Wednesday, March 28, 2018

The Other David Wyman

While I was in Nome, the other David Wyman died. A great man.  I first heard about him in the 1980's, when I was first interested in the Shoah, the Holocaust. He was teaching at UMass Amherst, but had a little place in Canterbury, north of Concord, NH, where he did much of his research and writing. I may have even first heard about him from a co-worker who was a neighbor of his.  I bought and read Paper Walls and found it sobering.  Other scholars were a bit annoyed with him for publishing so little, as they heard the breadth of his knowledge at conferences. Only late in his career did he put all his information out publicly.

He founded and ran the Institute For Holocaust Studies, though I don't think he was as deeply involved these last five years. His primary message was that America could have done a great deal more to rescue the Jews in the 30's and 40's - his documentation dismantled the standard excuses that we had done about as much as was possible.  His second complaint was that American scholars deceitfully covered for the reputations of the WWII leaders who ignored the plight of the Jews, especially FDR, about whom nothing ill could be said.

My own thought is that Roosevelt was and is defended because much of liberalism itself is tied up in his actions. I also think that is less true now than it was when I was young. I don't think young academics make such a tight connection with his actions and the general defense of left anymore. I am not knowledgeable about such things, however, and could easily bear correction.


Jonathan said...

I don't like FDR. He didn't do enough to save the Jews and his New Deal policies were destructive. However, he won the war and that was most important. It's also conceivable that the New Deal was a reasonable price to pay for keeping the country together during the Depression.

The most important question isn't whether FDR did a good job by our modern standards but whether any of the likely alternative leaders would have done better. The answer isn't obvious, at least to me.

Christopher B said...

Jonathan - However, he won the war and that was most important.

I have to disagree. Once you get past 'Good War' nostalgia, the US made numerous serious blunders both militarily and politically prior to and during WWII. There was serious infighting and empire building going on even in the middle of what was probably the first existential war the US fought since either the Civil War or the War of 1812, depending on how you look at it. Trent Telko's series at Chicago Boys analyzing portions of the history of the Pacific campaign has many examples. It's hard to rate our performance as more than middling, and sometimes hard to see how anyone could have done worse. The German military was probably lead far more effectively overall given what they accomplished with the resources they had and political restrictions they were working under. Similarly Churchill and De Gaulle achieved more diplomatically than FDR, who had a severe case of hubris regarding his ability to charm dictators. Our productive capacity mattered much more than our military or diplomatic leadership to the outcome of the war. If you want to point to an American who probably biggest difference, Gen. Dwight Eisenhower's ability to organize the European invasion and campaign to defeat Germany would be my choice.

The New Deal was a disaster of the first order, the original example of the Democrats 'not letting a crisis go to waste' in order to impose their social vision on a resistant populace regardless of the practical effects, and did little to alleviate the Depression.

Jonathan said...

The war was a series of blunders, there was corruption and infighting, but we did well enough to win, which in the end is what counted. But that doesn't mean it couldn't have turned out even worse if whoever was president had been ambivalent about winning or less capable than FDR, whatever his flaws.