Tuesday, April 10, 2007

World War II and war resistance

Sometimes in graduate study, it feels as if what you're reading has little to no application to the outside world, which is understandable in something like theoretical physics, but a bit more off-putting when you're in sociology. But in reading Jeffry A. Frienden's tome "Global Capitalism" (whic is, ironically, for a history course, not a soc course) I finally again feel like I'm studying somehting that I can sue in my day to day interaction, which helps me feel just a little bit less like I'm wasting my life.

Specifically, Frieden's very interesting (and thorough) treatment of the causes of Fascism in Europe is exactly the kind of intellectual ammunition a young radical loves. In doing anti-war work, people often like to set up the most ridiculous examples, playing what W likes to call "the gotcha game." In much the way proponents of the death penalty always insist that I'd see things differently if my 7 year old daughter were raped and murdered (and they're rarely swayed by the fact that I don't have a 7 year old daughter, so I'm not super concerned what happens to her), the pro-war fokls always like to ask me what I would have done about Hitler.

And my answer has always been that if I had the power to do anything, I wouldn't have started WWII in the first place, in which case we would have had no Hitler. Now, I know it's still probably not going to sway anybody, but Frieden painstakingly points out that the only common factor among autarkic authoritarian governments between the wars was that they were all debtor nations, and the authoritarian parties that rose to power used the resentment caused by these impossible debts to feul their hate campaigns.

Who was behind these unreasonable debts? Well, theoretically it was France and Brittain, but in truth, they were only collecting the debts to pass them along to the Americans who had financed the war. Interestingly, even the nations most affected by WWI in Europe found the repayment plans unreasonable very quickly, but they were not allowed to forgive the debts they were owed because the American government refused to listen to reason and insisted that all debts be paid in full.

The debts owed led to massive inflation (in Germany, prices rose one trillion times their pre-war levels because of the debt payments) and the fascists used this as their main argument in nationalistic fascism.

So, unfortunately, Mussolini, Hitler, and Friends, all can trace their rise to power back to the policies of the good ol' U.S. of A.

So I'd like to point out that maybe we could apply this lesson to certain current global conflicts to prevent such things form happening again, but then again, I guess I'm the kind of guy who would sit by idly while my theoretical 7 year old daughter was murdered, so I guess I don't know too much.


Howard said...

So I'm confused... did you mean that you wouldn't have started WWI (not II), and therefore wouldn't have had the debtor nations chomping at the fascist bit, therefore no Hitler?

And you still dodged the point, I think. If there WAS a Hitler, doing a bunch of Hitler stuff, would war be justified? Some sort of military strike? You can't always back out with the "I don't have a seven year old daughter" situation, because that's the exact hypothetical. And imagine, if you will, a world without hypothetical situations? Where would we be? This ain't about the coffee in your cup, it's about the dead n****r in your garage. The situation's there... what do you do?

I love rhetoric... I just need intellectually honest rhetoric.

Woz said...

Aha! But the point is that saying I would not have perseud the destructive economic policies that feuled the fascistic powers is not dodging the question, it's giving an historically correct analysis of the situation.

The point is, if you take Hitler's Germany as a given, then you are ignoring the years upon years of history that led to the formation of the Nazis, which is a poor way to go about geopolitical decision-making.

What I'm trying to get at is that international conflict does not simply arise from the ether, it always has historical antecedents. And those antecedents are often recognized by the progressive elements of society (for example, you could check out the collection of political cartoons by one Theodore Geisel (a/k/a/ Dr. Seuss) currently housed at the UNI Museum to see the opinion of people calling to end WWII before it started). However, the ruling powers rarely take progressives seriously, so we get into these cluster fucks. For a contemporary example, I seem to remember a bunch of people pointing out that the Iraq war was not going to go well, but fortunately we've all been proved wrong about that and the soldiers were welcomed as liberators.

Really, though, this was simply to preface the conversation I'll be having with people in 20 years after we've installed a dictator in Iraq and then we have to remove him for being a threat to humanity. I'll be against that war, too, and people will ask me what I would do against such a monster as "whatever-dictator-we've-installed" and I'll say the solution was to not have installed the dictator now, just like the solution to Iraq now was to not install Sadam Hussein 20 years ago.


Howard said...

Still doesn't answer my question.

You've been elected after the shit sandwich that is Adolf Hitler has come to power and fucked proverbial shit up. What do you do? If you were president right now, you couldn't say "Well I never would have gone to Iraq in the first place" even if that's true. You still have to do something about the situation that came before you.

You're saying "But I would never have some gangsters in my house doing gangsta shit." But they're there, dead n***** and all, and you have to make a decision. What do you do?

Howard said...

To put it another way, let me harken back to my days as a defense lawyer.

If someone came into my office, and said they ran a red light and hit a car, and hurt the occupant of said car, and were getting sued, what could I tell them? "Well, I never would have ran the red light. So you're cool."

No. I would have to make the best of what's been given, ie "OK you ran a red light and hit someone, but what can we do from here."

Woz said...

But again, my man, we're talking about it on a different level here...I forget exactly what I was going to say...I had some flashy point earlier, but I've been working on a paper since 10, and seeing as it's now nigh onto 2 in the morning, I'm not exactly thinking as well.

But what I'm getting at is that we need to shift our thinking from "Holy shit, there's this crazy ass German dude going apeshit!" to "How can we prevent future German dudes from going apeshit?"

Largely, the point I was making was the classic "we have to learn from our mistakes" argument that's been made a million times, i.e. let's not illustrate our points by waving around our gun with the safety off while gesticulating wildly, and then we can be fine with concerning ourselves about the coffee in our cup, so to speak.

Also, the red light example is off, because I'm not saying that presented with Hitler I would say "Well, I'd have done things differently so it ain't a problem." I was saying that the real solution to such problems is to look past our narrow capitalist fixation on monetary compensation and think about the global ramification of our actions, instead of fighting wars after we've fucked shit up, just as the real solution for your gentleman would've been to stop at the damn light, not litigate his way out of it.