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Human Smoke: The Beginnings of World War II, the End of Civilization (Englisch) Taschenbuch – 2. März 2009

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Bestselling author Nicholson Baker, recognized as one of the most dexterous and talented writers in America today, has created a compelling work of nonfiction bound to provoke discussion and controversy -- a wide-ranging, astonishingly fresh perspective on the political and social landscape that gave rise to World War II.

Human Smoke delivers a closely textured, deeply moving indictment of the treasured myths that have romanticized much of the 1930s and '40s. Incorporating meticulous research and well-documented sources -- including newspaper and magazine articles, radio speeches, memoirs, and diaries -- the book juxtaposes hundreds of interrelated moments of decision, brutality, suffering, and mercy. Vivid glimpses of political leaders and their dissenters illuminate and examine the gradual, horrifying advance toward overt global war and Holocaust.

Praised by critics and readers alike for his exquisitely observant eye and deft, inimitable prose, Baker has assembled a narrative within Human Smoke that unfolds gracefully, tragically, and persuasively. This is an unforgettable book that makes a profound impact on our perceptions of historical events and mourns the unthinkable loss humanity has borne at its own hand.

Questions for Nicholson Baker

Amazon.com: This is obviously a big departure for you, in both style and subject. How did the project come about, and how did it find this form?

Baker: I was writing a different book, on a smaller historical subject, when I stopped and asked: Do I understand World War Two? And of course I didn't. Also I'd been reading newspapers from the thirties and forties, and I knew that there were startling things in them.

In earlier books, I've looked closely at moments to see why they matter, and I've tried to rescue things, people, ideas from overfamiliarity. So in a way a book like this--which moves a loupe over some incidents along the way to a much-chronicled war--was a natural topic.

But yes, the style is a departure: it's very simple here out of respect for the hellishness of the story that I'm trying to assemble, piece by piece.

Amazon.com: Why World War Two in particular?

Baker: Politicians constantly fondle a small, clean, paperweight version of this war, as if it provides them with moral clarity. We know that it was the most destructive five year period in history. It was destructive of human lives, and also of shelter, sleep, warmth, gentleness, mercy, political refuge, rational discussion, legal process, civil tradition, and public truth. Millions of people were gassed, shot, starved, and worked to death by a paranoid fanatic. The war's victims felt as if they'd come to the end of civilization.

But then we also say that because it turned out so badly, it was the one just, necessary war. We acknowledge that it was the worst catastrophe in the history of humanity--and yet it was "the good war." The Greatest Generation fought it, and a generation of people was wiped out.

If we don't try to understand this one war better--understand it not in the sense of coming up with elaborate mechanistic theories of causation, but understand it in the humbler sense of feeling our way through its enormity--then cartoon versions of what happened will continue to distort debates about the merits of all future wars.

Amazon.com: You largely kept your own opinions out of the text, except for the choices you made in what to include and a few editorial comments here and there, as well as your short Afterword at the end. It makes for a real tension between the neutral tone and the sense, at least on the part of this reader, that there are some passionate opinions behind it. What authorial role did you want to establish?

Baker: I found that my own cries of grief, amazement, or outrage--or of admiration at some quiet heroism--took away from the chaos of individual decisions that move events forward.

It helps sometimes to look at an action--compassionate, murderous, confessional, obfuscatory--out of context: as something that somebody did one day. The one-day-ness of history is often lost in traditional histories, because paragraphs and sections are organized by theme: attack, counterattack, argument, counterargument. That's a reasonable way to proceed, but I rejected it here for several reasons. First, because it fails to convey the hugeness and confusion of the time as it was experienced by people who lived through it. And, second, because I wanted the reader to have to form, and then jettison, and then re-form, explanations and mini-narratives along the way--as I did, and as did a newspaper reader in, say, New York City in September, 1941.

I think the pared-down, episodic style allowed me to offer some moments of truth that I wouldn't have been able to offer had I had uppermost in my mind the necessity of making transitions and smoothing out inconsistencies and sounding like me. I offer no organized argument: I want above all to fill the readers mind with an anguished sense of what happened.

