You’ve got to love how easily conservatives jerk their knees and point their fingers at liberals, labeling them appeasers and traitors, when the reality of historical fact paints quite the opposite picture. From the defenders of slavery who formed the Confederacy to Henry Ford, the America First Committee, and ever onward, the record of cultural conservatives who have readily dispensed with America’s interests — especially the preservation of its democratic institutions — in favor of their own (usually moneyed) interests is as long as it is disgraceful.
When Preznit Bush the other week attacked Barack Obama (and by extension, liberals generally) as being like the appeasers of the Nazis before World War II, there was of course no small irony, considering that Bush’s own grandfather had built a chunk of the family fortune out of business dealings with the Nazis, helping ship large sums of American capital to Germany as the Nazis built their war machine in the 1930s. But the larger irony, perhaps, lay in the fact that a number of notable Republicans, movement conservative icons, continue to argue that it was a mistake not to appease Nazi Germany — and that America’s participation in World War II was a mistake.
The most prominent of these, of course, is Pat Buchanan.
Buchanan has for some years promoted the theory that the U.S. and Britain should have just let Hitler have his way — essentially letting the far right wipe out leftist movements regardless of the criminal methods employed and with little concern about collateral civilian deaths — because he would have let white English speakers go unmolested.
Apparently Buchanan has a new book in the works along these lines titled Churchill, Hitler, and the Unnecessary War: How Britain Lost Its Empire and the West Lost the World, and he was on CNN last night promoting it. It was something to behold:
BLITZER: You make the case there would have been no Hitler, there would have been no World War II, there would have been no holocaust albeit in effect for Winston Churchill. What’s the point?
BUCHANAN: Well the point of this is obviously Hitler came out of World War I and the tearing apart of Germany but what I am saying is, had Britain not given an insane war guarantee to Poland and then go on the war on behalf of a Poland it could not save, I don’t think there would have been any war in Europe. I don’t think there would have been a war against the western democracy. At the very least, all the Jews of Western Europe would have survived. That’s basically one of the cases we make.
What’s that again? The Jews would have survived had not Britain taken up Poland’s side? Even though Kristallnacht — a systematic, state-approved series of violent pogroms in which — had already taken place, in 1938, well before the British announced their pact with Poland (which was signed in September 1939)?It’s useful, perhaps, to review some of the facts of that event:
The pogrom proved especially destructive in Berlin and Vienna, home to the two largest Jewish communities in the German Reich. Mobs of SA men roamed the streets, attacking Jews in their houses and forcing Jews they encountered to perform acts of public humiliation. Although murder did not figure in the central directives, Kristallnacht claimed the lives of at least 91 Jews between 9 and 10 November. Police records of the period document a high number of rapes and of suicides in the aftermath of the violence.
As the pogrom spread, units of the SS and Gestapo (Secret State Police), following Heydrich’s instructions, arrested up to 30,000 Jewish males, and transferred most of them from local prisons to Dachau, Buchenwald, Sachsenhausen, and other concentration camps. Significantly, Kristallnacht marks the first instance in which the Nazi regime incarcerated Jews on a massive scale simply on the basis of their ethnicity. Hundreds died in the camps as a result of the brutal treatment they endured; most obtained release over the next three months on the condition that they begin the process of emigration from Germany. Indeed, the effects of Kristallnacht would serve as a spur to the emigration of Jews from Germany in the months to come.
… The events of Kristallnacht represented one of the most important turning points in National Socialist antisemitic policy. Historians have noted that after the pogrom, anti-Jewish policy was concentrated more and more concretely into the hands of the SS. Moreover, the passivity with which most German civilians responded to the violence signaled to the Nazi regime that the German public was prepared for more radical measures. The Nazi regime expanded and radicalized measures aimed at removing Jews entirely from German economic and social life in the forthcoming years, moving eventually towards policies of forced emigration, and finally towards the realization of a Germany “free of Jews” (judenrein) by deportation of the Jewish population “to the East.”
Thus, Kristallnacht figures as an essential turning point in Nazi Germany’s persecution of Jews, which culminated in the attempt to annihilate the European Jews.
So how does Buchanan justify his bizarre theory? Blitzer tried to pin him down on this:
BLITZER: Let me get back to the book now because we’re almost out of time. I want you to explain the notion that you have that Hitler would have never come to power, there would have been anti-Semitism, to be sure, but there wouldn’t have been the extermination of 6 million Jews. Because that’s going to cause a lot of controversy, this notion you have that, in effect, Churchill was responsible for the chain of events that led to the Holocaust.
BUCHANAN: Churchill was not — Chamberlain made the decision to give the war guarantee to Poland.
Here’s my view, Wolf. I’ve read and studied Hitler. One thing he did not want was war with the British Empire. He admired it. He respected it. He never wanted war with it. He wanted to make an ally of it. Had Chamberlain at the goading of Churchill not given a war guarantee to Poland, Britain would not have had to go to war on behalf of Poland. It’s because Britain declared on Germany that Germany came west. That’s the reason Germany had basically hostages of everybody in Western Europe from the —
BLITZER: Hitler had plans of exterminating the Jews in the ’30s, a lot earlier.
BUCHANAN: Wolf, I have not seen any plans of extermination. Hitler went genocidal after the invasion of Russia was broken down in Russia, after he declared war on the United States, and he was looking to defeat in the face. It was at that point that the conference was held, Wolf. As you know, that was in January of 1942.
BLITZER: What about all the anti-Semitic laws, all those Jews who were rounded up starting in the 30s in Germany?
BUCHANAN: Look, there’s no doubt Hitler was anti-Semitic from the time even before he wrote camp. What we’re talking about, when you mention the Holocaust, for heaven sakes, is genocide. You’re not talking about anti-Semitism. It was anti-Semitism in Poland in those years. There’s no doubt that Nuremburg laws were in 1935. They were dreadful. As a consequence, half the Jews had left Germany before November 1938. Another half fled after that. They were outside Germany with the curtain fell.
