by Norman Markowitz
An intelligent reader of PA and our blog recently asked me to read and review Patrick Buchanan's "Churchill, Hitler, and the Unnecessary War: How Britain Lost Its Empire and the West Lost the World," a book published for the far right market which has been widely (and outside of either right wing or anarcho-crazy circles) negatively reviewed.
I read the work after I had a nasty tooth pulled and, all things considered, I would prefer to have another tooth pulled rather than read it again. But, in its over the top distortions of general works of history, right left and center, its often comical and sometimes sinister use of classic propaganda ploys to advance its general interpretation , it deserves to be reviewed from a Marxist perspective, not simply as others have seen it as a book that attacks Winston Churchill. minimizes the Nazi danger, and trivializes the fascist genocide against the Jewish people and other aka the Holocaust,. But as progressives today should see it, a work that reflects almost completely the views of Chamberlain and those to his right like the British fascist leader, Sir Oswald Moseley, Laval, Petain, and the Vichy collaborationist government, Charles Lindbergh, Father Charles Coughlin and other open and not so open pro fascist isolationists in the U.S., and in general those forces through the world who fought on the side of the fascist axis during WWII and in many country, after reinventing themselves as good anti-Communists, have in recent decades sought to rationalize their past politics in terms of the world today.
It is difficult to really analyze a work like "Churchill, Hitler, and the Unnecessary War," since its distortions over and over again defy reason, but I will try to deal with those distortions. Buchanan uses two interrelated techniques--the Big Lie, associated with Nazi propaganda, and "multiple untruths" associated with U.S. McCarthyites and the House Un-American activities committee, namely, assertions based on distorted citations and false evidence, one after another in a way that makes it very hard to keep up with the flood of mis and disinformation.
Buchanan doesn't use primary sources. Instead, he scavenges from a wide variety of secondary sources, mostly from the right and also from the center and the left general historians , and takes assertions and bits and pieces of information to develop his plot narrative. Often, these works, including many of the right wing works, have very different interpretations than the ones he has (the British critics of Churchill for example blaming his policies as leading to the U.S. supplanting the British empire) but he doesn't even mention those differences. What matters is the master plot narrative. Critics of Ronald Reagan referred to this approach in Reagan's world-view as "movie truth," namely that all that matters is the story you are selling, and you make up situations, change them as you go along, in order to get your points across. And Buchanan has written a work based on the principles of "movie truth," even if the film makers would be closer to wartime Germany than Hollywood.
Let's start with some of the big lies. Germany under Kaiser Wilhelm was not an aggressive power and WWI was unnecessary and the result of "germanophobia." Here Buchanan uses pop geopolitics and a loving portrayal of Kaiser Wilhelm(a much more pacific individual than Winston Churchill) to make his points, taking materials from a variety of right wing pro imperialist historians. That World War I was a war of rival imperialist blocs is certainly true, but that has nothing to do with Buchanan's view, which is that the war, with the German empire a victim of its enemies , divided the "West" and brought about the ultimate evil, the Russian Revolution.
But Buchanan is just warming up. In 1919-1920, during the global reaction to the Soviet revolution, capitalist media and politicians hurled everything at it that they could, including anti-Semitism as they pointed to prominent Bolshevik leaders of Jewish background. Winston Churchill, who had said things like "we must kill the baby in its crib"(which Buchanan of course would support) about the Soviet revolution, also joined in these attacks. But Buchanan, who in recent decades has become America's tolerated and and semi-official anti-Semite, argues that an article that Churchill wrote in this period, "Zionism and Bolshevism," when British imperialists among other things were seeking to consolidate their mandate over Palestine against the opposition of both Jewish settlers and Arabic people, is no different than Hitler's concept of a Judeo Bolshevik conspiracy. Churchill to Buchanan, who doesn't make any distinction, is as big an ant-Semite as Hitler, even though Churchill's career in British politics was never characterized by anti-Semitic policies and Hitler initiated policies that led to the murder of nearly 1/3 of the Jewish people of the world.
Anyone who equates Churchill with Hitler on the question of anti-Semitism is certainly capable of anything and Buchanan doesn't disappoint. The depression as Buchan , myself and everyone else knows, produced a mass Nazi party in Germany and helped bring Hitler to power. Since Buchanan identifies completely with those sectors of corporate capital who backed Hitler against the Socialists and the Communists, he makes no analysis of their role or that of the larger class struggle in Germany. Instead, he blames the French for bringing Hitler to power in 1993 by refusing to support a German Austrian "customs union" advocated, which he sees has leading to a deeper banking collapse in Austria and intensifying the depression.
