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'Eliminating minorities only sets a nation back'

By Sanchari Bhattacharya
January 22, 2014 13:40 IST
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'With any luck and a certain amount of rationality, we should be able to survive,' historian Antony Beevor tells's Sanchari Bhattacharya.

'We should learn that genocides and elimination of minorities achieve nothing and only sets a nation back.'

'If we don't learn from our mistakes, then humanity doesn't deserve a chance to survive.'

Can the world afford a leader like Adolf Hitler?Antony Beevor, right, below, has rewritten the rules of chronicling military history.

A genre where selling 10,000 copies is considered respectable, his books have sold over six million copies and have been translated in 30 different languages.

Beevor's best-known books are Stalingrad and Berlin: The Downfall 1945 . He attracted an equal amount of praise and criticism for the latter.

He has been praised for his gripping narrative style and for focussing on the lives and experiences of soldiers and commoners, rather than of generals and rulers, during war.

In an interview with's Sanchari Bhattacharya, the historian points out why the youth of India should not take lessons from Hitler and why we sometimes need to learn from historical mistakes.

Do you think the age of Great Wars in behind us?

I certainly hope so! But the situation in the South China Sea (a disputed territory between China, Japan and Vietnam) is worrying.

China is worried about its economic situation. It is facing several internal revolts and Beijing is getting paranoid. And we all know that unifying the country by seeking external conflict is a common strategy.

China and Japan are stuck in a vicious circle of rhetoric.

I think the age of conscripted armies ended with the United States' attack on Iraq. The US learnt the hard way that even if it won the war, it could lose immediately afterwards.

America thought that Iraq would be like Japan or Germany in 1945 (at the end of World War II), that the country could control its own cycle of violence.

But the situation worsened and elements like Al Qaeda became stronger.

(Former US President) George W Bush also made this mistake. He compared the war on terror to a world war and Al Qaeda to Hitler. It was a tremendous mistake of drawing historical parallels.

The World Wars were a case of nation States fighting against each other. The 9/11 attack was a security issue.

I would say there is a slightly greater chance of war now (because of the South China Sea dispute). If earlier it was 2 per cent, now it is 5 per cent.

Do you think India and Pakistan, two nations armed with nuclear weapons, may get involved in another war?

I don't think so, simply because both nations know that the damage will be immense. And the damage will not be limited to the death of soldiers or civilians. A war will affect the economy of both countries.

Are tribal, local wars more dangerous than the great wars of the last century? Because unlike those wars, the wars of our current times have no end and no victors.

Yes, they are. In fact, military analysts believe that wars like the fight against Al Qaeda and such outfits will go on for at least 30 years.

We may also have wars over water, over resources and over food.

Ironically, we may not see another war over oil anytime soon.

Historian Antony BeevorDo you believe a nuclear conflict is still possible?

A country like North Korea is totally unpredictable. No one knows what it will do and what it can do. The leaders of that nation are exploiting its weakness against a great power like the United States.

North Korea can be cornered into doing anything. It is a mad regime.

Any country can drag another country into a war. It is a question of governance.

Good, proper democracies don't fight other democracies.

Adolf Hitler's Mein Kampf is a best-seller in my country. And it is doing very well on Amazon too. How do you account for the world's fascination with Hitler?

Do you think that younger generations are not sufficiently horrified by his crimes and see him as a strong leader needed in these times of indifferent leadership?

Mein Kampf is a best-seller in India?

I would tell the young people who are reading that book, see it in the context of what Hitler did, not of what he said or wrote.

Hitler believed that a nation has the right to attack another nation, and it has the right to turn against its own minority population.

Hitler realised that only hatred was not enough, it has to be combined with fear, and fear and violence are interlinked.

Mein Kampf exploits the concept of fear and that is most worrying.

Hitler thought that if the Russian troops captured him, he would be taken to Moscow in an iron cage. And he said, 'If I am defeated, I will take the whole world down with me.'

I once asked a psychiatrist what he thought about the personalities of (Soviet dictator Josef) Stalin and Hitler. He said while Stalin was definitely a paranoid schizophrenic, Hitler only had a personality disorder.

Are you hopeful about the future of the world, its resilience against a war like World War II, which killed millions of people?

In the 1930s, when the world had already witnessed one Great War and was being rocked by the second Sino-Japanese War and the Spanish Civil War, everyone thought it had no future.

But the world has not come to an end.

With any luck and a certain amount of rationality, we should be able to survive. The fear of senseless destruction should hold us back (from plunging into another war).

I always say that history doesn't repeat itself and one should not draw historical parallels. But we can learn from history sometimes.

We should learn that things like genocides and elimination of minorities achieves nothing and only sets a nation back.

If we don't learn from our mistakes, then humanity doesn't deserve a chance to survive.

You can buy Antony Beevor's books, Berlin, Stalingrad, The Second World War at the Rediff Bookstore!

Images: Top: Adolf Hitler. Bottom: Antony Beevor

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