Pat Buchanan and I have some differences – some major differences.
He is a Catholic; I am a Protestant. He is a conservative; I am a libertarian. He is a protectionist; I am a freetrader. He has disparaged Wal-Mart; I spend most of my money there. He believes Alexander Hamilton was one of the greatest of the Founding Fathers; I much prefer Thomas Jefferson. He has worked for Republican presidents; I loathe Republican presidents. He favors a government limited to conservative and Republican policies; I favor a government as limited as possible.
There is one thing, however, that Buchanan and I do agree on, and it is something that I consider to be very important: World War II was an unnecessary war. It was unnecessary for the Treaty of Versailles to enlarge the British, French, Italian, and Japanese empires at the expense of Germany. It was unnecessary for Britain to end its Anglo-Japanese treaty. It was unnecessary for Britain to impose sanctions on Italy, driving Mussolini into an alliance with Hitler. It was unnecessary for Britain to issue a war guarantee to Poland. And most importantly, it was unnecessary for 420,000 American soldiers to die fighting a foreign war.
I am not the only one to express a new-found agreement with Pat Buchanan. Writing in The Texas Observer, Josh Rosenblatt explains:
One of the more disconcerting (if poorly publicized) effects of the last eight years of American foreign policy is that I’m now forced to admit there are things Pat Buchanan and I agree on. It was so much easier during the reign of the first President Bush, when Buchanan was the happy culture warrior, fire-breathing his way across the country attacking gays, feminists, liberals and other degenerate life forms as he went, and I could hate the man and sleep comfortably. Now it seems like every time I turn on MSNBC, there’s Buchanan, condemning the second President Bush’s Iraq War, railing against his blundering efforts in Afghanistan, bemoaning his cowboy posturing toward Iran and Russia. And before I know what’s happening, I’m nodding my head and thinking, “Maybe Pat Buchanan isn’t such a bad guy after all.” Inevitably I end up turning the TV off in self-disgust, imagining my father turning somersaults in his grave.
There are really five Pat Buchanans.
There is Pat Buchanan the syndicated columnist. God only knows how many newspapers and magazines Buchanan has been published in. He is also a co-founder of The American Conservative magazine.
There is Pat Buchanan the TV commentator. Besides being a regular on The McLaughlin Group, Crossfire, and The Capital Gang, Buchanan’s nationally-recognized face has been seen on countless other news programs.
There is Pat Buchanan the political operative. He was an adviser to Nixon’s presidential campaigns, and worked in the Nixon and Ford White Houses. He served under Reagan as the White House Communications Director.
There is Pat Buchanan the politician. In 1992 and 1996, he sought the Republican presidential nomination. He was the Reform Party’s presidential candidate in the 2000.
And then there is Pat Buchanan the author. He is the author of the following books:
- The New Majority: President Nixon at Mid-Passage (1973)
- Conservative Votes, Liberal Victories: Why the Right Has Failed (1975)
- Right from the Beginning (1988)
- The Great Betrayal: How American Sovereignty and Social Justice Are Being Sacrificed to the Gods of the Global Economy (1988)
- America Asleep: The Free Trade Syndrome and the Global Economic Challenge: A New Conservative Foreign Economic Policy for America (1991)
- A Republic, Not an Empire: Reclaiming America’s Destiny (1999)
- The Death of the West: How Dying Populations and Immigrant Invasions Imperil Our Country and Civilization (2002)
- Where the Right Went Wrong: How Neoconservatives Subverted the Reagan Revolution and Hijacked the Bush Presidency (2004)
- State of Emergency: The Third World Invasion and Conquest of America (2006)
- Day of Reckoning: How Hubris, Ideology, and Greed Are Tearing America Apart (2007)
- Churchill, Hitler, and the Unnecessary War: How Britain Lost Its Empire and the West Lost the World (2008)
Buchanan’s books are not all created equal; e.g., see David Gordon’s review of A Republic, Not an Empire and The Death of the West. There is one book, however, that is not only Buchanan’s best and most important book; it is one of the best and most important books ever written. I am referring to his latest book on World War II: Churchill, Hitler, and the Unnecessary War: How Britain Lost Its Empire and the West Lost the World.
