The Töben Categorical Imperative:
Don’t bend to Jewish, or any, pressure but seek clarification by asking questions!
Mark Kurlansky, March 9, 2008
Nicholson Baker: Human Smoke: The Beginnings of World War II, the End of Civilization. Simon & Schuster: 576 pp., $30
'Human Smoke' by Nicholson Baker:
An inside look at the inexorable march of Britain and the United States toward World War II.
Not long ago, because there is no winter baseball in this country, I was channel surfing in search of amusement and ended up watching a debate of Republican presidential candidates. Sen. John McCain was attacking Rep. Ron Paul for opposing the Iraq war. He called Paul an "isolationist" and said it was that kind of thinking that had caused World War II. How old, I asked myself, is John McCain, that he is keeping alive this ancient World War II canard? Is it going to pass down to subsequent generations? All wars have to be sold, but World War II, within the memory of the pointless carnage that then became known as World War I, was a particularly hard sell. Roosevelt and Churchill did it well, and their lies have been with us ever since.
Nicholson Baker's Human Smoke is a meticulously researched and well-constructed book demonstrating that World War II was one of the biggest, most carefully plotted lies in modern history. According to the myth, British and American statesmen naively thought they could reason with such brutal fascists as Germany's Hitler and Japan's Tojo. Faced with this weakness, Hitler and Tojo tried to take over the world, and the United States and Britain were forced to use military might to stop them.
Because Baker is primarily a novelist, it might be expected that, having taken on this weighty subject, he would write about it with great flare and drama. Readers may initially be disappointed, yet one of this book's great strengths is that it avoids flourishes in favor of the kind of lean prose employed by journalists. "Human Smoke" is a series of well-written, brilliantly ordered snapshots, the length of news dispatches. Baker states that he wanted to raise these questions about World War II: "Was it a 'good war'? Did waging it help anyone who needed help?" His very effective style is to offer the facts and leave readers to draw their own conclusions.
The facts are powerful. Baker shows, step by step, how an alliance dominated by leaders who were bigoted, far more opposed to communism than to fascism, obsessed with arms sales and itching for a fight coerced the world into war.
Anti-Semitism was rife among the Allies. Of Franklin Roosevelt, Baker notes that in 1922, when he was a New York attorney, he "noticed that Jews made up one-third of the freshman class at Harvard" and used his influence to establish a Jewish quota there. For years he obstructed help for European Jewry, and as late as 1939 he discouraged passage of the Wagner-Rogers bill, an attempt by Congress to save Jewish children. British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain said in 1939 of German treatment of Jews that "no doubt Jews aren't a lovable people. I don't care about them myself." Once the war began, Winston Churchill wanted to imprison German Jewish refugees because they were Germans. What a comfort such leadership must have been to the Nazis, who, according to the New York Times of Dec. 3, 1931, were trying to figure out a way to rid Germany of Jews without "arousing foreign opinion."
Churchill is a dominant figure in "Human Smoke," depicted as a bloodthirsty warmonger who, in 1922, was still bemoaning the fact that World War I hadn't lasted a little longer so that Britain could have had its air force in place to bomb Berlin and "the heart of Germany." But no, he whined, it had to stop, "owing to our having run short of Germans and enemies." Churchill was not driven by anti-fascism. In his 1937 book "Great Contemporaries," he described Hitler as "a highly competent, cool, well-informed functionary with an agreeable manner." The same book savagely attacked Leon Trotsky. (What was wrong with Trotsky? "He was still a Jew. Nothing could get over that.")
Churchill repeatedly praised Mussolini for his "gentle and simple bearing." In 1927, he told a Roman audience, "If I had been an Italian, I am sure that I should have been entirely with you from the beginning to the end of your victorious struggle against the bestial appetites and passions of Leninism." Churchill considered fascism "a necessary antidote to the Russian virus," Baker writes. In 1938, he remarked to the press that if England were ever defeated in war, he hoped "we should find a Hitler to lead us back to our rightful position among nations."
