Some Lessons After Fifty Years

Published: 1995-07-01

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Joseph Sobran is a nationally-syndicated columnist, author and lecturer. He is a former senior editor of National Review, and currently Washington, DC, correspondent for The Wanderer and the Rothbard-Rockwell Report. He edits a monthly newsletter, Sobran's (... [now defunct; ed]). "Holy War" first appeared in the May 18, 1995, issue of The Wanderer, a traditionalist Roman Catholic weekly. "The Holocaust as Excuse" and "The Winner" first appeared in the June 1995 issue of Sobran's

The Holocaust as Excuse

In a century marked by mass murders, something about the very term "the Holocaust" makes one uneasy. It has become a sort of political brand name, like "the Great Society" and "Contract with America." It serves a morbid sort of boosterism. When I hear it, I expect it to be followed by a pitch for Israel, and I am rarely disappointed.

Since the dethronement of Christianity, "Holocaust denial" has become the chief of heresies in the secularized West. I mean "heresy" literally: an opinion you can be jailed for professing. Some countries, including France, Germany, Canada, and of course Israel, have actually made it a criminal offense to express doubt of the standard version. How strange in the modern world, to ban opinion about a historical fact!

Yet there are people who are neither fanatic nor stupid nor insane nor mean-spirited who argue that it was never Hitler's purpose or policy to exterminate the Jews. Maybe not; they are far more informed on the subject than I care to be, and it never surprises me when the Zionist lobby lies or grossly exaggerates – or tries to suppress free discussion. No doubt the lobby would criminalize opinion here too if it could.

Are the Holocaust affirmers really as certain as they claim to be? Subversive thought! But when we are really sure of a historical fact, we don't force others to assent to it. We trust the truth to take care of itself. Most of us don't doubt that Napoleon invaded Russia, but we don't lose sleep over anyone who denies it. In fact we might start wondering about whether it really happened, not if a few eccentrics denied it, but if they were fiercely persecuted for doing so. Our curiosity would be piqued by the very fact that someone in power felt so threatened by doubt as to outlaw debate.

The Holocaust as a symbol doesn't date from World War II. The word was never used in those days. It dates from the late 1960s, when Jewish power reached its present height in Western politics, the universities, and the media. I see nothing sinister about Jews achieving power on the same terms as other people; what is sinister, though, is the attempt by a large number of Jews to use stealth, suppression, and slander to advance a furtive nationalism. The charge of anti-Semitism serves to obscure the difference between keeping your guard up against Jewish chauvinism and desiring to persecute people just for being Jewish.

Beyond that, the legitimacy of the entire post-constitutional US regime rests on the myth that World War II was a holy war against Evil, and wartime propaganda has hardly been qualified by sober second thoughts. And we should be suspicious of anyone who tries to bully us into agreement on any subject as we have been bullied on this one. (Besides, can anything repeated so often in The New Republic actually be true?)

But having said all this, I remember something from my own experience. I used to go to a deli in New York, where a little old Jewish woman would make me sandwiches for lunch. We never conversed: it was all smiles and thanks. But one day I noticed a tattoo on her wrist. I didn't ask her about it. It was her number. I had a good idea where she got it.

I've always kept her in mind as a touchstone. I've tried to imagine a man making his living tattooing numbers onto the wrists of men, women and children as if he were branding cattle. His occupation seems to me to imply a lot about the system he works for and its attitude toward the people it takes the liberty of marking so indelibly. If its design isn't to wipe them out, what is it?

My view of Hitler wouldn't be changed much if it transpired that he really only meant to enslave the Jews and that only a few hundred thousand, not five (sorry! six) million, had died under his care. I don't consider Stalin that much worse or Roosevelt that much better. They were all murderers who used the power of the state to destroy somewhat excessive numbers of innocent people.

Of course this is sacrilege. We are not supposed to think this way. On this subject, we are not supposed to think at all. We are supposed to repeat like tape recorders that the Nazi regime was "uniquely eviL." But no evil in this old world is unique. There have always been massacres. Nowadays they are better organized, that's all. Anyway, right and wrong aren't contingent on historical fact. We didn't need modern monsters to teach us that murder is a bad thing. The murder of someone you love will teach you that, if you hadn't known it already, far more piercingly than millions of murders abroad.

