The ever-stylish historian Niall Ferguson’s latest specious argument designed to demoralize America

Carol Iannone writes:

Rush just went into a big riff about a piece by Niall Ferguson saying that the Allies won only by employing horrendous bombing methods. There’s going to be a PBS series based on Ferguson’s thesis. Rush was pointing out how even our victories are being turned against us, undermining and undercutting our confidence in our culture, enforcing the idea that our very existence is based on injustice. Rush said this was typical left wing propaganda, full of hatred for the country, making us feel unworthy even to exist practically. But Ferguson is a foreign policy advisor to McCain! I guess Rush doesn’t know.

LA replies:

In attempting to delegitimize the Allies’ use of force in World War II, the revisionists used to say that the mass bombings didn’t help. Now the revisionists are trying to delegitimize the Allies’ performance by saying the mass bombings were indispensable. Any argument will work, so long as it makes the West dislike itself and want to cease to exist.

Given the spiritual sickness that dominates Britain, the U.S. must become much more cautious about admitting British immigrants, of which Ferguson is one. Any Brit who wants to come here should have to pass strict tests showing that he is not an enemy, whether overt or subtle, of America and the West. This is even more the case if he comes here to take a job at Harvard, as Ferguson did.

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Gintas writes:

Here is a decent summary. Pre-war American and British doctrine saw strategic bombing as a potentially decisive component, so it was going to be tried. It turns out that tactical airpower and mobile warfare were decisive in Europe (the Germans figured that out first, and our Army still is based on that). But strategic bombing was far from useless, and we still have a Strategic Air Command today, and the reason isn’t some gnostic mystery.

On a personal note, my mother’s family just missed the Dresden firebombing in 1945. This isn’t so much about Strategic Bombing as about the providence of God in my family.

My Lithuanian grandmother, having survived the initial Russian occupation and the German occupation, and with the Russians approaching again in late 1944, and with her husband detained by the Germans in a camp somewhere—he had been a captain in the Lithuanian army—picked up her two children and with a friend went West. She remembered neighbors being taken away at night by the police during the Russian occupation, and she simply was not going to stay under Russian rule. Her three siblings, however, stayed, and there’s a Siberian labor camp story in there which I only learned this year.

She was on her way to Dresden with her children, and wa turned away right before the firebombing in February, 1945. Recall that Dresden was crowded with refugees when it was firebombed. My grandmother was a nurse, and very gregarious, and got to talking with a man on the train. He asked where she was going, and what she was going to do there. He told her there was nothing for her in Dresden, she’d be better off going elsewhere. She turned around, and somehow ended up in Danzig (now Gdansk), where she providentially was reunited with her husband. She met a man on the train station platform and they both had patches signifying they were Lithuanians. It turns out he knew her husband, and where he was—he was in a camp nearby! Somehow he was freed to go, and they made their way West, eventually working through the front lines (where she saw an accompanying woman shot by stray bullets).

They ended up in the American occupation zone, avoided Operation Keelhaul, and made it to the USA. But my grandmother loved America, and always was full of joy and gratitude about making it here, said I was American and wanted me to marry an American girl. There was not the least bit of bitterness or hardness about her. It’s a sobering thought that my mother’s family just missed Dresden, but I never heard her picking the scabs of past miseries.

A final note: after Lithuania regained its independence in 1990 my grandmother and her three siblings had their 80-hectare plot of land in Kaunas that had been stolen by the Soviets restored to them.

Ron L. writes:

The desire to blacken the allied victory in World War II, by calling us murderers is hardly limited to the left. Pat Buchanan’s latest articles repeat this theme as do posts by every author at Taki’s Magazine but Chris Roach. (Pat’s historical revisionism goes so far as to claim that the British and not the Germans were the first ones to use terror raids.)

