspaper references had included the 20's and all the 30's he might have learned more. Hitler was chosen by Hindenburg to be the German Chancellor because the NSDAP had obtained a bloc of votes large enough to demand this role for their Fuehrer. Germany began rearming to realize Hitler's plans. Life for the Germans improved. Then after Anschluss came the Munich negotiations over Czechoslovakia and Chamberlain's "Peace in our time!" Finally German troops invaded and suppressed the Polish "threat". WWII had begun. Negotiations with Hitler, who had the support of the Army and the German people, failed. Britain entered the war unprepared. The Spitfire had been a racing aircraft which was fortuitously converted to a military weapon. There had not been time nor money to adequately armor the decks of HMS Hood. It was a close call but by bravery and determination Britain and the dominions endured long enough for Germany to attack Russia and for us to be dragged in on 12/7/41. Germany and Japan had prepared for and started wars of conquest. Their troops were as brave as the Allies, but they were fighting to conquer and our side was basically fighting to defend their homelands and to survive. Purpose, not Baker's notion of heroics, is the issue. I cannot understand why WHYY has given time to Baker's opinions. As I reflect, I wonder why I did as well.

Mar. 08 2008 06:31 PM
Breck Henderson from Arlington, Texas

Baker’s view of WWII is morally absurd.The truth that Baker doesn’t get is that the least moral actor in any conflict always sets the rules. If one contestant in a fistfight suddenly draws a knife, this changes the rules for both. Baker’s pacifism, and his focus on death as the ultimate evil brings him to grief morally.Contrast this with the Islamist’s embracing of death as the ultimate moral virtue. Faith in a glorious life after death allows them to die eagerly in the cause of Islam, and, in their view, grants moral superiority. This changes the rules. I doubt Baker believes in religion of any stripe, so for him death is to be avoided at any cost. A certain degree of skepticism may be in order regarding life after death so that we face death only reluctantly, but faith in the goodness of your cause, acceptance of the truth that “a coward dies many deaths, a brave man dies but once,” and practice of the virtues of duty, honor and courage in the face of an aggressive enemy is the highest morality. In describing WWII as a “complete catastrophe” and commenting that “you can’t bomb niceness into people,” Baker reveals his off-target thinking. Bomb niceness into people? Bombing is to kill them, destroy the ability to fight, and strike fear so they will stop killing us. The outcome of WWII has been a blessing for Europe and Japan, evidence of the morality of Americans & Europeans. Claiming the moral high ground for pacifism is the ultimate absurdity.

Mar. 08 2008 05:00 PM
Anna Borror from Heath, TX

I can't believe that this man is suggesting that Hitler and Natzi Germany could have been delt with peacefully. I do believe we were given a choice and America didn't even enter the war for a long time. Long in the sense of numbers of people being killed. Gandhi was dealing with Great Britain and don't equate Great Britain and the bad things they have done (no greater than what we've done) to Hitler's Germany. Where was this man during this time?

Mar. 08 2008 03:54 PM
Anna Borror from Heath, TX

I can't believe that he is suggesting that Hitler and Natzi Germany wouldn't have commited all those atrocities if England hadn't defended itself. But delt with that mad man? America didn't get into it for quite a while. During which time Hitler began taking over Europe, what was England suppose to do? I can't believe he is saying that we had a choice, other than to be speaking German.

Mar. 08 2008 03:40 PM
Huber from Virginia

If I remember correctly, there was a whole lot of negotiation going on before the current war started but terrorist bombings still occured in europe and US. Not only that but there was dancing and joyfulness in Arab streets to celebrate these successful murders.
As far as WW II is concerned, I do not have a PHD in history but I do travel and read history. Anyone that has been to the Dachau concentration camp "museum" can clearly see what kind of person Hitler was. Everyone agrees that war is hell but how many more Jews and enemies of Nazi Germany would have died horrible deaths if the Allies tried to hold Hitler's hand and gently try to tell him that he was wrong in putting those folks in concentration camps and gassing them and would he pretty please stop that? What an insult to those inocent people who suffered and died under Hitler's rule! Did the author take those lives into account? Hitler was not a negotiation kind of guy.
The dancing in the streets after WW II was to celebrate the end of the war not how many people we killed in the process. There is a difference.

