Adam Holland: Buchanan: Churchill caused World War II, fall of western civilization

Roundup: Talking About History

Pat Buchanan, in a London debate timed to coincide with the 70th anniversary of the British and French declaration of war against Germany, has blamed Winston Churchill for starting the Second World War. (Read about it here: U.S. politician puts blame on Churchill for Second World War.) This follows close on the heels of Buchanan's widely published essay blaming the Poles for provoking the Nazi invasion.

The debate was sponsored by Intelligence Squared and took place in London's Methodist Central Hall. Two historians who debated Buchanan took dim views of Buchanan's historical analysis. Antony Beevor said:

"I never expected to hear Pat Buchanan backing up Vladimir Putin's idea that somehow the Brits were responsible for World War Two."Pat Buchanan's arguments during the debate were quite bizarre. At times people didn't know whether he was sympathising with Hitler or just being anti-British." Historian Richard Overy said:"I thought what Pat Buchanan said was a load of historical nonsense that was all completely out of context."

Justin Raimondo's neo-isolationist website has prominently featured both Buchanan's earlier column (read here) and a new one consisting of Buchanan's opening statement at the London debate (read here). published the latter under the headline"Churchill Spurred the Decline of the West".

Raimondo agrees with these views pretty strongly, as evidenced by his own recent column supporting and elaborating on Buchanan's pro-Nazi historical revisionism. (Read here.) Raimondo starts by (completely unconvincingly) defending Buchanan against the charge of white-washing Hitler's record, then goes on to express his own opposition to the Spanish Republicans and to U.S. efforts to stop Japanese imperialism. (For some reason, some Google News' search results list as"satire". Sadly, it is not.)

In Buchanan's earlier column, entitled"Did Hitler Want War?", he asserted that Hitler did not want war with Poland, but an alliance of the sort he had with the fascist regimes of Spain, Italy, Hungary and Slovakia -- this in spite of the long documentary record of Hitler's intention to conquer and subjugate Poland and the other Slavic nations.

"Hitler had never wanted war with Poland, but an alliance with Poland such as he had with Francisco Franco’s Spain, Mussolini’s Italy, Miklos Horthy’s Hungary, and Father Jozef Tiso’s Slovakia."

It is also worth noting that the Nazi-allied regimes touted by Buchanan were very obviously far from innocent, each having committed massive war crimes in concert with the Nazi regime.

This column also bizarrely asserted that Hitler, in attempt to reach out to Britain with a show of good faith, allowed British forces to escape from Dunkirk. I use the word"bizarre" deliberately. His argument implied that Britain's subsequent self-defense against Nazi aggression was somehow unappreciative of Hitler's good will.

In his current column, Buchanan blames Churchill for starting the Second World War, and for his role in the First World War, claiming that Churchill's actions resulted in the deaths of tens of millions of Europeans, and opened the door for what Buchanan believes to be inferior races to ascend to world power. This argument's connection of racism, isolationism, belief in the decline of the western civilization and sympathy for Nazism echo those of earlier generations of the far-right, including figures such as Lindbergh and Charles Coughlin, both of whom Buchanan has expressed admiration for. Buchanan's dire predictions of the impending end of western civilization, which he sees in racial terms, seems to derive from Madison Grant's 1921 book The Passing of the Great Race, which viewed geopolitics from through a lens of racial eugenics. (Buchanan's 2001 book The Death of the West also evidences the influence of Madison Grant's theories.) Buchanan shares his apparent regard for Grant's racism with Hitler himself. Karl Brandt, the physician who helped provide the"scientific bias" for the Holocaust, cited it's influence on Hitler in his own defense at the Nuremberg Trials (read here), claiming that the intellectual roots of Nazi war crimes were American.

Buchanan's views about who's to blame for World War II, though extreme, should not come as a surprise. They're nothing new; his support for fascism is long-standing. He has admitted his admiration for Francisco Franco. Moreover, Buchanan published a column in 1977 (read here) which advocated some of the same distorted view of Hitler currently at issue. It included the following:

"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. But 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."

