In February of this year, three time United States Presidential candidate and conservative political commentator Pat Buchanan was relieved of his duties at MSNBC cable news because his latest book, Suicide of a Superpower: Will America Survive to 2025 [St. Martin’s Press, 2011], upset the controllers and thought police of that mass media outlet. Controversy also surrounded an earlier book, Churchill, Hitler and the Unnecessary War [Random House, 2008], in which he looked at the causes of the two great wars of the 20th century and how Winston Churchill’s bellicose attitude contributed to Britain’s engagement in these wars. In its conclusion, Buchanan shows Churchill’s attitude resulted in Great Britain losing its global empire, and he warns that the United States is similarly now putting its future at risk by overextending itself with its many foreign wars.
Pat Buchanan wrote ‘Churchill, Hitler and the Unnecessary War’ to expose the myth that Winston Churchill was worthy of the title, “Man of the 20th Century”. To make his case, Buchanan brings to the forefront Churchill’s historical record which shows him encouraging aggressive British positions which led to the two World Wars in which tens of millions died or were displaced across Europe.
In addition, at the conclusion of World War II, Churchill [along with FDR] quietly left the formerly independent Central and Eastern European nations in the despotic clutches of Stalin, while the Great in front of Britain disappeared as the pre-World War I Empire was reduced to a shell of its former self, falling behind the new superpowers, the United States and the Soviet Union.
Unlike ‘typical’ Anglo-American historians who blame the causes of the two world wars on the expansionist ambitions of Kaiser Wilhelm II and Adolph Hitler, Pat Buchanan in ‘Churchill, Hitler and the Unnecessary War’ provides insight into the behind the scenes activities which led to these World Wars, in what American radio commentator Paul Harvey would have introduced as; “and now for the rest of the story”. This review looks at some of these important, but generally less known factors raised by Buchanan.
After the Franco-Prussian War was settled in 1871, Germany emerged as the leading power in continental Europe. Bismarck consolidated Germany’s position by tightening its relationship with the Austrian-Hungarian Empire, forging an alliance with Russia, keeping France isolated and not challenging British control of the oceans. Unfortunately, when young Kaiser Wilhelm II dismissed Bismarck in 1890, he let the German Reinsurance Treaty with Russia lapse in 1894, and he then embarked on a strategy to build a German ‘High Seas Fleet’. Now the pins were in place to change the power of balance dynamics in Europe.
The new 1894 Franco-Russian Alliance committed its members to attack all members of the Triple Alliance (Germany, Austria or Italy) should any one of these countries even partially mobilize. The dominoes were now aligned so that even a small local skirmish, as happened in the summer of 1914 when Austria wanted to punish Serbia for the murder of the Archduke Ferdinand, would lead to a great military confrontation. Thus that small firestorm in a corner of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire became the catalyst which would embroil five empires in a great conflict that would rewrite the map of Europe!
Great Britain also became one of the dominoes in this scenario as British Foreign Secretary Edward Grey (1905 - 1916) struck a secret entente agreement in 1906 with France which would bring British troops onto the continent should French-German war hostilities break out.
The Kaiser began to understand the risk for a major war in Europe, and in an attempt to ward off a serious military confrontation, in 1912 he offered to reduce the size of the German navy for a British pledge of neutrality should there be conflict. As Buchanan states, Britain’s refusal to consider a neutrality pledge for a German fleet reduction showed that German and British security interests could not be reconciled. Great Britain was under threat of becoming eclipsed by Germany in Europe, in spite of its dominant navy which connected the global British Empire, and this was unpalatable to British financial interests. As historian Niall Ferguson stated, “On the neutrality issue … arguably it was the British position which was the more intransigent.”
Buchanan relates that after Winston Churchill became the First Lord of the British Admiralty in 1911, he became Britain’s most aggressive supporter of war with Germany. Buchanan states that Churchill “denounced the Kaiser as a Prussian warlord out to take over the world”, yet the Kaiser always backed down when events came to a head.