Now, I realize that my lofty assessment of Buchanan’s book might be dismissed as a hyperbolic exaggeration on steroids. But as one who is a student of war and foreign policy, and writes extensively about war-related issues, and especially on the folly of war, I, having read the book very, very carefully, cannot, must not, say otherwise. I don’t recall ever having highlighted, dog-eared, written in, read, and reread any book like I have this one.
Since the book came out last year, and has been reviewed – positively (The American Conservative), negatively (The Jerusalem Post), and savagely (Newsweek) – many times already, I am forgoing a formal review. I knew when the book came out last year that it was something I would have to read and write about, but it was only after going through the book for myself that I realized just what a monumental thing it was that Pat Buchanan had done.
This book is so important, so crucial to the cause of peace, because World War II, more than any other war in the history of the world, is considered to be, not only necessary, but just, right, and good. Indeed, World War II is known as the “Good War.”
But if this is true then we have a problem, for, as Buchanan writes in his introduction: “It was the war begun in September 1939 that led to the slaughter of the Jews and tens of millions of Christians, the devastation of Europe, Stalinization of half the continent, the fall of China to Maoist madness, and half a century of Cold War.” How can a war that resulted in the deaths of 50 to 70 million people be termed a good war? How can a war in which two-thirds of those who died were civilians be termed a good war?
Whenever I write about the folly of war, I inevitably get e-mail from some armchair warrior who says something like: “You [pacifist, appeaser, liberal, communist, traitor, America-hater, peacenik, coward]! Don’t you know that if the U.S. military had not intervened to stop Hitler we would all be speaking German right now?”
A greater lie has never been uttered.
Churchill, Hitler, and the Unnecessary War debunks the myths about World War II being necessary and demolishes the arguments offered in defense of World War II as a “good” war.
But this is not just a book on World War II. And it could not be otherwise, for World War II was but the continuation of “the great civil war of the West.” “This is not peace,” said French Marshal Ferdinand Foch after the “war to end all wars,” “it is an armistice for twenty years.” “All lines of inquiry lead back to World War I,” said American diplomat and historian George Kennan. “Versailles,” writes Buchanan, “had created not only an unjust but an unsustainable peace.”
Accordingly, the first three chapters of Buchanan’s book are about the causes and consequences of World War I. Chapters 4 through 12 likewise treat World War II. Buchanan points out in his introduction the two great myths about these wars: “The first is that World War I was fought u2018to make the world safe for Democracy.’ The second is that World War II was the u2018Good War,’ a glorious crusade to rid the world of Fascism that turned out wonderfully well.” That first statement is now generally recognized for the myth that it is. The second; however, is still a widely-held opinion – hence the need for this book.
The last three chapters of the book deal with Hitler’s real ambitions (“Hitler never wanted war with Britain.”), Churchill as a poor choice for man of the century (Churchill’s concessions at Moscow were far worse than Chamberlain’s at Munich.”), and America inheriting Britain’s empire (“There is hardly a blunder of the British Empire we have not replicated.”).
The book is also a history and geography lesson: Bohemia, the Sudetenland, Alsace, Lorraine, Danzig, Transylvania, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, Abyssinia, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Moravia, Sarajevo, Trianon, Trieste, the Polish Corridor, Galicia, Tyrol, Ruthenia, Silesia, and the Treaties of Versailles, Trianon, Brest-Litovsk, and St. Germain. And aside from the usual relevant pictures in the center of the book like we see in most books on the world wars, Buchanan’s book includes very detailed maps that wonderfully supplement the text.
There are no battle accounts in Churchill, Hitler, and the Unnecessary War. No details on troop movements. No information on fighting techniques. No theories about military strategy. No particulars about weapons. The crucial question for Buchanan is: “Were these two devastating wars Britain declared on Germany wars of necessity, or wars of choice?”