Mar. 08 2008 03:10 PM
Kevin from New hampshire

At first I was surprised that you gave such an unbelievable story air time, but in reflection it is what I believe is the strong point of Studio 360 and the NPR stations. Then it always leads to spirited conversation with my friends. I have not heard of Mr. Baker and will scan the book only if it comes into our town library or I see it at Borders. The conclusion he comes to in my mind is just so outrageous. War it self is an awful thing. But I think he dishonors all of those “Citizen Soldiers” that put their life on hold and on the line believing that it was the right thing to do, I would love to get their feedback. Of course he dishonors the ones who made the ultimate sacrifice. Is he saying it was in vain? To imply the Allies were as bad as the Nazis is crazy. I do not remember any Allied leader saying they were going to create a new master race and rid the world of gypsies and Jews etc! In fact the Allies were trying to be so politically correct they had Patton stop at the Elbe River to give the Russians a chance to get a few licks in for all the punishment the Russians absorbed. I have always wondered what a different world it would be if General Patton had gone on. Mr. Baker should count his lucky stars we won because he could be talking German or Japanese and not be able to write such a story.

Mar. 08 2008 03:10 PM
joe sivco from trophy club, TX

liberal, pacifist claptrap. author would have americans saluting flags with either a white or red background if we agreed with this nonsense.

Mar. 08 2008 03:07 PM
Freddy Jenkins from New York, New York

I remember reading some of the accounts from Studs Terkel’s “The Good War” and shocked to discover that there were those who were present who questioned the value of World War II to begin with.
If you read any histories about the war—I’m thinking of Anthony Beevor’s books about the Eastern Front, or War Without Mercy about the crazed race war in the Pacific--one can only realize the true barbarity of war itself, no heroes, no villains, just murder and mayhem.
Any student of history knows that German re-armament was aided by the banks of future belligerents; Japanese aggression was steeped in economic competition with the Western Powers. The war was about greed and gain for a few; those that fought against were mostly seeking to retain what they greedily held onto for a century—not to save the world from Fascism or Japanese Imperialism.
And even after all that, proxy wars were fought between the Communists and the so-called Democracies of the West; only a handful of Nazis were brought to justice for their crimes; Europe is still fraught with nationalism that occasionally spills over into violence; and so many Asian and African countries are still shaking off the long-hangover of post-colonialism.
Perhaps we need more books like Nicholson Baker’s: correctives to the belief that slaughter of World War II’s was one of moral absolutes that led to a peace that never was.

Mar. 08 2008 03:02 PM
David Mussington from Manssas, VA

I listened to this story first with incredulity, then astonishment, then horror, then contempt. In order of appearance and impact, I think that NPR and Studio360 owe their listeners an apology - for both the disrespect they are showing to the relatives of holocaust victims and veterans of world war II, and for undermining the spirit of reasoned discourse that many contributors to NPR hold dear.

To those who feel that no war is ever justifiable -- just because some wars are not justifiable -- I ask what minority populations are to do when faced with genocidal oppressors? What are subjects to do when oppressive rulers strike fear into them through the selective slaughter of their best and brightest? And what were the democracies to do when faced with an aggressor state so bent on revolutionary transformation of the world order that blandishments and surrender -- and offerings of "peace in our time" -- served only to entice an opponent rather than to assuage him.

Shame on Studio 360, and Shame on NPR for giving air time to a ridiculous caricature of scholarly reflection. Your listeners expect better of you both.

Mar. 08 2008 03:00 PM
Joseph Petrusiak from Washington D.C.

