What is the meaning of World War II? What does it mean to you? Is it proof that evil exists? That some enemies are simply intractable? That intervention is sometimes necessary? Was it a war of liberation? Does it stand in as an example, or perhaps the example, of the "just" or "good" war? If so, does it matter how the war was fought? Do the political aims of the Allies matter? Should we be in any way concerned with the ways in which these political aims determined the nature of the war, or its length? Does the unquestionably horrible nature of the Nazi regime render all such questions moot? Some of them? Was total war the only way to defeat Hitler's war machine? Did the Allies have any way of knowing either way? What was the role of big business in the build-up, on all sides? How much of a monster was Churchill anyway? What did FDR know in advance about the attack on Pearl Harbor? What US actions led to the attack? Does the nature of the Japanese regime justify all subsequent actions taken against Japan?
These are just some of the questions that come to mind when I think about World War II. I'm pondering them today in connection with Nicholson Baker's book Human Smoke: The Beginnings of World War II, the End of Civilization. I'm presenting them, not to answer them, or even address most of them, but because I think they are particularly salient to this book, which I think has been aggressively, if not intentionally, misunderstood by much of the major review press.
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