A tainted victory?

I haven’t been watching the Channel 4 series ‘The War of the World’, which is Niall Ferguson’s take on the twentieth century (see http://www.channel4.com/history/microsites/H/history/t-z/warworld.html), partly because I’m not that interested in yet another programme on WW2, the Cold War etc, and also because I don’t go for Ferguson’s brand of right wing economic history. The correctness of my decision was confirmed when I ended up seeing a short bit of the end of his programme on World War 2.

Ferguson was making a point, which is no longer terribly novel, that the Allies committed war crimes as well: we got stuff about Bomber Command and the Red Army raping German women and the fairly tired argument that Stalin was just as bad as Hitler. He then said that of course he wasn’t trying to suggest the sides were morally equivalent (despite the fact that he referred to the ‘hypocritical’ statements of the UK and US at the post-war war crime trials). Ferguson ended by saying that World War 2 was a ‘tainted victory’.

My thought was ‘what a smug git’. He sits there, having never fought a battle in his life and implies that Roosevelt and Churchill made the wrong choice in allying with Stalin, without of course stating that, because he has no better solution. And he calls it a tainted victory, as though any prolonged war is nice and clean and doesn’t involve atrocities on both sides. (War is hell, as Sherman pointed out long ago). I don’t think the Allies’ tactics were beyond reproach (and one of my heroes, George Bell, the bishop of Chichester, was speaking out against the bombing of German civilians at the time). But a historian who uses hindsight in that glib way to sneer at other peoples’ errors of judgement in such difficult situations is pretty distasteful.


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