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. I prefer to get my history from historians.
I should talk about his axe. There's been a lot of unnecessary emotional reaction to this book because people react to Baker's surface arguments without realizing the core attitude that drives writers such as Baker and his ideological kin. Pacifist writers typically regard themselves as morally superior to people such as Churchill or FDR. Noman Angell displayed that attitude in 1933, after Hitler took power in Germany, when he proudly claimed in a book: "No one pretends now--as the papers quoted above used to pretend--that war was due to the special wickedness of Germans, the sudden swoop of the satanic wolf in a peaceful work lusting to each such harmless lambs as France and Russia." Silly people, thinking Germany might launch a nasty war when we wise pacifists know better.
What both Angell and Baker believe in is called "moral equivalence," From the heights of their superior morality, the distinction between Britain and Nazi Germany or between a Churchill and a Hitler is of no significance. All such people are pigmies, alike in their smallness, while they are giants, knowing that war is never necessary and always bad. That's one reason why this book upsets people who still have a healthy moral perspective.
The result is history. Unable to tell good from evil, pacifists smear the good and bad with the same brush, as a result aiding those who are evil. Chesterton got it right when he noted that, "Pacifism and Prussianism [Militarism] are always in alliance, by a fatal logic far beyond an conscious conspiracy." Both would have might triumph over right, that is if after reading them you can even tell the difference between might and right.
Read Chesterton if you want to understand war. In 1932 he was warning that Germany was about to acquire a dictator and that the next war would begin with a border dispute between Germany and Poland. Take a pass pass on Baker. He's not worth your time.
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.