Regarding the actual bombings themselves I tend to view them according to means and ends. British night raids were largely indiscriminate attacks on cities, a mirrior of the Nazi night attacks of the Blitz. They killed civilians and marginally hurt the war effort. The cost to the Germans were high, 200,000 to 400,000 and also to the British Bomber command. I believe the figures are rather appalling. Bomber Command in World War II had 125,000 pilots and air crew. Of these almost 56,000 died, 8,400 were wounded, and another 9,900 were captured. Only 27 percent survived physically unharmed.

Outside of specific precision missions like the attacks on the Ruhr Valley dams, it is hard to call RAF strategic bombing anything more than mass murder, designed to cripple the enemy. There was never a possibility of these ending the war, although they did hurt the German war machine.

The U.S. Eighth Air Force, the main U.S. bomber force in Europe focused on Daylight “precision” raids for strategic bombing. While the technology of the time limited the effectiveness of such attacks, there was a serious attempt to limit damage to strategic targets. From early 1942 until late 1943, these daylight raids were not escorted by allied fighters (partially due to lack of long range fighters and, sadly murderous mismanagement of the few P-38s in theater and refusal to use the P-51B by General Ira Eaker). Only a handful of bomber crews made it through the 25 mission tour during this time. The rest were blown out of the air, or had their crews slowly replaced as each member was individually wounded or killed. Those who attack U.S. strategy in Europe as murder mock the more than 20,000 men who died or were wounded in this time, as they risked life and limb for a moral strategic bombing. And the attacks on well defended targets like machinery plants, factories, and refineries shortened the war. The German military literally ran out of fuel and spare parts. The marvelous weapons like the Me-262, the world’s most advanced jet fighter until the Sabres and Mig-15s of the Korean War (both of which borrowed the wing and tail of the Me-262) lacked engines, because the manufacturing plants were destroyed.

U.S. attacks on Japan were mixed. Initially the 20th Air Force tried strategic bombing, but this was unsucessful due to the less centralized manufacturing centers in Japan, as well as lack of knowledge of the atmospheric phenomenon known was the jet stream. Our high flying B-29s simply could not hit individual targets with the technology of the time. This led to the decision to switch to low level conventional attacks and firebombing. The Japanese casualties were well over 1 million. this campaign culminated in the two atomic bombings, which ended the war. As brutal as this campaign was, it did end the war and saved millions more Japanese and American lives by making the invasion of the Japanese home islands unnecessary.

Tony P. writes:

This post and the accompanying comments make it painfully obvious that none of your readers have ever actually read any of Ferguson’s work. Far from being an “enemy” of America, Professor Ferguson is in fact one of its biggest fans. Perhaps you and your readers are not familiar with Professor Ferguson’s 2004 essay in Foreign Policy magazine entitled “A World Without Power” (which, I might add, is subtitled “Tired of American global dominance? Just consider the alternatives.”). In the essay, Ferguson lays out an incredibly detailed and quite frightening scenario of what would occur if the United States abdicated its global role. According to the “ever-stylish” darling of the left wing Niall Ferguson, the world would see an “an era of waning empires and religious fanaticism; of endemic plunder and pillage in the world’s forgotten regions; of economic stagnation and civilization’s retreat into a few fortified enclaves.” Not quite what you’d expect from a Eurowimp America-hater who is supposedly contributing to the “spiritual sickness” of the West, huh? But then again, I couldn’t count on your incredibly intelligent readers to pay attention to such a lefty rag as Foreign Policy magazine. In fact, Niall Ferguson is such a big fan of American power that he argued in a debate against darling neoconservative Robert Kagan that “the United States is such a wonderful country that I don’t regard it as utopian, to imagine the whole of the world peopled by replicas of the United States. In an ideal world, there would be a United States of Europe in the image, adopting the structures of the United States. In an ideal world, perhaps, there might be a United States of Arabia or at least a United States of Iraq.” Not quite the man your readers thought he was. Unfortunately, this is what happens when you get all of your news from Rush Limbaugh. Even if your posters were off on Ferguson’s general leanings towards America, perhaps they were at least correct about the specifics—that Ferguson criticizes the use of strategic bombing during World War II. Wrong. Ferguson makes the argument that strategic bombing was an incredibly savage tactic—a statement, I think, few would disagree with. However, in his book The War of the World (which I presume is where Ferguson makes the claims that Rush takes issue with, though your incredibly reliable writers couldn’t be bothered to actually cite anything). Ferguson simply points this out to note that 20th century conflict was particularly brutal, not to “undermine and undercut confidence in our culture”. I suppose I cannot count on the writers of this fine blog to make it past the book jacket when reading (they must have seen the book ran almost 500 pages long and run away in fear), but I expect better fact-checking when someone is being accused of “demoralizing America”. Professor Ferguson has also been a vocal critic of revisionist historians such as Pat Buchanan, and has always argued that Great Britain should have preemptively attacked Nazi Germany in the mid-thirties to stymie Hitler’s expansion. Seriously, what’s next? Accusations that John Lewis Gaddis is in league with Al-Qaeda and the Chinese Communist Party? Please, sir, next time you decide to deride a respected historian as an enemy of America, at least get the facts right.

