Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Buchanan and an Unnecessary War? (Part I)

One of the programs that I enjoy the most on Booktv is "In Depth" in which an interviewer (usually CEO Brian Lamb or his son) spends three hours with a noted writer discussing their published works as well as permitting viewers to submit their own questions to the guest. Before deploying to Afghanistan I was able to catch the entirety of Pat Buchanan's appearance on "In Depth". For those unfamiliar with him, Buchanan is a conservative political commentator who twice sought the Republican nomination in 1992 and 1996 and ran for president in 2000 on the Reform Party ticket. Yet he is perhaps best known for having been one of the original hosts on CNN's now defunct political debate program Crossfire where he advocated a strongly conservative position. But additionally Buchanan has authored numerous books one of which is entitled Churchill, Hitler, and "The Unnecessary War": How Britain Lost its Empire and the West Lost the World which is what I want to discuss in the next series of posts. But first here's a little snippet from the program where Buchanan talks about the book, specifically concerning Hitler and Churchill:

From what I can gather from the program the following is a summary view of Buchanan's position on WWII.

1.) Much, if not most, of the responsibility for causing the war lies with Winston Churchill and not, as it has traditionally been believed, with Adolf Hitler. Following the diplomatic historian A.J.P. Taylor Buchanan asserts that Hitler actually harbored no great war aims and any foreign policy "goals" that he might have had were limited to just some parts of eastern Europe, particularly Poland and the city of Danzig. Furthermore, relying again on Taylor, specifically The Origins of World War II (1967), Buchanan argues that Hitler was less a madman and/or evil fascist bent on conquering the world and more a shrewd opportunist who skillfully took advantage of the diplomatic blunders made by Great Britain (though it should be noted that Buchanan stated in the program that he does believe Hitler was Satanic and evil) . Churchill on the other hand was a warmonger whose battle rattling was a major factor in the diplomatic failures that led to WWII.

2.) The Versailles Treaty which brought an official end to WWI was excessively harsh in its treatment of Germany, especially with the additions of the so called "war guilt" and reparation clauses. These punitive measures resulted in a widespread sense of resentment among the Germans against the former allied powers which influenced the thinking of such people as Adolf Hitler. And so Hitler was quite justified in his desire to annex the predominately German speaking Sudetenland from Czechoslovokia and the city of Danzig from Poland which were unjustly taken from Germany via the Treaty of Versailles. (Additionally Buchanan asserts that Neville Chamberlain was right to "appease" Hitler at Munich.)

3.) Polish intransigence, especially over Danzig, was another major cause of WWII. Because Danzig is more demographically German and was acquired by Poland unjustly through the Treaty of Versailles the political and military leadership of Poland should have been willing to forgo Danzig since as was stated previously this was the extent of Hitler's territorial ambitions concerning Poland.

4.) Reminiscent of the statement, usually attributed to Bethmann-Hollweg, that Britain went to war in WWI over a 'scrap of paper' (Britain's treaty with Belgium) Buchanan similarly states that it was Britain's futile treaty guarantee to Poland that it would go to war to defend the country if it were ever attacked by Germany that was the proximate cause for WWII. Britain was not in a position to guarantee anything to Poland much less military assistance and so it was foolhardy for them to sign this treaty that ultimately led to the war. (Note that Buchanan also asserts that it was Britain's foolish guarantee that "bucked up" the Polish leadership which helped to cement their tough position on Danzig.)

To sum up, Buchanan's thesis is that everything under the sun except Hitler's foreign policy ambitions was the cause of WWII, i.e., Versailles, Churchill, Poland, and a foolish treaty were the the true architects of an unnecessary world war. Furthermore, states Buchanan on the program, the world would have been better off to have allowed Hitler to have his way with Europe once the war began and that the United States should have never intervened in what was purely a "European" conflict. (Another part of Buchanan's argument that I don't have space to deal with here has to do with the way British and American Asian policy steered Japan into the arms of the axis powers).

Now none of this is too terribly surprising coming from Pat Buchanan because when it comes to foreign policy he is a self described isolationist, i.e., he believes that the United States should stay out of world affairs as much as possible and focus purely on domestic concerns. (Isolationism echoes the views of some of the founding fathers who back then asserted that we should "avoid entangling alliances" [Washington] and refrain from "seeking monsters abroad to destroy"[John Quincy Adams]. This made sense then when we had two vast oceans separating us from the often tumultuous affairs of Europe but is in my opinion an antiquated and naive view to hold today. ) Therefore, Buchanan's foreign policy beliefs force him to view any engagement on an international level negatively and WWII is for him no exception.

But this isn't where I want to focus my criticisms nor do I wish to attempt to rebut point by point his arguments since I have not fully read the book. That would simply be unfair. Instead what I want to do in the next couple of posts is to focus on the question of the "necessity" of WWII by way of the Holocaust...

To be Continued...

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