But the Holocaust, in its full mythic sense of the uniquely evil event, has become vital to Israel as the justification for its very existence and the palliative for all its sins. It is hardly too much to say: No Holocaust, no Israel.

Suppose it were proved that Hitler had stopped at tattooing and forced labor and had had no policy of actually killing Jews. Would the West be so indulgent toward the treatment Israel metes out to its own minorities? Would it accept the Jewish claim to Palestine as legitimate at all? Obviously not. We have become accustomed to judging Israel as a sort of emergency survival measure for Jews, not as a normal state; and so we don't judge it by the same criteria as other states, which are expected to accord their citizens impartial treatment under law, or a reasonable approximation thereof.

The Holocaust is not a justification for injustice. There is no such thing. It has become, rather, the Grand Excuse for a condition of permanent abnormality, for perennial "emergency measures." Against the background of the Holocaust, Israel is allowed to treat non-Jews in ways that would cause uproar throughout the West if any state were to treat Jews in those same ways. It insists that Jews can be "safe" only if they have a place where they can practice what would be condemned as anti-Semitism if it were done to them. Yet Jews are less safe, more subject to violence in Israel than in countries where everyone has the same rights. But the violence that injustices to non-Jews provoke is cited to excuse even more injustices. Terrorist acts by Arabs are used to damn the Palestinian cause and even to prove that Arabs are essentially savage, but terrorist acts by Jews, or by the Israeli state itself, are not allowed to reflect on Jews – even though Israel has actually elected two prime ministers with terrorist pasts.

The distinction between justifications and excuses is vital here. Only just measures can be justified. Only wrongs need to be excused. And Israel's excuses are wearing thin. The murder of a Jew in Poland in 1943 doesn't excuse robbing an Arab of his land in 1995.

In all this Israel is the very model of a modern state. Most states have adopted similar excuses for enlarging their power. Ours has made old crimes against blacks the excuse for anti-white policies today. Socialism (sometimes under the alias "liberalism") treats all society as a standing emergency, to be corrected by giving the state what amount to eternal emergency powers. By now modern man hardly knows what it would mean to get back to normal.

Holy War

Bill Clinton chose to celebrate the 50th anniversary of V-E Day in Moscow. Highly appropriate, since the big winner of the war was the Soviet Union. In order to enhance his stature as a World Leader, Clinton is in fact lauding the blackest alliance in Western history.

The real significance of the war is buried in commemoration. We hear endlessly of the Nazis' victims, which now include 27 million Russians (up from Nikita Khrushchev's inflated 1959 claim of 20 million). We hear much less of the Communists' victims, whose numbers were greatly augmented when those heroic statesmen Roosevelt and Churchill allowed Stalin to claim much of Christendom as his share of the spoils, whereupon he launched a persecution that would have appalled Nero. The US and Britain also obligingly "repatriated" two million Slavic Christians, who returned to face certain death. (Many, knowing what awaited them, killed themselves on the way back.)

The legitimacy of liberalism rests on the myth that World War II vanquished evil from Europe. The tone of the current festivities implies that nothing much else happened. Liberals regard the war's chief result, the near-destruction of Christian civilization, as either incidental or positively good; either way, they don't care to talk about it in public. And so, just as [New York Times journalist] Walter Duranty denied the forced famine of Ukraine in the early 1930's, liberals maintain, to this day, virtual denial about postwar Communist crimes, while they incessantly harp on the war crimes of the Axis powers.

But there is no reason for Christians to join in keeping a silence that serves only the purpose of exculpating liberalism. They obscurely know that the liberal regime is their enemy. It is time to revise the history of the liberals' holy war. So far, most "history" conforms to official wartime propaganda.

Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin at the February 1945 Yalta Conference

British premier Churchill, American President Roosevelt and Soviet premier Stalin at the Yalta Conference in Soviet Crimea, February 1945. At this meeting the "Big Three" Allied coalition leaders approved Soviet rule over all of eastern and much of central Europe, repeated the demand for Germany's "unconditional surrender," agreed to dismember Germany, and resolved to establish a United Nations organization to insure the Allied powers' permanent global hegemony.

