Tuesday, November 27, 2007


Thomas Riggins

These comments are based on Adam Tooze's review of the Davies book [Europe at War] in the TLS of 11-16-2007. Tooze has a low opinion of both the book and of Davies' scholarship. This is why.

Davies has a right wing revisionist view of the history of WW2 and uses his book as the basis for an attack on the USSR wherein he argues for the moral equivalency of the USSR and Nazi Germany. "The war in Europe was dominated by two evil monsters, not by one. Each of the monsters consumed the best people in its territory before embarking on a fight to the death for supremacy."

Tooze says Davies' "unrelenting revisionism" needs "a disciplined presentation of reasoning and evidence." Davies book fails this test. Some of the statistics and casualty figures he uses, especially concerning loss of life caused by the allies in the air war, to bolster his arguments are BOGUS. He mentions a nonexistent air raid on Berlin, for example and cites some figures "preferred only by propagandists of the extreme right."

Tooze says it "is hard to take seriously" some of Davies' assertions. It appears that Tooze rejects "moral equivalence" but points out that Davies' is really beating a dead horse. The consensus of Western historians for the last generation is that "Stalin's Soviet Union was an oppressive regime of extreme brutality."

A second major point Davies wants to make is that the Eastern Front was more important than the Western. This too has been settled for a long time. It "was Stalin's forces," Tooze writes, "that played the main part in the battlefield defeat of Hitler's Wehrmacht."

Davies book is also notable for "imprecision about sources and methods." In general, "Davies fails to make good on his polemical intent." But Davies does put forth some information that Western readers in general are probably unaware of. We tend to think that D Day was the greatest military operation of WW2. But D Day was not as important as Operation Bagration on the Eastern Front. Launched by the Soviet Union on 6-22-1944, "This assault," Tooze points out, "which resulted in the destruction of an entire German army group in a matter of weeks, is widely regarded as the single most dramatic operation conducted by any Allied army in the entire war."

However, since the Red Army can do no good, Davies attributes the victory of Operation Bagration mostly to Lend Lease and Soviet numbers, "the familiar excuse of the Wehrmark."

For those of us who have read Michael Parenti's work on the exaggerated numbers of people killed by Stalin [Blackshirts & Reds: Rational Fascism and the Overthrow of Communism, City Lights Books, San Francisco, 1997], Davies bogus numbers will be all too familiar, especially his use of "Robert Conquest's discredited numbers for the famine of the 1930s...." In any event, Davies' attempt to find a "moral equivalence" between the Nazis and the Soviets doesn't hold water and is just an example of right wing JUNK HISTORY being passed off as scholarship. Tooze is no friend of Stalin, but he concludes we can't really understand the complexities of WW2 and the Eastern Front "if we adopt Davies 's moralistic lens."

You can read more about Norman Davies in Wikipedia, from which this tidbit comes: "Davies’ historical treatment of the Holocaust was cited as a factor in a controversy at Stanford University in which Davies was denied a tenured faculty position for alleged 'scientific flaws'." Stanford!


Warren Greer said...

A good review about an important topic. One point: for those of us on the Left Coast, what is the TLS?
Knowing this would help us in judging the seriousness of the original review by Davies.

Thomas Riggins said...

Sorry about that, the TLS is "The Times Literary Supplement"- somewhat akin to "The New York Times Book Review" which comes out in the Sunday New York Times, only in this case its The Times (of London). You can can get a better idea of what it is like by googling TLS.

Anonymous said...

This is valuable Tom. I have run across Davies over the years and have always marvelled at his ability to get away with the most outrageous assertions in journals like the New York Review of Books because of his virulent anti-Communism. There is indeed a double standard in both ruling class academia and media, but it is one for red-baiters and rightwingers.

I have also always regarded Davies strong identification with what I consider Polish nationalism(he is first and foremost an historian of Poland and Eastern Europe) and his portrayal of the large Jewish minorities in the territories taken by Pilsudsis armies in the Western Ukraine and Western ByeloRussia as essentially a pro-Soviet pro-Communist elements, along with his minimizing and rationalizing traditional rightwing Polish anti-Semitism, as another example of that double standard, something that if it came from writers who weren't red baiters or were critical of Zionist movement activities would quickly lead to charges of anti-Semitism. There was a controversy years ago where Davies took legal action against Stanford University because denial of a position and cirticisms from prominent Holocaust scholars about his treatment of the Holocaust in Poland, where nearly half of its Jewish victims were prewar second class citizens of Pilsudskite Poland, along with of course around three million non Jewish victims, but he continues to roll on
Frankly, I doubt that the New York Times review or the New York Review of Books review would be as negative as the TLS, since they have usually accepted uncritically the sort of case Davies makes about the Soviet Union's role in history in a way that they do not about other regions of the world, showing, perhaps, that interpretations based on anti-Communism are acceptable even when there, along with huge methodical flaws, allied interpretations of chauvinistic nationalism and what some consider anti-Semtism, which were the anti-Communism and anti-Sovietism not there would be noticed and criticized.
Norman Markowitz