What Hitler did was a monstrous crime, Wolf. It was a war crime. Had there been no war, there would have been no holocaust in my judgment.
So, according to Buchanan, Hitler’s treatment of the Jews did not turn murderous until the Wannsee Conference of 1942. The years of the Brownshirts’ murderous thuggery and Kristallnacht which well preceded this event, evidently, were just harmless meanie stuff.
Of course, Buchanan has been making essentially this case for some years. In a 1977 column, he wrote:
Though Hitler was indeed racist and anti-Semitic to the core, a man who without compunction could commit murder and genocide, he was also an individual of great courage, a soldier’s soldier in the Great War, a political organizer of the first rank, a leader steeped in the history of Europe, who possessed oratorical powers that could awe even those who despised him…Hitler’s success was not based on his extraordinary gifts alone. His genius was an intuitive sense of the mushiness, the character flaws, the weakness masquerading as morality that was in the hearts of the statesmen who stood in his path.
He also has indulged in certain kinds of Holocaust denial:
Writing of "group fantasies of martyrdom," Buchanan challenged the historical record that thousands of Jews were gassed to death by diesel exhaust at Treblinka: "Diesel engines do not emit enough carbon monoxide to kill anybody." (New Republic, 10/22/90) Buchanan’s columns have run in the Liberty Lobby’s Spotlight, the German-American National PAC newsletter and other publications that claim Nazi death camps are a Zionist concoction.
[More on Buchanan's indulgence in Holocaust denial here.]
He made the biggest splash in this regard back in 1999, when he was gearing up to run for the presidency on the Reform Party ticket. His book A Republic, Not an Empire made essentially the same case. And at the time, historian Robert Dallek delivered what should have been the definitive spanking:
It’s a seductive but wholly unpersuasive fantasy. Among Buchanan’s many misjudgments on the events of World War II, none is as serious as his failure to understand the dynamic of the Hitler-Nazi regime. Had Hitler defeated Soviet Russia, it would have been an inducement to further expansion. Hitler’s Thousand Year Reich was built on fierce nationalism and militarism. His regime needed enemies and constant military challenges to survive and flourish.
After Russia, he would have turned his military machine back against the West. And it would have been a West even less able to meet the threat than in 1939-1940. The decision to guarantee Polish security had as much to do with stiffening British resolve to meet Hitler’s threat as with saving Poland from German conquest. A Britain assuming Hitler would confine himself to Eastern conquests would have been a nation as enthralled in 1939-1940 by the appeasement psychology as that which immobilized it in 1938.
As for the United States, Buchanan thinks that after Britain successfully resisted Hitler’s air assault in the fall of 1940, "Germany posed no strategic threat to the United States." Buchanan means by this that Hitler would not have been able to invade the United States: hardly a revelation to historians or to Franklin Roosevelt and his political and military chiefs in 1940.
The issue was not whether Hitler had the wherewithal to land forces in the United States, but the many other ways in which he directly threatened our national security. Roosevelt justifiably worried about the penetration of Nazi influence in Latin America and potential dangers to the Panama Canal. And what about Nazi challenges to dominance of the Atlantic sea lanes? Buchanan all too casually passes over the U-boat menace, which could not be contained until 1943.
Buchanan has forgotten FDR’s compelling June 1940 speech at Charlottesville, where he warned against the isolationist "delusion" of America as "a lone island in a world dominated by force." Roosevelt predicted that a Nazi-dominated Europe would create for America a "nightmare of a people lodged in prison, handcuffed, hungry, and fed through the bars from day to day by contemptuous unpitying masters of other continents."
Buchanan entirely overlooks how difficult it would have been to maintain our democratic institutions in a world of hostile totalitarian regimes.
And what about Hitler’s potential to build an atomic bomb? By 1940 Roosevelt had taken heed of Albert Einstein’s warning about Germany’s capacity to develop such a weapon and America’s need to launch a crash program to beat the Germans to the punch. Can anyone with the slightest familiarity with Hitler’s ruthless indifference to civilized standards of behavior doubt that a Nazi Germany armed with atomic weapons would have been ready — indeed, even eager — to use them against Britain and the United States? And would a president who strictly adhered to isolationism in response to the European conflict even have considered building a bomb?
Buchanan has nothing to say about what a Hitler victory over Soviet Russia might have meant to Britain and the United States in the Pacific, where Japan, Hitler’s ally, would hardly have given a passive response to German victories in Europe. And what about the Jews of Eastern Europe and Russia?
Ah, but in Buchanan’s view, that would have been a price worth paying just so Hitler and Stalin could have gone head-to-head and rubbed each other out. Collateral damage, you know, is a small price to pay for big ideological victories.
The funny thing is that, in spite of all this — as well as his continuing demonstration of overt racism, both in talking about black people as well as in his discussions of immigration and what he calls the "invasion" of America by Latinos, complete with texts that use white supremacists as though they were credible sources, and his fretting about the "passing of the white race" — Buchanan continues to enjoy an honored spot on cable-news broadcasts around the dial: on CNN, on MSNBC, on Fox.
No one in the broadcasting business, or within the ranks of journalism generally, seems the least bit bothered by Pitchfork Pat’s increasingly overt racism, anti-Semitism, and downright kookery. They keep looking up to him as some kind of conservative sage, and they keep inviting him onto their shows (lately he’s been talking about Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama almost exclusively within the context of the "white vote") as though he were worthy of not just their airtime but their abiding respect.
That’s another kind of appeasement. But you won’t find anyone within the media, let alone in the ranks of movement conservatism, much bothered by it.