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The Soviet vs US/UK contributions in WWII

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"Why is Hitchens considered an ‘intellectual’?
Posted by rippon on November 14, 2010, 3:10 pm, in reply to "The delusions of Christopher Hitchens"

Why is Hitchens considered an ‘intellectual’?

I just don’t get it, because his arguments always seem anti-intellectual, regardless of whether you agree or disagree with him (e.g. it was right to invade Iraq).

For example, the interviewer, Andrew Anthony, writes of Hitchens:
“He says that those who tell him to tread more softly [when criticising Islam] believe that the price of not doing so is more violence.”

– And Hitchens is scathing of this because those people are therefore acknowledging that they only give any heed to Islamist views because of the threat of violence.

But this is pure anti-intellectualism because it is pure straw man. Hitchens rebuts an argument that his opponents don’t actually make:

The anti-war movement never argues that we should not bomb and invade other countries for fear of what violence others might perpetrate as a consequence. Their argument is that bombing and invading contravenes things that we have signed-up to, e.g. international law, Geneva conventions, the principle that parliament must not be misled.

I’m currently reading Nick Cohen’s ‘What’s Left?’ So far, he has referred to Tariq Ali and Edward Said considerably, without producing a single quote from them. He simply gives his own impression of ‘The Left’, then, because Ali and Said are of the Left, presumes that any criticism of the Left that he contrives automatically implies something about Ali and Said – not just straw man, but deeply dishonest too.

These men are not intellectual; they’re infantile. They screech against arguments that no serious people are making. And they simply blank counter-arguments that people +do+ make.

What puzzles me is that their tactics are often so transparent that it is puzzling why right-wingers celebrate them so much. It would be more sensible to be far more moderated in one’s praise of them because then, when they are exposed, that wouldn’t reflect so badly on the people they commend (e.g. Paul Wolfowitz)."


"Re: Why is Hitchens considered an ‘intellectual’?
Posted by David Bracewell on November 14, 2010, 6:16 pm, in reply to "Why is Hitchens considered an ‘intellectual’?"

I agree but think that the straw man arguments are so consistently put that it is telling you several things about those writers:

1. their outlook is so ingrained that it requires of their opponents views they don't hold. In other words, it is so dualistic that you must hold the other gun in the duel - the opposite view. And that gun is probably not the one you would choose to hold. But such is the nature of a dual.

So: I believe in freedom and violence is necessary against tyrants: you are spineless and gormless and believe in nothing because you don't know when violence is needed and who the enemy really is.

Those I champion share my strength, those you champion are venal and corrupt - or Saddam Hussein. You champion Saddam Hussein.

Interestingly that second argument was first put by Hitchen's lifelong object of admiration George Orwell. He called pacifists "objectively pro-fascist". However, unlike Hitchens, Orwell disavowed this view later in his life, saying:

"In my opinion a few pacifists are inwardly pro-Nazi, and extremist left-wing parties will inevitably contain Fascist spies. The important thing is to discover which individuals are honest and which are not, and the usual blanket accusation merely makes this more difficult. The atmosphere of hatred in which controversy is conducted blinds people to considerations of this kind. To admit that an opponent might be both honest and intelligent is felt to be intolerable. It is more immediately satisfying to shout that he is a fool or a scoundrel, or both, than to find out what he is really like. "

In this respect, Orwell in his forties was more wise than Hitchens in his sixties. And on this, given that vituperation against any intellectual opponent is Hitchen's stock in trade, they rupture philosophically to an irreparable degree.

2. The ossification of their views is a parcel with the substantial destruction of their constructed reality. As their driving ideas misalign with what actually happens on the ground their inability to face that reality forces an even more marked inability to listen to their opponents. Because to listen would provide them large logic problems. To listen would fatally undermine the logic of their entire philosophical scaffolding. So you rarely (never in my experience) see sound arguments from them vis a vis Western Intervention dealing with the best their opponents have to offer.

Rather you see brilliant arguments neatly (very neatly - it tells you something about the driving logic) skewering feeble or imagined opponents with feeble or imaginary positions, the arguments of which are applied to the whole peace movement.

3. Guilt and worry is in there to a large degree but it's constantly pressed into their subconscious by their growing bellicosity and contempt for others who understood what was going on and essentially got it right. Their duallism obscures from them any culpability for what has been a pretty grim ten or fifteen years of self-serving Western violence.

4. I often think, coming from a 1960s youth, that people like Hitchens and Cohen are sort of living the 'greatest generation' gig. It was so pervasive back then and all the myths of US/UK/Aussie/Canadian greatness were such a part of my intellectual training. And training it was. The USSR in WW2 didn't seem to exist, but it was the substantial enemy of Nazism. We were a sideshow. That propaganda was a huge seduction.

I think they are, along with Aaronovitch and a swag of US neo-cons like Max Boot, sort of stuck in the 1930s, fighting the certainties that they or their parents and teachers have solidified from that era - the foolishness of Western-based Soviet supporters and pacifists, the evilness of fascist regimes, the bravery or sacrifice or deaths of their fathers, grandfathers or whole families. I really think the certainties that they draw from that age and the underlying need to be part of that drives quite a bit of their thinking. I can't stress the need too much so I'll bold it - NEED .

IMO they feel ashamed of not being a part of that era and engaging in certainties that are often post-facto judgments. They've been trying to recreate the simple stories of their youth and the NEED sort of kicked in for them both in early middle-age.


Stressing the USSR as a force in WW2 didn't exist in my upbringing, but it was a part and parcel of Cohen's and Aaronovitch's upbringing. More generally, the lessons of European socialist defiance in the face of fascism also act as a motivator for them. They derive certainties from socialist direct action back then and draw all the wrong lessons from them. As does Hitchens.