In the 1980's, Buchanan expressed support for the neo-Nazi leader David Duke and advised conservative voters looking beyond his Nazi uniform and swastikas. While working in the Reagan White House, Buchanan pushed President Ronald Reagan's trip to Bitburg's military cemetery to pay tribute to members of the Wafen SS, at which Reagan described the SS dead as"victims", a word perhaps put in Reagan's mouth by Buchanan. In response to opposition to Reagan's tribute to the SS dead, Buchanan advocated against"succumbing to the pressure of the Jews", and issued a public statement to American Jews that they should start thinking of themselves as"Americans first". (Read here.)

Buchanan is the United States' most public advocate of Holocaust Denial, having falsely argued in several television broadcasts that the use of mobile gas chambers and crematoria to carry out the Holocaust was technically impossible. Buchanan has, in at least six cases, campaigned against the deportation of accused Nazi war criminals, even going so far as to compare one to Jesus. (Read here and here.) Although he claims that he only defends these individuals because he believes them to be innocent (read here), this is plainly false. For ideological reasons, Buchanan has singled out only Nazi war criminals out of all accused criminals for this special attention. He has not mounted similar defenses in any other type of case.

What ideological reasons might be behind his defense of accused Nazi war criminals? He has written in support of the views of the British fascist author F.J.P. Veale, whose Advance to Barbarism equated Nazi war crimes with those of the Allies and opposed the Nuremberg Trials, views parroted by Buchanan in his recent columns and debate. Buchanan cited Veale's book in his Churchill, Hitler and the Unnecessary War, a book which promoted at great length the same ideas Buchanan is now publicizing. Whether or not he is currently willing to admit so publicly, Buchanan shares Veale's opposition to prosecuting Nazi war criminals regardless of their guilt.

Perhaps the most flagrant of Buchanan's attempts to whitewash Nazi war crimes, and the one which had the greatest potential to impede legitimate prosecutions, occurred when he working for President Reagan. Buchanan vigorously campaigned within the Reagan administration to close down the Justice Department's Office of Special Investigations, the office which successfully investigated and prosecuted numerous Nazi war criminals. Buchanan publicly wrote disparagingly that this office was only"running down 70-year-old camp guards."

Speaking of F.J.P. Veale, the following quote from Graham Macklin's biography of Oswald Mosley called Very Deeply Died in Black (Taurus, London, 2007; page 133) seems appropriate to Pat Buchanan as well as Veale.

"(R)evisionists played a crucial role in fostering an intellectual amnesia that spread far more widely than the study of ephemeral fringe publications might suggest and, in doing so, provided a prism through which mainstream political figures could refract their own strident anti-Communism and political concerns regarding the Nuremberg Trials and German war guilt."

Neither Veale nor Buchanan could possibly undo the memory of the barbaric nature of Nazism, but both, motivated by pro-fascist and anti-Semitic sentiments, have contributed to a selective amnesia among a range of people on the right who find this particular form of selective memory loss politically useful.

NOTE: Speaking of Justin Raimondo, like Pat Buchanan, his brand of neo-isolationism all too often glides almost effortlessly into paranoia and neo-McCarthyism. (Funny how the new version of isolationism follows the patterns laid down by the original.) Check out his column defending the original isolationists called"They fought the good fight: the legacy of the America First movement". (Read here.) Here's a quote from that piece, which I offer without comment:

"perhaps (the) most important theme of the America First movement was an acute consciousness of a raft of common enemies, first and foremost the British."

Raimondo goes on to unintentionally identify one of the unnamed other groups he considers U.S. enemies when he uses the unusual phrase"perfidious Albion" with respect to the British. That's what poker players call a"tell", an unusual mannerism which unwittingly reveals what's actually on a player's mind.

