beat the clock

In some measure, what John Lukacs is saying is that a good many people were wrong in their perceptions of what was occurring during World War II. But he is also saying more than that, something more interesting and more profound. He draws the moral:

During this century the texture of history changed; and with it changed what I like to call the structure of events. The influence of mind over matter, the intrusion of mind into the structure of events are there for anyone who wishes to see…The history of those years abounds with examples suggesting the very contrary of what Marx had been preaching and of what is still the accepted basis of what goes under the name of modern social science: that what people were thinking and believing was not merely the rationalization of their economic situation, the substructure of the material ‘realities.’ To the contrary: What people think and believe is the real substance of their lives and of their histories- and the material institutions of society- indeed, the material organization of the world- is merely the superstructure of that. ( The Last European War)

—Is humour a weapon against social injustice? Or is it a safety valve that helps perpetuate social and political ills? Sigmund Freud explained to the world that a joke is never simply a joke. Monica Osborne and Rudolph Herzog have done a god job of taking this point in an interesting direction.—Read More: image:

On a relatively simple level, we all know that “images” affect what happens in the world. In broad historical terms much of the diplomatic maneuvering of the late 1930’s, which assigned Great Britain such tremendous importance, occurred not because Britain was the essential factor in world politics, but because Britain was thought to be the essential factor. Britain’s armed forces were unprepared for war, so Britain was weak. But Hitler thought Britain was strong, and, for a time, thinking made it so. Then, after Chamberlain returned from Munich, Britain seemed weak-weaker than Britain truly was- and, for a time again, thinking made it so.

—The New York Times reviews an exhibition of Arthur Szyk’s obsessively detailed anti-Nazi caricatures in the German Historical Museum in Berlin, including “Wagner,” pictured above. As the Times points out, Szyk had no sense of humor.—Read More:


(see link at end) John Lukacs:The great Dutch historian Johan Huizinga once wrote: “The historian . . . must always maintain towards his subject an indeterminist point of view. He must constantly put himself at a point in the past at which the human factors still seem to permit different outcomes. If he writes of Salamis, then it must be as if the Persians might still win.” Two decades ago I chose this passage to be the epigraph and motto of my book The Duel, dealing with the history of the 80 days between May 10 and July 31, 1940, since at that very time Hitler could have won his war. What if Hitler had subdued England in June 1940? This “What if?” is not a counterfactual question. It is admissible, because the success of Churchill’s and Britain’s defiance of Hitler was not inevitable….

Otto Dix. The Match Seller.—An excerpt:
The French, unlike the English, feared death more than they feared defeat. But this statement, so cruelly condemnatory at first sight, must be qualified to a certain extent. The English, who had not been conquered by an invader for nearly one thousand years, knew in their bones that their defeat would mean a kind of death for England, that its effect would not be temporary. The French, on the other hand, knew in their heads, if not in their bones, the memory of national defeats together with the memory of their national recoveries. Still, in 1940, they gave up too easily.—Read More: image:

Another great historian, Owen Chadwick, once wrote that there is a mystery in every historical event. That, I think, accords with the great (Portuguese) proverb “God writes straight with crooked lines.” So it was with many events of the Second World War—for example, that the Red Army was a most powerful element in a war that Hitler lost and the Western democracies won.

Let me now ask a painful question that I have often asked myself: Was the Holocaust inevitable? No. Let me put this reasonably: What if there had been no Holocaust?—more precisely, no planned and completed murder of six million Jews and other victims during the Second World War? What if Hitler and his minions had chosen to sequester and corral and deport Jews and other victims of Germany from much of Europe into miserable concentration camps, but not proceed to kill most of them—whereby most Jews and other victims in Europe and in the western Soviet Union would have survived the war? Hitler did think that Jews and his other dangerous opponents must be expelled; but by 1941 there was no way to gather and send them to some faraway place at the end of the world; they had to be liquidated: for what would they do if, God forbid, his Germany lost the war? Well, there is one certain answer I think I can give to this—not at all implausible—potentiality. It is that, if so, after the war and surely now, 60 or more years later, the reputation of Hitler and of National Socialism would be much better than it is. So these hecatombs of the dead, these “crooked lines” have had at least one “straight” result. (Even those who deny or argue to diminish the extent of the Holocaust do not quite say that, yes, there was a war, and the Jews got what they deserved.) Read More:

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