Thursday, January 6, 2011
Buchanan and an Unnecessary War? (Part II)
Now on a narrow level Buchanan is correct: World War II was an unnecessary war. But this is only true in so far as all wars are in some abstract, general sense "unnecessary". War is a tragic event and so rightly should never happen. Yet they do, time and time again because war is an enduring characteristic of humankind, and where there exist nations with mutually exclusive interests, war will always be a distinct possibility. However, my major problem with Buchanan is not so much with his very flawed analysis of how WWII began (which will be touched on at a later point) but with the fact that he continues to emphasize in this program and in the parts of the book that I have read that when WWII did begin it still was an unnecessary war to fight and that the United States' security interests would have been better served by not intervening in the conflict. Now if Buchanan had been discussing WWI, the Korean War, Vietnam, Iraq I and II, Afghanistan, etc just maybe he might have something since I will concede (though not necessarily affirm) that it is possible to examine these conflicts much more skeptically in terms of threats to our national security interests.
But except for fringe revisionists like Buchanan most historians of American foreign policy admit that of all the wars that the United States has been in WWII is probably the one with the greatest amount of moral justification. Of course, nation states don't generally go to war for moralistic reasons but rather on the basis of perceived threats to their national security and as I intend to argue in a later post the United States was no exception when it came to WWII. But in terms of when the war began I and most other historians would assert that there was a strong moral component involved in defeating Hitler.
So then what's the moral basis for affirming WWII as a necessary war to fight? The answer: Hitler's atrocious crimes against humanity, particularly the Holocaust. Surely, stopping Hitler by means of war in order to halt his terrible crimes against humanity would justify describing WWII as a necessary war would it not? In fact, Buchanan was asked this very question on the program by a perceptive viewer. His reply was two fold:
1.) Though acknowledging the evilness of Hitler and the Holocaust, Buchanan stressed that these crimes against humanity were first and foremost war crimes, and so
2.) if British diplomatic missteps and Polish intransigence hadn't caused the war then these crimes of humanity would have never occurred.
Besides being an appalling means of shifting the blame for these terrible crimes against humanity from Nazi Germany and Hitler to Britain and Poland this argument ultimately fails because it does not take into account the consistent obsession of Hitler with the Judenfragen, i.e. the "Jewish Question". (Here we are touching on an aspect of the aims of Hitler which if you will recall Buchanan states that Hitler had no concrete foreign policy objectives. On this score Buchanan's thought is simply derivative of A.J.P. Taylor's scholarship and thus by no means original). The "Jewish Question" preoccupied Hitler probably ever since at least WWI forming a major part of his notorious political treatise Meinkampf and continuing to be an obsession throughout his rule.
(Note that there is a broader debate here on the matter of Hitler's policy towards the Jews which pivots on the question of whether Hitler was an "intentionalist", i.e, was his objective from the very beginning the annihilation of at least European Jewry or was he a "functionalist", namely, was he wanting to get rid of the Jews but not by necessarily killing them only to be "forced" into that solution by the events of WWII? My own take on this is that Hitler was probably in spirit always an intentionalist but believing it not to be a pragmatic option was a functionalist in practice until circumstances during WWII made this option feasible.)
In fact, immediately after Hitler abolished the Reichstag (German Parliament) which enabled him to make policy by fiat one of his first decrees was the infamous Nuremberg Laws. These essentially began the systematic persecution of German Jews which among other things stripped them of German citizenship. The point here is that Hitler was already beginning his crimes against humanity before WWII began. Of course on this score Buchanan's rebuttal would probably take the form of claiming that no matter how terrible these actions of Hitler were they were matters of domestic concerns of Germany only with no bearing on the rest of Europe or the United States for that matter. Therefore, we need to look more specifically at Hitler's designs on Poland to further augment the argument that WWII was a necessary war. This we'll do in the next post...
To be continued...