The Magazine

World War II Revised

Apparently, the Good War was a Bad Idea.

Aug 11, 2008, Vol. 13, No. 45 • By WINSTON GROOM
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In Patrick Buchanan's view, the British decision to enter the war over Belgium was slick hypocrisy; in fact, he claims that a secret cabal of British diplomats--including a young Churchill, at the time first lord of the Admiralty--had already committed Britain to fight Germany in the event of an attack on France, and that the reason for this was Britain's desire to rid herself of Germany as an economic rival, as well as for British security.

Buchanan apparently deduced this notion from the teachings of the revisionist Scottish historian Niall Ferguson, presently instructing at Harvard, who promulgated it in his book The Pity of War. A contrarian of the Taylor school, Ferguson specializes in what might be called what-if history, and likewise blames the British for starting the war; e.g., "The German invasion of Belgium enabled the British war party to put a high moral gloss on a war they had already decided to fight for reasons of realpolitik."

Buchanan's premise respecting World War I is this: "Britain turned the European war of August 1 into a world war. For, while the wave of public sentiment against the [German] invasion of 'brave little Belgium' swept Parliament over the brink and into war, [the secret cabal] had steered her toward the falls for other reasons." These he lists as the preservation of France, British honor, retention of power, Germanophobia, imperialism, and opportunism. "For Britain," he writes, "World War I was not a war of necessity, but a war of choice."

Okay, but how can he explain this: Nobody had attacked the Germans, but the Germans, in fact, attacked tiny Luxembourg first, then Belgium, and then France, while their idiot Austrian allies were attacking little Serbia. These nations hadn't declared war on Germany until Germany had declared war on them first. Buchanan gets it right when he says: "World War I was not a war of necessity, but a war of choice"--but the "choice" was Germany's to make. If she and Austria had stayed within their own borders and minded their business, there would have been no World War I and, thus, no World War II, either.

But Buchanan will not hear of it. As far as he is concerned, the British trumped the whole thing up out of greed, envy, hubris, fear, and "opportunism," a thesis he supports by gleaning from such writers as Francis Neilson, a quasi-socialist/pacifist who fled England for America during the First World War to evade the draft, only to luck into marriage with a daughter of the Swift meatpacking fortune.

With devastating confusion, Buchanan demonstrates how Britain and its (to him) stooge, France, conspired, lied, provoked, and muddled through the interwar years until they finally painted Adolf Hitler into such a corner that the Germans were again forced against their wishes to attack their neighbors. And as always, Winston Churchill is at the bottom of it: "In 1933, Churchill had in the House of Commons vigorously attacked Mussolini's proposal for a four-power pact, the one comprehensive plan set forth in Europe which might have revised postwar treaties in a peaceful manner and held Hitler in check."

Of course, this quotation describes nothing more than the craven attempt by Mussolini to grab more land for fascist Italy out of the Versailles treaty, and its source is the odious Welsh socialist Emrys Hughes, who was imprisoned in World War I for refusing induction into the British Army. Where does Buchanan find these people?

In Buchanan's opinion, the smart move for Britain and France would have been to take Hitler's outstretched hand and make an alliance encouraging him to attack Stalin's Soviet Union. No weight is given to the fact that the same outstretched hand would have simultaneously snatched two of the greatest democracies on earth down into the sewer where Hitler and his thugs and executioners dwelled. When Hitler grabbed Austria, and then the rest of Czechoslovakia, after the appeasement pact in Munich, most of Britain saw with unflinching clarity what the Germans were up to. But Buchanan's contention is that Hitler only wished to restore to the Reich former German enclaves that had been detached by the Versailles treaty, and entertained no further plans for conquest.

In truth, Germany's whole economy was directly tied to Hitler's huge military expansion program. In order for it to succeed the Nazis had no choice but to feed, shark-like, consuming new territories, looting and enslaving whatever they conquered. It's telling that Buchanan's bibliography does not include a reading of Mein Kampf.