Second World War

What Maisky Knew

250x330-85cec9540aa87f851da69eeedaf64f06

In the November 21 issue of The Weekly Standard, I have reviewed The Maisky Diaries, edited by Gabriel Gorodetsky. This fine volume covers the personal writings of Ivan Maisky, Soviet ambassador to the United Kingdom during the critical period of 1932 to 1943. Here’s a bit of my judgment of the man:

In the 1930s, British foreign policy was still a matter of balancing the continental powers, particularly France and Germany; and if we avoid the arrogance that hindsight can bring, we should also remember that Neville Chamberlain genuinely thought he was securing a course for peace in Europe. Britain knew how weak its armed forces were—its army, especially—and this knowledge, as Lloyd George told Maisky, was doubtless a factor in Chamberlain’s “deal” with Hitler at Munich.

Maisky, however, had nothing but contempt for such calculations, coming across at certain times here as a kind of thirties neoconservative. Indeed, it’s hard at times to discern that Maisky was a Communist at all, or that he represented a brutal, totalitarian government. His comportment in these pages is measured; his language free of cant. Even his looks—the well-fed, portly body, the kindly eyes, the authentic smile—will strike the reader as very different from the dour, self-defensive faces of that era’s most prominent Soviets.

Read the whole thing here.

FDR, Warts and All

250x330-393ab3b775506cb1d9a0d634d8363d83

At The Weekly Standard, I have reviewed an excellent new biography of Franklin Delano Roosevelt by the historian Alonzo Hamby. Ultimately I admire Roosevelt but can’t get past my first impression of him as a power-hungry chief executive:

Of course, the best populists are usually elitists who possess both the means and self-regard to speak for the people. Born into a patrician New York family, FDR was convinced of his own righteousness and felt entitled to exercise it over others, displaying all the qualities of someone who recognized no limit to translating his outsized will into political power.

The review is available in the March 7 issue. Read the whole piece here.

Yes, America should come first in its foreign policy

If Twitter is useful for one thing, it’s keeping your finger on the dying pulse of American intellectual debate. There was a point in the most recent Republican debate — was it the 42nd or 43rd such event? — when Ted Cruz mentioned that he wanted an “America-first foreign policy.” I’m late commenting about this, but it’s amazing what’s controversial these days: Cruz’s critics seized on the remark as evidence of some alleged “isolationism.” Their trick was to link Cruz to the America First Committee of the early 1940s, designed to keep the United States out of the Second World War and backed by genuine isolationists like Charles Lindbergh.

Of course, anyone who pays attention to what his opponents actually say, as opposed to what he wants them to have said so he can wage reputational warfare on them, knows that this is not what Cruz or his like-minded contemporaries believe. (more…)

Brief Thoughts on Guns and the Holocaust

One of this week’s outbreaks of mass psychosis concerned Ben Carson’s claim that Jews could have “greatly diminished” the Holocaust if they had been armed en masse. At National Review, Charles C.W. Cooke has written the perfect response to the controversy, fairly critiquing Carson’s position while also going after his preening critics. Here’s a snippet:

Before getting into the details of this claim, I must confess to being unsure as to why the mere mention of this era offends people as keenly as it does. In his comments, Carson was presenting a counterfactual hypothesis. Maybe it’s a bad one and he’s wrong. Maybe it’s a good one and he’s right. But why the anger? If you don’t like his case — or you think it’s stupid — then explain why he’s incorrect. Don’t freak out just because he said the word “Nazi.” Godwin’s law exists to mock those who refer to the Third Reich when it doesn’t apply. It’s not a general prohibition on the discussion of Nazism.

My own brief thoughts are as follows. Carson likely has no idea what he’s talking about with regard to the history of the Third Reich. But it seems to me he was aiming for a general point, namely that if you are a member of an ethnic group targeted for extermination you are better off with guns than without. The unhinged response to his comments shows that his critics wish to repudiate not just his historical judgment but the broader moral point he was making.

(more…)