Perpetual War for Unobtainable Peace Buchanan, Churchill and the “Necessary” Book BY BOYD D. CATHEY
Back in 2008 Patrick J. Buchanan published his volume Churchill, Hitler, and The Unnecessary War. Although it was reviewed and discussed at the time, perhaps because it dealt with world history on such a vast, scholarly scale, or because the subject matter seemed to be more the province of academic specialists (which Buchanan isn’t), it did not receive the kind of press and readership that other of his white-hot books garnered.
Given the momentous decision by Congress to engage in open-ended war in Syria and Iraq and the ratcheting up of American opposition to Russia, Buchanan’s earlier volume stands out for the number of cautionary lessons it offers.
What distinguishes his Churchill volume is that Buchanan, instead of specifically and individually examining pressing questions that have confronted us in recent years, explores “why” and “how” we arrived at our present critical situation, and just how the historic Christian West, in particular Christian Europe and the United States, came to face the present political, cultural, and religious crisis that is unparalleled in history.
Churchill, Hitler, and The Unnecessary War centers on the pivotal role of Sir Winston Churchill in British (and world) history during much of the twentieth century. Without exaggeration it can be said that his finger prints are all over British foreign policy throughout the previous century, from his time as First Lord of the Admiralty during World War I, during his “exile” from public office during the 1920′s and 1930s, and his periods of leadership during World War II and afterwards. Even before his death he had become an icon for both Americans and Englishmen, a symbol of courage and defiance against overwhelming odds, an inspiration to millions.
Yet, as Buchanan carefully and painstakingly documents, Churchill was, militarily, a disastrous leader; and strategically, his policies are at the very least open to serious debate and disagreement. His planned military adventures, including the infamous Gallipoli campaign during the First World War, the Norwegian invasion of 1940, Dieppe in 1942, and the Italian campaign of 1943, were either abject failures or fell way below their stated goals.
The internationally respected German historian Ernst Nolte has conflated, rightfully I think, World War I and World War II into one thirty-year event that he has called “the European Civil War” (unfortunately, his volume Die Europaische Burgerkrieg has never been translated into English, although a French edition exists). In that sense, World War II was a remarkably bloody and radical continuation of World War I, with some of the alliances rearranged. Buchanan approaches Churchill and British policy in a similar fashion, incorporating the research of scholars such as John Charmley, Maurice Cowling, and Niall Ferguson, with a solid discussion of the causes of the first war, mirroring much of the scholarship that now understands that war in 1914 was not a simple question of the “evil German butchers of Kaiser Bill” attacking poor defenseless Belgium. Churchill and Lord Grey, certainly, were beating the drums for war, but the British foreign policy establishment bears a considerable amount of responsibility for the conflict—a conflagration that Kaiser Wilhelm, when he realized in the last days of that sultry July of 1914 what was happening, tried frantically to avoid.
At the end of that war, the vindictive treaties of Versailles, Trianon, Neuilly, and Saint-Germain set the stage, almost inevitably, for future conflict. The intervention of American President Wilson, with his “Fourteen Points” and language of messianic liberal Protestantism, only made matters worse, as the “great lion” Clemenceau, Lloyd George, and other wily pragmatic nationalists exacted a fearsome and punishing toll on Germany and Austria-Hungary, all the while cynically mouthing Wilson’s elevated language.
Buchanan is very critical of Hitler, but he understands fully well how the German dictator was able to get elected with popular support. Where he is most fascinating is in his careful examination of British (and French) policies aimed at Germany in the 1930s and 1940s, and in particular, Churchill’s role in, firstly, advocating them, and secondly, in executing them. In dealing with Germany, Britain, under the leadership of Stanley Baldwin and later Neville Chamberlain, oscillated between policies of attempting to reach a modus vivendi and of opposition and establishing a cordon sanitaire around the German state. British public opinion and, indeed, many in the Foreign Office, sympathized with the legitimate desires of Germany to right some of the egregious wrongs inflicted on it by Versailles: millions of German citizens had been placed arbitrarily in Poland, Czechoslovakia, Belgium, and Italy. The old German Second Empire had been severed by a Polish corridor, the historic German city of Danzig (overwhelmingly German) had been separated from the mother country, and three and a half million Sudeten Germans forced into a discriminatory Czech state. Many British political leaders believed there were legitimate, peaceful ways to deal with these inequities, and that a war over these lands should only be the very last option.