I appreciate that Nicholson Baker has questioned the value of war. Perhaps, WWII is not the war that he should be examining to ask his question. WWII was the result of a snowball that began rolling after WWI. A good history to examine would be the debate that occured in the United States before it entered "The Great War" in 1917. Why should we side with England and France over Germany? All three of those countries were equally cruel imperialist powers unjustly dominating in Africa, the Muslim world, and the far East. WWI was a conflict that broke out as a result of their own cuthroat competition. Why was the United States and appropriate mediator to this conflict when we practiced the same kind of imperialism against North American Indian Tribes, Mexico and Spain? WWI, not II, is the war that should have taught the world that niceness can not be bombed into people. Topping off the humiliation of a violent defeat with the humiliating treaty of Versailles is what fueled reactionary elements in Germany. As arrogant as the German monarchy was, they were not the kind of people who would perpetrate a genocide. A Europe dominated by the Kaiser, or a postwar Germany with the Kaiser still in power would have still evolved into the free place that Europe is today.

Mar. 08 2008 02:36 PM
Scott Robinson from Charles Town, WV

Some comments here (mine included) show the huge amount of emotion that is bound inextricably to the loss of friends and relatives in combat with an enemy.
I agree personally with the general sentiment he expresses, but I would love to be able to say objectively that I felt that the deaths of the soldiers I have lost were worth it in any calculus. I can say categorically about Iraq that our presence has only led to much worse bloodshed and hardsship than simply leaving Saddam to die of old age would have done.
In reference to whether you agree specifically with Mr. Baker's analysis or not, that is simply not a statement you can make without having read his book, because it is not an art form that can be delivered in synopsis. It's like saying you appreciate the artistry of A Tale of a Death Foretold after reading the cliff notes. It's just not possible.

Mar. 08 2008 02:21 PM
Gene Weinberger from Virginia


In addition the confrontation in the east and breakdown right about now in current time of this world empire would still create endless wars except now in every stable country that exists at this moment in time.
Europe and the world for that matter is only peaceful to any extent by the power vacuum left and guided by the Unique Idealism and practicality of the United States that only seeks open trade and reasonable relations not a military empire. This is evidenced by too many examples to list. As American power ebbs and the polar opposite of its cold war adversary shifts we see the newly free peoples willing to kill neighbors that they have lived with 60 years in peace...killing for century old arguments. We can only seek to shape these actions and impulses in a way that was most beneficial to the masses of humanity only to a degree. I think it is unequivocal that the generation of the WW2 did the one of the greatest sacrifice's for the most humans of all time. They did everything hard and tortuous physically, mentally and morally. With what they had its hard to imagine anyone could have done better. Their only mistake was acting too slow. In this already too long piece I will conclude in the final analysis... Across the board across the world more people are alive with better education, heath benefits, food, longevity and hope than ever in history directly due to the work of those honorable people.

Mar. 08 2008 02:17 PM
Gene Weinberger from Virginia

In theory killing is never right. If someone is about to gas your child it is not right to take that persons life. What right have you!? I think that is his point.
I do thank NPR is willing to inform us that such people exist,the better to be on guard against. The sheer audacity of his position took my breath away I almost couldn't breathe. I don't know if he took this position just to sell books but I would read his book I just would refuse to pay for it.
I do wonder on his ability and knowledge to interpret history and human behavior.
Even a mild mannered person will fight over a pencil...listen to the "rubber room" story on teachers the other day. But I digress.
Hitler already was killing Americans within site of people on the beaches of the east coast. Fires burned in the ocean and oil and wreckage washed up regularly. He had teams learning all the particulars of small town America for the ruling German governing authority to come after capitulation of America.
Civilians where going to die either way as A Nazi totalitarian regime based on warrior worship, a strict caste system, racism, warped science, cult of personality...or simply put ...of hate, would have ruled the world. Purges and exterminations would have been carried out across the world in a manner that would have made the war seem much less than what would come next.

