How many American soldiers perished because the bomb built by Georg Elser to kill Adolf Hitler in a beer hall in Munich in November 1939 failed to go off on time and the dictator lived to prosecute the war he had launched two months earlier?
The number is known to precision: 292,131, including 31,215 from the state of New York, where Columbia University is located. The total number of casualties in that war–U.S. and foreign, Axis and Allied, military and civilian alike–is considerably higher: perhaps as many as 72 million.
As I noted recently in the Weekly Standard, Elser, who was apprehended by the German border police, handed over to the Gestapo, and subsequently executed, explained his action this way: “I wanted through my deed to prevent even greater bloodshed.”
John Coatsworth, the dean who invited the nuclear-bomb-seeking Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to speak at Columbia today, would have had a different approach. As he told Fox News on Saturday, he would have extended an invitation to Hitler: “If he were willing to engage in a debate and a discussion, to be challenged by Columbia students and faculty, we would certainly invite him.”
Coatsworth’s name will not make it into the standard histories as Elser’s has. But it deserves to be recorded for posterity. The university’s invitation to the genocidal aspirant Ahmadinejad is repugnant on many grounds. The outrage committed by Dean Coatsworth upon the dead of World War II–and, along the way, upon the memory of Georg Elser, who readily sacrificed his own life for the peace of the world–staggers the imagination.