Snyder’s subtitle describes his book as both a history and a warning. Black Earth is a very present-minded work, and Snyder’s last chapter seeks to develop from the Nazi experience a series of lessons for our own time. His contention here is unfortunate.
Since, he writes, Hitler’s ideology arose from Hitler’s (mistaken) vision of a planetary ecological struggle between races for survival, the possibility of future ecological crises threatens a revival of Hitlerian ideologies. Snyder is both a great historian and a lively journalist, but his adoption of this speculative notion marks the chapter in which it appears as one of his less successful projects.Indeed. Conflating the Holocaust and global climate change is an awful idea whose time should have never come. Surely Frum should have come down a bit harder on Snyder for trying to tie the two together, a feat that obviously has less to do with history and more to do with wanting to bolster the political/ideological agenda of the anti-warming mob.
Update: "The Yale historian’s much-lauded new book promises a revolutionary view of the Holocaust. But it misleads more than it enlightens." Here's the problem:
Instead of explaining the dictator in terms of his ideological beliefs or the doctrines of the Nazi party, Snyder instead invokes considerations of agricultural science, the hybridization of grains, the storage and preservation of foods, and similar topics. When the German dictator came to power, Snyder writes, he was brought face to face with what he took to be a looming ecological crisis and the prospect of national starvation; here lies the key to his thinking and to his policies with regard to the nations of Eastern Europe with their fertile croplands and, in the end, to their millions of Jews.
A related discovery, to which Snyder returns time and again, concerns the crucial importance of so-called “stateless zones” in facilitating the Holocaust. One of Hitler’s main aims, he writes, was to destroy existing government institutions and bureaucracies in Eastern Europe as a necessary prelude to Germany’s successful takeover and, later, its implementation of the Final Solution. For this reason, the chances of Jewish survival were infinitely greater in countries where something like a state apparatus remained intact than in places where chaos prevailed. In particular, according to Snyder, the chances of survival for Jews in Germany were as high as one in two; in countries where the state apparatus had been destroyed, the chances of Jewish survival were only one in twenty.
What to say about all this?
The belief in the need for German expansion—Lebensraum—did indeed exist and had an impact on Nazi policy, as seen in Hitler’s invasion and seizure of the breadbasket regions of Eastern Europe. But as far as the Holocaust is concerned, it was hardly a decisive factor. Besides, if Hitler really did experience “ecological panic” (Snyder’s term), he would not have kept it a secret. It would have prominently figured in his Table Talk, in the writings of those closest to him (see Joseph Goebbels’ multi-volume diaries), in orders passed on to his ministers, and so on. It does not...Update: Historian Saul Friedlander was closer to the mark when he characterized Hitler's ideology as "redemptive anti-Semitism." Which is to say that Lebensraum took a back seat to Hitler's crackpot belief that Jewry (Juden) posed an existential threat to the world, and that it was his job to "redeem" humanity by killing off the Jewish contagion that, in Hitler's warped perception, was bent on mankind's destruction.