Patrick J. Buchanan got upset that I wrote a column about the World War II revisionists, especially his book, and that of Nicholson Baker’s on the allied “crimes” of bombing German cities. I produce his column by paragraph and then comment in brackets.
In attacking my book “Churchill, Hitler and ‘The Unnecessary War’: How Britain Lost Its Empire and the West Lost the World,” Victor Davis Hanson, the court historian of the neoconservatives, charges me with “rewriting … facts” and showing “ingratitude” to American and British soldiers who fought World Wars I and II.
[In dealing with Mr. Buchanan, one must accept at the beginning two caveats. First, as is his style, he will always resort to ad hominem attacks in lieu of an argument. Thus note at the very beginning his sneering “court historian of the neoconservatives.”
Second, Buchanan unfortunately is neither a reliable journalist nor an historian, and thus simply cannot be trusted to report accurately what is written. He says I charge him with “rewriting… facts” (note those convenient three dots). I did not charge him with rewriting facts, but simply advancing a thesis contrary to them: “Questioning the past is a good thing, but rewriting it contrary to facts is quite another.” (emphasis added)
And I didn’t just criticize Buchanan’s book, but in a brief 750 word newspaper column lumped it together with the novelist Nicholson Baker’s (Human Smoke) equally critical attack on the allies in World War II—both as signs of the sorry state of historical revisionism that has sprung up in the climate of the Iraq war.
Writing a book whose theme is that the allies, and especially the British, unwisely and unduly pressured Hitler, and therefore were culpable for much of the carnage of World War II, again, does not “rewrite… facts”, but simply ignores them. And, yes, it does indeed serve to lessen the enormous sacrifices that American and British soldiers endured to stop a monstrosity like National Socialism, whose doctrine of racial hatred and territorial expansion logically led to a German government attacking by 1940 most of its neighbors, to the east, west, north and south, and eventually, in industrial fashion, murdering 6 million Jews.
Much of Hitler’s madness was outlined well in advance in Mein Kampf. By the late 1930s his harsh treatment of the Jews was a harbinger of things to come, once his own power was consolidated and Germany free from outside objection.]
Both charges are false, and transparently so.
Hanson cites not a single fact I got wrong and ignores the fact that the book is dedicated to my mother’s four brothers who fought in World War II. Moreover, the book begins by celebrating the greatness of the British nation and heroism of its soldier-sons.
[Within a 350-word critique devoted to the theme of his book, I cited his misreading of the Versailles Treaty (see below), and his special pleading that serves to exculpate Hitler’s Nazi government. Again, the thesis of Buchanan’s’ book is not based on facts, but can only be advanced by contradicting them. And it has a disturbing habit of mechanically at times praising those who are his natural targets—or supposedly naive victims—of the book, as if that allows him to further denigrate their wisdom and sacrifice.]
Did Hanson even read it?
[Unfortunately I did read it, and was appalled by his absence of logic—hence the column.]
The focus of “The Unnecessary War” is on the colossal blunders by British statesmen that reduced Britain from the greatest empire since Rome into an island dependency of the United States in three decades. It is a cautionary tale, written for America, which is treading the same path Britain trod in the early 20th century.
[This is as ludicrous as it is disingenuous. By 1939 the British Empire was in financial straits, its global economic position long displaced by the industrial power and growing population of the United States, and its empire an increasing economic drain. Its so-called decline had begun at the end of the nineteenth century, and was confirmed, not created, by World War II. Despite the cast-off and occasional warning about Hitler’s cruelty, the book accepts that there was nothing intrinsic within National Socialism as practiced under Hitler that would necessarily have led to war, and indeed a number of legitimate grievances that would justify Hitler’s own preemptive wars.]
Hanson agrees the Versailles Treaty of 1919 was “flawed,” but says Germany had it coming, for the harsh peace the Germans imposed on France in 1871 and Russia in 1918.
Certainly, the amputation of Alsace-Lorraine by Bismarck’s Germany was a blunder that engendered French hatred and a passion for revenge. But does Teutonic stupidity in 1871 justify British stupidity in 1919?
