The Price of Occupation, the Cost of Terror
Now that I've convinced you (I hope) not to waste your time reading Justice Clarence Thomas's autohagiography, I want to take this Friday to highlight two new books that are worth adding to the reading list.
The first, After the Reich: The Brutal History of Allied Occupation by Giles MacDonough, is a trenchant look at the German experience in the aftermath of World War II. The second, Less Safe, Less Free: Why America is Losing the War on Terror by David Cole and Jules Lobel, is a timely argument about the less-than-satisfying trade-off our government has made on our behalf in the name of fighting terrorism. I daresay that the mere book jackets of these two works tell us more about the state of the world than the entirety of the Thomas tome. And, had they received half the publicity of My Grandfather's Son, we'd all be better off.
Amidst a market heavily saturated with books on World War II, After the Reich focuses on a lesser-known period of that conflict and suggests lessons that are particularly relevant to our time. For example, did you know that American soldiers after the war used brutal interrogation methods against German "officials suspected of war crimes"? As Patricia Meehan describes in a fantastic review in the current edition of the New York Review of Books, the Americans carried out "mock executions, where the men were led off in hoods, while their guards told them they were approaching the gallows. Prisoners were actually lifted bodily off the ground to convince them they were about to swing. More conventional methods of torture included kicks to the groin, deprivation of sleep and food, and savage beatings."
Did you know that tens of thousands of German prisoners died in Allied hands in the last few months of the European war? Did you know that thousands of men were swept up into "civilian internment camps" because they were considered "persons dangerous to the Occupation or its objectives"? Did you know that the British ordered German soldiers to engage in forced labor while living in atrocious conditions? These facts do not negate the Nazi regime and its horrors. But they shed a harsh light on the gleam of Allied success.
You can't help but read about this period and see parallels to the current American experience in Iraq. Poor leadership. An appalling lack of planning. Bad tactics. Cruelty on the ground and from high command. It turns out that what's happening in Baghdad is not a new story, but an old tale that occurred generations ago in Berlin. After great suffering, the German people eventually realized better lives. What happens to the Iraqi people from here is clearly an open question.
Cole and Lobel's Less Safe, Less Free speaks more directly to how we should fight contemporary wars. From another good review, this one by Jeremy Waldron:
'Less Safe, Less Free' argues that the trade-off (between freedom and safety) is not just unprincipled and unequal, but a fraud. We sell our freedom (or someone's freedom) to make ourselves safe, but it turns out that we are worse off in regard to safety than we would have been without the trade. It is as though we gave up the meat (or someone's meat) without getting any more potatoes in return.
In other, less-edible words, Cole and Lobel argue that the government's draconian policies toward terror suspects are over-hyped and self-defeating because they send a terrible signal to the very constituents-- the nation's Islamic community, the world's Muslim people-- we need help from if we are to "win" the war on terrorism and protect ourselves from future terror attacks. It's a worthwhile argument-- more worthy, anyway, than discovering anew how and why Justice Thomas feels the world has been cruel to him.
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