October 19, 2003

A Brief History Lesson


So sayeth Life Magazine in January 1945.

We have swept away Hitlerism, but a great many Europeans feel that the cure has been worse than the disease.
Blah blah blah.

Read more at Jessica's Well.

(Via Oxblog.)

UPDATE: Oops. Make that January 1946, not 1945.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at October 19, 2003 11:01 PM

I believe that should be January 1946!

Posted by: Joel at October 20, 2003 01:33 AM

I'll second that.Life.com has the covers,if you want to check.

Posted by: JH at October 20, 2003 04:01 AM

I can not wait for Kimmett to come on here and talk about how we should not have went to war during WW2.

Posted by: James Stephenson at October 20, 2003 05:18 AM

Damn, James beat me to the punch.

Posted by: Court at October 20, 2003 07:14 AM

OK, I've now seen this copied at about a dozen blogs with no attempt at context at all.

Look, I don't know the first thing about John Dos Passos or what his politics were like, but does it occur to anyone that criticism like this in 1946 might have been partly responsible for getting us off our butts and passing the Marshall Plan in 1947? Sheesh.

Posted by: Kevin Drum at October 20, 2003 09:35 AM

Two things.
1) While the comment section over at Jessica's Well seems to have turned into a jump on Dos Passos affair, I think Michael and others are just pointing out the parallel to give the CURRENT situation some context.
2) What's telling about the quote is that while many EUROPEANS may have felt the cure worse than the disease, the same CANNOT be said of many Iraqis who don't want us to leave just yet. Many Western journalists and other big thinkers may feel the cure is worse than the disease and it's those folks who need the context that the Life articles provide.

Posted by: ken at October 20, 2003 10:10 AM

Kevin states - does it occur to anyone that criticism like this in 1946 might have been partly responsible for getting us off our butts and passing the Marshall Plan in 1947?

That's fine, but will critics hopeful that we can have Iraq repay us the $10b likewise accept partial responsibilty if perception among ordinary Iraqis grows that "we are just there for the oil"? Unlikely, since more political capital is gained by continuing to blame everything on the Bush administration.

Posted by: d-rod at October 20, 2003 10:37 AM

Kevin Drum,

You make a good point. But do you get my point? Doom-mongering has a poor record.

And saying the American occupation was worse than Hitlerism is absolutely pathetic.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at October 20, 2003 10:42 AM

This piece just reinforces a perception that I have about many (not all) opponents of the war. Our host has discussed this elsewhere -- an apparent lack of understanding of historical and strategic issues. Perhaps it's only a matter of perception on my part, or perhaps I just haven't been looking in the right places, but it seems that many of the war's opponents are unable to articulate: a coherent theory of a just war; any historical context for the term "quagmire"; any context for the level of difficulty that should reasonably be expected in reconstructing a country; any context for the level of suffering currently being experienced by the Iraqi and Afghan peoples, as opposed not only to the antebellum state of affairs, but prior to the overturned regimes; and so on.

In short, I get the impression that many people, for whatever varied reasons, are all to happy to allow the perfect to be the enemy of the good.

Posted by: Phil Smith at October 20, 2003 11:17 AM

I'm too lazy to do the research, but, if I recall correctly from my reading of USA as a teenager, Dos Passos was a socialist.

Posted by: Ellie at October 20, 2003 12:52 PM

John Dos Passos was a socialist who took a journey towards American conservatism as he grew older. I believe he wrote a forward for one of William F. Buckley's collections of essays in his late age.

Posted by: John Thacker at October 20, 2003 02:30 PM

I can not wait for Kimmett to come on here and talk about how we should not have went to war during WW2.

You're going to have to wait a long, long time -- but by equating the threat presented by Saddam to the threat presented by Hitler, Mussolini, and Tojo, you've done a fine job of underlining the mendacity which surrounds the attempted justification of Iraq War II.

Posted by: Kimmitt at October 20, 2003 04:09 PM

Dos Pasos was born in 1896 in Chicago. He was the illigitimate son of a successful corporate lawyer and a New England lady of society. To avoid embarassment to his parents he was educated in Europe with no last name and broken French and English accents. He was teased horribly in prep-school (illigit or not he got the best of everything) and became something of a cynic and radical concerning his upperclass collegues. He later went on to study at Harvard, where he became an editor for the Harvard Monthly. After college he worked as an ambulance driver and witnessed both World Wars. Watching American dive right back into the Roaring Twenties after WWII and the post WWII boom he came to see the triumph of the Allies as simply the triumph of the Captains of Industry over the worker. He became famous for writing the "USA trilogy" of faked news scetches which detailed the "American Scene" of the 30's. However, deadly staged riots by American Communists turned him away from any mass social organization as a means of correcting society's ills. Instead, Dos Pasos dove into a re-studying of American History in which he underwent a profound change of heart and became a determined 'apologist' for 'the establishment'. This tarnished his earlier reputation, by the left, as "the greatest American writer". He died in 1970.



Posted by: sblafren at October 20, 2003 04:51 PM

Two good comments from Jessica's well:

"This is incredible. At first I thought it was a parody, similar to others I've seen inserting Germany or Japan in place of Iraq into the defeatist hand wringing we've seen so much of in the press. From my limited knowledge of Dos Passos (reading his USA trilogy) my recollection is that he was decidedly on the left end of the political spectrum, so his pessimism here is to be expected. What a great find. Mark Twain (I think) said that history doesn't repeat itself, but it does rhyme. This sure looks like a rerun to me."