[Again, Buchanan misleads. I wrote that Versailles was less harsh than the treaties imposed on the defeated by Germany—and less harsh than what Germany had planned for the allies. 1871 was not a matter of “Teutonic stupidity”, but the logical result of German aggression and carefully thought-out punishment.]
Is that what history teaches, Hanson?
[Again, Buchanan is not truthful. I argued the problem was not Versailles, but the inability or the unwillingness of the allies to promote and foster German postwar democracy, occupy the country and thereby remind the German people that they had not been “stabbed in the back” in foreign territory, but militarily defeated on the battlefield and in full retreat when their generals sued for peace. That would have had a powerful effect in reminding the German people that neither Jews nor socialists had caused their defeat, but the madness of invading France, and the futility of fighting Russia, France, Britain, Italy, and the United States all at once.]
In 1918, Germany accepted an armistice on Wilson’s 14 Points, laid down her arms and surrendered her High Seas Fleet.
Yet, once disarmed, Germany was subjected to a starvation blockade, denied the right to fish in the Baltic Sea, and saw all her colonies and private property therein confiscated by British, French and Japanese imperialists, in naked violation of Wilson’s 14 Points.
Germans, Austrians and Hungarians by the millions were then consigned to Belgium, France, Italy, Serbia, Czechoslovakia, Romania, Poland and Lithuania, in violation of the principle of self-determination.
Germany was sliced in half, dismembered, disarmed, saddled with unpayable debt and forced, under threat of further starvation and invasion, to confess she alone was morally responsible for the war and all its devastation — which was a lie, and the Allies knew it.
[France, Britain, and Italy did not accept the 14 Points, and thus it was never an official allied position. Germany knew that when it discovered that Wilson could not speak for the allies, given the late entry of the United States into an ongoing allied effort. Germany lost two large slices of territory, about 13 percent of it European landmass, land once annexed from France by its invasion of 1870, and areas in what would become Poland that had been annexed by Prussia during the aggrandizement and long unification of the Germany. Much, though not all, of the returned territory had been won through coercion by imperial Germany in a series of wars, and was given back following plebiscites. As I wrote, the treaty was “flawed” by our modern sensibilities, but by the standards of the times, far less punitive than what Germany herself customarily demanded from the defeated. France did not invade Germany in 1870, 1914, or 1940, but by May 1940 found itself for the third time in seventy years with a German army advancing on Paris.]
Where was Hitler born?
“At Versailles,” replied Lady Astor.
[Buchanan’s citation of the quip of the aristocratic hostess Nancy Witcher Langhorne as an authority on Versailles is revealing and gives his game away—a woman known for her virulent anti-Semitism, pro-Hitler appeasement, and close correspondence with another kindred soul in Ambassador Joseph Kennedy. Her slurs about Czechoslovakian refugees, prejudice toward Catholics, lunatic pronouncements on slavery and blacks, and reprehensible slanders of British soldiers proved her to be unhinged—but apparently earns a citation of wisdom from Buchanan.]
As for the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk Germany imposed on Russia in 1918, is Hanson aware that the prison house of nations for which he wails, which was forced to disgorge Finland, the Baltic republics, Poland, Ukraine and the Caucasus, was ruled by Bolsheviks?
Was it a war crime for the Kaiser to break up Lenin’s evil empire?
[This is surreal and reveals Buchanan’s lack of even a simple grasp of history. Lenin had been in power for a little over a few weeks when negotiations with Germany began in November and December 1917—and only a few months when the treaty was signed in March 1918. His “evil empire” was in fact the centuries-long imperial Russia of the Tsars. Yes, imperial Germany did want Russia to “disgorge” land—so that it in turn might gorge upon them. That’s why the Kaiser seized much of the Ukraine, the Baltic States, and Belarus. Many on Buchanan’s list of free states “disgorged” in fact in the last year of the war came under sway of the German empire as virtual dependencies.
