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Churchill, Hitler, and the Unnecessary War

A review of Pat Buchanan's latest book.

by James Leroy Wilson
June 19, 2008

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Churchill, Hitler, and the Unnecessary War
World War I had no heroic statesmen. The Emperor should have negotiated with Serbia. The Czar should never have mobilized. The Kaiser should have ignored the plan of the then-deceased General Schlieffen. The French were too vengeful. The President was both ignorant and naive. The British cynically added a million square miles to their empire.

World War II, on the other hand, immortalized at least a few, including FDR and, especially, Winston Churchill.

Why is this so? Because the revelation of the Holocaust provided an excellent ex post facto reason for defeating Hitler. But, as Pat Buchanan argues in his new book, Churchill, Hitler, and the Unnecessary War, World War II didn't have to be fought.

Part of the problem is that the Versailles ideal of "national self-determination" was rewarded to many peoples, but not the Germans. The British came to feel guilty about that, as well they should; Versailles was abominable. But they tepidly, and later fanatically, replaced their own self-interest with League of Nations idealism - and in so doing drove Mussolini out of anti-German alliance and straight into the arms of Hitler. Later, with their pride wounded, the British were determined to defeat Hitler without asking themselves if Hitler was actually a threat to them.

Hitler's pre-war tactics were brilliant. He asserted Germany's just claims while offering an olive branch. Through this he re-militarized the Rhineland, rebuilt the navy, and acquired Austria and the Sudetenland. Hitler's great blunders before the war were taking Prague, and Kristallnacht, humiliating Chamberlain and proving the beastly nature of his regime. But neither indicated aggressive designs against Britain and her neighbors across the Channel.

Chamberlain did not err at Munich, he erred when he came back to England to proclaim "Peace in our time." He should have called for re-armament and drawn the "line in the sand" at France and the Low Countries - not at Poland, a country Britain had no means of defending. Churchill was right to criticize Chamberlain, but wrong to believe that keeping the Sudetenland Germans in Czechoslovakia against their will was a good reason to fight the Reich.
Buchanan provides evidence that Chamberlain's foolish "war guarantee" to Poland may have been his way of gaining leverage with Poland to hand over the German city of Danzig; instead, it stiffened the necks of Poland's leaders and made them unwilling to negotiate. This shows how blanket public pronouncement can undo or prevent a lot of diplomacy. Hitler signed the Hitler-Stalin pact dividing Poland as a way of telling Britain that war was hopeless, and was amazed when Britain declared war anyway.

And because Britain and France did declare war to "protect" a far-away country they couldn't defend, Britain lost France, the Low Countries, and most of Scandinavia. (Churchill had planned to violate Norway's neutrality before Hitler beat him to it.) Even then, Churchill could have come to terms with Hitler in 1940 and kept the British Empire intact.

By preventing the war in 1939, Chamberlain would have saved the Jews of Western Europe and remained a World Power. By agreeing to peace in 1940, Churchill would have preserved his Empire and allowed Germany to fortify in the East.

Unable to knock out Britain or invade, Hitler assumed the Churchill was waiting for Russia to enter the war on Britain's side. Hitler's goal was to smash Russia in five months in 1941 to gain the resources to continue the war and again try to persuade Britain that victory was hopeless. (Elsewhere I have learned that Stalin was probably planning to attack Germany later in 1941, so there is some vindication  in Hitler's decision to invade "pre-emptively.")

Buchanan states that Churchill either helped make the key decisions - or cheered them - in every key strategic and diplomatic blunder Great Britain made from the eve of World War I through, obviously, World War II. Among them:
  • Several misguided battles and maneuvers in both wars.
  • Deterioration of the Royal Navy began when Churchill was Chancellor of the Exchequer (in charge of the budget) in the 1920's.
  • Naively believing Britain and the U.S. had a "special relationship" with the U.S.; by war's end, however, Britain was more of a dependency of the U.S. rather than a partner with it. FDR and his successors were glad to see the Empire fall apart. 
  • As First Lord of the Admiralty in WWI, Churchill initiated a "starvation blockade" against the German civilian population, a war crime that also violated Freedom of the Seas. And as Prime Minister he again committed war crimes by introducing civilian terror bombing as a war tactic. These tore away at the fabric of the Christian West.
  • Churchill despised Bolshevism and admired Mussolini and Hitler early on; his later obsession with knocking Hitler out drove him to appease Stalin - giving him half of Europe and signing on to ethnic cleansing campaigns that killed two million Germans.
A Holocaust may have happened anyway; Britain's war guarantee meant it would also swallow up Western European Jews. A Hitler-Stalin confrontation may have been inevitable; Churchill determined that it would come sooner rather than later - with the UK and USA aiding the bloodiest dictator in history.