LA replies:

You’ve never heard of people who play both side of the street? I’ve read numerous articles by Ferguson and he’s all over the place. He’s popular with neoconservatives because he upholds the uses of American power in the present. At the same time, he constructs a relativism between Nazi Germany and the allies that obviously is, and is intended to be, profoundly demoralizing. Moreover, he has declared that the Islamization of Europe is “irreversible.” Meaning the extinction of our civilization is irreversible. Don’t bother doing anything about it. Just accept it.

So, once one has said that, what is left? Some kind of Mark Steynian “America Alone” in an Islamized world?

Buchanan is also pro-America one moment, and in the next saying we should have let Hitler take over most of the world, and then adding we must strive to “win Muslims’ hearts and minds,” which means let Muslims take over.

You believe that Ferguson is a champion of America. But what is the America Ferguson believes in, but some globalized entity nightmarishly replicating itself all over the world? He doesn’t believe in America as an actual country. He believes in some universalized, liberal system that he calls “America.” In other words, he plays the neocon side of the street while he also appeals to the fashionable, decidedly non-neocon view that WWII wasn’t worth fighting.

On the question of reading his books, Ferguson has written numerous, standalone articles, and these articles can be judged on their merits.

Carol Iannone replies:
That’s a good response to Tony P. But Tony P. makes it sound as if I was characterizing Ferguson. I was characterizing Rush’s characterization of Ferguson, and pointing out the irony that this person whom Rush is describing as a leftwing hater of America is an advisor to McCain.

Also, the point you make about his various articles is a good one. He is obviously presenting his ideas in popular formats, now a PBS series, so people have a right to judge these things on their own merits, without having to read his 500 page books.

Philip M. writes:

I read an article in the Daily Telegraph in 2006 by Niall Ferguson about globalisation, which contained the following passage-

“It makes no sense to jeopardise the benefits of globalisation to protect the employment prospects of high-school dropouts. So here’s a modest counter-proposal for the House of Representatives. Instead of building an expensive, hideous and probably ineffective new Iron Curtain, why not use the money to get this simple message across to the kids in America’s high schools: If you flunk, you’re sunk. Yes, boys and girls, academic achievement is the only route to decent employment in an economy at the top of the technological food chain. Drop out of education without qualifications, and you’ll be lucky to get a job alongside the Mexicans picking fruit or stacking shelves.”

I find this attitude utterly detestable. As far as I am concerned this man is the worst kind of neo-con. I want to live in a society of fellow compatriots, who are valued for being a part of my culture and are brought up to believe they have worth as human beings. To tell them at such a young age that they must compete down at the bottom with people from the third world or perish is my idea of a heartless, cultureless society in which people’s worth is defined solely by whether they can stack more cans for less money than the people in the local immigration centre.

In an American context, I wonder what Mr Ferguson thinks this approach would also mean for the many black Americans whose jobs would be taken by the incoming Mexicans? But I guess he is rich enough to not have to worry about the social impact of his opinions.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at June 26, 2008 03:43 PM | Send

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