Mar. 08 2008 02:17 PM
cynthia milley from eliot, maine

Baker's view is one that I wish had been offered long ago, before WWII became romanticized. US has since made military might a culteral phenomena. We idolize military heroes and have placed prominence both in terms of priority and money into developing a militant society. To fight with bombs and destroy has become not only acceptable, but honorable. I'm glad someone has brought public attention to this viewpoint on a national level. Thank you.

Mar. 08 2008 02:16 PM
Scott Robinson from Charles Town, WV

As a battalion surgeon with US Army combat units for two deployments in Iraq, I have nothing but contempt for the view that choosing to go to war is ever the right choice. Defending yourself from overt violence is the only justified violence there can be.

Non veterans simply have no conception of what a horror show war is. This book sounds from the description given it in the radio program today like it ought to be required reading for the cowards that occupy the halls of Congress and continue to fail to stand up to the criminals occupying the white house. Shades of Hitler indeed.

Mar. 08 2008 02:10 PM
Beverly Jackson from Asheville, N.C.

I have not read Mr. Baker's book, nor, after hearing this interview, believe that I will. His answers to questions were as vague as his concepts about fighting Hitler.

One cannot compare 9/11 fundamentalist terrorism with what Hitler was doing. It's an absurd and illogical syllogism to say that WWII caused any of today's mayhem. Vietnam and Korea would have closer similarities to the current Bush administration's insanity, but not the victory over Germany and Japan's world domination goals.

Mr. Baker admits he lost no one to that war, but my father who crewed a B-17 over France gave his young life to stop the Nazis. They got him first. Until you have digested the reasons for a personal loss of this magnitude, you cannot begin to know how much those sacrifices meant, and what huge historical differences they made. Contrary to Mr. Baker's whimsical ideas that time and history would have cured Hitler's successful ownership of Europe, I think the face of civilization as we know it would have been altered, maybe in the most barbaric fashion imaginable. Write a book about Hitler's new world -- without Jews, without the impure blood of any non-German -- and there you will have a book assuring you that the right decisions were made. I see Mr. Baker as a nose-thumbing, publicity seeker with no true insights into human conditions. This interview was the stuff of pop culture and more appropriate for Entertainment Weekly than NPR.

Mar. 08 2008 02:10 PM
Matthew Shultz from Kennebunkport, ME

I also was offended by Mr. Baker's arguments. To say that nothing good came of the Allied decision to go to war is unfathomable. Is his implication that the lives of millions of Jews, Gays, Roma, etc. were an acceptable cost that should have been born in favor of stability and "peace?' Because that's not what I call peace.

How on earth did he get off saying Germans made "heroic" bombing raids in Britain? Sure, I'll grant they did believe they were doing something good, but... The fact remains that the Germans were the initial aggressors, the Germans were carrying out diabolical campaigns of genocide. Saying Germans were heroic is taking moral relativism a tad far! And you guys cut off the interview before he could even be questioned on that point! Heroic Germans my butt. The allies were not perfect, but interning the American Nisei pales in comparison to the Nazi concentration camps. American internment camps were not death camps.

I am not one of those who cry foul anytime America or Western Democracy is questioned, far from it. I'm all for questioning things. Mr. Baker has goone too far, and jumped on the bandwagon of those who say the west can do no good. I suppose we should have stayed out of Yugoslavia in the 1990's too!

Mar. 08 2008 02:10 PM
nick from asheville, nc

Thanks for addressing this issue. I'm a U.S. citizen, and took the same history courses everyone else has. But the math never made sense to me when it came to WWII. If our decision was to goto war to stop Hitler, why weren't we there 8 years earlier? 6 years earlier. Winston Churchill slyly condemns us in the first few pages of his autobiography for getting into a war in its final stages. There was very little left.

Talk to someone outside the US, and you get the same response: where were we at the beginning?

If its a moral integrity issue, our response was questionably late.