As Baker's book makes clear, between the two World Wars communism, not fascism, was the enemy. David Lloyd George, who had been Britain's prime minister during World War I, cautioned in 1933, the year Hitler came to power, that if the Allies managed to overthrow Nazism, "what would take its place? Extreme communism. Surely that cannot be our objective." But even more than the communists, Churchill's enemy No. 1 in the 1920s and early '30s was Mohandas Gandhi and his doctrine of nonviolence, which Churchill warned "will, sooner or later, have to be grappled with and finally crushed."
In the 1930s, U.S. industry was free to sell the Germans and the Japanese whatever they'd buy, including weapons. Not to lose out, the British and French sold tanks and bombers to Hitler. Calls by Joseph Tenenbaum of the American Jewish Congress to boycott Germany were ignored. There was no attempt to contain, isolate, hinder or overthrow Hitler -- not because of naiveté but because of commerce. It was the Depression. There were Germans trying to overthrow Hitler, but the U.S. and Britain and their industries were obstructing that effort.
Baker shows that the Japanese, as early as 1934, were complaining that Roosevelt was deliberately provoking them. In January 1941, Japan protested the U.S. military buildup in Hawaii. Joseph Grew, our ambassador to Japan, reported rumors that the Japanese response would be a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. Yet according to World War II mythology, America was blissfully sleeping, unprepared for war, when caught by surprise by the dastardly "sneak attack." (Isn't it curious that Asians carry out "sneak attacks," whereas Westerners launch "preemptive strikes"?) A year earlier, Baker shows, Roosevelt began planning the bombing of Japan -- which had invaded China, but with which we were not at war -- from Chinese air bases with American planes and, when necessary, American pilots. Pearl Harbor was a purely military target, but Roosevelt wanted to bomb Japanese cities with incendiary bombs; he'd been assured that their cities would burn fast, being made largely of wood and paper.
Roosevelt evinced no desire to negotiate. In fact, Baker writes, in October he "began leaking the news of his new war plan," with $100 billion earmarked for airplanes alone. Grew again warned Roosevelt that he was pushing Japan toward armed conflict with the United States, but the president continued his war preparations. Finally, the night before the Japanese attack, Roosevelt sent a message to Emperor Hirohito calling for talks. He read it to the Chinese ambassador, remarking that he thought the message would "be fine for the record."
People are going to get really angry at Baker for criticizing their favorite war. But he hasn't fashioned his tale from gossip. It is documented, with copious notes and attributions. The grace of these well-ordered snapshots is that there is no diatribe; you are left to put things together yourself. Read "Human Smoke." It may be one of the most important books you will ever read. It could help the world to understand that there is no Just War, there is just war -- and that wars are not caused by isolationists and peaceniks but by the promoters of warfare. *
Mark Kurlansky is a journalist and the author, most recently, of "Nonviolence: 25 Lessons From the History of a Dangerous Idea."
Was World War Two just as pointless and self-defeating as Iraq?
By PETER HITCHENS, 19 April 2008
It makes me feel like a traitor to write this. The Second World War was my religion for most of my life. Brave, alone, bombed, defiant, we, the British, had won it on our own against the most evil and powerful enemy imaginable. Born six years after it was over, I felt almost as if I had lived through it, as my parents most emphatically had, with some bravery and much hardship in both cases.
With my toy soldiers, tanks and field-guns, I defeated the Nazis daily on my bedroom floor. I lost myself in books with unembarrassed titles like Men Of Glory, with their crisp, moving accounts of acts of incredible
bravery by otherwise ordinary people who might have been my next-door neighbours. I read the fictional adventures of RAF bomber ace Matt Braddock in the belief that the stories were true, and not caring in the slightest about what happened when his bombs hit the ground. I do now.
Heroism: Tommies commandeer a German machine gun during battle for Caen in 1944
After this came all those patriotic films that enriched the picture of decency, quiet courage and self-mocking humour that I came to think of as being the essence of Britishness. To this day I can't watch them without a catch in the throat. This was our finest hour. It was the measure against which everything else must be set. So it has been very hard for me since the doubts set in. I didn't really want to know if it wasn't exactly like that. But it has rather forced itself on me.
When I lived in Russia at the end of the Soviet era, I found a country that made even more of the war than we did. I even employed a splendid old Red Army war veteran to help me set up my office there: an upright, totally reliable old gentleman just like my father's generation, except that he was Russian and a convinced Stalinist who did odd jobs for the KGB. They had their war films, too. And their honourable scars. And they were just as convinced they had won the war single-handed as we were. They regarded D-Day as a minor event and had never heard of El Alamein.
