Readers of Christopher Hitchens's piece on the "good war" were divided about the necessity of World War II. One called his review of Pat Buchanan's book "masterful." Another agreed, "Buchanan's book stinks." A third said: "Millions of lives were destroyed … It's obscene to qualify WWII as 'good'."
Correcting the Revisionists
Christopher Hitchens, in his masterful review of Pat Buchanan's revisionist book "Churchill, Hitler and the Unnecessary War" ("A War Worth Fighting," June 23), says that the "Nazis could and should have been confronted before they had fully rearmed and had begun to steal the factories … and workers of neighboring countries." He fails to add that even people in other parts of Europe were captivated by National Socialism, which is why Western leaders were reluctant to deal with Hitler in the early years of his rule, when he was militarily weak. His own opponents in Germany believed that by swallowing the small doses of National Socialism that were offered to them in the beginning, they'd avoid the greater evil later. The result? The total of the "lesser evils" added up to that greater evil they had hoped to escape.
Richard S. Fuegner
Christopher Hitchens calls World Wars I and II "good" and "necessary." But for anyone who has seen his country ravaged, his family decimated, babies hurled against brick walls, soldiers suffocating in poison gas and tens of millions of human lives horribly destroyed, it seems not only outlandish but obscene to qualify the proceedings as "good." Hitchens also thinks that the wars were "necessary." WWII was not, and, arguably, neither was WWI. Hitler could easily have been stopped soon after his accession, if only Britain could have brought itself to join a coalition proposed by Italy, France and the Soviet Union in 1934, and again later. But this was not to be, and British Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin bound the hands of his successor Neville Chamberlain, who then became the scapegoat for the ensuing catastrophe. If the second world war was good and necessary, shouldn't we thank Adolf Hitler, British Tories and Joseph Stalin for bringing it about? Pouring invective on Pat Buchanan does not make his thoughts worthless, even if his book is an exercise in alternative history.
When this worthy war came to an end, my mother was insane—she did not understand the wisdom of the carpet-bombing—my father had gone missing during an errand in the city and our house was a ruin. I had a life of grief ahead of me and not much to look forward to, at least till the end of my youth. Reading the Hitchens article, I realize that I had it all wrong. There was reason to rejoice: Hitler was dead and the Nazis crushed. Now I know I did not lose my noncombatant parents for nothing—they died for a good cause. When I was an adult, I eventually learned about the Geneva Convention that stipulates that civilians, people who stay at home and mind their daily business, should be spared during a war. A war is fought between armies. The worthy Mr. Hitchens reminds me that in general that is true. But in the case of the second world war, all doubts about disregarding this Convention should be forgotten.
As a veteran of three campaigns in Europe (1944–45), with a Ph.D. in history and nearly 40 years of college-level experience teaching modern European and British history, I find it disheartening to learn that not only has Pat Buchanan written a book with a wrongheaded thesis, but someone actually published it and many people are buying it. I'm grateful that you published Christopher Hitchens's review of "a book that stinks." One has to wonder whether Buchanan really is abysmally ignorant of German history, or if he counts on his readers' being too ill informed to understand that they are being victimized. Historians have studied the second world war and revised some of their thinking to discover a flawed Churchill. Yet he remains the towering figure in the attempt to stop the spread of fascism's most virulent form, Nazism.
Lawrence E. Breeze
Cape Girardeau, Missouri
I was bothered by Hitchens's comment that the horrors of the "final solution" somehow retroactively justified the Allies' carpet-bombing of German cities. I still believe in the "good German," and question the wisdom and morality of such a policy, through which innocent Germans who may have been opposed to Hitler's wartime leadership were made to suffer, even though they played no active role in the Holocaust apart from voting the Nazis into power in 1933. I suppose some Allies believed that the Germans deserved to see their cities burn after the blitzing of England and atrocities on the eastern front. But as American journalist Oswald Garrison Villard said, "What was criminal in Coventry, Rotterdam, Warsaw and London has now become heroic in Dresden … " The hypocritical bombing of German civilians as punishment for the Holocaust was excessive and irrelevant.