"All very interesting. For example, …
Posted by rippon on November 14, 2010, 6:48 pm, in reply to "Re: Why is Hitchens considered an ‘intellectual’?"

All very interesting. For example: “The USSR in WW2 didn't seem to exist, but it was the substantial enemy of Nazism. We were a sideshow.”

From what sources does one gain that impression?

I’ve read very little history, so the only impression I’ve ever gained (from standard sources, e.g. school, BBC) is: the Brits bravely halted Hitler’s conquering progress across Europe (e.g. France). Then it reached a touch-and-go tipping point, and then the Yanks stepped in and saved the day.

I’ve never heard that the USSR were +more+ crucial than the plucky Brits to defeating Hitler.

[I did recently learn that Hitler’s genocide of Jews was not a motive to stopping him – because, for example, the genocide was not really learned of until +after+ his defeat, and, also, there was collaboration between Hitler and major industrialists (e.g. IBM, GM, Ford) some of whom must have been aware of his genocidal activities.]"


"Re: All very interesting. For example, …
Posted by David Bracewell on November 14, 2010, 7:28 pm, in reply to "All very interesting. For example, … "

More crucial by far than the US.

Most of US and UK action against the Nazis took place in sideshow theatres. (East Africa - sideshow, Greece - allied disaster and sideshow, Italy - German retreat to a denied flank) till the last 11 months of the war. A handful of armoured and infantry corps.

Three German armies attacked Russia - nearly 200 divisions. The scale is completely different.

The Eastern front saw several of the largest battles in the history of mankind (Leningrad, Stalingrad, Kursk and so on). It was the decisive theatre.

D-Day, 11 months before operations ended in Europe, with its dispersed 40-something French-based German divisions has no context without this. There were still over 150 German divisions in the East. And the final push from the West against realistically a few Corps happens in the context of the collapse of these three eastern-based German armies.

Soviet incompetence, the confusion between civilian and military casualites and the general facist slaughter of Soviet civilians notwithstanding the death tolls are significant.

The US lost upwards of 300,000 solders in all fighting on the Western battlefields. The Soviets lost 10 million soldiers. (10 to 20 million more civilians)

I got the following info from Wiki, forgive me, but looking up history books right now ain't my priority. A quote from the very pro-US Time magazine:

All these factors resulted in tremendous brutality both to combatants and civilians that found no parallel on the Western Front. According to Time: "By measure of manpower, duration, territorial reach and casualties, the Eastern Front was as much as four times the scale of the conflict on the Western Front that opened with the Normandy invasion."

And of course the Soviets had been fighting on this scale for three previous years where the West had been fighting sideshows.



" Re: All very interesting. For example, …
Posted by Keith-264 on November 14, 2010, 8:19 pm, in reply to "Re: All very interesting. For example, … "

No-one who has studied the German wars would dispute that the Eastern front in the Big Two was the Western front of the Great War but the magnitude of the westender contribution was a little more significant than that.

Britain's biggest offensive contribution to the war was Bomber Command which began to demolish the German war economy in early 1943. At the time the Red Army was nearly a thousand miles from Berlin. American lend-lease allowed the USSR to realise economies of scale and a world division of antifascist labour.

The USSR's war effort was labour intensive because the course of the war made it so, it was after all Europe's last colonial land-grab (except Palestine). This time the victims won, albeit at horrendous cost but not on their own. "


"Re: All very interesting. For example, …
Posted by David Bracewell on November 14, 2010, 9:07 pm, in reply to "Re: All very interesting. For example, … "

"Britain's biggest offensive contribution to the war was Bomber Command which began to demolish the German war economy in early 1943"

Not according to Albet Speer who was responsible for German industrial output of armaments. Furthermore, the focus shifted largely to war crimes - massive attacks largely against civilians with area bombings - fairly quickly. From the nefarious Wiki again:

"By 1943, the Allies had gained air superiority over Germany, and bombings of German cities and industry had become commonplace. However, the Allies in their strategic bombing campaign did not concentrate on industry, and Speer, with his improvisational skill, was able to overcome bombing losses. In spite of these losses, German production of tanks more than doubled in 1943, production of planes increased by 80 percent, and production time for Kriegsmarine's submarines was reduced from one year to two months. Production would continue to increase until the second half of 1944, by which time enough equipment to supply 270 army divisions was being produced—although the Wehrmacht had only 150 divisions in the field."

I've read his volumous memoirs so I don't derive this knowledge from wiki, just reaffirm it.

But strategic bombing had some critical effects not reported by Speer for sure. Just not to the degree we've been taught. Strategic bombing's bigger contribution was to normalising civilian mass-death in a way German air attacks against British cities could not because of their necessarily much smaller scale. And to giving birth to the almost unchanged attitude in the US and UK that continuing such crimes is fine because they're not crimes.

Yes Lend-Lease. But we are not taught that the Allies won the war because of US industrial policy with the Soviet Union. That's a peripheral point to the propaganda.

I don't think I've exaggerated that difference between the two commitments in any way. The vastness of the Soviet contribution dwarfs what happened from the West, albeit I agree that it was somewhat significant. Just not very much in comparison. "
Mon Nov 15, 2010 3:02 pm
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Post Post subject: Reply with quote

Interesting stuff from you guys.
Speaking personally I tend to feel a great weight of peer-group pressure descend whenever I begin to characterise World Wars One and Two (or "The World War"), as "capitalist enterprises" now-days. I wonder what Orwell would have made of that?
In terms of military tech' "vis-a-vis"* the Soviet contribution in "World War Two", "history is written by the victors" and as a result we remain chronically under-informed about the subject.

* I had no idea how funny that was until I looked up the meaning of the phrase (however you won't find the meaning "in relation to" with the Online Dictionary or Wikipedia).
Thu Jan 06, 2011 12:45 am
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