Once I caught myself thinking: "They're using the war as a way of comforting themselves over their national decline, and over the way they're clearly losing in their contest with America." And then it came to me that this could be a description of my own country. When I lived in America itself, where I discovered that the Second World War, in their view, took place mainly in the Pacific, and in any case didn't matter half as much as the Civil War and the Vietnam War, I got a second harsh, unwanted history lesson.
Now here comes another. On a recent visit to the USA I picked up two new books that are going to make a lot of people in Britain very angry. I read them, unable to look away, much as it is hard to look away from a scene of disaster, in a sort of cloud of dispirited darkness.
Same story? British soldiers at Basra Palace during the Iraq War - a conflict justified on the precedent of the Second World War
They are a reaction to the use - in my view, abuse - of the Second World War to justify the Iraq War. We were told that the 1939-45 war was a good war, fought to overthrow a wicked tyrant, that the war in Iraq would be the same, and that those who opposed it were like the discredited appeasers of 1938.
Well, I didn't feel much like Neville Chamberlain (a man I still despise) when I argued against the Iraq War. And I still don't. Some of those who opposed the Iraq War ask a very disturbing question. The people who sold us Iraq did so as if they were today's Churchills. They were wrong. In that case, how can we be sure that Churchill's war was a good war? What if the Men of Glory didn't need to die or risk their lives? What if the whole thing was a miscalculated waste of life and wealth that destroyed Britain as a major power and turned her into a bankrupt pensioner of the USA? Funnily enough, these questions echo equally uncomfortable ones I'm often asked by readers here. The milder version is: "Who really won the war, since Britain is now subject to a German-run European Union?"
The other is one I hear from an ever-growing number of war veterans contemplating modern Britain's landscape of loutishness and disorder and recalling the sacrifices they made for it: "Why did we bother?" Don't read on if these questions rock your universe.
The two books, out in this country very soon, are Patrick Buchanan's Churchill, Hitler And The Unnecessary War and Nicholson Baker's Human Smoke. I know Pat Buchanan and respect him, but I have never liked his sympathy for "America First", the movement that tried to keep the USA out of the Second World War.
As for Nicholson Baker, he has become famous only because his phone-sex novel, Vox, was given as a present to Bill Clinton by Monica Lewinsky. Human Smoke is not a novel but a series of brief factual items deliberately arranged to undermine the accepted story of the war, and it has received generous treatment from the American mainstream, especially the New York Times. Baker is a pacifist, a silly position open only to citizens of free countries with large navies. He has selected with care to suit his position, but many of the facts here, especially about Winston Churchill and Britain's early enthusiasm for bombing civilian targets, badly upset the standard view.
In his element: Churchill preferred war to peace, claims U.S. author Patrick Buchanan
Here is Churchill, in a 1920 newspaper article, allegedly railing against the "sinister confederacy" of international Jewry. I say "allegedly" because I have not seen the original. I also say it because I am reluctant to believe it, as I am reluctant to believe another Baker snippet which suggests that Franklin Roosevelt was involved in a scheme to limit the number of Jews at Harvard University. Such things today would end a political career in an instant. Many believe the 1939-45 war was fought to save the Jews from Hitler. No facts support this fond belief. If the war saved any Jews, it was by accident.
Its outbreak halted the "Kindertransport" trains rescuing Jewish children from the Third Reich. We ignored credible reports from Auschwitz and refused to bomb the railway tracks leading to it. Baker is also keen to show that Hitler's decision to exterminate the Jews of Europe came only after the war was fully launched, and that before then, although his treatment of the Jews was disgusting and homicidal, it stopped well short of industrialised mass murder.
The implication of this, that the Holocaust was a result of the war, not a cause of it, is specially disturbing. A lot of people will have trouble, also, with the knowledge that Churchill said of Hitler in 1937, when the nature of his regime was well known: "A highly competent, cool, well informed functionary with an agreeable manner, a disarming smile, and few have been unaffected by a subtle personal magnetism."