Amazon.com: I was telling someone about your book and how it failed to convince me of what I took to be its thesis, and his response was, "Wow, you really made me want to read it." And that's my response too: if your point was to convince me that we shouldn't have fought World War II, then the book didn't work, but I'm still very glad I read it. But maybe that wasn't your point at all.

Baker: I'm really pleased that you responded that way. I didn't want to convince, but only to add enriching complication. Long ago I wrote an essay called "Changes of Mind" in which I tried to talk about how gradual and complicated a shift of conviction can be. I left overt opinionizing out of this book so that a reader can draw his or her own conclusions, folding in other knowledge.

There are many books about the war that I value highly even though I don't agree with the world-outlook of the people who wrote them. To take a major example: Churchill's own memoir-history is completely fascinating and revealing--and a great pleasure to read--although I happen to think that Churchill was himself a bad war leader.

There's no point in trying to use a book to replace one simple set of beliefs about World War Two with another simple set of beliefs. The war years are alive with contradictions and puzzles and shake-your-head-in-wonder moments. You're going to look at it in different ways on different days because you're going to have different moments uppermost in your mind.

On the other hand, I don't want to hide what I think. Here's what I am, more or less: I'm a non-religious pacifist who is sympathetic to Quaker notions of nonviolent resistance and of refuge and aid for those who need help. I find appealing what Christopher Isherwood called "the plain moral stand against killing." I don't expect people to look at things this way, necessarily--after all, it took me a while to get there myself. But I do hope that my book will offer some thought-provocations that anyone, of any ideological persuasion, will want to mull over.

Amazon.com: It's hard to believe there's something new to say about what may be the most written-about event in human history. What did you feel about approaching such a well-chronicled subject? What were you most surprised to find? What responses have you gotten from historians and other readers?

Baker: There were many surprises. For instance, I didn't expect Herbert Hoover, who argued for the lifting of the British blockade in order to get food to Jews in Polish ghettoes and French concentration camps, to be a voice of reason and compassion. I didn't know that German propagandists used the phrase "iron curtain" before Churchill did. I didn't know that in 1940 the Royal Air Force tried to set fire to the forests of Germany. I didn't know how interested the United States government was in arming China. I didn't know how public was Japan's unhappiness with the American oil embargo. I didn't know that many of the people who worked hardest to help Jews escape Hitler were pacifists, not interventionists.

I've had interesting reactions from historians, who seem to understand (for the most part) that I'm not trying to write a comprehensive history of the beginnings of the war. I've had some very good reviews and some very bad ones. The bad ones seem to follow the teeter-totter school: that if a dictator and the nation he controls is evil, then the leader of the nation who opposes the evil dictator must be good. Life isn't that way, of course. There is in fact no "moral equivalence" created by examining coterminous violent and repulsive acts. The notion of moral equivalence is a mistake, because it undermines our notions of personal responsibility and law. Each act of killing is its own act, not something to be heaped like produce on a balancing scale. One person, as Roosevelt said, must not be punished for the deed of another--though he didn't follow his own precept.

Gandhi comes up sometimes. It was said in a review that I "adore" Gandhi. That's not quite right. Gandhi is in many ways an admirable and perceptive man. He spoke gently even while thousands of his supporters were in jail and his country was being bombed by an occupying power. But the years told on him, and he sometimes came to sound, as Nehru once observed in a memoir, cold--indifferent to suffering. He is one voice, and a voice worth listening to.

My real heroes, though, are people like Victor Klemperer, who responded to Hitlerian terror not with counterviolence, but with beautiful nonresistance: by writing a masterpiece of a diary. He and Romanian diarist Mihael Sebastian have the last word for that reason. And I've dedicated the book to British and American pacifists--I want this book to rescue the memory of their loving, troubled efforts to help.

The most interesting and helpful set of responses to the book so far has been at www.edrants.com, where a group of participants discussed Human Smoke for a week, adding all kinds of thoughts, analogies, comparisons, and criticisms. I've never been through anything like it before, and I'm the better for it.

Amazon.com: Your recent celebration of Wikipedia in the New York Review of Books has gotten a lot of attention (deservedly so). Did the style and philosophy of Wikipedia influence the way you wrote Human Smoke? Have you made any Wikipedia updates based on what you found in your research.

