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For most of us the imperative of forestalling a Nazi victory or avoiding vastly increased Allied casualties enter into the moral calculus. For Baker, however, they do not. His implied argument against strategic bombing is disingenuous because Baker is not interested in distinguishing methods of war-making that avoid targeting civilians from tactics and strategies that do not, he is interested in condemning any decision to fight a war, explicitly including the Allied decision to fight the Second World War. In an interview, he noted that the worst possible outcome of not fighting – a long Nazi rule over Europe –would have been morally preferable to inflicting the horrors of war. Preferable for whom? For Slavs, gypsies and Jews? To ask this question is to answer it. And why assume that Hitler would have stopped with the Continent? Had the Baker Plan been adopted, what would have stopped him? As long as he had access to the naval technology of late fifteenth century Europe, Hitler would have soon ruled whatever portion of the globe remained outside the Japanese empire.
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Baker wants to argue that resisting evil with force is always wrong, and has chosen the hardest case because he somehow thinks he can win the argument. Because Baker cannot suffer the fate he would bring about if he could somehow undo the Allied decision to fight, his moral posturing is at best unpersuasive, and often repellent. The posturing might be less repellent if Baker was choosing a fate for others in which he would himself share, but he isn’t, and he can’t: he lives in the apparently secure and comparatively just West Allied force made, while reviling the work of those who made it. When he mourns mass murder while insisting that any effort to oppose mass murder was as wicked as the killing itself, he means that he prefers a spotless conscience to any number of live Jews, or Poles, or Russians, or Serbs. And what is worse, Baker does not admit his preference. When concealing it he has a flair for a technique that might uncharitably be called suppressio veri, suggestio falsi. For example, he points out that in July of 1940 Eichmann considered shipping the Jews to Madagascar if but only if Britain made peace, with the implication that those who refused to make peace have the blood of the Jews on their hands. There are also implications that American belligerency sealed the fate of the Jews. There is no acknowledgement, however, of one of the commonplaces of modern historical work on the Final Solution: Germany began wholesale extermination in July of 1941 because with the apparent impending collapse of the Soviet Union, victory over Germany’s enemies now seemed inevitable. The Final Solution was the result of the spectre of victory, not of the fact of war; had the latter been true, the Final Solution would have presumably have commenced in the autumn of 1939. Baker wants to lay the Final Solution at the door of those whose use of force brought it to an end, to insist that it was the decision to use Allied force that killed the Jews, and not Allied forces that saved a remnant of them. This is a contemptible lie.

Novelists are normally celebrated for their imagination, but imagination is what Baker most lacks. I think Camus observed that we must have the courage to imagine the real. The real and dreadful evil that must be resisted with force is what Baker refuses to imagine. The ability to at least partially imagine the reality of National Socialism is pretty common, in that most people who loathe war think war was in that case justified. The tone of Human Smoke, which suggests the converse proposition, implies that its author is thus richly and even uniquely endowed with the courage to imagine the real, but Baker is instead indulging fantasy masquerading as Camus’ notion of imagination. A radical deficiency of courage is cowardice, which in Camus’ sense of the former word makes Baker a coward, and one who displays his moral cowardice while in effect boasting of his moral courage. The coward who boasts of his courage, and who is by some mistaken for a courageous man – the miles gloriosus – is normally a figure of comedy. Not, alas, this time.

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Dr J
January 14th, 2009
1:01 AM
Winston Churchill was a staunch Zionist and a great man. His work will be remembered long after Baker's work is remaindered.

Terrence Cole
August 17th, 2008
9:08 AM
Wonderful review Fred!

Anonymous
June 16th, 2008
7:06 PM
A penetrating review. Smoler is correct to expose Baker's bizarre perspective on the Holocaust.

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