In short, Germany demanded and until defeated got its hands on a great deal of Russian territory, ninety percent of her coal, and much of Russian industry—a greed that severely hampered its efforts to transfer manpower and material to the Western front in 1918. Note that Buchanan omits my mention of Germany’s plans for Western Europe in the event of its victory, which we know from post-World War II archives would have made the Versailles treaty tame in comparison.]
Two years after Brest-Litovsk, Churchill himself was urging Britain to revise Versailles, bring Germany into the Allied fold and intervene in Russia’s civil war — against Lenin and Trotsky.
[Now Buchanan is praising the Churchill he serially damns as the fool who had prompted World War II. What Churchill was trying to do was exactly what I stated in my essay—incorporate Germany into the family of Western nations—something impossible not because of Versailles, but because a defeated German army in November 1918 retreated from foreign territory and reentered the fatherland, promulgating the myth that it had never been beaten, when in fact it was within days of annihilation by an advancing allied army that included over a million American soldiers.]
As for my thesis that the British war guarantee to Poland of March 31, 1939, was the “Fatal Blunder” that guaranteed World War II and brought down the British Empire, Hanson is mocking:
“Buchanan argues that, had the imperialist Winston Churchill not pushed poor Hitler into a corner, he would have never invaded Poland in 1939, which triggered an unnecessary Allied response.”
First, Hanson should get his prime ministers straight. It was Neville Chamberlain who issued the war guarantee to Poland after the collapse of his Munich accord. Churchill was not even in the Cabinet.
[Buchanan, again, cannot honestly reproduce quoted material. Pace Buchanan, note that I did not write “Prime Minister” Churchill—and for precisely the reason that he was not Prime Minister in September 1939 when Germany invaded Poland. But the very reason that the British turned to the “imperialist” Churchill in extremis in May 1940 was because he was on record in the British Parliament and in public life since 1932 for restoring British military preparedness, and, from at least 1936, enlightening British naïve rightists about the sinister nature of Hitler’s National Socialism. Yet Churchill is the veritable villain of Buchanan’s book, not the maniacal Hitler.]
Second, Hansen implies that I portray Hitler as a misunderstood victim. This is mendacious. Hitler’s foul crimes are fully related.
(a) Hanson, not Hansen. (b) Hitler’s crimes are mentioned in the customary Buchanan disclaimer fashion; but if they were “fully related,” they would make it impossible to empathize with a psychopath whose polices ended logically in the Holocaust.]
Third, was it moral, Hanson, for Britain to promise the Poles military aid they could not and did not deliver, thus steeling Polish resolve to resist Hitler and guaranteeing Poland’s annihilation?
[Now this is a strange contortion. The Poles were already steeled since they had known first hand German aggrandizement since 1914, had seen what Hitler had done in the Rhineland, Austria, and Czechoslovakia, and knew well the futility of appeasement. A militarily weak Britain and morally bankrupt France are to be faulted for not attacking in the West in September 1939, but applauded for at least declaring war on Hitler and finally apprising him that his aggression would no longer be treated with rhetoric but now with armed resistance. ]
Was it wise, Hanson, for Britain to declare a world war on the strongest nation in Europe over a town, Danzig, where the British prime minister thought Germany had the stronger claim?
[This is ludicrous. Danzig was a mere “town"? In fact, Britain declared war because for years Hitler had serially violated all of its WWI and international agreements, dismembered Czechoslovakia, and revealed the true nature of Nazi global aggrandizement as outlined years before in Mein Kampf.]
What were the consequences for Poland of trusting in Britain?
Crucifixion on a Nazi-Soviet cross, the Katyn massacre of the Polish officer corps, Treblinka and Auschwitz, annihilation of the Home Army, millions of brave Polish dead, half a century of Bolshevik terror.
[This is reprehensible. Now British military weakness is blamed for Auschwitz, rather than the innate sinister nature of Nazism? Does Buchanan believe that had Britain not tried to stop Hitler, the death camps would have never occurred? Does he know of the prewar Nazi precursors to the Final Solution, the geneses of which were clear from Germany’s own treatment of its chronically ill and mentally disturbed?]
And how did Churchill honor Britain’s commitment to Poland?