Raimondo's column then follows Murray Rothbard down the road to John Birch Society style paranoia when it comes to the subject of who was really behind the war:

(T)he Rockefeller interests were pushing for war with Japan throughout the 1930s on account of competition for rubber and oil resources in Southeast Asia and"the Rockefellers' cherished dreams of a mass 'China market' for petroleum products." The Morgan group, on the other hand,"as usual, deeply committed to their financial ties with Britain and France, once again plumbed early for war with Germany, while their interest in the Far East had become minimal." World War II, says Rothbard,"might therefore be considered, from one point of view, as a coalition war: the Morgans got their war in Europe, the Rockefellers theirs in Asia."

This is not the only evidence of the politics of paranoia on display in the column. In the last several paragraphs, Raimondo makes the completely unsupported assertion that a conspiracy involving FBI infiltration of America First"allowed" Lindbergh to make his anti-Semitic speech blaming"the Jews" for leading the U.S. towards war. Yes. Raimondo believes that Lindbergh's infamous speech was part of an anti-isolationist conspiracy.

Raimondo's neo-McCarthyism comes into play when he describes the America First opponent and anti-fascist activist Rev. Leon Birkhead. Here's what Raimondo says:

Reverend Leon Birkhead (was) a liberal clergyman who never had a bad word to say for the Soviet Union but was quick to label anyone who questioned the need for war as an agent of Hitler.

On the contrary, Rev. Birkhead was a liberal who opposed both fascism and communism. A 1949 article in TIME (that notorious pro-Soviet mouthpiece) quoted Birkhead on the subject of a publication called The Churchman which was then under fire for supporting what were then called" communist fronts" (read here):

"The Churchman has become so involved with the Communist party line that it is quite impossible for me any longer to participate in its activities."

Contrary to Raimondo's assertions, Birkhead was vocally anti-communist. Also contrary to Raimondo, the isolationists Birkhead fought were not innocent, harmless and without connections to fascist regimes.

Among those Rev. Birkhead opposed (to great effect) was the so-called Jayhawk Nazi, Rev. Gerald Winrod, who ran for the U.S. Senate from Kansas in 1938, and might have won the Republican nomination if not for the intervention (pardon the expression) of Rev. Birkhead. (Read here.) Birkhead issued a widely read pamphlet titled"What's wrong with Winrod", and helped spur a former Republican governor of Kansas, Clyde M. Reed, to enter the Republican primary and defeat Winrod, who had been leading in the polls. It can be argued that Winrod was the most prolific anti-Semitic and pro-Nazi activist in the United States in the 1930s. His newspaper, called The Defender, had a circulation of 100,000. There is strong evidence that Winrod received material assistance in publishing this paper from the Third Reich in the form of bags of cash. Those payments reportedly amounted to in excess of $50,000 -- a tidy sum in those days. I for one am very glad Rev. Birkhead rose to the occasion and helped prevent the Nazi-supporting and Nazi-supported Winrod from winning a seat in the U.S. Senate.

With respect to some of the others whom Raimondo apparently believes were wrongly accused by Rev. Birkhead, read this:

In 1939 Birkhead resigned his Kansas City ministry and opened a Friends of Democracy office in New York City. He spent the remaining fifteen years of his life directing"pitiless publicity" at purveyors of anti-democratic propaganda. In this category he included the radio priest Father Charles Coughlin, the anti-semitic preacher Gerald L. K. Smith, the American Nazi leader Fritz Kuhn, and Elizabeth Dilling, whose Patriotic Research Bureau published"The Red Network," a book that smeared hundreds of liberals and moderates... His last targets, in his regular column for Exposé magazine, were Senator Joe McCarthy and the House Un-American Activities Committee.

Justin Raimondo, like Pat Buchanan, chooses his historical allies very poorly. He also has a similarly distorted view of history, and an almost comically contentious way of expressing it. Here's how he describes the reaction of American liberals to the German offenses which were compelling U.S. involvement in World War II:

"As the liberals gave up their noninterventionist principles and joined with the Stalinists in the Popular Front and FDR's drive to war..."