While the collapse of the Kreditanstalt bank in Vienna did add to the European depression, no one sees the Customs Union as a serious solution to anything, since capital had dried up internationally, and trade had collapsed. Hitler's smashing of the trade union movement, mass arrests of socialists, communists and other anti-fascists, and persecution of the Jewish minority, to be charitable, don''t concern Buchanan. Hitler's re-armament doesn't concern Buchanan either, or rather, it is implicitly justified, since the Versailles Treaty was a monstrous violation of German rights, creating countries like Czechoslovakia which Buchanan like Hitler contends had no right to exist, ceding territory to Poland in an an unjust manner, oppressing Germany. Here Buchanan presents the view of the Nazis and their allies that Germany was a "have not power" victimized by the great powers, seeking what was fair for it in Europe as it sought to defend "Western civilization" from Bolshevik revolution. Neville Chamberlain is praised for his settlement at Munich and then attacked for not doing the same thing a year later over Poland.
Hitler, according to Buchanan and the secondary sources that he selectively cites, didn't want war with England over Poland but friendship and cooperation against the Soviets. His demands on the right wing Polish government were fair and Chamberlain should have pushed the Poles to go along with them. The anti-Comintern Pact, the fascists answer to the peoples front anti-fascist campaigns, which became a major organizing tool for them in occupied Europe, Buchanan sees positively. Not even the virulently anti-Communist Polish government would join the anti-Comintern Pact because they understood that it would make them completely a protectorate of Hitler, and, unlike Buchanan, they had read Mein Kampf and understood that Nazi imperial policy and allied race theory offered them nothing but slavery at best, extinction at worst.
The rest reads like old communiques from the Reich Ministry of Propaganda. Churchill is condemned for not playing the part of Pierre Laval and accepting Hitler's peace offers in 1940 and thus saving the "West" from the revolutionary consequences of WWII, which Buchanan sees as the ultimate evil, i.e., the survival of the Soviet Union and its expanded influence in Eastern Europe (Europe is seen as "the Christian continent") and the victory of the Chinese revolution, far greater evils than anything associated with German or Japanese imperialism---indeed, for Buchanan, the war crimes of the Nazis and the Japanese imperialists are no worse than those of the allies in their bombing of civilian populations in Germany and Japan and the forgotten and for Buchanan really important Holocaust is the expulsion of millions of Germans from Eastern Europe at the end of the war.
If Buchanan were a bit more in control, he might have presented his pro fascist, pro Axis views in way that would have been more palatable to many of his fellow "conservatives." If he were a bit more honest, he might have titled his work "the war the Axis should have won," since a British collaborator government signing a peace with Hitler in 1940 and a right wing U.S. government doing business with Hitler as it expanded its power in the Western Hemisphere and abandoned both China to Japanese imperialism and the rest of the world is really what the world according to Patrick Buchanan would have been. There would have been no expulsions of Germans from Eastern Europe. Instead, the Slavic peoples of Eastern Europe, especially the people of Poland, would have been treated much like the Congolese were by Belgian imperialism at the turn of the 20th century or the African majority under the worst of apartheid, massacred, worked to death, and put on reservations. In such a world, the world of Hitler's "new order," there would have been many little and big Hitlers like Patrick Buchanan and those who support his views as there were throughout Europe and Asia, and they would have profited at the expense of must of humanity--a world where extreme forms of racism, militarism and colonial domination would be the norm.
Nearly seventy million people died in WWII on all sides, but the sides were never the same. Winston Churchill, whom Buchanan attacks in such crackpot ways, was a conservative and an imperialist whose primary interest was in saving the British empire. He took the position, against Neville Chamberlain and the great majority of his fellow conservatives that Hitler was the main enemy in the short run, not the Soviet Union. He even made a joke about it to his fellow conservatives, saying at the time of Hitler's invasion of the Soviet Union that if Hitler invaded Hell, he would at least say a good word about the devil in the House of Commons. After the Soviet victories at Stalingrad and Kursk in 1943, he did everything that he could to block the Soviets, in effect becoming a premature cold warrior and helping by his opposition to an early second front, to prolong the war. But he was not Chamberlain, who by the way wasn't Pierre Laval or Vidkun Quisling either. They, the right wingers who joined collaborated with the German occupation, supported WWII as a holy war against the Soviets and a war against the "inferior races" are the ones whose views dominate Churchill, Hitler, and the Unnecessary War.
You could make many jokes about this book. The old line from the late 1930s, "Hitler wants peace; a piece of Czechoslovakia, a piece of Poland." Spike Jones comedy record, "When the Fuhrer says we is the Master Race we go (farting sounds) in the Fuhrer's face." And of course, from The Producers, as the Churchill hating buffoon author of Springtime for Hitler says "Hitler was a better dresser than Churchill, Hitler was a better painter than Churchill, and he could dance the pants off of Churchill." But this book isn't really funny.
P.S. Buchanan does conclude with an attack on George W Bush for going to war in Iraq under the influence of Churchill's policies, which were represented by his neo-conservative advisors. Buchanan in the special world of the right is sometimes referred to as a "paleoconservative" as against the "neo-conservatives." This book, in my opinion, might be more accurately titled "paleofascist."