Three years later, the semi-official view, still pretty much believed, was that Hitler was the devil in human form and more or less insane. Buchanan is, in a way, more damaging. He portrays Churchill as a man who loved war for its own sake, and preferred it to peace. As the First World War began in 1914, two observers, Margot Asquith and David Lloyd George, described Churchill as "radiant, his face bright, his manner keen ... you could see he was a really happy man".
Churchill also (rightly) gets it in the neck from Buchanan for running down British armed forces between the wars. It was Churchill who, as Chancellor of the Exchequer, demanded deep cuts in the Royal Navy in 1925, so when he adopted rearmament as his cause ten years later, it was his own folly he was railing against.
Well, every country needs men who like war, if it is to stand and fight when it has to. And we all make mistakes, which are forgotten if we then get one thing spectacularly right, as Churchill did. Americans may take or leave Mr Buchanan's views about whether they should have stayed out, but the USA did very well out of a war in which Britain and Russia did most of the fighting, while Washington pocketed (and still keeps) most of the benefits.
Surveying Buchanan's chilly summary, I found myself distressed by several questions. The First and Second World Wars, as Buchanan says, are really one conflict.
By Christmas 1940, Stalin (right) had murdered many more people than Hitler, and had invaded nearly as many countries
We went to war with the Kaiser in 1914 mainly because we feared being overtaken by Germany as the world's greatest naval power. Yet one of the main results of the war was that we were so weakened we were overtaken instead by the USA. We were also forced, by American pressure, to end our naval alliance with Japan, which had protected our Far Eastern Empire throughout the 1914-18 war. This decision, more than any other, cost us that Empire. By turning Japan from an ally into an enemy, but without the military or naval strength to guard our possessions, we ensured that we would be easy meat in 1941.
After the fall of Singapore in 1942, our strength and reputation in Asia were finished for good and our hurried scuttle from India unavoidable. Worse still is Buchanan's analysis of how we went to war. I had always thought the moment we might have stopped Hitler was when he reoccupied the Rhineland on March 7, 1936. But Buchanan records that nobody was interested in such action at the time. Nobody? Yes. That includes Churchill, who said fatuously on March 13: "Instead of retaliating by armed force, as would have been done in a previous generation, France has taken the proper and prescribed course of appealing to the League of Nations." He then even more wetly urged "Herr Hitler" to do the decent thing and withdraw.
Buchanan doesn't think that Britain and France could have saved Czechoslovakia in 1938, and I suspect he is right. But this is a minor issue beside his surgical examination of Britain's guarantee to help Poland in March 1939. Hitler saw our "stand" as an empty bluff, and called it. The Poles were crushed and murdered, and their country erased from the map. Hitler's eventual defeat left Poland under the Soviet heel for two generations.
We then embarked on a war which cost us our Empire, many of our best export markets, what was left of our naval supremacy, and most of our national wealth - gleefully stripped from us by Roosevelt in return for Lend-Lease supplies. As a direct result we sought membership of a Common Market that has since bled away our national independence. Would we not have been wiser to behave as the USA did, staying out of it and waiting for Hitler and Stalin to rip out each other's bowels?
Was Hitler really set on a war with Britain or on smashing the British Empire? The country most interested in dismantling our Empire was the USA. Hitler never built a surface navy truly capable of challenging ours and, luckily for us, he left it too late to build enough submarines to starve us out. He was very narrowly defeated in the Battle of Britain, but how would we have fared if, a year later, he had used the forces he flung at Russia to attack us instead? But he didn't. His "plan" to invade Britain, the famous Operation Sealion, was only a sketchy afterthought, quickly abandoned. Can it be true that he wasn't very interested in fighting or invading us? His aides were always baffled by his admiration for the British Empire, about which he would drone for hours.
Of course he was an evil dictator. But so was Joseph Stalin, who would later become our honoured ally, supplied with British weapons, fawned on by our Press and politicians, including Churchill himself. By Christmas 1940, Stalin had in fact murdered many more people than Hitler and had invaded nearly as many countries. We almost declared war on him in 1940 and he ordered British communists to subvert our war effort against the Nazis during the Battle of Britain. And, in alliance with Hitler, he was supplying the Luftwaffe with much of the fuel and resources it needed to bomb London.