Baker: I used Wikipedia during the writing of the book, especially to check facts about subtypes of airplanes and ships--e.g., the Bristol Beaufighter I cited in the first paragraph of the review. Wikipedia is amazingly strong and precise on military hardware. (And on when a British Lord became a Viscount, and on a million other things.) But I've been writing movies, and the model I often had in my mind while working on Human Smoke was the movie documentary--in which short scenes and clips follow each other with a minimum of narration.

-- Dieser Text bezieht sich auf eine vergriffene oder nicht verfügbare Ausgabe dieses Titels.


"This quite extraordinary book -- impossible to put down, impossible to forget -- may be the most compelling argument for peace ever assembled. Nicholson Baker displays in astonishing, fascinating detail mankind's unstoppable descent into the madness of war -- slowed only occasionally, but then invariably most movingly, by the still, small voices of the sane and the wise." -- Simon Winchester, author of "The Man Who Loved China" and "The Professor and the Madman"

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G. K. Chesterton aptly described authors who write books such as this one, noting: "He is cold, he is caddish, he is an intellectual bully, and his intellect is itself vapid and thin. He is marked by an imaginative insufficiency which can be compared to nothing except to finding a Commander, in the thick of battle, looking into a pocket-mirror instead of a field-glass."

Asked to look at the bloodiest war in human history, Nicholas Baker consults his pocket-mirror and is delighted to find himself both handsome and brilliant, or as his inside cover copy puts it, he is a "bestselling author... recognized as one of the most dextrous and talented writers in America today." Never heard of him? Well, neither have I. Take note of the fact that millions died, bravely, tragically, cruelly or needlessly in the war described by Human Smoke, but all the inside and outside cover talks about is Nicholson Baker.

Chesterton was actually describing an earlier pacifist author, Norman Angell, but his description holds true for Baker. His intellect is vapid. He does seem to think he's boldly demolishing "treasured myths" about WWII. He hasn't read much. Virtually every event in it has been written about from numerous angles. Consider for instance, the most treasured myth of all, December 7, 1941 as the " a day that will live in Infamy," and note all the 'FDR knew Japanese would attack Pearl Harbor' books that have been published. Talk with people from that generation, as I have done, and you'll soon realize that virtually no myth about the war lacks a counter-myth. In short, Baker's book is a lazy book, one built on press gossip from the war years, some of it true, some of it dubious, and all of passed through a vain little mind with an axe to grind.
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Habe diese Ausgabe auch bei amazon gekauft. Das Buch ist inhaltlich ziemlich interessant wenn auch gewöhnungsbedürftig gesetzt. Im wesentlichen ist es eine Schnipselsammlung was nicht überraschen dürfte wenn man die Zusammenfassung gelesen hat. So ist es aber eben auch gesetzt: ein Schnipsel von 5-10 zeilen (im Schnitt) dann bestimmt auch 3-4 Zeilen frei und dann kommt der nächste.
Ich finde es ist haptisch (der Umschlag sieht sehr gut aus, aber der Inhalt ist auf einer Art Klopapier gedruckt) und optisch (sehr platzverschwendend gesetzt, nicht mittig auf der Seite sondern sehr auf das Buchinnere ausgerichtet so das man zum lesen das Buch regelrecht auseinanderdrücken muss und am äußeren Rand der Seiten dagegen sehr viel Platz geblieben ist) eine Katastrophe.
Der Einband ist dagegen sehr gut gelungen. Das Buch ist wie gesagt sehr interessant aber optisch und haptisch nach dem Einband ne riesige Enttäuschung.
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Die hilfreichsten Kundenrezensionen auf Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: HASH(0x9a5e73a8) von 5 Sternen 139 Rezensionen
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HASH(0x9a606a98) von 5 Sternen A controversial look at mass slaughter... 18. März 2008
Von ewomack - Veröffentlicht auf Amazon.com
Format: Gebundene Ausgabe
Nicholson Baker has never shunned controversy. His two most infamous books of fiction, "The Fermata" and "Vox," evoke a continuum of reactions ranging from morbid curiosity to recoiling disgust. The latter exposed him to the masses when Monica Lewinsky admitted giving a copy to then President Clinton. But Baker's range extends beyond novels. An interest in history also pervades his oeuvre. "Lumber," an earlier essay, explored etymology. On a much grander scale, "Human Smoke" traces threads of history through selective documented events and an aphoristic, almost Nietzschean, style. Beginning in 1892, with a tiny passage concerning Alfred Nobel's dynamite, the book juxtaposes European war and racial policies and attitudes with the effect these policies had on society at large through December 31, 1941. The book has an agenda. It attempts to depict the events of World War II's early years through a different filter. Via this technique this textual collage constructs an alternate history. One that, in many ways, does not always gel with mainstream ideas of the twentieth century's bloodiest conflict. With this interpretation, Baker once again delves deep into controversy.

