Buchanan's Flawed History of World War II

By Levine, Alan J. | The World and I, August 2000 | Go to article overview

Buchanan's Flawed History of World War II


Levine, Alan J., The World and I


Alan J. Levine is the author of seven books, including The Strategic Bombing of Germany, The Pacific War, Race Relations Within Western Expansion.and the recently published The War Against Rommel's Supply Lines.

Few recent political books have caused as violent a reaction as Pat Buchanan's A Republic Not an Empire. Over the years, Buchanan has expressed many views bitterly opposed to those endorsed by the mass media and fashionable opinion, but his remarks about the seemingly closed issue of World War II triggered an unprecedented storm. The general feeling, it seems, is that any equivocation about the fight against nazism was and is absolutely unacceptable. Well, maybe there are some exceptions. Communists and fellow travelers who supported the Soviets during the Nazi-Soviet Pact era, and those nationalists in the former colonial world who made the trifling misjudgment of thinking that the Axis powers would liberate them from colonial rule, don't seem to be all that unforgivable. But for an avowed right-winger and apologist for pre--Pearl Harbor isolationism to question the wisdom of American intervention in World War II is morally beyond the pale.

In fact, most of what Buchanan says is factually wrong, illogical, and foolish, and many attacks on him are well founded. Buchanan advances the basic thesis that Hitler wanted only to conquer the Soviets and that the Western powers should not have gone to war in response to the German attack on Poland in 1939. Had they not, "Hitler would almost certainly have delivered his first great blow to Stalin's Russia." "Even had Hitler conquered the USSR at enormous cost, would he then have launched a new war where his ambitions never lay?" And, if Hitler had no interest in Western Europe, he was even less of a threat to the United States. Even after the fall of France, "as of mid-1940, his actions argue that beneath the overlay of Nazi ideology (!)" (my emphasis) he was still dominated by the "traditional German policy of Drang nach Osten, the drive to the east." If Hitler could not invade Britain in 1940, the "notion that he could invade the Western hemisphere ... was preposterous." American intervention was unnecessary and saved Soviet totalitarianism.1 Note the curious evasions involved in the implication that, if Hitler could not or did not want to do something at a particular moment, there was no danger of his ever doing it.

These ideas are hardly original. Apart from those that do derive from pre--Pearl Harbor isolationism (as we shall see, not all do), they have been advanced before, most notably by William Henry Chamberlin in his book America's Second Crusade (one of Buchanan's sources) and a curious product of the Vietnam era, Bruce Russett's No Clear and Present Danger. It is an amusing comment on the political taboos of modern American academic life that, although he essentially justified the old isolationists, Russett carefully disassociated himself from them. He derided them as "arch-conservatives" who later became "Cold Warriors" (evidently the lowest form of life). As we shall see, Russett's conceptions of isolationism are about as inaccurate as his, and Buchanan's, view of the Axis powers.

HITLER'S AIMS

Those views are dangerously incomplete. It is certainly true that Hitler's main goal was in the east. Conquering the USSR and lebensraum interested him more than anything else. As Andreas Hilgruber, Gerhard Weinberg, and others have shown, however, Hitler also envisaged the conquest of Western Europe and eventually the rest of the world. In fact, as Hitler told Joseph Goebbels as late as May 1943, the conquest of Europe meant the eventual conquest of the rest of the world. Once Germany had Europe, nothing in the rest of the world would be able to stop him. Moreover, Buchanan's musings about Hitler's intentions have no basis in the actual record. In November 1937, Hitler decided that while he could take Austria and Czechoslovakia without a fight, Britain and France would have to be tackled before the final drive against the Soviets. …

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