Not so simple, is it? Survey the 20th Century and you see Britain repeatedly fighting Germany, at colossal expense. No one can doubt the valour and sacrifice involved.
But at the end of it all, Germany dominates Europe behind the smokescreen of the EU; our Empire and our rule of the seas have gone, we struggle with all the problems of a great civilisation in decline, and our special friend, the USA, has smilingly supplanted us for ever. But we won the war.
• Human Smoke, by Nicholson Baker, is published on May 6 by Simon and Schuster. Churchill, Hitler And The Unnecessary War, by Patrick Buchanan, is published on May 13 by Crown Publishing.
A War Worth Fighting
Revisionists say that World War II was unnecessary. They're wrong.
By Christopher Hitchens | NEWSWEEK, Jun 23, 2008
Is there any one shared principle or assumption on which our political consensus rests, any value judgment on which we are all essentially agreed? Apart from abstractions such as a general belief in democracy, one would probably get the widest measure of agreement for the proposition that the second world war was a "good war" and one well worth fighting. And if we possess one indelible image of political immorality and cowardice, it is surely the dismal tap-tap-tap of Neville Chamberlain's umbrella as he turned from signing the Czechs away to Adolf Hitler at Munich. He hoped by this humiliation to avert war, but he was fated to bring his countrymen war on top of humiliation. 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 evil. When those forces lay finally defeated, their ghastly handiwork was uncovered to a world that mistakenly thought it had already "supped full of horrors." The stark evidence of the Final Solution has ever since been enough to dispel most doubts about, say, the wisdom or morality of carpet-bombing German cities.
Historical scholarship has nevertheless offered various sorts of revisionist interpretation of all this. Niall Ferguson, for one, has proposed looking at the two world wars as a single conflict, punctuated only by a long and ominous armistice. British conservative historians like Alan Clark and John Charmley have criticized Churchill for building his career on war, for ignoring openings to peace and for eventually allowing the British Empire to be squandered and broken up. But Pat Buchanan, twice a candidate for the Republican nomination and in 2000 the standard-bearer for the Reform Party who ignited a memorable "chad" row in Florida, has now condensed all the antiwar arguments into one. His case, made in his recently released "Churchill, Hitler and the Unnecessary War," 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.
· That 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 of European Jewry was as much the consequence of an avoidable war as it was of Nazi racism. [You Fool, Christopher, for believing in the Holocaust LIE because your argument then rests on a false premise – ed.]
Buchanan does not need to close his book with an invocation of a dying West, as if to summarize this long recital of Spenglerian doomsaying. He's already opened 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 … Churchillian. The old lion himself never tired of striking notes like these, and was quite unembarrassed by invocations of race and nation and blood. Yet he is the object of Buchanan's especial dislike and contempt, because he had a fondness for "wars of choice."
This term has enjoyed a recent vogue because of the opposition to the war in Iraq, an opposition in which Buchanan has played a vigorous role. Descending as he does from the tradition of Charles Lindbergh's America First movement, which looked for (and claimed to have found) a certain cosmopolitan lobby behind FDR's willingness to involve the United States in global war, Buchanan is the most trenchant critic of what he considers our fondest national illusion, and his book has the feel and stamp of a work that he has been readying all his life.
But he faces an insuperable difficulty, or rather difficulties. If you want to demonstrate that Germany was more the victim than the aggressor in 1914, then you must confine your account (as Buchanan does) to the very minor legal question of Belgian neutrality and of whether Britain absolutely had to go to war on the Belgian side. (For what it may be worth, I think that Britain wasn't obliged to do so and should not have done.) But the rest of the Kaiser’s policy, most of it completely omitted by Buchanan, shows that Germany was looking for a chance for war all over the globe, and was increasingly the prisoner of a militaristic ruling caste at home. The Kaiser picked a fight with Britain by backing the white Dutch Afrikaner rebels in South Africa and by butchering the Ovambo people of what is now Namibia. He looked for trouble with the French by abruptly sending warships to Agadir in French Morocco, which nearly started the first world war in 1905, and with Russia by backing Austria-Hungary's insane ultimatum to the Serbs after the June 1914 assassinations in Sarajevo. Moreover, and never mentioned by Buchanan at all, the Kaiser visited Damascus and paid for the rebuilding of the tomb of Saladin, announced himself a sympathizer of Islam and a friend of jihad, commissioned a Berlin-to-Baghdad railroad for the projection of German arms into the Middle East and Asia and generally ranged himself on the side of an aggressive Ottoman imperialism, which later declared a "holy war" against Britain. To suggest that he felt unjustly hemmed in by the Royal Navy's domination of the North Sea while he was conducting such statecraft is absurd.