Incidentally, Roosevelt went to absurd lengths to whip up war fever in America. His problem was that Americans didn't feel threatened by Hitler. So he warned of Nazi designs for "world conquest" (not mere regional aggression) and even tried to convince the country that the Nazis were penetrating South America, though most South Americans weren't especially captivated by the idea of Aryan supremacy. No wonder Newt Gingrich admires him.

Roosevelt smeared as "isolationism" the philosophy of the Founding Fathers, who of course took a dim view even of alliances with the Christian nations of Europe. It's not hard to guess what they would have thought of an alliance with a monstrous anti-Christian tyranny like the Soviet Union. It is all but forgotten now that Pius XI, in the years leading up to the war, strongly condemned both racialist nationalism and all cooperation with Communism.

The Winner

Joe Stalin is the guy you haven't heard mentioned much during the fiftieth anniversary commemorations of the end of World War II. Not fair, really, because he won the war. He helped start it, and he won it. Why deny this great statesman and conqueror his victory?

In conventional terms, the United States was also a great victor. Its global power increased immensely as a result of the war, which weakened and dismembered the old empires of Europe. That power endures, while the Soviet Union has ceased to exist at all. And it can be argued that Americans enjoy a higher degree of prosperity because their government won.

But though America may have won much of the world, it lost its soul. Its old Constitution was a casualty of the war; the freedom it allegedly fought for was diminished, not expanded, by both domestic and international postwar settlements. The ambiguous – and ruinous – ideal of equality, as understood by Communists and liberals, replaced the ideal of liberty. The United States even undermined the civilization that had given it birth and sustained it. Hundreds of thousands of young Americans died to achieve this outcome.

This only begins to tell the story. The fruits of victory proved very perishable. And the net result of the war was infinitely worse than the most pessimistic isolationist had predicted.

By 1945 Stalin's already huge empire had expanded to include several vassal states in the Eastern regions of what had formerly been Christian Europe; by 1948, when he fell out with his wartime cronies to the West, he had a total of ten, not counting the new Communist regimes of Yugoslavia and Albania. The Communist program was to abolish not just "capitalism," but all independent institutions, above all the Church. (Curbing the influence of orthodox Christianity has also been a high priority of American liberalism.)

In 1949 Stalin had his own atomic bomb, which enabled him to menace the Western "democracies" in a way Hitler never had, never could, and never aspired to. For the first time, every American was directly vulnerable to foreign attack. Two oceans ceased to provide natural security. Nuclear weapons, like Soviet global power, sprang from the war itself. Americans in 1940 simply could not have imagined the danger they would live in, every moment, by 1950.

That is why the regimes of those countries still have to exaggerate the menace Hitler posed. If it ever sinks in with ordinary Christians that the war was a Pyrrhic victory for them, they will understand how they were betrayed by Roosevelt and Churchill.

The realization nearly came shortly after the war. That is what the McCarthy period was all about. If men at the top were helping Stalin all along, what had the little men gained by their sacrifices? Of Roosevelt's inner circle, only Alger Hiss was (in effect) convicted of treason, but his Soviet sympathies were clearly shared by other insiders like Harry Hopkins, Henry Wallace, and Harry Dexter-White.

Even Whittaker Chambers never charged that Hiss gave away anything substantial, like nuclear secrets. Hiss had merely acted, in trivial ways, perhaps technically illegal, on the policies and propaganda of the whole Roosevelt administration concerning our heroic ally. How could you fault him for failing to foresee the postwar swerve? Communism was approved by "progressive" opinion, which still forgives Communists in ways it won't forgive Nazis, Fascists, or even McCarthy. The only Communist who isn't forgiven is Stalin himself, who "betrayed" his idealistic followers at home and abroad. (The Jewish Encyclopedia describes the years 1948-53 as "the black years," because it was then that Stalin turned against the Jews; presumably the years of the Ukrainian famine were "the sunny years.")

Alistair Cooke rightly spoke of "a generation on trial" in the Hiss case. The New Deal was permeated by Soviet sympathies from the start. This is evident not from the agents who were later exposed but from the Roosevelt Administration's open policies. It gave diplomatic recognition to the Soviet Union in 1933, as millions of Ukrainians starved to death, and it never included the USSR among the "aggressors" and "dictatorships" who were to be condemned and quarantined. It made only feeble objections to the Soviets' 1939 invasion of Poland, 1940 seizure of the Baltic states, and 1939 assault on Finland.