"John Dos Passos was a highly respected novelist of that time (and to some extent still is). His politics are difficult to categorize, other than to say that in general he moved from left to right over the course of a lifetime. Of course being a great novelist has nothing to do with being a great reporter, and it seems that here he lets his experiences after World War I get in the way of clear analysis. He recalls that the post-WWI Europe was a better place than the (at the time) current post-war Europe, which no doubt it was as most cities were intact. The task of rebuilding Europe after WWII was enormous, and nothing like it had ever been tried before. Dos Passos had no perspective on the situation, he only thought he did."

Posted by: sblafren at October 21, 2003 12:54 AM

Actually Kimmett, that was a joke, lighten up.

Secondly, people here are saying the same thing about Iraq that he said about Europe.

But if you ask any Iraqi who was worse, I can imagine they would say that Saddam was worse. In the context of history he was in no way worse. Stalin and Mao top the worst of History's killers. Followed in a close third Hitler.

Saddam will be a footnote, somewhere after Khmer Rouge(sp).

But you are right Kimmett, we never should have taken a Homicidal Maniac out of power in Iraq. Should have dropped sanctions and let him build his bomb and start up his WMD programs properly instead of doing it on the sly.

Because obviously a man who gasses his political opponents has to be a better man than Bush.

Posted by: James Stephenson at October 21, 2003 05:24 AM

In order:

But you are right Kimmett, we never should have taken a Homicidal Maniac out of power in Iraq.

...but we should not bother to intervene to eject other homicidal dictators -- or even to ask ourselves which homicidal dictators (regimes, et cetera) may be best ended with the limited resources we have available. Or even ask ourselves precisely how many children will die of preventible diseases because we couldn't be bothered to fund trichinosis and polio elimination programs at a tiny fraction of the cost of this war.

Should have dropped sanctions and let him build his bomb and start up his WMD programs properly instead of doing it on the sly.

You're making the fact that I advocated this up. It's okay, though; I'm used to proponents of the war making things up.

Posted by: Kimmitt at October 21, 2003 10:29 PM

I am all for taking out Homicidal Dictators the World over. North Korea, Iran, Syria, Palastine, Saudi Arabia.

Let's really get this thing rolling. I guess we agree on something Kimmett.

Lets bring Freedom to the whole of the world, Capitalism for all, freedom of choice for all, the pursuit of happiness for all. I am impressed, and all this time I thought you were a socialist.

Posted by: James Stephenson at October 22, 2003 05:44 AM

Michael Totten attempts to give us "A Brief History Lesson"

Oh, this should be good, from a man who can't even get the date right. For that matter, he doesn't even get the point: John Dos Passos, writing well before the Marshall Plan was architected, much less proposed by Marshall, was trying to get Americans to understand why they should sacrifice, why they should make an effort to help put Europe back on its feet. Was "Hitlerism" better for many? Millions died of hunger in the wake of WW II. Yes, for many, it just so happened to be better, because they remembered being able to eat at least once a day.

And Michael Totten's comment in the face of dos Passos' portrait of the suffering and inequities?

"Blah blah blah."

Thank you Professor Totten. That was refreshingly cogent and well thought out. Plus, this way, I don't even have to take notes during your lectures, much less do any reading of history, to pass your course. See? Just read the superficial reactions of bloggers, and you know everything. Never actually look at the primary sources.

Posted by: Michael Turner at October 22, 2003 08:17 AM

Michael Turner: Oh, this should be good, from a man who can't even get the date right.

It was a typo. Got it? A fucking typo.

As to the question, was Hitlerism better than the American occupation? Yes, for many, it just so happened to be better


Posted by: Michael J. Totten at October 22, 2003 10:40 AM

Michael Totten, if you let Michael Turner get your goat, he wins and you lose.

Posted by: Moe Lane at October 22, 2003 01:30 PM


True enough. I'll just ignore him. I enjoy a good argument, but he doesn't know how it's done.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at October 22, 2003 02:31 PM

Me: "Michael Turner: Oh, this should be good, from a man who can't even get the date right."

Totten: "It was a typo. Got it? A fucking typo."

Reasonable enough, in any entry not arrogantly emblazoned with "A History Lesson." Here, it doesn't wash.

Me: "As to the question, was Hitlerism better than the American occupation? Yes, for many, it just so happened to be better"

Totten: "Nice."

No, not nice. Just reality. "Better" can mean "less desperately miserable". My Dad had hip replacement surgery recently. He's walking around, slowly, in pain. Earlier in post-op recovery, he couldn't walk. He's better than when he emerged from surgery. Got it? OK, let me throw some complexity at you: he's still in more pain than before his hip replacement. I.e., things were better before the surgery. Will he be better than before this whole nightmare started? Depends -- there were complications, owing in no small part to the greed of certain doctors and certain clinics and their lousy communication.

I notice you don't get to my point: typo or not, you only skimmed the yellow-highlighter Cliff's Notes You didn't bother to appreciate the article in its full complexity. If anything, this article recounts a John dos Passos tour that was probably funded at the behest of George Marshall. And dos Passos was a good choice -- he registered his disgust with the inequities of the Versailles treaty very early, in his Three Soldiers.

With some determination to present us with an actual history lesson, you'd have spent 5 minutes on the subject and would have known this. Never has research been easier. But, y'know, the echo chamber of blogdom is just so much easier still, isn't it?

Totten claims: "I enjoy a good argument, but [Michael Turner] doesn't know how it's done."

Excellent strategy for never having to admit that you're wrong: say something ignorant and inflammatory, then discount the heated responses as "uncivil", while being as uncivil as you want (calling Olympia Snowe, a Republican with some principles and sense of responsibility, an "asshole", for example.)

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