If our current batch of pundits had been alive in 45

VDH, lamenting “our present intelligentsia and punditocracy” has written an interesting “what if” column. Like my title says, what If our current batch of pundits had been alive in 45? Would they have written columns like this or would they have towed the line like all the rest? For the sake of argument lets say that they could indeed write and publish a column like that without getting fired, thrown in jail or put aginst a wall and shot.


I’ve been hearing this argument for three years, maybe more. I wasn’t alive in 1945, and I won’t pretend to know what things were like at that point. But I never got the impression that the war was going as badly as the author tries to make it sound.

Roosevelt’s handling of Japanese-Americans and others was wrong and unforgiveable, and I’m sure there are legitimate critisms that can be made about how World War II was fought. But this comparison ignores the single biggest difference between that war and this one: the US was attacked by Japan, and not Iraq. That difference is simply too big to ignore, and in the end, this article reads as another one of those “stop criticizing the US/military/President during a time of war!” complaints that we all got sick of years ago. I don’t know why it took most of America so long to understand that that was a stupid attitude, but I’m glad the realization finally sunk in.

Well, actually, I think a better comparison would be hypothesizing about what pundits would have been saying in 1947 because of all the US casualties being taken in Japan and Germany after the war was declared over and the occupation was in full swing.

Oh, wait, there were no casualties after Roosevelt declared that we won those wars.

Guess we taught those pundits a lesson!

I’d say a better comparison would be, say, '51 about Korea. Even after the supposed cease fire there were still periodic border clashes, and periodic US casualties…hell, for decades. IIRC there were US troops killed as late as the '90’s. Korea was also a war that most American’s really didn’t ‘connect’ with. And it was a bloody affair with no real perceived nation gain (at the time).

Thing is, its kind of a silly comparison either way to be honest. Times have changed, attitudes have changed. Also, WWII was a bit of a bigger deal and a bit more of a threat to the US than Iraq has been. I disagree with Marley23 that the key difference was that we were attacked in one instance and attacked in the other. To me this is unimportant (and also kind of skates around the fact that we were in a defacto shooting war with the German navy prior to Pearl Harbor…and that we were the ones pushing this). To me the key difference is the magnitude of the struggle. In WWII the US was literally fighting for its life…especially if we take into account not rhetrospect (and all those folks on this board who will blithely say that the defeat of the axis was inevitable) but what the folks THOUGHT at the time it was happening. Iraq just doesn’t measure up to that level of struggle.

Also, the attitudes of the people were vastly different then than they are now. Certain history that we take for granted (little things like the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights movement, etc., for instance) hadn’t happened yet in '45 (obviously)…and they have had a rather profound change on our collective perceptions, our collective reactions, and how we think about things…things such as war for instance.


That’s very true. Perhaps your ‘fighting for its life’ struggle says it better, but I think that because the US was fighting back in WWII, the nation was going to have way more patience with that war than it ever could with Iraq.

And let’s not forget the difference in the way the news covered war between then and now. The difference is huge - nobody saw news correspondents making reports from Dresden and watched the city burn.

Well, to accept the premise of the article as valid, I would have to believe the following: 1) that the reasons for going to war against Japan and going to war against Iraq were exactly equivalent; 2) that there was no substantive criticism of the war effort by the US press during WWII, 3) that the only substantial problem with the Iraq situation is that the press is too pessimistic about it; 4) that persons such as Clark Gable, James Stewart and John Ford would somehow, without any explanation by the author, behaved entirely differently from the way they actually did simply because of greater criticism of the US war effort.

Since I believe none of these things, I have no choice but to find that the author has constructed a completely baseless point for argument.

Lets try this again. The question is:

What If our current batch of pundits had been alive in 45? Would they have written columns like this or would they have towed the line like all the rest?

If you want to comment on Iraq vs WWII fine but please comment on the question too.

Your question assumes a) that the “pundits” would have responded the same way to any war in any era and b) that the hypothetical arguments you say they’d have in 1945 would have the same validity that they do in 2006*. As El_Kabong indicated, the reasons for and handling of WWII are very different from those of war in Iraq, therefore criticism of either conflict would not be equivalent in content or validity.

*and considering how popular links like yours are among staunch supporters of the Iraq War, I’d bet that you posted it to demonstrate that criticism of the current conflict is…defeatist, maybe? That is, are you suggesting that if the likes of Thomas Friedman had criticised WWII as heavily as they do IraqII, 'merkuns would have been demoralized to the point of undermining the war effort?

You’re claiming that the pundits of the time supported WWII. Up to the point where the US was attacked, I seem to recall strong calls for neutrality, to the point where Roosevelt had to backdoor Lend-Lease to get the Brits help.
Why, such luminaries as Charles Lindbergh and Henry Ford though the Germans were our best friends, and that we should just stay out of things. Broad popular movements like America First and the German-American Bund were also against the war.
Gerald Ford, Sergeant Shriver, various other future luminaries were members of America First. Up to 800,000 members, can you believe that?
Sinclair Lewis, e e cummings, Gore Vidal, Frank Loyd Wright, and even Alice Roosevelt Longsworth (Teddy’s daughter) were all against the war.

After the US was attacked, mind you, it was a different story, but… I still fail to see how the pundits of the time supported the war.

Considering that our pundits have generally been quite supportive of a justified war against Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan, I think there is reason to believe that World War II would have even broader support among the current punditocracy should they magically be transported to 1945.

Wrong. According to Dr. Bianka J. Adams, Center for Military History, Dept. of the Army:


I’m not sure what pundits write columns like that today, so I question the very premise.

But no, I don’t think anybody would write a column like that who wanted to be taken seriously. Just as the Iraqi Information Minister kept talking about glorious victories against the Americans, even the dumbest who had him as their sole source of info would notice that each “glorious victory” was 20 miles closer to Baghdad every day.

