|A painting of Winston Churchill in his
famous boiler suit
|A library edition of his six-volume history
of World War II
By Adam Kirsch
New York Sun, June 11, 2008
Edited by Andy Ross
Churchill, Hitler, and the Unnecessary War
By Patrick J. Buchanan
Crown, 518 pages
It is a delicious irony that Patrick Buchanan's new
contribution to the flourishing genre of World War II revisionism should
appear in the same season as Nicholson Baker's Human Smoke.
and Buchanan probably could not stand to be in the same room. The former is
to the left of most Democrats, the latter to the right of most Republicans.
But both men have written books arguing that World War II was an unnecessary
folly, with Winston Churchill as the villain.
Baker's book has been
dismissed as the ignorant blundering of a novelist who wandered far out of
his depth. But Buchanan's book is more dangerous. Buchanan was once a
notable presence in mainstream American politics. Since 1996, he has left
the mainstream behind by publishing a series of books whose Spenglerian
rhetoric about the decline of the West lays bare the racist and reactionary
premises of his thought.
Buchanan deploys a rhetoric of violence and
treason. He is a man who can write that "we are on a path to national
suicide" because the "American majority is not reproducing itself," with the
result that "Asian, African, and Latin American children come to inherit the
estate the lost generation of American children never got to see."
What happens when such a man turns to World War II? This book provides the
answer. Ostensibly, the targets of his invective are Churchill and the
British Empire. Only in his closing pages does Buchanan state explicitly
that his blast at the British past is really a polemic about the American
future. "There is hardly a blunder of the British Empire we have not
emulated," he writes.
Buchanan's historical argument itself is a
series of clichés enlivened only by malign sophistries. Most of the book
retells the story of the suicide of Europe in the two world wars. When
Buchanan is not quoting popularizing histories, he is quoting the most
popular of their revisionists such as Niall Ferguson. But the most important
source for Buchanan is the British military historian Correlli Barnett, who
is quoted very copiously.
Buchanan makes only one controversial
claim: that Britain should not have offered to guarantee Poland against Nazi
aggression in April 1939. Buchanan argues that Hitler admired the English as
racial comrades, and more than once floated the prospect of the two nations
dividing up the world between them. His real target was the Soviet Union,
and it would have been better for Britain and the world to allow those two
monstrous tyrannies to fight each other alone.
It is hard to say
which aspect of this argument is more objectionable, the factual or the
ethical. Factually, it is ludicrous to suggest that Britain would have been
better off allowing Germany a free hand in Eastern Europe. When Hitler did
invade the Soviet Union, in June 1941, he came within a hairsbreadth of
immediate victory. Had Britain not been in the war at that point, there is
good reason to think that the Wehrmacht would have been in Moscow by the end
of the year. At that point, it would have been suicidal for Britain to
declare war on Germany.
Buchanan's weak grasp of strategy merges
with his weak grasp of ideology. For he writes about Nazi Germany as a
"realist," that is, as one who believes that its ideological character was
less important than its power-political goals. He could have been cured of
this delusion by reading Hannah Arendt, who argues that Nazism was not a
party but a movement, which could keep itself alive only by constant motion,
new conquests, new transformations of society.
Hitler made very plain
that Germany was only the beginning of his ambitions, which ran to the
complete reorganization of the world as a racial hierarchy. Left to his own
devices, Hitler would have completed the genocide of the Jews, made Poland
and Ukraine German slave colonies, depopulated Russia, and committed even
more horrors against the "Christian peoples" for whom Buchanan professes
Churchill was the one British statesman who
recognized that a Europe dominated by Hitler could never be at peace, and
who never wavered from the consequences of this insight. Here lies his
greatness, and not in every act and pronouncement of his long, checkered
career, which Buchanan maliciously combs through.
Buchanan devotes a
section of his book to Churchill's anti-immigration stand in the 1950s:
Churchill believed that "Keep England White" was "a good slogan." He is even
brazen enough to write that, had Churchill prevailed, England would not have
become "the multiracial, multicultural nation of today."
remembers that if there is one cause Buchanan himself cherishes it is
immigration restriction — when one recalls his words on "national suicide"
and the "invasion" of America by nonwhites, and his constant inveighing
against multiculturalism — his criticism of Churchill is truly shameless
Churchill's character was well-known during his lifetime.