The first 10 pages already reveal an atypical World War II story. Shocking anti-semitic actions by Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt mingle with tales of pacifists and theater crowds screaming hate at images of Wilhelm II. Winston Churchill takes on a rather brutal hawkish character throughout the entire book. As the story progresses, war gets painted as a near inevitability based on the actions, and even desires, of European and American leaders. Within this context, the air bombings exchanged by England and Germany throughout 1941 take on a shade of ridiculous game playing. As major cities become more and more ravaged, the citizenry's attitudes progress from concerned empathy to rabid vengeance. Baker depicts Churchill as desiring more bombardments to hasten America's entry into the war. The Roosevelt administration is seen as goading Japan into war, which culminated at Pearl Harbor. American pacts with the Chinese, military encirclement, and an oil embargo get cited as examples. Hitler and the Nazis remain monsters. But concerning the holocaust, this book also puts blood on the hands of the English and Americans. In the 1940s, America only accepted a certain amount of Jewish immigration, so the vast amount of refugees had nowhere to go. Late in the book such policies become a part of the slaughter of Jews throughout Europe. Grisly tales of early Nazi killing machines and executions of children and infants increase the grimace factor to breaking point. Ultimately, the book tries to show that none of the war's participants remain blameless for the huge loss of life. It also tries to evoke the questions "did it have to happen?" and "could it have been stopped?" Some "what-ifs" also appear. Did Chamberlain's Munich agreement with Hitler squelch a possible 1938 overthrow plot by German generals? Could the war have ended there?

A question undoubtedly arises as the pages flap by: how "correct" is this interpretation? Has Baker simply selected and arranged events to serve a pacifist agenda? Was World War II all out meaningless and fully preventable slaughter? Such deconstruction remains in the hands of readers and experts. Nonetheless, Baker does cite his sources section by section and page by page in the voluminous "notes" section. As always, some will find the arrangement convincing and others will not. Baker's question in the afterword, "Was it a 'good war?'" remains a worthwhile question regardless, if for no other reason than studies in future prevention. "Human Smoke," with its ominous title and wispy cover art, will get anyone interested in World War II frantically turning pages. By all accounts it remains a great read. Perhaps it even adds a new viewpoint, or adds texture to mainstream accounts. Or perhaps many will discredit it as contrived antiwar propaganda. In either case it will inspire thought and reflection on our race of inexorable killing machines.
176 von 214 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
HASH(0x9a606834) von 5 Sternen Smoke Gets in Your Eyes 7. Juli 2009
Von RedRocker - Veröffentlicht auf Amazon.com
Format: Taschenbuch
Several reviewers here have suggested that Baker should stick to fiction. Unfortunately, he has.

The number of misrepresentations and omissions render this work bankrupt of serious scholarship. What is so disheartening is to read how many positive reviewers on this site have had their world view changed by Baker's presentation of the "facts."

Baker cites remarks by Churchill in March, 1940, on mining Norway's waters as provoking a German invasion. "There had been no plans in Berlin for an invasion of Norway; now there were." He describes how a month later Germany indeed did invade. First, it's laughable to think that the Germans put together an invasion plan in less than a month, and a cursory glance at the real history reveals otherwise. In October, 1939, Admiral Raeder had already broached the subject of a Norway invasion to Hitler, and by December, Hitler had activated the plan, known as Operation Weserubung, finalized in January and February of 1940.

