Mises Daily

Home | Mises Library | Rethinking War

Rethinking War

April 25, 1999

This article by A.N. Wilson is highly significant, not only for his case against the Balkan intervention but also for his overall perspective on the costs of war.

The Independent (UK)
April 25, 1999

Was the Second World War worth 56 million lives?

We had grown used to having a prime minister who was ignorant, but now a
much more worrying thought occurs. Has he gone mad? Perhaps this is a
question that only doctors could answer. But Tony Blair's recent
self-justifying speeches, delivered with laryngitic, manic jerkiness
persuade me that war is almost always an act of madness. And the rhetoric
that he has chosen to employ, with its pseudo-Churchillian echoes and its
allusions to the Second World War, provoke disturbing, unwelcome thoughts,
not merely about the conflict in Kosovo, but about the whole of 20th-century
history, and the brave sorrows which our parents' generation underwent.
Blair's speeches about war make me think that all war, even the war against
Hitler, is and was worse than pointless.

The German culture minister, Michael Naumann, recently deplored the fact
that Hitler's war continues to obsess the British. Over the last few weeks
one sees not merely that Herr Naumann is right but that the British way of
viewing the Second World War is deeply dangerous.

Tony Blair now seems to be by far the most hawkish of Nato's leaders. The
German peace proposals, which would have involved bringing in the Russians
to persuade Slobodan Milosevic to the negotiating table, have been dismissed
by Blair as not enough. Blair wants blood, toil, sweat and tears; he wants
Bill to give him the tools and we'll finish the job.

The early identification of Milosevic with Hitler was bizarre. Milosevic has
shown no desire for territorial expansion, let alone world domination. The
unending story of minor, nasty warfare in the Balkans is part of the story
of the last 1,000 years. It is quite unlike the resurrection of German
nationalism in the 1920s as a reaction against the unjust Versailles Treaty.
Britain went to war against Hitler not because he was persecuting the Jews,
as Blair implies every day, but because of treaties designed to check German

The treaties to "protect" Czechoslovakia were quietly
forgotten - some said to Britain's shame. The treaty to protect Poland was
observed, and it was because Hitler invaded Poland that Chamberlain declared
war. As AJP Taylor caustically observes in The Origins of the Second WorldWar: "In 1938 Czechoslovakia was betrayed. In 1939 Poland was saved. Less
than one hundred thousand Czechs died during the war. Six-and-a-half million
Poles were killed. Which was better - to be a betrayed Czech or a saved

When we consider the 56 million people - most of them civilians - who died
during the Second World War we of a younger generation can understand why
those who watched their comrades die in it were obliged to tell themselves
not only that it was an inevitable conflict, but that it was the only noble
way of defeating an evil tyranny. Even this way of thinking only leads to
more intolerable thoughts - namely that Poland, Czechoslovakia, and all the
Eastern bloc countries were "liberated" only in the sense that they were
taken away from the Nazis and given into Soviet slavery at the insistence of
Stalin, who outstripped Hitler in the numbers he killed.

The one fact about Hitler which nobody believed during the Second World War
was that he meant what he said about the Jews. The British Foreign Office
and the BBC consistently refused to believe the stories of extermination as
they began to come through from Poland, Latvia, Lithuania and elsewhere in
the middle years of the war. Only in 1945 when people watched the newsreels
of Belsen did the extent of the Nazi atrocities become clear. And of
course - another intolerable thought - this slaughter only began after the
outbreak of war. Could it be - intolerable question - that it was the cover
of war alone which made the massacres possible?

For Tony Blair to liken Milosevic to Hitler is to trivialise every one of
those 56 million deaths between 1939-45 and to miss the point which,
tragically, they make. It is not an easy thought. It is literally
unbearable, but it must be thought if politicians are not to go on repeating
the mistakes of the past. It is this.

If the Second World War had never been fought, not only would those 56
million, most of them, have died in their beds; not only would the beautiful
cities of France, Germany, Italy and Poland, which were destroyed, have
remained intact, but Hitler and his crazy regime would almost certainly have
been overthrown in the fullness of time by his own people.

Yet Blair tells us that the Second World War was "a war started by a
dictator visiting racial genocide on his people". He tells us that. "You
have to come down to the simple clear choice, to act, or not to act." This
isn't even pseudo-Winston Churchill. It is government by Biggles. Blair's
and Nato's decision to "act" has escalated a war which, in the three years
previous to 25 March 1999 had killed between two and three thousand people.
To act or not to act. There are so many actions other than bombing - to
increase aid, for example, to flood a distressed or war-torn region withhospitals, schools, foreign observers who, if they can't stop the fighting,
can at least ensure that the atrocities are kept to a minimum. The bombing
raids have provided the biggest possible cover for acts of genocidal

When one thinks of the war memorials all over Europe, and the stories of
self-sacrifice which they embody, and the unselfish bravery of our parents'
generations, one hardly dares to write these words. But the lesson they
teach is that war never works, that the notion of a just war is a political
con. God help us if our world order is now in the hands of those whose
history books are closed and whose moral values are conceitedly summed up by
the doctrine that whatever Blair thinks and does is right and whatever
anyone else does is "evil".

View some war propaganda posters from the Second World War.

See also Anti-War Links.

Follow Mises Institute