During trips to Moscow, Churchill bullied the Polish prime minister into ceding to Stalin that half of his country Stalin had gotten from his devil’s pact with Hitler, and yielded to Stalin’s demand for annexation of the Baltic republics and Bolshevik rule of a dozen nations of Eastern and Central Europe.
[Churchill distrusted Stalin, but by 1943 understood that a weak British Empire had no leverage at all against Stalin’s 400 divisions. Again in hindsight Churchill can be made to look illiberal, but given the realities of the times, there was no one more suspicious of the ally Stalin, or more sympathetic to the Poles. ]
Was it worth 50 million dead, Hanson, so Stalin, whose victims, as of Sept. 1, 1939, were 1,000 times Hitler’s, could occupy not only Poland, for which Britain went to war, but all of Christian Europe to the Elbe?
[How odd that the allies are indirectly blamed for the Holocaust, as if its seeds were not innate to Nazism. Most credit Stalin with the atrocious crime of killing 20-30 million of his own, versus Hitler’s 6 million. How that translates in “1,000 times” I am not sure—except by the misleading qualifier “by Sept.1 1939.” But here Buchanan engages in hindsight. In 1939, Britain knew of no other means—not political, not diplomatic, not economic—of stopping Hitler from absorbing all of Europe, an agenda of aggression clear from 1936 onward.]
Churchill was right when he told FDR in December 1941 it was “The Unnecessary War” and right again in 1948, when he wrote that, in Stalin, the world now faced “even worse perils” than those of Hitler.
[This is disingenuous. The aggregate of Churchill’s writings make it clear that he felt the war had been unnecessary only on the grounds that he felt, rightly I think, that it could have been prevented by standing up to a then weak Hitler in 1936, which would have humiliated the Nazis and perhaps even led to a change of government or at least a sort of containment of Nazism. And note Churchill’s choice of word “perils”. Churchill did not think, as implied by Buchanan, that Hitler was any less evil than Stalin, only that the Red Army and the resources of the Soviet Union gave it the potential to become far more dangerous than a much smaller Nazi empire.
Both World War II and the Cold War were necessary. And while the Soviet government was a vile and evil entity, millions of Red Army soldiers were not communists, but brave patriots who did much to stop the Wehrmacht, and, yes, by their efforts did save allied lives. Again, they fought for a horrendous government, but the motivation for many was not global communism or Comrade Stalin who had butchered millions of their families and friends, but to rid German soldiers from the soil of Mother Russia.]
So, what had it all been for?
[World War II—forced upon, not the fault of, the allies—was worth it. It ended fascism and Nazism, liberated thousands from death camps and starvation in forced labor compounds, led to a new democratic Europe, prevented the extinction of European Jewry, and reformed a once serially bellicose Germany that had attacked France three times in 70 years. Today’s Europe and Japan are proof of our grandfathers’ achievement.]
Historian Hanson should go back to tutoring undergrads about the Peloponnesian War and the Syracuse Expedition.
I guess Mr. Buchanan believes that working as a political operative in Richard Nixon’s White House is better training for history than formal study of classical languages and history. I think his ancient Greek citation is a vague reference to my support for the removal of Saddam Hussein and the effort to foster constitutional government in Iraq. But once more, Buchanan reveals his ignorance of history. The Syracuse expedition, as he calls it, was a case of a democratic Athens attacking a larger and democratic Syracuse and its Sicilian allies at a time when its adversary Sparta was not beaten. When I last looked the United States had not expanded its war on radical Islam by invading democratic India.
And the last time I had any notice of Buchanan himself was when his American Conservative magazine asked the so-called “War Nerd” (who once “daydreamed” of burning down my vineyard [which in fact later mysteriously experienced a roadside brushfire], cf. his “Victor Hanson: Portrait of an American Traitor” http://groups.google.com/group/eurolegalgroup/browse_thread/thread/62138f41e7283b35) to review A War Like No Other, and wrote an incoherent rant about Iraq rather than the book in question.
I stand by everything I wrote about Patrick J. Buchanan’s book, and find his latest effort further confirmation of his delusional views about both past and present.