July 20th, 2008 17:10 EST
History Cafe - Episode 1: "Churchill, Hitler, and the Unnecessary War"
*Audio by Kristin Marzec
Of many conflicts that have plundered continents, the Second World War appears to be the least ambiguous. It produced some of the worst villains in history, namely Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin; but it also allowed such people like Winston Churchill and Harry Truman to show their greatness in the full light. The good were the Allied states, the bad Nazi Germany, and the ugly the Soviet Union that first joined Hitler in the invasion of Poland and the Baltic republics only to end the war as a friend of Great Britain and the United States. This is the agreed-upon picture of what happened over sixty years ago. In his new book, Churchill, Hitler and the Unnecessary War, Patrick J. Buchanan presents quite a different view where Winston Churchill alone can be responsible for starting both world wars.
As politicians came and went, Winston Churchill prevailed, remaining at the helm of the British Empire for almost half a century. It was he who, as the First Lord of the Admiralty, plunged his country into the Great War even though Germany had done all it could to keep Great Britain and its colonies out of conflict. Out of office since the ignominious battle of Gallipoli, where the struggling Turkish navy defeated the Allied forces, Churchill remained a staunch supporter of the war until the unconditional surrender of Germany. Over twenty years later, he would be the leading force behind Great Britain`s guaranty to Poland that turned a German-Polish feud into a global war. Although it resulted in the toppling of Adolf Hitler and his repugnant regime, it also brought an end to the British Empire and allowed the Soviet Union to win the dominance over Central and Eastern Europe and much of the world.
This is the Churchill pictured by Patrick J. Buchanan. This conservative journalist, speech writer and former presidential candidate quite convincingly argues in his new book that contrary to the common opinion, Germany - whether led by the Kaiser or Hitler - did not seek world dominance. In fact, writes Buchanan, Wilhelm II should be praised as one of the few European monarchs who honestly strove to save the continent from the upcoming menace. But as Berlin telegraphed London with peace offers in the late summer of 1914, Winston Churchill successfully convinced Prime Minister H. H. Asquith to ready his country for war. "I think a curse should rest on me - because I am so happy," the First Lord of the Admiralty told the prime minister`s wife, when almost sixty thousand British soldiers lay dead in the trenches at the outcome of the battle of Ypres. "I know this war is smashing and shattering the lives of thousands every moment and yet - I cannot help it - I enjoy every second."
The Second World War, writes Buchanan, could also have been avoided. One of the many mistakes made by the Entente Powers after the Great War was the Treaty of Versailles that, apart from creating chaos on the continent, humiliated Germany and sowed the seeds of Fascism and Communism in Europe`s two great countries. Of the two diabolical ideologies, Buchanan depicts the latter as the more barbaric and dangerous to the western civilization. Instead of isolating Hitler, argues the writer, Great Britain should have allied itself with him and waged a war against the Soviet Union where victims of Stalin`s policies were already amounting to millions in the 1930s. Buchanan reminds that, had Great Britain not offered Poland the war guaranty, Warsaw would have surely accepted Hitler`s proposition to attack the USSR and saved the lives of over six million citizens who perished in the ensuing Second World War.
It is hard not to agree with Buchanan that both wars turned into global catastrophes. He also strikes the right tones when he writes that the First World War was a result of secret agreements signed by the British and French governments that left other European powers in the dark until it was too late to stop the war machine. Had Germany expected the British Empire to help France, it might have halted its western march. Needless to say that among the cabal in London pushing for an all-out conflict with Berlin was Winston Churchill. He, too, stood behind the British guaranty to Poland in 1939 which sealed the fate of over six million Poles even though Churchill and the entire cabinet realized Great Britain had no means to help its Central European ally. Buchanan quotes historian Robert Holmes as writing in his book on Churchill, A Study in Character, "[Churchill] had no objection to throwing other peoples to the wolves if it genuinely helped the British sledge to reach safety."
Buchanan`s Churchill is not only a cold-blooded politician who remorselessly sacrifices nations to save the empire. The former aide to Presidents Nixon and Reagan rightly underlines that despite his great intelligence and experience, Churchill failed to notice the real danger - communism - remaining blind to Stalin`s murderous policies throughout the entire war. The author of the immortal phrase "I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat," also said: "It is no exaggeration or compliment of florid kind when I say that we regard Marshal Stalin`s life as most precious to the hopes and hearts of all of us." In Churchill, Hitler, and the Unnecessary War, Buchanan asks: "[H]ow could a statesman of Churchill`s rank - twenty-five years after he had described Bolshevism as the bloodiest tyranny in history - place his `trust` in a despot who had massacred, starved, and murdered millions of his own countrymen?"
Although extensively researched, Churchill, Hitler, and the Unnecessary War is not free of mistakes. Several times Buchanan supports Nazi Germany`s claim for Gdansk (Danzig) saying that prior to 1918 it had never belonged to Poland. The city on the Baltic voluntarily joined the Polish Kingdom in the first half of the 15th century and remained within its borders, save for several hiatuses, until 1793 when it was annexed by Prussia. It is also hard to agree with the author that the extermination of the European Jews began as a result of Great Britain`s involvement in the war. Buchanan cites Goebbels as saying: "The fact that Jewry`s representatives in England and America are today organizing and sponsoring the war against Germany must be paid for dearly by its representatives in Europe - and that`s only right." Yet with Poland and most of Russia - two European countries with the largest populations of Jews - at his knees, Hitler would have undoubtedly executed his Final Solution, regardless of Great Britain`s neutrality.
Churchill, Hitler, and the Unnecessary War sheds, if not new, then certainly interesting light on the origins of the two world wars. Accused by his opponents of glorifying Kaiser Wilhelm II and Hitler, Buchanan does not negate the Germans` role in driving Europe to the edge of annihilation. Instead, he simply reminds that those whom we now regard as heroes, like Winston Churchill, were no less responsible for the death of tens of millions of people. This fact is worth remembering because, writes the former presidential candidate, America is on the right track to repeat Great Britain`s follies. Buchanan`s book should become a must read for both Barack Obama and John McCain, especially now, when "President Bush had placed in his Oval Office a bust of Winston Churchill."
That`s all for the premiere edition of History Cafe! We look forward to hearing your opinions! Next Sunday: We all know that Lincoln, FDR, and Reagan were America`s best presidents. But who were the worst? Believe it or not, compared with some figures from the past, even President George W. Bush can be called a great one.
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