Britain? Yes, Great Britain, the United Kingdom, the empire on which the sun never set. You mean you thought both world wars were all the fault of Germany?
Now, we know all about the evils of Hitler and Nazism: the fascism, the murder, the mayhem, the destruction, the aggression, the militarism, the racism, the anti-Semitism, the death camps. Buchanan doesn’t excuse Germany in the least: “None of this is to minimize the evil of Nazi ideology, or the capabilities of the Nazi war machine, or the despicable crimes of Hitler’s regime, or the potential threat of Nazi Germany to Great Britain once war was declared.” And neither does he slight the heroism of the British: “The question this book addresses is not whether the British were heroic. That is settled for all time. But were their statesmen wise?”
When it came to World War I, British statesmen were anything but wise:
British hawks looked to a European war to enhance national prestige and expand the empire.
Unknown to the Cabinet and Parliament, a tiny cabal had made a decision fateful for Britain, the empire, and the world. Under the guidance of Edward Grey, the foreign secretary from 1905 to 1916, British and French officers plotted Britain’s entry into a Franco-German war from the first shot.
It was the British decision to send an army across the Channel to fight in Western Europe, for the first time in exactly one hundred years, that led to the defeat of the Schlieffen Plan, four years of trench warfare, America’s entry, Germany’s collapse in the autumn of 1918, the abdication of the Kaiser, the dismemberment of Germany at Versailles, and the rise to power of a veteran of the Western Front who, four years after the war’s end, was unreconciled to his nation’s defeat.
Had Britain not declared war on Germany in 1914, Canada, Australia, South Africa, New Zealand, and India would not have followed the Mother Country in. Nor would Britain’s ally Japan. Nor would Italy, which London lured in with secret bribes of territory from the Habsburg and Ottoman empires. Nor would America have gone to war had Britain stayed out. Germany would have been victorious, perhaps in months. There would have been no Lenin, no Stalin, no Versailles, no Hitler, no Holocaust.
Buchanan gives five reasons why the Britain government at the time “turned the European war of August 1 into a world war”: to preserve France as a great power, to defend British honor, to retain their control of the government, Germanophobia, and imperial ambition and opportunism.
The cost of Britain’s folly: 700,000 dead British soldiers, plus 200,000 more from throughout the empire. And for what?
The caricature of Germany as the most militaristic country is just that. Buchanan points out that from Waterloo to World War I, Germany had only been involved in three wars while Great Britain had engaged in ten.
World War I, as Buchanan quotes British historian John Keegan, was “an unnecessary conflict. Unnecessary because the train of events that led to its outbreak might have been broken at any point during the five weeks that preceded the first clash of arms, had prudence or common goodwill found a voice.”
And then there is World War II:
Had Britain not given a war guarantee to Poland in March 1939, then declared war on September 3, bringing in South Africa, Canada, Australia, India, New Zealand, and the United States, a German-Polish war might never have become a six-year world war in which fifty million would perish.
Thus did the British government, in panic over a false report about a German invasion of Poland that was neither planned nor prepared, give a war guarantee to a dictatorship it did not trust, in a part of Europe where it had no vital interests, committing itself to a war it could not win.
From 1914 – 1918, Britain and France, with millions of soldiers, had barely been able to keep the German army out of Paris. Two million Americans had been needed to crack the German lines. Now, with a tiny fraction of the British army of 1918, with former allies Russia, Japan, and Italy now hostile, and with America now neutral, Britain was handling out war guarantees not only to Belgium and Holland, but also to Poland and Rumania.
Buchanan’s conclusion will be a tough one for some to swallow: “It was Britain that turned both European wars into world wars.”
Churchill, Hitler, and the Unnecessary War is a necessary book.
It is necessary because it tells the real story of British prime minister Neville Chamberlain’s “appeasement” of Hitler at Munich. Because the Sudeten Germans in Czechoslovakia – a multiethnic, multilingual, multicultural, Catholic-Protestant conglomerate that had never before existed – “hated the Prague regime and had no loyalty to a nation where they were second-class citizens” (there were more Germans in Czechoslovakia than Slovaks), Chamberlain, correctly, and not alone, “did not believe that maintaining Czech rule over three million unhappy Germans was worth a war.”