In the 1930s he was one of the most unpopular politicians in Britain. He
came back from exile to be named prime minister in May 1940 not because he
was a perfect statesman but because he was indomitable. Pity the nation that
reaches a point where it needs a Churchill to save it; but pity even more a
nation that, needing a Churchill, fails to find one.
A War Worth Fighting
By Christopher Hitchens
Newsweek, June 14, 2008
Edited by Andy Ross
Churchill, Hitler, and the Unnecessary War
By Patrick J.
Crown, 518 pages
One would probably get wide agreement for the proposition that the second
world war was a "good war" and one well worth fighting. To the conventional
wisdom add the titanic figure of Winston Churchill as the emblem of
oratorical defiance and the Horatius who, until American power could be
mobilized and deployed, alone barred the bridge to the forces of unalloyed
Historical scholarship has nevertheless offered various sorts
of revisionist interpretation of all this. Pat Buchanan, twice a candidate
for the Republican nomination, has now condensed all the antiwar arguments
into one. His case is as follows:
— That Germany was faced with
encirclement and injustice in both 1914 and 1939
— Britain in both years
ought to have stayed out of quarrels on the European mainland
Winston Churchill was the principal British warmonger on both occasions
The United States was needlessly dragged into war on both occasions
That the principal beneficiaries of this were Joseph Stalin and Mao Zedong
— That the Holocaust was as much the consequence of the war as it was of
Buchanan opens his book with the statement, "All about us
we can see clearly now that the West is passing away." The tropes are
familiar — a loss of will and confidence, a collapse of the desire to
reproduce with sufficient vigor, a preference for hedonism over the stern
tasks of rulership and dominion and pre-eminence. It all sounds oddly
Buchanan makes some sound points about the secret
diplomacy of Old Europe. And he is excellent on the calamitous Treaty of
Versailles that succeeded only in creating the conditions for another world
war, or for part two of the first one.
To believe Buchanan's argument
that a conflict with Hitler's Germany both could and should have been
averted, one has to be prepared to argue that Hitler was a rational actor
with intelligible and negotiable demands, whose declared ambitions were
presumably to be disregarded as mere propaganda.
In his view, Germany
had been terribly wronged by Versailles and it would have been correct to
redraw the frontiers in Germany's favor and soothe its hurt feelings.
Meanwhile we should have encouraged Hitler's hostility to Bolshevism and
discreetly rearmed in case he should also need to be contained.
might perhaps have worked if Germany had been governed by a right-wing
nationalist party that had won a democratic vote. But in fact Germany was
governed by an ultra-rightist, homicidal, paranoid maniac who had begun by
demolishing democracy in Germany itself, who believed that his fellow
countrymen were a superior race and who attributed all the evils in the
world to a Jewish conspiracy.
The whole and complete lesson is not
that the second world war was an avoidable "war of choice." It is that the
Nazis could and should have been confronted before they had fully rearmed
and had begun to steal the factories and oilfields and coal mines and
workers of neighboring countries.
As the book develops, Buchanan
begins to unmask his true colors. It is one thing to make the case that
Germany was ill-used, and German minorities harshly maltreated, as a
consequence of the 1914 war of which Germany's grim emperor was one of the
prime instigators. It's quite another thing to say that the Nazi decision to
embark on a Holocaust of European Jewry was "not a cause of the war but an
awful consequence of the war." This will not do.
argues that Churchill did not appreciate Hitler's deep-seated and respectful
Anglophilia, and he continually blames the war on several missed
opportunities to take the Führer's genially outstretched hand.
true that millions of people lost their lives in this conflict and that new
tyrannies were imposed on the countries that had been the pretexts for a war
against fascism. But unless or until Nazism had been vanquished, millions of
people were most certainly going to be either massacred or enslaved in any
case. Whereas today, the ideas of racism and totalitarianism have been
Winston Churchill may well have been on the
wrong side about many things, and he may have had a lust for war, but we may
also be grateful that there was one politician in the 1930s who found it
intolerable even to breathe the same air as the Nazis.
The more the
record is examined, the more creditable it seems that at least two Western
statesmen regarded coexistence with Nazism as undesirable as well as