A little later, Baker writes that "On the night of April 22, the British bombed occupied Oslo, something the Germans had not done". Maybe because the Germans had already bombed Nybergsund, Namsos, Bodø, Elverum, Åndalsnes, Molde, Kristiansund, and Steinkjer, and had also threatened to level Copenhagen unless Denmark capitulated, a tactic they repeated with Rotterdam.

As for Baker's contention that it was the British who bombed major cities first, Germany had already bombed Rotterdam, Warsaw, and Belgrade before the British bombed Mannheim. In fact, Baker's entire treatment of the Allied bombing campaign is puerile and shallow. Bombing for Churchill, he writes, was a "form of pedagogy". It was also Churchill's only offensive weapon at the time and a tempting choice after his country lost a million soldiers less than a generation before in World War 1.

That is not to justify it. The slide from "precision" bombing to area bombing in World War II is one of the most troubling moral questions arising from the conflict and a subject worthy of serious investigation (see Hastings, "Bomber Command" and Crane, "Bombs, Cities, Civilians"), but this book does not offer it. Instead, Baker's intent is to characterize Churchill as bloodthirsty, fretting in 1940 that if Hitler went East, in Baker's words, "England would have no war to fight" Please see an expanded consideration of this in my comment to James Luckard's "Gorgeously written" review above).

Churchill's true meaning was revealed a year later when he wrote Stalin that England would use air power to draw the Luftwaffe back off the Eastern front. German armies were less than 200 miles from Leningrad, and a German general would write: "Fuhrer is firmly determined to level Moscow and Leningrad to the ground, and to dispose fully of their populations, which otherwise we shall have to feed during the winter." At this point, Britain had still dropped half the bomb tonnage that Germany had on population centers. The balance would shift in 1942, prompting Propaganda Minister Josef Goebbels to write, "Our cities have now to stand in 1943 what Britain had to stand in 1940."

Baker's treatment of the Pacific is no less misleading. He cites the US sending aviation fuel to Vladivostok while bypassing Japan, writing "The Japanese Navy ignored the provocation." Or this: "my conviction deepened that Japan would not fight unless she was compelled to by the cutting off of her oil supply." Or this: quoting Japan's Gandhi, Kagawa, "there wasn't nearly as much talk about war amongst the people of Japan as he had encountered in the US."

Readers might be shocked by these snippets, unless they knew that Japan invaded Manchuria in 1931, China in 1937, Indochina in 1940, and would soon invade Malaya, Singapore, Borneo, the Dutch East Indies, and Korea, as part of its new Japanese Empire.

And readers never learn of Japan's starvation and torture of prisoners, its enslavement and wholesale slaughter of other Asians, nor of its active biological weapons program in Manchuria. Which renders absurd Baker's outrage over the US sending arms and advisers to China to help them fight back.

Considering Baker's attempt to make Churchill and FDR warmongers on a par with Hitler, his treatment of Nanking is also quite telling. He skims over it quickly (it's not even in the index), implying it happened only after the Chinese refused to accede to Japanese demands, writing passively, "rape and massacre followed."

No, the Japanese COMMITTED rape and massacre resulting in between 50,000 and 150,000 deaths. And they would repeat this barbarism across Asia, resulting in civilian deaths numbering in the tens of millions--orders of magnitude more deaths than Allied troops were responsible for. The League of Nations had condemned Japan's civilian bombings, along with that of the Germans in Spain, as "contrary to principles of law and humanity."

Baker sympathizes with the Jews' fate, and while not a Holocaust denier per se, his brand of revisionsm amounts to "Denial Lite." That is, Hitler may have massacred the Jews, but he never would have done it had not Churchill and FDR made him. Baker's endless talk of ships to Madagascar or trains to Siberia for relocating Jews as plausible alternatives to extermination if ONLY Churchill hadn't kept up his warmaking, is simply nauseating.

Jews deported from Berlin? Churchill's fault, because Aryans made homeless by Allied bombing needed housing--a fact which Baker repeats no less than four times in case we missed it. Final Solution? What else could Hitler do if the West wouldn't take the Jews off his hands? In Baker's mind, every move by Germany or Japan was not the result of calculated militarism, but of Allied refusal to accept the invaders' demands.

Baker posits the question in his afterword of whether the war helped anyone. Let's see: France capitulated to the Nazis and sent 90,000 innocent Jews to their deaths. Churchill's England fought back and sent none. Answer your question?