And, like others on the far-right, Raimondo has a way of describing those who oppose fascism and racism using terms best deployed upon fascists and racists themselves. The term"smear Bund", by which Raimondo repeatedly refers to anti-isolationists, really sticks in the craw. How obviously and deliberately offensive to call those who opposed fascism a"Bund"! For what reason would Raimondo use such an expression? The man is nothing if not consistent: he can't resist a certain sort of outlandish expression, even when they reveal his biases. He seems to be completely unashamed of his shameful belief that the anti-fascists were the real fascists and the isolationists their victims.

comments powered by Disqus

More Comments:

Randll Reese Besch - 10/28/2009

I won' comment on your gross ignorance of the topic. Buchanan is subtle and I have heard and read him for years. Such racist subtlety like this gem," a man from Ireland would have a better chance of making here (USA) than from Africa because he would have an easier time with the language." He thinks that a white man from a European nation could learn English than an African even if that person could easily know more than one language including English. Do you see or is it too subtle for you? Or are you as pathetic as your words imply?

Arnold Shcherban - 9/16/2009

I haven't read Buchanan's arguments/article and therefore cannot comment on its merits.
However, what I would like to comment on (and have done so in the past) is continuing for decades (but sharply intensified after the dissolution of the Soviet Union) pro-Western imperialist distortion of pre-WWII, WWII, and post-WWII history, its events, and the goals of the leading political figures and countries
In particular, it has become quite fashionable nowadays (especially among German and American historians) to exclusively blame Soviet Union under Stalin's political leadership on virtually equal basis with Nazi Germany under Hitler's political leadership for the developments in pre- and post- WWII period, completely discarding the more prominent role of Great Britain, France, and the USA who not only stood still watching Hitler and Nazi Germany conquering one European country after another, not only striking peace deal in 1937 with the obvious aggressor by presenting Hitler with Chekhoslovakia on a silver plate, obviously nudging Nazi agression into Eastern direction, but torpedoing the possible creation of anti-Nazi coalition with the Soviet Union, and practically doing nothing
to protect Poland, either before signing of German-Soviet non-aggression pact or after it.
They proclaimed a war against Germany, but did they fight Nazis?
No! They waited up to the German invasion to France. And even then neither UK nor US did virtually nothing to help any
Western European country to resist Nazi aggression.
So decalration of the war was clearly done just for saving political face and in eager anticipation of Hitler's aggression against the Soviet Union...
That's why they turned so furious about the Stalin's "treason" of "common" European interests, i.e, peace for generations to come that they allegedly cared so much for.
How dared that Bolshevik "barbarian" to not allow the greatest Western political "intellectuals" to fool him?
I'm not already mentioning either the economic and ideologico-political aid
Nazi would receive from Western (American included) Big Business and
governments (along with murderous reparations), or not allowing Poland to accept twice offered military assistance from Stalin before signing Moloto-Ribbentrop pact, turning Poland (who was granted independence
and sovereignity by Soviet Russia) into the terrorist forpost on the very border of the Soviet state long before the start of WWII, etc.
Any super-democratic and super-peaceful country (with no allies to seek help from) facing such an enormous threat, as Nazi Germany posed to Soviets at the time would do the same, if not more, that Soviet Russia government did.
I challenge (and challenged before) any serious and unbiased historian/researcher/observer to present any strong arguments against the last statement of mine.
So far there have been no takers.

Javier Ramirez - 9/14/2009

You seem very ignorant of what you rant and rave about. You are an example of what I wrote about earlier. You take the Buchanan is a "Nazi" school of thought mindlessly and think you win argunments. You have not read any of his writings. You and the author of the book can't point to one single instance of a nazi statement on Buchanan's part thats why youhave to resort to the "he is subtle" argument. Truly pathetic on your part but I guess thats how folks like yourself try to win arguments. You are the eptiome of anti-intellectualism.