Mar. 08 2008 02:04 PM
Saul Adler from NYC

Why did the interviewer not ask some obvious questions and insist on concrete answers: Yes, the allies were at times more cruel and barbaric in their prosecution of the war than was necessary but what was the alternative? Yes, Hitler was a profoundly disturbed man, but given that he had enough of a following in Germany to start the war, how would you have prevented it, and failing that end it without the destruction that took place?

Mar. 08 2008 01:08 PM
Martin Laufe from Medford, NJ

Anyone, historians included, who do not understand the context in which events have taken place, is prone to misinterpret history. Mr. Nicholson has done a masterful job of misinterpretation. Would he have lived during those times (1930-1945), he might have more appreciation of the terror of facism and its predatory, expanionist dynamic.
I have read "The Fire," an account of allied bombing of civilian targets by a German author. It is quite damning. What is not acknowledged in that account was the conscious decision by the allies to terrorize Germans out of their warrior predilection. It succeeded though the cost was terribly high.

Mar. 08 2008 12:02 PM
Beth Holden from New York City

Baker is the first person I know of to write about a point of view I have held for some years now: "you can't bomb niceness into people."

The real problem is that we sit on our thumbs and let the (more aggressive) leaders determine our fate until things get so bad we feel mass killing is the only solution. We might be light years ahead in civilization if we all took daily responsibility for political decisions.

Mar. 08 2008 12:00 PM
rachel epstein from brooklyn hts. near you, kurt!

as a jew and a person and a guide at the museum of jewish heritage and the parent of two ph.d's in history i am outraged by smug, self-satisfied nicholson baker's comments about world war ii. how would he like to be living in a hitlerian world? i wish i could be more eloquent about this but i am so upset i can't be.

Mar. 08 2008 11:17 AM
brer from New York

The "Good War," WWII, is the great challenge for all people who believe in non-violent work. What could have been done other than war to "dethrone" Hitler? What could have been done to save the Jews? (Which wasn't accomplished, by the way)

People forget or deny the consequences of that war--many of which are still being played out. The division of property, the resentment and hatred that was produced. How can you say that Europe has been peaceful and happy since WWII? Look at Czechoslovokia. How about Afghanastan? How about the Kurds? The problems in these countries were exacerbated by land divisions after WWII. And one of the greatest problems of our time (which is part and parcel of the troubles with Iraq) is the State of Israel. Could that have been handled differently? Would it have been handled differently if that land hadn't been part of the spoils of war.

And how much treasury has it taken to build back the countries that were bombed to smithereens?

I appreciate the attempt of ANY individual who is trying to make sense of war. I wish he would have suggested a few alternatives. That's the big question.

Mar. 08 2008 11:09 AM
sarar from Brooklyn

So much for "little spit and vitriol".

I am in no way a historian. War is dreadful.
It makes monsters of our humanity.

But it is not the only thing that makes monsters of us. Disconnection from our continuity as a race as a whole -- including the ones willing to die for the preservation of that ideal through generations -- is minimized at all of out peril.

I am always in favor of asking questions.
I simply do mot sense enough humility in Baker's assessing the wrongful cost of war, even while he acknowledges its presence.

Mar. 08 2008 11:08 AM
L Warhall from Philly

Mister Baker's Human Smoke is an artful example of literature blowing smoke and holding at least one person hostage. Let him be.

Mar. 08 2008 09:13 AM
Nancy Lebovitz from Philadelphia

As far as I can tell, Baker was arguing that the Holocaust was the result of Hitler being militarily attacked for invading neighboring countries, and if only Hitler had been left to build an empire in peace, then-- well I don't know what. Maybe something only moderately worse than Jim Crow or apartheid. This doesn't seem likely to me, and he brushed off the argument that Europe has been peaceful and civilized since WWII.

He may have a point that things would have worked out better if more care had been taken to not kill German civilians.