Walnut Creek, California
My late dad was proud of being a World War II veteran. He was also proud when I refused the physician draft during Vietnam and agreed to alternative service instead. Just as a professional surgeon knows when to operate (or not), which operation to perform, what the purpose is and how to explain this to the patient and family, great national leaders know when to go to war, when not to, how to pursue an unavoidable war, what the goal is and how to rally the forces. World War II was unavoidable, but Vietnam, Iraq, Panama, the Bay of Pigs and a host of other foreign entanglements were all hubris, not national security. This is the most important task of our president: to know when to send troops into harm's way.
Who Is the Most Popular of All?
Your coverage and analysis of how some citizens ranked their own as well as other countries' leaders was illuminating and thought-provoking ("The World's Most Popular Leaders," June 23). There is a growing propensity to appreciate—or, at least, not dislike—autocrats in part because the current prevailing global mood seems to be one of gloom, doom and despondency. That perhaps explains, at least in part, a hankering for men like Vladimir Putin. And the old wisdom that the prophet who persuades the denizens of foreign lands is often not honored in his own country might describe Britain's Gordon Brown's current situation. It would be a shame to witness a creeping erosion of democracy, which still is, in the words of Winston Churchill, the worst form of government except for all the others.
Of Tasteless Choices
I work as a development volunteer in a poor, rural village in northern Africa, where people used to struggle to make a living, but now, with the rising cost of most food staples, it has become even more difficult to subsist. So I found the articles in your May 26/June 2 cover package on "Unsinkable Luxury" truly sickening. The desire to own quality, well-made articles is understandable; the desire for excess in this pursuit is not, especially as so many people in the world are suffering and struggling to meet their most basic needs and those of their children. In the article "Another Pillow for Your Chocolate, Sir?" you say the Courtyard Suite in the Hotel Bel-Air rents for $2,000. For the price of a three-night stay in this suite, running water could be installed in my entire village, incalculably improving the lives of 1,000 men, women and children. The choice (yes, choice) of the superrich to fritter away their assets on huge yachts, bespoke handbags and personalized fragrances while the poverty-stricken of the world find themselves doing with less and less is, contrary to their aims, tasteless in the extreme.
No Black Hole Here
It is preposterous that you compare China to a "black hole" in your June 23 PERISCOPE item, "Why China Is Becoming the 'Black Hole' of Global Markets." A black hole sucks in everything in its vicinity and radiates energy. Whatever goes in will be annihilated. Investors buy Chinese yuan in expectation of their appreciation because the greenback is in a continuous downslide, and the Chinese government keeps buying U.S. bonds in an attempt to arrest the devastating fall of the greenback. This helps sustain Americans' luxurious standard of living and propels the world economy forward. So, how could China be a "black hole" of global markets?
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Not Failing the Global Test
As a Korean high-school student, I WAS surprised to see your article on the Korean protest against U.S. beef ("Behind the Beef Spat," June 23). Your writer accurately pointed out that what Koreans are protesting against is Lee Myung-bak and his policies, but he missed other important points in saying that this protest shows that "South Korea failed the global test," which is disappointing because "South Korea with better English, more trade and Frenchmen in the cabinet would have been much more globally competitive." Although I agree that those qualities would definitely boost South Korea's competitiveness, I cannot see how this protest could be seen as failing "the global test." Koreans are indeed "boycotting Lee and everything he stands for." None of his major policies (English education, the grand canal and beef) have been popular. To add to that unpopularity, Lee pushes his way, ignoring others' opinions. (A few weeks ago he said he will continue with the canal despite the protest of 80 percent of the people who did not want him to do so.) So when Lee said that Korea was importing U.S. beef of questionable quality, it really set people off. Please note that the protesters' picket signs don't say WE HATE AMERICA but rather, LEE MYUNG-BAK OUT. So I would say this protest in Korea is more a result of Lee's failure to communicate and less of people's failure to globalize Korea.
Hye Jeon Jeon
Seoul, South Korea
Guns and Bombs, Not Bees or Butter
The old saying "penny wise, pound foolish" comes to mind on learning that the U.S. House of Representatives set aside a paltry $5 million for honeybee research and then cut that meager sum a year later ("Stung by Bees," June 23). Guns and bombs have no trouble getting funded by the government, but bees and agriculture get the cold shoulder. When will wisdom and pragmatism kick in?
Michael G. Driver
Ichihara City, Japan