Randll Reese Besch - 9/13/2009

You would find that many of them if they had control of the USA would have joined the Axis in a heartbeat. They had too much in common.

Me, I am against war, but how can you be an "isolationist" if you want to deal with every country the same way with trade and visiting them and they visiting you? Forgot the "isolationist" is a pejorative term design to lead you to a false conclusion. Anti-war=isolation is not necessarily true.

North Korea is mostly isolated and that fits. Buchanan is a historical revisionist of the Nazi Apologist school. A very careful racist who is subtle in how he goes about it. But as a historian he fails. But that is why you won't see him on Rachel Maddow's show again unless she is going to flay him for his most recent book. But I doubt she will. A waste of time. I am embarassed for MSNBC that still has him on. Paleo-conservative with the NSDAP kinds of ethos should be on Fox News.

Shel Barry Silver - 9/13/2009

Seems to me that, in contrast to "town halls" or picket lines, panels like this one shun ranters & chanters while rewarding those who use evidence & reason. Maybe, this is why I don't see much value in focusing on Buchanan, except in a footnote, when arguing for or vs. various points. Why enhance the power of a brand you wouldn't recommend?

Nicholas Clifford - 9/11/2009

Maybe it's my computer, but I could find no link to Buchanan's original article in this piece. But I'm curious why WSC, who held no position in the British govt in September 1939, was somehow responsible for the coming of war. Or is B. somehow ignorant of that basic historical fact? (unlikely).

Does B. also hold Churchill responsible for the Nazi-Soviet pact, and the Soviet invasion of Poland, two seeks after the German drive? (just curious).

Javier Ramirez - 9/11/2009

I just found out you are a professor of history. How sad, so very sad. Is this the kind of historical criticism you teach your students? If you disagree with a historical POV you should name call and malign/ marginalize folks? And folks scratch their heads in wonderment at the state of education.

Apparently academic historical scholarship is in a sad state of affairs.

Javier Ramirez - 9/11/2009

Maybe because they know a little more history than you. Just curious, do folks like you really believe you win arguments through the same tactics that third graders use on the playground, that is name calling?

Speaking of who should be taken seriously by historians, who should take seriously anyone who left this comment on this site four years ago "LBJ is still laughing at us, having gotten away w/ murdering a man from the family he despised from the beginning. Apparantly no one cares how lousy a pol but very good killer he was!;bheaders=1#69181

Go back to your conspiracy fantasies and leave serious history to others.

Javier Ramirez - 9/11/2009

It seems that the only thing Ive read by way of criticism of Buchanan is personal attacks ("pro-nazi", "anti-semite,etc). Is this how historical criticism is done? It is if you want to simply poison the well. To call him a Holocaust denier is simply pathetic and slanderous. He has never questioned the Holocaust as an event. There is absolutley nothing unethical about questioning specific events about the Holocaust(figures, etc). As for nazi prosecution, Buchanan takes the same view that Robert Taft took concerning post facto laws. Taft was one of those profiled in JFK's A Profile of Courage for taking this very stance.

This is sad that name calling and lynch mob mentalities prevail when criticizng histories. I have carefully read every one of his books and there is not a single shred of evidence for a "pro hitler/nazi" position. Adam Holland like others throws these terms knowing that his readers will not read Buchanan but as bobble heads simply nod in agreement.

Whether you agree with Buchanan or not it is a matter that should be debated without the slanderous venom of name calling. It seems that Orwell's two minute of hate is alive and well in historical criticism and led by the folks like Holland.

Michael Green - 9/11/2009

I admit, I am offended by his comments but if this site is going to feature far-out lefties (I don't think it features nearly enough of them), it should feature even anti-semites incapable of telling the truth. Which, in my opinion, describes Mr. Buchanan.

william e vanvugt - 9/11/2009

Could someone please explain why real historians are giving that fascist goon Buchanan the time of day in the first place?