Churchill, Buchanan, and the Neocons

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by Paul Gottfried by Paul Gottfried

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Without wishing to talk to death certain issues raised by Churchill, Hitler and "The Unnecessary War," I have been noticing the obsession of Buchanan’s critics with German blame for World War One. This fixation has recently come up with particular force in one truly egregious article in Newsweek that global democratic atheist and part-time Teutonophobe Christopher Hitchens prepared in response to Pat’s blockbuster. Hitchens counterfactually ascribes to the Germans exclusive blame for the "odious" Franco-Prussian War. But, curiously, he produces no proof for this blanket assertion. He then claims that the German government merely pretended that the Franco-Russian alliance (a development to which Hitchens vaguely alludes) was an attempt to "encircle" Germany. If that alliance was not intended to have this effect, I’d like to know what sources Hitchens could cite for his opinion. And so would George Kennan, if he were still alive, who wrote the authoritative study of the Franco-Russian alliance. Hitchens also castigates the Kaiser for having sided with the South African Dutch against the English aggressors in the Boer War. But that was also the position taken with some justification by other European government leaders at the time.

An even more vehement hatred for everything German, and particularly for Bismarck and Kaiser Wilhelm, can be found in that garrulous neocon mouthpiece Victor Davis Hanson. When Hanson is not beating up on the Spartans and Confederates, as substitutes for the Krauts, he is ranting against the "German aggressors" in World War One. The real acid test for neocon loyalty is not hating Hitler (after all, who could like this genocidal mass murderer?) but reading back Hitlerian traits into the German Second Empire and even earlier into German history. It is no secret why the neocons really idolize Churchill. Whatever his politically incorrect statements, such as his well-publicized outbursts of anti-Semitism after the Bolshevik Revolution and his explicitly racialist views, Winston was good at getting others to kill Germans. In the neocon view, that makes up for lots of deficiencies.

For the record, let me correct some pervasive neocon-liberal misconceptions: The Treaty of Brest Litovsk on March 13, 1918, which the neocon and liberal press treat as a foretaste of what the Central Powers would have likely done to the "democracies" had they been able to dictate the postwar peace, indicates very little about what such a peace might have looked like. We must assume here of course a very hypothetical outcome, namely that the Germans, whose allies had collapsed by the end of 1917, would have been able to stick it to the other side, as their enemies were able to do to them thanks to Wilson’s military intervention. A Germany that would have enjoyed the upper hand at war’s end would have likely gotten a brokered peace, in which the US might have made its weight felt if the Germans had demanded too much. For argument’s sake, I don’t think that the Central Powers, if they had been able to get everything they wanted, would have behaved any better than their enemies. Nonetheless, it is hard to see how they could have produced a worse peace treaty than the one that emerged from Versailles.

But Brest-Litovsk was not such a treaty. It was concluded with the newly installed Soviet government while the war on the Western Front was still raging. It was not a permanent peace, as historian Egmont Zechlin has pointed out. It was a means of keeping Germany on its feet, despite the starvation blockade that the British had illegally but quite effectively imposed on their future adversaries even before the outbreak of the War. The Germans needed resources from the East in order to survive materially and to keep their armies in the field. Zechlin properly distinguishes between "war aims" and "military means," stressing that Brest-Litovsk represented the latter rather than the former.

Nor is there any evidence that the Allies intended to give back to Lenin the territories the Kaiser had taken, as George Kennan famously observed decades ago. Instead there were speeches from Winston about keeping the land occupied by the Germans out of the hands of the "Jewish-Bolshevik" gang that had taken over in Russia. By then of course the British needed the land that had belonged to Tsarist Russia to reward its own clients, like postwar Poland and Rumania.

Buchanan has only uncovered the tip of the iceberg in pointing out the unpleasant sides of Winston Churchill’s career. Among his less attractive achievements was having actually discouraged the uprising against the Nazi government in July 1944 and similar initiatives before, because if they had succeeded, the Allies would not have been able to smash the Germans as thoroughly as they had wanted to. Recent scholarship by German historian Gerd Überschär and the British writer Brian Martin suggest that Churchill had a hand not only in blackening the German resistance, which he did in a speech before Parliament on August 2, 1944, but also in contributing to the deaths of resistance leaders. The success of an anti-Nazi coup would have damaged Churchill’s war aims, which included, beside the utter devastation of a defeated Germany, cashing in on the good will of Soviet Russia. Churchill went so far in his efforts to keep anti-Nazi German patriots, including moderate leftist like Julius Leber, from prevailing against Hitler that he leaked information about their identities and whereabouts to the Gestapo, with the help of the BBC and the Chief of Political Warfare John W. Wheeler-Bennett.

Only a decade later, during the Cold War, did Churchill and Wheeler-Bennett, the author of many unflattering works about the Germans, discover the "heroism" of the doomed resistance fighters. These fallen German patriots had by then acquired value to the British government as symbols of the "good Germany," which it then needed to enlist in a struggle against the Soviets. Unfortunately Churchill had dealt with the "good Germans" very differently and in an unspeakably reprehensible way when they had tried to overthrow the Nazi government.

Not surprisingly, FDR likewise overflowed with jubilation in a letter to Eleanor, written from Hawaii, over the suppression of the German resistance. In Roosevelt’s judgment, because "things had not grown worse," as they would have for him if the Nazis had been removed, nothing could now stand in the way of a total German defeat. Note this expression of jubilation took place despite the fact that the British and Americans had maintained contacts with some of the would-be rebels against the Nazis since the 1930s. American spymaster Allen Dulles, who then headed the Office of Strategic Services, had actively encouraged the uprising before it was undertaken. The English and American heads of state knew better when they described the rebels as "Nazi dignitaries engaging in an internal conflict." This was the key phrase in Churchill’s mendacious remarks before Parliament in August, 1944, which, by the way, did not go unchallenged at the time.

Let me point out in closing that I find Churchill to be a figure of extraordinary parts, as an author, speaker, and inspiring war leader. But to describe him as merely "flawed" may be overly generous. His role from abetting the First World War down to his promotion of Operation Keelhaul, an act of truckling to the Soviets which resulted in the predictable murder of many thousands of refugees from Stalin, should cause us to hesitate about lavishing praise on this "democratic statesman." The detailed critical discussion of Churchill in The Costs of War by Ralph Raico, is well worth revisiting, although when I first encountered Ralph’s study, it seemed excessively harsh. Alas it is not. Needless to say, I would not expect the neocons and their liberal collaborators in obfuscation to take an honest look at the nasty, deceitful side of Churchill. These scribblers do have a thing about the Germans, and not just for the period of the Third Reich. And from my recent, unsettling peek at Newsweek, it seems that their hostility is widespread among our scribbling class.

June 23, 2008

Paul Gottfried [send him mail] is Horace Raffensperger Professor of Humanities at Elizabethtown College and author of Multiculturalism and the Politics of Guilt, The Strange Death of Marxism, and Conservatism in America: Making Sense of the American Right.

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