Buchanan wrote the book because the of Churchill Cult that exists in the United States. While fighting evil is admirable, destroying our own country's prosperity and strategic position to fight "enemies" who pose no threat to us and want no war with us is not. The would-be Churchills of the U.S. - President Bush first among them - appear more concerned about how history will look upon their own courage and heroism, but have little regard for the lives and welfare of the people they are supposed to govern.

And I would add one point I believe Buchanan leaves out: Churchillian means violated the rules of war, and today's would-be Churchills seem intent on doing the same thing. After all, if it's okay to let hundreds of thousands die of starvation and disease through a blockade, what's the big deal about spying on people without warrants? If fire-bombing civilians is "necessary" to win a war, why is torture out of the question? If it is okay to appease and reward aggressors like Stalin, what so bad about invading and occupying foreign countries ourselves?

The Churchillian "end" of destroying the latest "Hitler-of-the-month" like Milosevic or Saddam will bring about our country's ruin, but the Churchillian, barbaric means we use to achieve those ends will destroy our very souls.

Comments (8)

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Jonathan Wilson from Chicago writes:
June 20, 2008
Two Points:
1. World War II would have been fought. It was Hitler's promise as early as 1924. It would have been impossible --by definition-- for him to have built an empire that swallowed eastern Europe without a World War.
2. Did England or America need to be involved or get involved?
a. Let's push the speculation. Let us suppose that Britain and France put teeth into their enforcement of the armistice and Versailles Treaty terms. Hitler would have/could have been stopped as early as 1934. Is that what Buchanan means by "unnecessary war"? That a policy of intervention BEFORE a dictator with declared aims of hostility has the power to pursue those aims? In which case, it would be Churchillian to ignore Iran now and wait until dealing with them has to go nuclear. Therefore, avoid Churchill's mistake and intervene in Iran NOW. Right?
b. Hitler openly admired the British Empire for its ruthless propaganda during the first war and its ruthless imperialism over subject peoples in India, Africa and Australia. He dreamed of an alliance with Britain, because he saw that war with the United States was inevitable. That's all stated in Mein Kampf. For Hitler war with eastern Europe was inevitable because that was the location of Germany's future empire. War with the USA was inevitable for ideological reasons. He probably had something like the ideology behind Wilson's 14 Points in mind. And all that stuff about, you know, democracy and freedom and blah blah blah. Anyway, he wanted the British Empire for an ally IN THE NEXT WORLD WAR, in which the USA would be one of the enemies.
c. At what point would the Brits and the Germans have clashed? Suppose that with undivided attention Hitler built a Germano-Asian empire from Cologne to Vladivostok. How likely is it that relations with the western powers would have remained cheerio? We're talking about HITLER. So if England failed in 1935, 1937, and 1938, the argument to fail again in 1939 is a specious one. It would have been much better to have intervened sooner. It would have been impossible to defeat a Euro-Asian German Fascist Empire. James Leroy Wilson, World War II was going to happen if Hitler stayed in power. That is the naked historical truth. Is an inevitable war an unnecessary war? I guess that depends on the timing of the INTERVENTION against the regime that considers such a war inevitable.
Bonus Point 3. Interesting comment that Churchill "introduced" civilian terror bombing. Nope. That was Hitler. Germans were raining bombs on England's cities in 1940. Not to mention the blitzkrieg in Poland. Or the tactics they rehearsed during Franco's little war in Spain.

Jonathan Wilson from Chicago writes:
June 23, 2008
Stalin's plan to attack the Third Reich is, at best, a matter of dispute. What is certain is that it is a function of Nazi propaganda to justify their own invasion.

That Stalin realized war with the Third Reich was inevitable is likely a function of having some underling read Hitler's own manifesto. The Axis treaty to divide Poland was a means Stalin used to provide a buffer. It was also history repeating itself; Poland had few years of national self-rule and was typically seen as a buffer between Kaisers and Tsars.