And maybe a little worse than absurd, as when Buchanan writes: "From 1871 to 1914, the Germans under Bismarck and the Kaiser did not fight a single war. While Britain, Russia, Italy, Turkey, Japan, Spain, and the United States were all involved in wars, Germany and Austria had clean records." I am bound to say that I find this creepy. The start of the "clean record" has to be in 1871, because that's the year that Prussia humbled France in the hideous Franco-Prussian War that actually annexed two French provinces to Germany. In the intervening time until 1914, Germany was seizing colonies in Africa and the Pacific, cementing secret alliances with Austria and trying to build up a naval fleet that could take on the British one. No wonder the Kaiser wanted a breathing space.
Now, this is not to say that Buchanan doesn't make some sound points about the secret diplomacy of Old Europe that was so much to offend Woodrow Wilson. And he is excellent on the calamitous Treaty of Versailles that succeeded only—as was noted by John Maynard Keynes at the time—in creating the conditions for another world war, or for part two of the first one. He wears his isolationism proudly: "The Senate never did a better day's work than when it rejected the Treaty of Versailles and refused to enter a League of Nations where American soldiers would be required to give their lives enforcing the terms of so dishonorable and disastrous a peace."
Actually, no soldier of any nation ever lost so much as a fingernail in the service of the League, which was in any case doomed by American abstention, and it's exactly that consideration which invalidates the second half of Buchanan's argument, which is that a conflict with Hitler's Germany both could and should have been averted. (There is a third Buchanan sub-argument, mostly made by implication, which is that the democratic West should have allied itself with Hitler, at least passively, until he had destroyed the Soviet Union.)
Again, in order to believe his thesis one has to be prepared to argue that Hitler was a rational actor with intelligible and negotiable demands, whose declared, demented ambitions in "Mein Kampf" were presumably to be disregarded as mere propaganda. In case after case Buchanan shows the abysmal bungling of British and French diplomacy—making promises to Czechoslovakia that could never have been kept and then, adding injury to insult, breaking those promises at the first opportunity. Or offering a guarantee to Poland (a country that had gleefully taken part in the dismemberment of Czechoslovakia) that Hitler well knew was not backed by any credible military force.
Buchanan is at his best here, often causing one to whistle at the sheer cynicism and stupidity of the British Tories. In the Anglo-German Naval Agreement of June 1935, for example, they astounded the French and Italians and Russians by unilaterally agreeing to permit Hitler to build a fleet one third the size of the Royal Navy and a submarine fleet of the same size as the British! Not only was this handing the Third Reich the weapon it would soon press to Britain's throat, it was convincing all Britain's potential allies that they would be much better off making their own bilateral deals with Berlin. Which is essentially what happened.
But Buchanan keeps forgetting that this criminal foolishness is exactly the sort of policy that he elsewhere recommends. In his view, after all, 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 (which is what the word "appeasement" originally meant).
Meanwhile we should have encouraged Hitler's hostility to Bolshevism and discreetly rearmed in case he should also need to be contained. This might perhaps have worked if Germany had been governed by a right-wing nationalist party that had won a democratic vote.
However, in point of 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. It is possible to read whole chapters of Buchanan's book without having to bear these salient points in mind. (I should say that I intend this observation as a criticism.) As with his discussion of pre-1914 Germany, he commits important sins of omission that can only be the outcome of an ideological bias. Barely mentioned except in passing is the Spanish Civil War, for example, where for three whole years between 1936 and 1939 Germany and Italy lent troops and weapons in a Fascist invasion of a sovereign European nation that had never threatened or "encircled" them in any way. Buchanan's own political past includes overt sympathy with General Franco, which makes this skating-over even less forgivable than it might otherwise be.