Moreover, the US alliance with the Soviets wasn't just a reluctant tactical alliance under emergency conditions. Roosevelt and his men had a dream: they saw the Soviets as partners in building a better postwar world. That was what the United Nations was all about, and Hiss was one of its founding fathers.

Joe McCarthy was never so bold as to implicate Roosevelt directly, specializing instead in "card-carrying Communists," but the import of his campaign was clear enough. The real target was pro-Communist "liberalism."

Then there was Yalta. Had Roosevelt been betrayed by Stalin, or had Poland – and the West itself – been betrayed by Roosevelt and Churchill? Those who have the greatest stake in the arrangements of the period jeer at "conspiracy theories," but the modern superstate regularly conspires against its subjects. It deceives and betrays them, in war and in peace, with its twin rationales: its claim of "national security" and its promise of "social security." It is completely parasitical on the ruled, yet it holds their allegiance by pretending to protect them from foreign foe and economic vicissitude alike. The sense of betrayal by rulers is often very strong in democracies, because of their fiction that the rulers and the ruled have the same interests; the masses are shocked when the rulers act on motives of their own.

Apart from its geopolitical consequence, Yalta was of a piece with such everyday policies as the state's constant, quiet debasement of its own currency by inflation. Modern rulers are not distinguished by their sense of honor toward those they rule. State control of currency (usually paper) and credit are a form of institutionalized betrayal. Inflation was once deemed criminal, like private counterfeiting; now it is accepted as a fact of life, and prostitute economists pretend to debate its causes.

McCarthy's concern was less philosophical and more earthy. He wanted to get Communists out of sensitive positions in government. That might seem unexceptionable, but it wasn't.

Liberals reacted violently against him, on the pretext that he was smearing innocent people with reckless charges. The truth was that many liberals regarded actual Communists – their old allies and friends – as innocent people. In time they became fairly open about this, calling old Reds like Lillian Hellman "victims of McCarthyism" for having been exposed as Stalin's little helpers.

Privately, Roosevelt and Churchill hated each other far more than they hated Stalin, whom Roosevelt in fact rather liked and was willing to trust. Roosevelt was building an empire too; Churchill was losing the one entrusted to him and couldn't accept being reduced to America's sidekick. Neither cared in the least that Christian civilization was being torn apart – the end Popes Plus XI and XII had foreseen as they labored desperately to prevent the war from breaking out, with condemnations of both racialism and Communism.

And neither Roosevelt nor Churchill lamented the fate of Christians under Communism. Neither do our current political and opinion leaders, which is why it is still possible for them to celebrate World War II as "our" victory. Nor was the Communist torture of Christians and Christianity of interest to the major news media; they preferred commemorating Jewish suffering under Nazism long after they had ceased to report Christian suffering under Communism while it was still occurring (as it still occurs today in China). There has simply been a huge blackout of the subject.

Double standards always point to the buried truth. Liberal opinion is not only indifferent to Christian suffering but profoundly hostile to the idea of a Christian society, while it keenly feels Jewish pain and has no objection to a Jewish state. That is why Hitler remains the symbol of pure evil, while Stalin is only a roughneck. The happy liberal story line must avoid mentioning Stalin, just as it must avoid mentioning, for the same reasons, the dismembering of Christendom.

The American political universe is still defined by the official propaganda of World War II. Newt Gingrich parrots it as faithfully as Edward Kennedy. In public life it is still taboo to suggest that the greatest war in history was exactly what you might expect it to be: a terrible disaster for Christian civilization. Of course the West no longer speaks of itself, or thinks of itself, as "Christian civilization." That is not the least of the disaster.

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Author(s): Joseph Sobran
Title: Some Lessons After Fifty Years
Sources: The Journal of Historical Review, vol. 15, no. 4 (July/August 1995), pp. 41-45; "Holy War" first appeared in the May 18, 1995, issue of The Wanderer, "The Holocaust as Excuse" and "The Winner" first appeared in the June 1995 issue of Sobran's.
Published: 1995-07-01
First posted on CODOH: Dec. 21, 2012, 6 p.m.
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