Mar. 08 2008 09:00 AM
Judith Feyas from Wallingford, Pennsylvania

With all due respect to Nicholson Baker's right to free speech, please do not promote his book any further. Although, I guess I should read it. Does he offer other solution on how to managa megolmaniacs?
Judith feyas

Mar. 08 2008 08:27 AM
Ransome Weis from Philadelphia PA

While I am always in favor of hearing new points of view on a subject as an academic exercise, what I took from Baker's piece was that in spite of his presumably diligent efforts, he is simply ignoring a huge piece of information: Hitler was a truly evil person, and living under his regime would have been much worse than, say, living under Stalin - and we know how that played out.

The author stated that he knew no one personally who had fought in WWII. Perhaps that is somehow linked to the huge piece of the puzzle he seems not to be able to see. My father and uncles fought in WWII, though I believe I would hold the view I do about Hitler even if this had not been the case.

In summary, Baker's view is interesting but absurd.

Mar. 08 2008 08:27 AM
L Larson

Thank you for this piece. You asked Mr Baker whether he knew anyone who fought in WWII. My father did. He came home, but he damage it did to his soul was with him all his life though he was not counted among the "wounded." My generation was raised by men like him, emotionally damaged men who couldn't acknowledge the damage because it would seem like a betrayal of their cause.
The consequences of war are not always immediately obvious. I think Mr Baker's insights should be considered respectfully; his insight is an important evolutionary stage in our understanding of the past, once it is far enough in the past to finally gain some perspective on it. We may eventually learn that we do as much damage to ourselves by making war, as we do to our enemies.

Mar. 08 2008 08:19 AM
ruth miale from nj

One of the positive things about time passing is that many events in many places on our earth continue to happen, folding over into our experiences, whether they are in our immediate locale or further afield. What we know of life adds to what we think and feel an urge to explore.
I hope our society can give this man's premise some consideration.
I have not read this book [but soon will be!] but in listening to this interview, listening to NB's responses and to his voice, I hear him credit the folks who in the moment stood up for their beliefs and their countries. I hear him mourn the pain and wrenching horror of the holocaust and of the deaths in battle of soldiers and civilians.
If we can look at how countries make choices when challenged the way Hitler and his regime challenged Europe, I think Nicholson Baker has worked to offer more choice to us, to open the possibilities.
I feel some hope about our future, here on this earth, to grow up, not just as individuals smithing out our maturity, but to explore ideas that we can turn to our administrators, and administrators to your colleagues, to ask for maturity and wisdom as a political entity.

Mar. 08 2008 07:18 AM

I cannot imagine how a person of my state of mind would have reacted to the events of the late 1930s and early 1940s. But from my point of view as someone born in the second half of the 20th century looking out over the early years of the 21st, it seems indisputable that Mr. Baker's conclusions have direct bearing on the ongoing war(-without-end) on "terrorism". If even an allegorical retelling of a past war can help us understand and possibly correct our ongoing mistakes of the present, then I would have to conclude that Mr. Baker will have done us all a great service.

Mar. 07 2008 04:40 PM

I was frankly offended by both Nicholson Baker's argument and by your decision to give such revisionist thinking a platform. As a historian, I can well appreciate the premise of Baker's project--to write a history based upon primary source material. I can also appreciate what I believe to be Baker's underlying conclusion that war is always bad, and that the killing of civilians is never heroic. But the conclusion that WWII had no positive results is wrong, and the suggestion that Hitler was simply a "crazy person holding Germany hostage" is not only wrong but dangerous. Military invervention may have had bad results in the form of civilian casualties, but the converse--doing nothing--would have been a far, far, far greater evil. To have done less than Europe did in WWII would have been tantamount to condoning Hitler--and the GERMAN PEOPLE--in their project of genocide against people of Jewish and Romany descent, not to mention the killing of gay people and religious minorities. Nicholson Baker is morally in the wrong, and you at public radio have done a grievous disservice to the intellectual and moral standing of your listeners by giving this amateur crackpot access to your airwaves. Shame on you all.

Mar. 07 2008 01:50 PM

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