On the one occasion where Spain does get a serious mention, it illustrates the opposite point to the one Buchanan thinks he's making. The British ambassador in Berlin, Sir Neville Henderson, is explaining why Hitler didn't believe that Britain and France would fight over Prague: "[Hitler] argued as follows: Would the German nation willingly go to war for General Franco in Spain, if France intervened on the side of the Republican government? The answer that he gave himself is that it would not, and he was consequently convinced that no democratic French government would be strong enough to lead the French nation to war for the Czechs."
In this instance, it must be admitted, Hitler was being a rational actor. And his admission—which Buchanan in his haste to indict Anglo-French policy completely fails to notice—is that if he himself had been resisted earlier and more determinedly, he would have been compelled to give ground. Thus 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 Gen. Douglas MacArthur once put it, all military defeats can be summarized in the two words: "Too late." The same goes for political disasters.
As the book develops, Buchanan begins to unmask his true colors more and more. 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."
Not only is Buchanan claiming that Hitler's fanatical racism did not hugely increase the likelihood of war, but he is also making the insinuation that those who wanted to resist him are the ones who are equally if not indeed mainly responsible for the murder of the Jews! This absolutely will not do. He adduces several quotations from Hitler and Goebbels, starting only in 1939 and ending in 1942, screaming that any outbreak of war to counter Nazi ambitions would lead to a terrible vengeance on the Jews. He forgets—at least I hope it's only forgetfulness—that such murderous incitement began long, long before Hitler had even been a lunatic-fringe candidate in the 1920s. This "timeline" is as spurious, and as sinister, as the earlier dates, so carefully selected by Buchanan, that tried to make Prussian imperialism look like a victim rather than a bully.
One closing example will demonstrate the corruption and prejudice of Buchanan's historical "method." He repeatedly 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. Indeed, he approvingly quotes several academic sources who agree with him that Hitler invaded the Soviet Union only in order to change Britain's mind. Suppose that Buchanan is in fact correct about this. Could we have a better definition of derangement and megalomania than the case of a dictator who overrules his own generals and invades Russia in wintertime, mainly to impress the British House of Commons? (Incidentally, or rather not incidentally, it was precisely that hysterical aggression that curtain-raised the organized deportation and slaughter of the Jews. But it's fatuous to suppose that, without that occasion, the Nazis would not have found another one.)
It is of course true that millions of other people lost their lives in this conflict, often in unprecedentedly horrible ways, and that new tyrannies were imposed on the countries—Poland, Czechoslovakia and China most notably—that had been the pretexts for a war against fascism. But is this not to think in the short term? 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, all the way from Portugal to the Urals, the principle of human rights and popular sovereignty is at least the norm, and the ideas of racism and totalitarianism have been fairly conclusively and historically discredited. Would a frightened compromise with racist totalitarianism have produced a better result?
Winston Churchill may well have been on the wrong side about India, about the gold standard, about the rights of labor and many other 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, or share the same continent or planet, as the Nazis. (Buchanan of course makes plain that he rather sympathizes with Churchill about the colonies, and quarrels only with his "finest hour." This is grotesque.)
As he closes his argument, Buchanan again refuses to disguise his allegiance. "Though derided as isolationists," he writes, "the America First patriots kept the United States out of the war until six months after Hitler had invaded Russia." If you know anything at all about what happened to the population of those territories in those six months, it is rather hard to be proud that America was neutral. But this is a price that Buchanan is quite willing to pay.
I myself have written several criticisms of the cult of Churchill, and of the uncritical way that it has been used to stifle or cudgel those with misgivings. ("Adlai," said John F. Kennedy of his outstanding U.N. ambassador during the Bay of Pigs crisis, "wanted a Munich.") Yet the more the record is scrutinized and re-examined, the more creditable it seems that at least two Western statesmen, for widely different reasons, regarded coexistence with Nazism as undesirable as well as impossible. History may judge whether the undesirability or the impossibility was the more salient objection, but any attempt to separate the two considerations is likely to result in a book that stinks, as this one unmistakably does.
Hitchens, a NEWSWEEK contributor, is a columnist for Vanity Fair. © 2008
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