Nevertheless, documents released from Russia since the end of the Soviet Union indicates that Stalin had no intention of invading Germany for a matters of years. The troops on the frontier were a defensive concentration. He was stunned by the surprise attack. In fact, reports from the front in the early hours quote officers on phones to headquarters saying, "The Germans are shooting at us! What do we do?" The infrastructure of the Soviet Union was so chaotic that six months later, trains from the Soviet Union were still being sent on to Germany with supplies and fuel according to the terms of the original Molotov-Ribbentrop treaty.

The decision to attack the Soviets had less to do with a battle against Great Britain, and more to do with 1. the Nazi crusade against Communism, 2. the Nazi conquest to expand the lebensraum of the German people. Strategically, going to war with the Soviets in order to defeat the British Empire makes zero sense. To achieve the objectives, Germany had to seal the flank in southeast Europe, and so expanded the war into the Balkans and Greece, delaying the invasion of the Soviet Union from April to June 1941.

By 1942, Hitler diverted forces from the Caucasus oil fields and sent them thousands of miles north to complete the annihilation of Leningrad, which had little strategic value in terms of supplying resources to continue the war with England. Rather, Germany had supposed that they had effectively sealed England off from the continent so that while England was still throwing a wrench into Italy's ambitions, they were of little account as far as the Nazi dream of mastering Europe. In the Spring of 1941 that was pretty much the case.

There were other ways to achieve the resource base they needed to fight a long war with England. Going through Russia to reach its oil fields was a dumb move to make to defeat England. Much better to have massed those 3 million soldiers in North Africa and driven right through the Suez into the Arabian and Persian Gulf states. That would have secured Italy's interests, sealed England off from the Suez Canal, and allowed a Nazification of those Persian Gulf States--Iran was already an avowed ally of the Nazis.

But the Nazi agenda, from Mein Kampf, was lebensraum, the annihilation of communism, and hatred of the Jews. This was the agenda in play, as demonstrated by Von Manstein's campaign in the Crimean peninsula in early 1942. Regular German forces were used to liquidate the Crimea's Jewish population, a move that served no strategic purpose whatsoever in terms of war with England or of securing Russia's resources to perpetuate war with England.

James Leroy Wilson from Independent Country writes:
June 23, 2008
As to point #I:

That's the question, isn't it: if Hitler's dreams of conquest to the East meant a Euroasion war or a World War.

As to point #2:

a. Buchanan says that Britain and France should have acted in their own self-interest, such as keeping troops on the Rhine rather than pull out in support of German democracy, and maintain an alliance with Mussolini's Italy.

As to Iran, it does not have a dictator, and the President they have in power now has a right to develop nuclear power under the Non-proliferation Treaty (and is wise to do so since Iran signed Kyoto), and there is no evidence they are developing nuclear weapons. (The ones who claim they are are the same war criminals who said Saddam was developing WMD's.) Iran could have been an indispensable ally against Afghanistan, and even today has an important role to play in stabilizing Iraq, but even before Ahmadinejad was elected the U.S. rebuffed all overtures from the then-moderates ruling Iran. There is still plenty of time to make amends.

b. Hitler took pains to avoid "firing the first shot" against the USA throughout 1941. On more than one occasion Buchanan reveals that Hitler didn't believe he could beat the United States, but that he could smash the USSR. (Buchanan doesn't explain what Hitler's treaty obligations to Japan were or exactly why war was declared on the U.S. because that is not the subject of the book.)

c. If Hitler could actually conquer Russia and successfully turn it into a satellite state, and not deal with uprising after uprising, and had the West re-armed, the "Hitler-being-Hitler" argument says that he would still have attacked the West in any case. Even so, it would have been better for an armed Western alliance to face a weakened, war-weary Germany. Instead, Britain and France faced the German Army at the height of its power because they made a war guarantee to Poland they could not fulfill.

Point III: Of course civilians would be bombed if they are in cities of strategic importance or in advance of an occupying army. By "terror bombing" is meant killing civilians for its own sake. I didn't believe either Buchanan or I have said anything controversial here; I've been told this since International Relations course in college.

As to the second letter, no one's arguing that a confrontation between Hitler and the Soviet Union wouldn't have happened at some time, because of Hitler's ambitions for lebensraum. But Buchanan provides documentary evidence as to the reasons why it happened when it did, which was smashing a probable Stalin-Churchill alliance before it started.

