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Bombing Auschwitz

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The Decider doesn’t understand why the US and its allies in World War II couldn’t have bombed Auschwitz and, he assumes, saved thousands of lives.

Here, Bush is invoking a debate that goes back about 30 years and continues to inspire ferocious argument among historians. Without getting too deep into the thickets, the “pro-bombing” argument rests on claims first articulated by historian David Wyman in an article for Commentary in 1978. There, he asserted that (a) the Allies knew what was happening at Auschwitz; (b) that attacks on Auschwitz would have been technically feasible; and (c) that such attacks would have saved lives. (The worst of these arguments, raised by pop historians like Michael Beschloss, suggest that these attacks did not happen because FDR was an anti-Semite who couldn’t be bothered to care about European Jews. Someone should check Liberal Fascism to see if that particular smear lives anew.)

Skeptics acknowledge that (a) is true enough — by 1943-44, there was no reasonable question about what was happening in these camps — but point out that the bombing campaigns during the war were incredibly imprecise, and that even a massive assault on Auschwitz would have been unlikely to destroy the gas chambers; even assuming for the sake of argument that it had actually worked, the bombing of Auschwitz most certainly would not have spared most of the camp’s victims from being gunned down and dumped in trenches. Nor would it have done anything to halt the proceedings as Treblinka, Belzec, or Sobibor — unless, of course, the allies had chosen to prolong their war against the German military by sending fleets of aircraft to rubble the camps. The military historians I’ve read on this issue generally agree that Wyman’s argument and its various descendants are poorly grounded, at least as far as questions logistics and strategy go.

I can’t for a moment imagine that Bush has any inkling about the actual terms of this debate. Rather — as his idiotic pronouncements about the Yalta conference indicated three years ago — the man appears genuinely convinced that his raisins are larger than FDR’s and, moreover, that pre-emptive action always produces the best possible outcome. Had Bush been president, we’re asked to believe, the Iron Curtain would not have descended across Eastern Europe, and the name “Auschwitz” would, like “Normandy,” call to mind the moral purity and spirit of sacrifice that defined the American war effort. It’s a laughable premise, but it’s pretty much par for the course. He may be an inarticulate dunce, but he surely ranks as one of the great egomaniacs to hold the presidency. That much is obvious whenever he tries to speak about history.

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