That the New York Times would feature this book positively on the front page of its Book Review is stark testament to the state of historical knowledge in this day and age. Baker's attempt to refashion history in so irresponsible a manner should be cause for alarm for any thinking person.
120 von 147 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
HASH(0x9a6019d8) von 5 Sternen There is no revisionism on the planet that can turn Churchill into Hitler, no matter how eloquently the attempt is made. 23. September 2008
Von Shawn M. Ritchie - Veröffentlicht auf Amazon.com
Format: Gebundene Ausgabe
"Human Smoke: The Beginnings of World War II, the End of Civilization", best-selling author Baker's first work of non-fiction, is a history of the buildup to World War II as told via snippets from newspapers, personal diaries, memoirs, etc. Baker provides a minimum of personal interjections or opinions along the way, preferring instead to let the chosen selections speak for themselves. The end result is a grim and depressing narrative that shows the breaking out of World War II as the inevitable conclusion of the machinations of American industrialists looking for new markets in Asia and Europe, Roosevelt's desires to impose his visions of an Anglo-American order upon the world, and, particularly, Winston Churchill's ruthless and bloodthirsty pursuit of a wider and more devastating war.

It needs to be said by the reviewer and, hopefully, known by the reader that Baker is emphatically not a historian. The text itself and post-release interviews with Baker himself indicate that the author had a thesis in his head before the book was written, and the material presented is that which most strongly supports it. The result is a tale of a haunting descent into both total war and industrial holocaust that, possibly, could have been, if not avoided, at least mitigated, had the men in power simply had the moral fiber to choose differently.

This book is going to appeal strongly to a certain subset of readers that wish to believe that capitalism, anti-semitism, etc., were stronger factors in the outbreak of World War II than, say, fascism and national socialism. The supposed anti-semitism of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt gets almost as much ink as that of the Nazis, particularly as it involves the USA's (along with most every other nation on the planet) unwillingness to take in more Jewish refugees than our immigration laws at the time allowed. Likewise, the push by American aircraft manufacturers to design and sell new warplanes to all and sundry in the 30's, even though the total figures involved come out to about 100 planes total throughout the pre-1939 period, gets more consideration as a cause of the increasing belligerence and actual combat around the globe than does the considerably more gigantic buildup of the fascist and Soviet militaries during the same time.

Likewise, a lot of pages and ink are given over to the pronunciamentos and goals of various pacifist movements through the first decades of the 20th Century, with the clear subtext of "had we listened to them, the war would never have started, or at least not been as vicious". While there is much to be said for studying the pacifist movement prior to and during the start of World War II, there is little to be said for believing for an instant that, had Churchill or Roosevelt just listened more closely to the them, Hitler and Tojo would've somehow been less warlike as a result.

That leads to the biggest problem of the book; it's _incredibly_ biased. All histories are, to some extent, a reflection of the author's biases, sure. However, the lack of any context being provided here would lead the uneducated reader to assume that the viciousness of the war itself and the Holocaust need not have happened as they did. The lack of much editorial context by the author actually serves to reinforce this aspect; the reader has no guide as to why Baker chose a given text in the first place. The reader, if not Baker's argument, would actually be better served if Nicholson had chosen to provide more editorial context for his selections. At least that way, the pro-pacifist, anti-Churchillian bias of the author would be a known quantity instead of something just hinted at.

The obvious counter-argument can be made that, well: these ARE Churchill and Roosevelt's and Chennault's own words, are they not? Sure, they are. However, the context that would clearly show that these men were emphatically NOT the primary actors driving the events of the era is simply not there. We hear much of the bloodthirsty-ness of Churchill, Bomber Harris, etc. The comparable and considerably more voluminous and damning words of the Hitlers and Mussolinis of the era are much less present.

When they are present at all, they've been chosen to show the rare moments when these men were hoping for an end to the war they had started (so long as it ended on their terms and with their bloody conquests already made allowed to be kept).