Jonathan Wilson from Chicago writes:
June 23, 2008
The fallacy in Buchanan's premise, and yours, has to do with the revisionist notion that Hitler was a non-aggressor when it came to the western powers and the United States. According to William Shirer's "Rise and Fall of the Third Reich," both Ribbentrop and Hans Thomes, the Nazi regime's envoy to Washington D.C., counseled Hitler that he need not declare war on the United States in the wake of the Pearl Harbor attack. But he did. Maybe FDR was hoping he would, but it was Hitler who made the blunder and declared war as an ally of Japan, allowing Americans to view the European War in the context of the attack on Pearl Harbor. That was a huge, foolish mistake. And Hitler made it all on his own.

As it concerns the western powers, one of the pre-eminent agendas for the Nazis had to do with dissolving the Treaty of Versailles, which had everything to do with relations with the western powers. The early between-war confrontations were with Britain and France, as Buchanan himself admits. Are we therefore saying that Hitler was unconscious of the jurisdiction over Alsace-Lorraine, for example? The story of relations between Germany and the west between the wars is a story of mounting tensions which Hitler outright escalated out of resentment towards the Versailles Treaty.

I feel like I'm back in a conversation about the Da Vinci Code, wondering why I have to waste my time on evidentiary matters, but finding it necessary because of the spurious re-invention of Hitler's image. This business of taking Hitler for just another geo-political player unjustly isolated by hostile democracies--is a heap of nonsense worthy of Dan Brown. Maybe of Pat Buchanan too. But James Leroy Wilson knows better.

James Leroy Wilson from Independent Country writes:
June 23, 2008
The book was not about Hitler revisionism, it was about the poor judgments by Britain that a) led to World War I, b) led to the rise of someone like Hitler, and c) caused Britain to unnecessarily lose an empire. It's a cautionary tale for America.

Anthony Salvatore from New Britain, Connecticut writes:
March 18, 2009
@Jonathan Wilson
Hitler would have/could have been stopped as early as 1934. Is that what Buchanan means by "unnecessary war"?
Also France could have attacked Germany while the Nazi's were in Poland, in Sept 1939. there was no defence of the Sigfield Line.

Considering the amount of propaganda that came from England and Germany about who bombed who first is still ambiguouos.

The Spanish Civil War is also shrouded in propaganda, and was also a crusade against Communism. Franco came out of retirement to fight for Nationalistic Spain.

Hitler could actually have conquered Russia if he came as a liberator instead of a conqueor.
The Ukrain was starved by Stalin and they would have fought for there liberation from Stalin on Hitlers side; for the millions killed during the false famine of the 1930's.

While Churchill was called a adventurer by the house of commons for his push into Gallipoli, he was selected as prime minister because nobody wanted to fight another was like WWl, and figured Churchill's friendship with Mussolini would have helped Hitler come to peace with England.

The biggest problem with WWll was the Old World Order wanted it and backed all sides to make sure everybody was going to fight.

General Patton was correct after the end of hositilities to join with the Germans and fight Communism, and that is why he was killed.

Eisenhower was another war criminal for killing millions of German civilians after the war, along with his buddy Stalin, they thought they would fix the German population for backing Hitler.

Brad Anderson from Los Angeles, CA writes:
April 11, 2009
Stalin tried to take over the entire world curing the Cold War, taking us to the brink of nuclear extermination: the question is therefore whether he formed such plans only AFTER Hitler attacked. I for one don't believe that a man who murdered over 20 million people, was very concerned with world peace until attacked, and only became bent on world domination afterward-- but woudl have been peaceful if left alone: and I find it somewhat "selective amnesia" to suggest otherwise.
Rather, there seems to be a "reductio ad Hitlerum" reluctance against facing the inevitable fact that that Hitler was right to pre-emptively attack Stalin-- and that the West was therefore wrong in allying with the Soviets. However truth in history means facing facts, not sacrificing them to substantiate politically correct fairy-stories written by the victor.

elisabeth angel writes:
March 30, 2011
As for Hitler's "blunders":

1. Prague: Hitler was asked to rule the rump state of Czechoslovakia, as a protectorate, by its president Emil Hacha, because after the restitution of the Sudetenland to Germany the mostly Slovakian eastern section had broken off as well, and the remainder was not viable on its own. (Czechoslovakia was an artificially created and highly unstable state to begin with, in which the Czech majority oppressed the large German and Slovakian minorities, contrary to the terms of its creation.) This is spun as Hitler summoning Hacha and giving him an ultimatum, but the victors write the history, do they not?

As for Kristalnacht, it has been shown to be a (very successful) Zionist false flag. Not the first, and far from the last.

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