It is necessary because it shows that the greatest blunder in British history was not Munich, but the Polish war guarantee that committed Britain to fight for a Polish dictatorship that had considered making a preemptive strike against Germany, signed, like Stalin, a nonaggression pact with Hitler, and joined in the dismemberment of Czechoslovakia after the Munich Agreement. Here Buchanan is not alone. Lloyd George considered it “a frightful gamble” and “sheer madness.” Former First Lord of the Admiralty Cooper recorded in his diary: “Never before in our history have we left in the hands of one of the smaller powers the decision whether or not Britain goes to war.” It was “the maddest single action this country has ever taken,” said a member of Parliament. I have written about this foolish Polish war guarantee here.
It is necessary because it demolishes the cult of Churchill. Winston Churchill, rather than being the indispensable man of the century, was “the most bellicose champion of British entry into the European war of 1914 and the German-Polish war of 1939.” Among his other crimes, Churchill appeased Stalin – one of the twentieth century’s greatest mass murderers, whose crimes exceeded those of Hitler – by agreeing to his “annexation of the Baltic republics,” accepting “his plunder from the devil’s pact with Hitler,” and turning “a blind eye to the Katyn massacre.”
It is necessary because it explains how Hitler never wanted war with Britain. Hitler wanted absolute power in Germany. Hitler wanted to overturn the Versailles Treaty. Hitler wanted to restore lands to Germany. Hitler wanted to enlarge the German empire to the east. Hitler wanted to cleanse Germany of Jews. Hitler wanted to destroy Bolshevism. Hitler wanted Germany to achieve economic self-sufficiency in Europe. Hitler wanted to go down in history as “the greatest German of them all.” But Hitler never wanted war with Britain. To Hitler: “Great Britain was Germany’s natural ally and the nation and empire he most admired. He did not covet British colonies. He did not want or seek a fleet to rival the Royal Navy. He did not wish to bring down the British Empire. He was prepared to appease Britain to make her a friend of Germany.”
It is necessary because it confirms that Hitler was not a threat to the United States. The German Luftwaffe lost the Battle of Britain to the Royal Air Force; the German Navy was no match for Britain’s Royal Navy (“The Navy – what need have we of that?,” said Hitler in 1936). At the start of the war, Germany had only two battleships. The Bismarck had not been built yet – and it would be sunk on its maiden voyage. There were no troopships, landing barges, or transports for tanks and artillery. If Hitler could not cross the English Channel and conquer Great Britain, how could he possibly have been a threat to America? Buchanan dismisses Germany’s supposed plans “to build a massive surface fleet, develop a trans-atlantic bomber, and procure naval bases” as “comic-book history.” The historical truth is that “there are no known German plans to acquire the thousand ships needed to convey and convoy such an army and its artillery, tanks, planes, guns, munitions, equipment, fuel, and food across the Atlantic.” And as Buchanan points out about German bombers: “A trip over the Atlantic and back would require twenty hours of flying to drop a five-ton load on New York.” And if even today the U.S. Air Force doesn’t have a bomber that can fly round trip from the Midwest to Germany without refueling, how could German bombers in the 1940s have possibly bombed the United States and returned to Germany when air-to-air fueling had not yet been invented?
Was it necessary that tens of millions were slaughtered to prevent Hitler from slaughtering millions?
But don’t take Pat Buchanan’s word for it when we have the word of Churchill himself:
One day President Roosevelt told me that he was asking publicly for suggestions about what the war should be called. I said at once, “The Unnecessary War.” There never was a war more easy to stop than that which has just wrecked what was left of the world from the previous struggle.
And if World War II was unnecessary, then how much more unnecessary are the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan?
Churchill, Hitler, and the Unnecessary War – buy it, read it, digest it, and refer to it often. And the next time someone tries to justify some U.S. military intervention by appealing to the “Good War,” ask him what was so good about it.