Does Baker really believe that? Or is he using World War II as a stand in for Iraq? In a riposte to an unfavorable review in the NY Sun, Baker argues:
Nobody expects a man like Adolf Hitler to do the right thing — he was a rage-prone, vengeful, suicidal madman. I do think, though, that we might legitimately and fruitfully question, as Herbert Hoover did at the time, the good sense and compassion of two of the leaders whom we now hold up as saviors of civilization.
Whatever you may believe about the advisability of the Battle of Iraq, surely you will concede that it isn't perverse to try to wring from the catastrophe of World War II some balm of moderating wisdom and instruction.
The writer of the Sun's response has it right.
On the eve of American entry into the Battle of Iraq, Nicholson Baker was one of those Slate magazine queried in respect of where they stood. Wrote Mr. Baker: "We can keep it from happening. What slowed the bombing in Vietnam? The shouts of the protesters in front of the White House, disturbing Nixon's tranquility. Public embarrassment stopped it. Heap shame and opprobrium on Rumsfeld, Cheney, Wolfowitz, Powell, and Bush. They are foolish, small-minded, cowardly men who will not hesitate to order the bombing of civilians from several miles in the air in order to squash a dictator that they helped bring to power." We are mere newspapermen, not psychoanalysts. But our guess is that Mr. Baker knew when he wrote those words that Bush and Cheney had seized the esprit of Churchill and Roosevelt and that one way to get at them would be to tarnish the heroes of the earlier war.
Smoke is reviewed here, here and here.