Once the Serbian incident occurred, Churchill insisted on immediate British mobilization providing no room for any possible reconciliation, and once war was declared, Prime Minister Asquith’s wife Margot describes Churchill as, “radiant, his face bright, his manner keen … you could see he was a really happy man”. Six months into the war with many tens of thousands British soldiers already dead, Churchill said, “I think a curse should rest on me – because I am so happy. I know this war is smashing and shattering the lives of thousands every moment and yet – I can not help it – I enjoy every second”.
With Britain’s involvement, the European war would become a world war. As Buchanan states, “for Britain, World War I was not a war of necessity but a war of choice. The Germans did not want a war with Britain, nor did they seek to destroy the British Empire … Berlin would have paid a high price for British neutrality.” In fact, the Kaiser told Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph to settle Serbia quickly as war was not his objective, unlike Churchill who entered the conflict with “zest”.
British Foreign Secretary Lord Balfour illustrated his nation’s ‘Germanophobia’ when speaking of Germany’s growing industrial strength; “perhaps it would be simpler for us to have a war - maybe it is just a question of keeping our supremacy”. Perhaps United States President Woodrow Wilson summarized the situation best; “This war in its inception was a commercial and industrial war.”
With the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand, Kaiser Wilhelm II understood what the future held, [quote from H.P. Wilmott’s The First World War], “… will start the most terrifying war of the world, whose purpose is to destroy Germany. Because there can no longer be any doubts, England, France and Russia have conspired themselves together to fight an annihilation war against us.”
At the close of World War I, France took the lead in creating the tough terms of the Treaty of Versailles which financially penalized and territorially partitioned Germany in a disproportionate manner for what essentially was a stalemate at the front. This inflicted much pain onto Germans who in their search for justice looked to Hitler who promised a better future and correction of the wrongs of Versailles. One positive that came out of Versailles was the Woodrow Wilson principle of the right for ‘self-determination for all peoples’, which resulted in the creation of many new small nation states in Central and Eastern Europe.
Post World War I, Buchanan examined how Britain’s leadership was pushed by the Americans to divest from its pre-war relationship with Japan, which had helped guarantee the security of distant colonies of the British Empire. Once the British relationship with Japan was severed, Britain’s Pacific Empire became virtually indefensible.
Unlike many western historians, Buchanan did not believe that the critical event which culminated in the outbreak of the 2nd World War was Neville Chamberlain’s acquiescence to Hitler at Munich in March 1938. The Munich agreement only allowed the German speaking people of Sudetenland, (which had been severed at Versailles in 1919 and assigned to Czechoslovakia), to be reunited with Germany. This action, [along with the Austrian plebiscite of April 1938, whereby 99% of the population voted for an Anschluss with Germany], was consistent with Wilson’s policy of giving all peoples the right to self-determination.
Buchanan considers Chamberlain’s March 31, 1939, guarantee of military assistance to Poland in the event it was attacked, as the lit wick which would set off World War II. This promise emboldened Polish Foreign Minister Jozef Beck to refuse Hitler’s request for a rail and road link over the Polish Corridor to connect the three hundred thousand German residents in the city of Danzig with Germany. [This request to correct another Versailles injustice was again consistent with the Wilsonian principle of giving people the right for self-determination.] Buchanan shows that Hitler, (like the Kaiser), did not want a war in the west, but rather he was hoping to have Catholic, anti-communist Poland as a natural ally against Stalin and the Soviet Union.
Buchanan also explores Britain’s difficult position fulfilling military obligations to Czechoslovakia and Poland if they were to come under attack. According to Buchanan, Chamberlain “despised and distrusted the Bolsheviks more than the Nazis”, and Churchill viewed the Bolsheviks with similar distrust, evidenced with his 1917 quote, ‘decision of the German General Staff to transport Lenin in the famous sealed train from Switzerland across Germany as comparable to having introduced a “plague bacillius” into Russia’. Nevertheless, as the war progressed, Churchill would grovel before Stalin asking for Red Army assistance to ‘save’ Central and Eastern Europe (including Czechoslovakia and Poland), and later after the war, he would return East Europeans to Stalin’s terror.