Similarly, overusing the word “debacles” about each battle, while it was clear the American forces moved closer and closer to Japan, would just be silly.

There is so much so wrong with this thesis that it’s hard to start anywhere, lest in dismantling some assumptions first you inadvertantly lend credence to others. Let’s try this:

  1. Criticism (now media punditry) of an administration, its policies, its competence, its values, and its honesty, is a fundamental duty of the fourth estate and to shirk it does irreparable damage to our nation. Mr. Hanson seems to have forgotten what the function of journalism actually is. If an editorial like his hypothetical screed had appeared, it would have been not only legitimate (provided the facts were correct), but an essential exercise of the rights and obligations of the public and the press in a democratic society. Why Hanson feels this is bad is especially hard to understand if he’s the same Victor Davis Hanson who wrote Carnage and Culture, which postulated that the West’s great secrets of military dominance (two of them, anyhow) were open debate and political freedom. The book came out in 2001: have subsequent events shattered his confidence in democratic institutions?

  2. Hanson is old enough to know about microfiche. He once taught history at Annapolis. I accuse him of being deliberately naive in pretending he doesn’t know that FDR was continually attacked by approximately 50% of the newspapers, magazines (not so much; they didn’t have the news/political role they do now) and radio outlets in the country. Those who disbelieve, get ye to the library and browse the editorials of R. McCormick’s Chicago Tribune, Patterson’s Washington Times-Herald, which was practically invented to attack the president, the New York Daily News and every newspaper owned by a small-timer named Hearst. There was not only plenty of criticism based on general foreign policy (should we be at war at all, and if so, are we on the right side?), but military strategy as well (why the hell are the bulk of our resources being spent in Europe?), not to mention gobs of personal slander that went out of fashion from the development of modern journalistic standards until the development of the internet. Most of this, even the last category, was more thoughtful than Hanson’s efforts.

  3. Hanson is similarly disingenuous in not pointing out that pundits aren’t all scooped out of the same sack of fertilizer. There were those who criticized FDR and the WWII effort, and those who suported it. They were fairly easy to tell apart. The more conservative, Republican and overtly religious you were, the more likely you were to … renew your subscription to the Chicago Tribune. Currently, if you’re still alive and haven’t changed much, you were also more likely to oppose U.S. efforts in Bosnia, Somalia, Rwanda (can’t lose 'em all) and Darfur (ditto). He attempts to equate the people who are right now with the people who were wrong then, by assuming that the present war in Iraq will prove to have the same moral justification as fighting the Japanese and Nazi attempts at hegemony in both hemispheres in the 1940s. Without starting the argument, let’s not assume that, okay? Or is the argument that if any war is just, they all are?

  4. Hanson’s essay doesn’t even work as a hypothetical. Should the pundits also have all been cheerleaders during conflicts in Korea, Vietnam, WWI? Should the Federal government have called for mapmakers rather than soldiers after Fort Sumter (by the way: pundit Horace Greeley was allowed to publish his honest, reasoned and definitely wrong-side-of-history editorials without censorship or reprisal)? Why draw a parallel between these two conflicts in particular?

  5. And Jeff062, while most disdain should be reserved for the execrable Hanson essay, if you can seriously write this sentence: “For the sake of argument lets say that they could indeed write and publish a column like that without getting fired, thrown in jail or put aginst a wall and shot.” you should sue all your past history and civics teachers all the way back to the third grade.

  6. A good start on this topic is David Brinkley’s Washington Goes to War. It’s a story, not a study, and it’s, sad to say, not indexed, but chapter seven is a good primer on the FDR wartime administration and the press.

Well, a RAND Corporation report (pdf) states that there were no post-conflict combat related deaths in Japan, Germany, Bosnia, or Kosovo. Dr. Adams seems to acknowledge the relevence and importance of this particular report in the part of that citation that you neglected to quote:

“Overall, I agree with your assessment that post-war Germany is not a suitable analogy for the security threats in Iraq today. Other, more recent, experiences in Bosnia, Kosovo, and Afghanistan, as examined in a RAND study on U.S. involvement in nation building efforts (America's Role in Nation-Building: From Germany to Iraq | RAND), might be provide better reference points for decision makers.” (from same site as previously cited.)

I can only guess that Dr. Adams and Ambassador Dobbins are describing “post conflict” somewhat differently. I’ll leave that to those two to hash it out.

Given the villification Roosevelt was subjected to during his life, and the number of times I read phrases like “backroom deals made by a sick President at Yalta” after his death, I don’t think critics toed the line back then.

Just what I was going to say. There was lots of public criticism of Roosevelt and the way the war was handled. (Hopefully David Simmons will weigh in with any recollections.) There was a presidential campaign against him in '44. The bloody high casualty island battles of the Pacific came were widely criticized as pointless. The real difference is that while people may have criticized the war’s conduct, they generally realized it was something we had to do. This isn’t the case in Iraq today, and for good reason IMO.

I’m looking at “Army Battle Casualties and Non-Battle Deaths in World War II, Final Report, 7 December 1941 - 31 December 1946”, prepared by the Statistical and Accounting Branch, Office of the Adjutant General.


It shows battle casualties (KIA and WIA) in both the Atlantic and Pacific Theaters through the end of 1945. I’m not sure where RAND got their numbers.

By the standards of the war, the numbers are small, but they are definitely not zero.

Hanson is just the latest spinner of bullshit, the old “yer helpin’ the terrorists” meme.

Okay, okay, I cry uncle! Nit successfully picked! :wink:

They probably would have written very critical articles indeed.

And in fact, the press in 1945 did exactly that.