Tuesday, July 31, 2007


Some friends have been staying nearby on a boating holiday so for the last few days, rather than pottering around the house, reading and writing, I have been having a real holiday, sailing round the Pagasitic Gulf. Whilst I am not sad enough to actually prefer being in a shuttered room with a fan and a laptop, I have missed catching up with my Internet habit, restricted though it is by a slow dial-up connection.

Now I have a chance to get back on line, what caught my eye most was the article by Johan Hari taken apart by Oliver Kamm here, Eric here, and Norm here. This was based on an earlier book review of Nick Cohen in Dissent, which, in my view, seriously distorted Cohen and drove Oliver Kamm to post an even more vigorous rebuttal. There is little to add to the authoritative savaging Hari has received but I will pick up on a few additional points that irritated me most.

First, there is a level of carelessness about history in his review. The most egregious is that he uses unspecific references to give an air of historical authority to his statements (the emphases are mine):

if you talk, as virtually all serious scholars of jihadism do, about the role the US played in smelting jihadism


There is a near-total consensus among historians that the Versailles Treaty helped to create the trough of national humiliation and grievance in which the fungus of Nazism could grow”.

I would like to know precisely who these ‘serious scholars’ and ‘historians’ are. My suspicion is that his use of such unspecific terms is merely a rhetorical cover for his own lack of rigour.

(In fact, Hari has distorted both the views of Keynes, who he cites approvingly, and of historians on the rise of Fascism. They were less concerned with ‘national humiliation’ than with the economic consequences of Versailles. Of course, the event that precipitated the disastrous rise to power of the Nazis was the Wall Street Crash and not the Versailles Treaty. However, Hitler would not have come to power without the mistaken collusion of von Papen and here Cohen’s strictures on apologism and accommodation with irrationalist forces would seem highly apposite. In addition, that Versailles posed problems for a nascent German democracy was obvious, what it didn't do, as Hari seems to imply, was to bring forth Nazism as a necessary response.)

Secondly, in his tiresome rehashing of ‘it is all about oil’ (as if control of vital resources by a malignant dictatorship did not constitute a genuine concern), Hari ignores the fact that strategic interests and political and humanitarian principles are not necessarily mutually exclusive. Those moments when they combine are often the ones when action is often most purposeful, the Second World War being a prime example. There is another dimension too. The second Iraq war was an attempt to resolve an existing conflict. Sanctions and containment were having a disastrous impact on the Iraqi people. The Oil-for-Food programme was seriously flawed and a way had to be found to end the existing situation. There were two choices. The first was to come to some accommodation with the regime to keep Saddam in power in return for oil concessions. The second meant regime change. The choice of the latter was hugely to the credit of the US administration, to execute that change so badly was hugely to its debit.

Finally, Hari’s assertion that everyone is still stuck in 2003 and only concerned with Galloway is so ludicrously without empirical foundation as to be laughable. True the grotesque Galloway always makes a pleasing target, but just read the output of those associated with Euston and beyond and you will find an impressive discussion of all that Hari says is being ignored and more besides. Just take the example of Christopher Hitchens. He has certainly raised his sights from Galloway; he is now taking on God.


Larkers said...

A minor point, and I am not seeking to defend the Treaty of Versailles (itself a portmanteau expression for a series of convocations) – however, according to most scholars Germany was humiliated by the terms of the Treaty but did not fulfil the economic ones. France invaded the Saarland in 1923 in order to enforce these but with no obvious success. In fact Germany experienced a period of economic growth after the war supported by American money which vanished after the Crash in 1929.

Dr. A. N. Onymous said...

I'm amazed at the number of blog-column inches devoted to rebutting this chap Hari. Does he deserve them? I think I once read an article by Hari (or at least the first few paragraphs), but cannot for the life of me remember what it was about.

Now I see this coked-up youth pop up regularly on TV arts talk shows, and he irritates me intensely. There emanates from his mouth a never-ending stream of sounds that vaguely resemble English speech, but I haven't the foggiest what the boy is saying. Hari is like a younger, gobbier version of Fiona Fox.

Anonymous said...

according to most scholars Germany was humiliated by the terms of the Treaty but did not fulfil the economic ones

I'm glad you got the second half right. Reparations were reduced on several occasions and Germany failed to pay them every year.

As regards the first half I would refute it on two grounds. First, it's incoherent to say a country was humiliated, rather that certain political movements were keen to promote the idea that Germany's leaders, in agreeing to Versailles, had stabbed the country in the back. ie They had accepted harsher terms than were necessary. I'm not disputing this narrative was popular and grew in popularity during economic downturns, but I am disputing the idea that it was either universally accepted or right. One might explore several ideas to dispute it. For example: this narratives depends upon the idea that Germany was undefeated in the First World War and that it was capable of resuming war in the event of unsatisfactory armistice negotiations. Quite clearly, that is false.

Secondly I would point out that France in 1870 was burdened with similar post war settlement. It too had to pay reparations and lost territory. There was a similar sense of lost honour and desire to recover the "stolen" territories, but it is not generally held to be the primary cause of the First World War.

hashidkid said...

I'm not a fan of Cohen or Hari, but Hari does seem the more honest of the two. He links to Cohen and doesn't get links back:


Larkers said...

To Anonymous, the famous poet.

"I'm glad you got the second half right."

This, I take it, means you agree with the statement "but did not fulfil the economic ones". This point is the crucial one, frequently overlooked. Germany, despite the enthusiasm for it, was not "squeezed until the pips squeak". But I am glad you are pleased.

"ie They had accepted harsher terms than were necessary."

What were these 'harsh' (but not, apparently, humiliating) terms? How does the concept of necessity apply to Versailles?

"I'm not disputing this narrative was popular and grew in popularity during economic downturns, but I am disputing the idea that it was either universally accepted or right."

Well, it is either one or the other. A degree of certainty would help your readers. The 'popularity' of imposing 'harsh terms' upon Germany (which we both agree were not fulfilled) might be taken as a cause of grievance, if not humiliation.

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