Until August 1939, Germany’s reunification policy had been consistent with the Wilsonian principle of the right of self-determination for all peoples, and Germany had not instigated any military action. However, when Poland’s Beck thought that Britain’s promise of military assistance would allow him to ignore Hitler, Germany pursued another course of action.
On August 23, 1939, Nazi Germany and the Bolshevik Soviet Union agreed to the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact in which its secret protocols divided Central and Eastern Europe into Nazi and Soviet spheres of influence. When Germany invaded Poland on September 1, Britain and France declared war on Germany to days later. When the Soviet Union invaded Poland on September 17, neither France nor Britain ever declared war on the Soviet Union. Buchanan and other Anglo American historians conveniently ignore this anomaly. Was there another secret agreement in place?
Churchill, whom Buchanan called “less a Christian than a pagan in the Roman tradition … might justly be called a post-Christian man”, was always willing to wage war on civilian populations, be it sterilizing the feeble minded of Britain, deploying poison gas on the residents of the Ruhr, or sending Canadian soldiers on a suicidal sacrifice at Dieppe. One of Churchill’s most egregious policies was the terror bombing and de-housing of German civilians near the end of the war, culminating with the incineration of the ‘safe haven city’ of Dresden in February 1945, with British fighter planes strafing fleeing survivors. As per Theodore Kaufmann’s 1941 book Germany Must Perish! - Churchill ignored Hitler’s peace overtures, and pursued a policy of total destruction. Churchill himself stated, “Britain hoped to shatter twenty German cities … we hoped to shatter almost every dwelling in almost every German city”. American President Roosevelt’s Morgantheau Plan also called for the destruction of German industry.
Britain’s guarantee to protect Poland from outside aggression was the ‘raison d’etre’ for World War II. Yet, by the close of the war, no British troops had touched Polish soil, and Poland and the other countries of Central and Eastern Europe, were abandoned by Churchill [and FDR] to the greater of two evils, Stalin and the Soviet Union. With the communist iron curtain down on Europe, the moral high ground of self-determination for all peoples had been ignored, and in summary it can be said that Churchill was a far greater appeaser than Chamberlain.
Pat Buchanan is also known to the Estonian community for more than just his conservative, isolationist, anti-communist perspective. In 1987, Buchanan lobbied unsuccessfully to prevent the United States from deporting 67 year old Estonian accused ‘war criminal’ Karl Linnas to the Soviet Union, (where Linnas would die three months later in a prison hospital).
Buchanan, by staying true to his isolationist policy, however has also irked the Baltic community by writing, “yet no matter how much we treasure the newly free Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, their independence is not a vital U.S. interest and never has been. And the threatened loss of their independence can not justify war with a nuclear-armed Russia.” Buchanan views current NATO guarantees to former Warsaw Pact countries bordering on Russia with being as difficult to honour as it was for Chamberlain’s government in 1938 to provide assistance to Czechoslovakia, or to fulfill the military support guarantee to Poland in 1939. Of even more concern to Buchanan is that today the United States is taking on Churchill’s bellicose, militaristic mentality, with its many foreign imperialistic ventures, and is thus overextending itself. This topic he covers in detail in “Suicide of a Superpower: Will America Survive to 2025”.
Any personal differences on an isolationist United States foreign policy aside, Pat Buchanan’s Churchill, Hitler and the Unnecessary War with its insights, analyses, quotes and detailed footnoting, should be on every university’s’ 20th Century History course reading list, as it provides the reader with “the rest of the story”, highlighting typically ignored, but crucial reasons as to why the two World Wars occurred as they did. In this discussion, Churchill as a hero is demystified.
For Buchanan, his television program undoubtedly was terminated because he consistently and intelligently supports an isolationist, America first strategy for the United States. This places him at odds with the powers that President Dwight Eisenhower warned us about in his farewell address on January 17, 1961: “In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial [ed. also media-banker-government] complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist”.
“And now for the rest of the story”