June 18, 2008

Not All That Possible

John Zmirak’s review of The Unnecessary War is an interesting read, but I was struck particularly by this passage:

The distopia promised by the Nazis, on the other hand, really was possible. A dominant race really could have enslaved and exploited weaker peoples on a vast scale, just as Hitler had promised. Whole nations could have been exterminated, as Europe?s Jews and the Roma nearly were. Entire peoples could have been consigned to slavery for centuries. The Mongols managed it. So have the Moslems.

Yet the Mongols achieved this, to the extent that they did, in an era before mass political mobilization and before the age of nationalism, and to a large degree they did not achieve it at all.  Despite the amusingly anachronistic mythology of Eisenstein films, Rus’ian princes readily submitted as tributaries to the Golden Horde and were not precocious Russian nationalists, but in return they were largely left to their own internal affairs.  The conversion of the Tatars to Islam had no significant effect on the religious or political culture of the Russians, no matter how much historians speculate about the effects of the Mongol Yoke on Russian political development.  Their subjects were not “slaves” of Mongol rulers. 

Without engaging in any romanticism about the Ottoman Empire before the late nineteenth century, it was with the advent of Turkish nationalism that the greatest horrors of the Armenian genocide and the expulsions and massacres of Greek Christian populations from Anatolia took place.  Despite having been subjugated for centuries, the subject Christian peoples of the Ottoman Empire did not put up with campaigns of massacre and deportation, but typically rebelled and gained their independence—why would they have not done the same when confronted with an even more methodical exterminationist ideology in Nazism?  Meanwhile, once the era of nationalism dawned Ottoman rule and whatever slavery came with it were utterly undermined.  If Ottoman rule over subject Christian peoples did not survive the introduction of Western-style nationalism into their politics, why on earth would we imagine that German domination of other peoples would have been any more lasting?  As far as I can see, there has never been a persuasive answer to this objection to the imagined enduring rule of Nazism in a counterfactual post-WWII world. 

The citation of the examples of Mongols and Muslims actually drives home how unpersuasive this argument is.  Once exposed to nationalism, subject peoples do not cooperate or submit to such foreign domination.

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