While a very engrossing and emotionally effective (and affecting) read, I could not recommend "Human Smoke" to anyone whom I was not already aware of possessing a clear understanding of how World War II came to be. While the study of pacifism in the 30's and early 40's has its merits, the conclusion that it would have been effective had just certain men in the West been willing to listen to it, is unsupportable.
170 von 210 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
HASH(0x9a567294) von 5 Sternen The cost of war, the fog of war 12. März 2008
Von Kerry Walters - Veröffentlicht auf Amazon.com
Format: Gebundene Ausgabe
The title of Nicholson Baker's book is evocative. Most obviously, it's an allusion to the horrible destructiveness of war, which renders human lives as fragile as smoke. Baker tells us (p. 474) that he got the title from Franz Halder, who once said that the smoke arising from Auschwitz was "human smoke."

At another level, though, "human smoke" refers to the fog of war--or, in this case, the fog of the run-up to World War II--as well as the intentional and unintentional smokescreens, or myths, that hide the complex network of responsibility for war. It's to Baker's great credit that his book invites readers to think long and hard about both the human cost and the myth-making that justifies war.

World War II is the test case focused on by Baker, and for obvious reasons. It's styled the "good war," and in most everyone's minds the good guys and the bad guys were clearly, unarguably distinct. But Baker shows, horrifyingly, that the anti-Semitism that exploded in Germany was an integral part of the thinking of both citizens and leaders in other countries. The Roosevelts in America and Churchill in England, for example, penned some pretty nasty things about Jews. In the late 30s, when the fate of German Jews was becoming increasingly obvious, country after country refused to accept them as refugees. All of this is documented with stark clarity by Baker.

An arms race was going on among all of the major players, Axis as well as Allies, in the run-up to the war. The U.S. was consolidating military strength in the Pacific, a move that angered and threatened the Japanese. Britain and the U.S. were building and selling airplanes to other nations, includng Japan and Germany. Sabres were being rattled everywhere, and only some of them were in response to the growing German threat.

The new weapons of war were being tested nonstop, and often against "barbarians" and "savages." The British tested incendiary bombs against Arabs, the Germans tested their weapons against Spaniards, the Italians tried theirs out on the Ethiopians, the Japanese against the Chinese, and the U.S. sold its weapons to all four nations and observed from afar.

In the midst of all this, concerned citizens from the U.S., Britain, France, and Germany were denouncing the arms race, the racism, and the national chauvinism, and pleading for peace. There was actually a bill in the U.S. Congress to amend the Constitution to say that war could be entered into only after a national referendum (p. 78). American Quakers, led especially by Rufus Jones and Clarence Pickett, organized relief agencies and lobbied the American, British, and German governments for peace. All to no avail, however. The powers wanted war, and war was what they got.

To read Baker's book is a harrowing experience. Criticisms that it selectively presents evidence miss the mark. Baker is revealing a side of history that almost never gets told. Criticisms that it preaches pacifism seem to come from ideological convictions, not from an honest wrestling with the story Baker tells. And that story is that geo-political realities leading up to war are simply too complex to reduce to simplistic "good guy-bad guy" explanations. That kind of binary thinking prepares the way for wars, and it justifies the victors after they're over.
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HASH(0x9aa73e94) von 5 Sternen Amazing book... 5. März 2008
Von J. Slattery - Veröffentlicht auf Amazon.com
Format: Gebundene Ausgabe
Just got it yesterday (pre-ordered) and will be finishing it tonight. Rarely does a book change my perspective so completely about a piece of history.

The parallels between now and then are clear; the machinations and outright lies of those who wage war are unsettling. The story unfolds through short paragraph-length vignettes and quotes from the major players on the path to WWII.

This is definitely a book with a moral, a message, a point of view. It doesn't seem to come right out and say 'war is bad' and 'peace is good', but the conclusion that you are led to is certainly no surprise. It also brings to light the prejudices and outright racist attitudes of many of our leaders from the covered timeframe.

For the record, I'm a veteran with 10 years in uniform. I am far from a pacifist, but after this book I feel that I understand the thoughts and views of pacifists as well as those who push for war and violence first. I still consider myself to be somewhere in between the two (pray for peace, but prepare for war), but this book definitely makes the point that since the early 1900's we have been and still are far too quick to choose what could be described as mass murder (perspective of course being tainted by which side you happen to be on) over the path of diplomacy and compromise.
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