History According to Harry: Appeasement fails with warlocks too

Wall Street Journal JONATHAN V. LAST

Tonight, when “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” descends upon bookstores, millions of children will flutter in delight. But the sixth entry in the franchise may well please discerning adults, too.

The series began as a collection of detective stories cloaked in sorcery. The first introduced us to the young Mr. Potter, who was packed off to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry after being orphaned when the evil Lord Voldemort–a warlock who had started a great war–killed his parents. But the early Potter tales were essentially Hardy Boys stories–each book confronted Harry and his friends with a series of small puzzles, the solving of which led to the resolution of a big case.

In the fifth book, “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix,” something interesting happened. The author, J.K. Rowling, abandoned the mystery genre and gave her readers something more challenging: a historical allegory. Through sleight-of-hand, Ms. Rowling took a children’s book and transformed it into a parable about 1930s England. We’ve heard a lot recently about London and the Blitz. Ms. Rowling’s unfolding saga may illuminate that dark historical moment, not only the ordeals that led up to it but also–who knows?–the triumphs that followed.

The parallels between this volume and Britain’s prewar dithering are so great that the book is perhaps best read as a light companion to “Alone,” the second volume of William Manchester’s biography of Winston Churchill.


1 thought on “History According to Harry: Appeasement fails with warlocks too

  1. A very good book on the appeasement of Hitler is “The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill, Alone 1932-1940” by William Manchester. When I read this book I was astounded at how many opportunites to stop Hitler’s militaristic and expansionary plans, early on before he became a real threat, had been missed.

    Only Churchill seemed able to clearly read Nazi intentions and foresee the great threat that they represented. On the eve of the occupation of the Rhineland, Germany’s military was still weak and it’s gernerals believed that they would have been forced to beat a hasty retreat if France or England made any show of force. Instead Europe and America looked the other way, as they would as Mussolini’s forces slaughtered the Ethiopians and the Japanese butchered over 300,000 Chinese in the infamous “Rape of Nanking”.

    In a sense this may be the result of focussing on one threat while treating all other threats as distractions and annoyances. The West faced two threats, Fascism and Bolshevism, and chose to accomodate the former because it’s aristocratic and plutocratic leaders considered the latter to be the greater threat. For this reason Churchill, like Roosevelt, was considered a “traitor to his class.”

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