Buchanan’s double dementia
(See, below, Mencius Moldbug’s defense of Buchanan and my reply.)
Patrick Buchanan replies to Victor Hanson’s review of his book on Churchill, Hitler, and World War II. But for us to take seriously anything said by Buchanan on this subject, we would have to accept his demented assumption, his idee fixe, that if France and Britain had not declared war on Nazi Germany, the latter would never have invaded Western Europe (of course, that’s leaving out what Nazi Germany did to Eastern Europe), that if only Churchill hadn’t been so mean to Hitler, Hitler would have been a perfectly nice neighbor.
Buchanan’s escapist fantasies about Hitler remind us of his very similar delusions about another major enemy that he wants us to appease at all costs. In a blog entry “Dhimmitude, or dementia,” in February 2006, I and several commenters tore Buchanan apart for his shocking stand on Islam. I summed up the discussion thus:
Yes, it’s beyond incredible. Buchanan hated Bush’s invasion of Iraq and repeatedly accused the president and his neocon war supporters of treasonous deception of the American people. But it turns out that there is one aspect of Bush’s post 9/11 Islam policy that Buchanan really likes: the appeasement part, the inviting of radical Muslims to the White House part, the “Islam is a religion of peace” part, and (we must presume, by the same logic) the anti-racial-profiling in airports part. His principle is very simple: do NOTHING that Muslim will dislike, and they will leave you alone. The way to make America safe from Muslim extremism and terrorism is to follow the policy of Jacques Chirac. That’s why Buchanan is so upset about the European newspapers, including the French newspaper France Soir, that re-printed the Muhammad cartoons. Those papers are NOT FOLLOWING THE PROGRAM, the program of peace through total surrender.
Here’s another way of understanding this. Just as a liberal cannot acknowledge the existence of unregenerate evil and of unappeasable enemies, because such recognitions would require the liberal to affirm the existence both of a general objective moral good and of the particular moral good of national defense, and such affirmations would make the liberal cease being a liberal
; in the same way Buchanan cannot acknowledge the true nature of either Nazism or Islam, because Nazism and Islam both require the destruction of the Jews, and therefore for Buchanan to oppose either Nazism or Islam would put him on the same side as the Jews, which would make Buchanan cease being Buchanan
In short, reality contradicts the deepest emotional commitments both of the liberal and of Buchanan, and therefore both the liberal and Buchanan must deny reality.
- end of initial entry -
Mencius Moldbug writes:
Why do you call Buchanan “demented” for thinking that Hitler might not have attacked Western Europe, if the West had not declared war on him? My knowledge of the Third Reich is not encyclopedic, but it is pretty good, and I think the fairest statement is that we simply have no idea what would have happened.
[LA replies: If we have no idea what would have happened, then Buchanan is demented for asserting as a certainty that Hitler would not have invaded the West. He’s also behaved utterly egregiously and harmfully in tarring the good causes he’s associated with, like immigration restrictionism, with his Nazi-apologist position. He’s enabled the liberals and neocons to say that immigration restrictionists are pro-Nazis. He can’t be condemned enough for pursuing this theme which is both unnecessary (I’ve called his book the Unnecessary Book), and hideously wrongheaded.]
Of course, the Third Reich was a murderous gangster government. So was the Soviet Union. So, to the best of my knowledge, is “Myanmar” (Burma). Of course it would be preferable to live in a world without murderous gangster governments, but there has never been such a world. It is very easy to see that Burma is not a threat to North America. How much can you really blame Buchanan for putting the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany on a par? The explanation of the America Firsters was that Communism was an internationalist movement and thus contagious, whereas Nazism could only spread by direct invasion. And I certainly find it rather hard to imagine Germany invading America, even South America. More likely than Burma, true, but …
[LA replies: Arguments that seek to lessen the danger of Nazi Germany by equating it with regimes such as Burma instantly discredit themselves.]
To judge counterfactuals about Hitler, you have to understand the situation in Central Europe from the perspective of the German nationalist. All Nazis were German nationalists, but not all German nationalists were Nazis. From the German nationalist perspective, Britain had been acting as a de facto world government for about the last century or so. Britain had surrounded Germany with a cordon sanitaire of protectorates—ie, client states. And much of the territory and population of those states, including both Czechoslovakia and Poland, had been captured from Germany itself—as the result of an armistice, not a surrender, in which Germany agreed to make peace based on Wilson’s Fourteen Points. Imagine that the U.S. had a war with Britain, lost, and was forced to deliver California to Mexico, Oregon and Washington to Canada, and Florida to Spain, after making peace with the assumption of territorial integrity. No historian today defends Versailles.
[LA replies: Arguments that present Hitler’s intentions as merely nationalist discredit themselves. Indeed, they are so false that they amount to a Holocaust-denial level of falsehood. If all that Hitler wanted was for the German people to have their own united country, why did he invade and conquer all of Poland (in tandem with the USSR), crush it, and herd all three million Polish Jews into ghettos where he began to starve them to death? Even more, why would he have invaded the USSR and immediately begin mass killing its Jews? The “Hitler was only a nationalist” argument is as big a lie as there can be.]
Also, war with the West was tremendously unpopular in Germany, even in 1939. And Hitler was nothing if not a populist. It is even possible that if he’d thought the guarantee to Poland was credible, he would have backed down. It certainly was not made in the most credible possible manner. And it certainly did nothing for the Poles. Hitler was essentially put in a position where his only alternative was peace with humiliation. Of course he was not going to take that. He was Hitler. But it has little bearing on the proposition that he was gearing up to attack Britain and France, let alone the U.S.
[LA replies: Mencius, it is obvious that your reasoning is like that of the Old Isolationists and Libertarians whose reasonable opposition to the Big State that was created by the war against Hitler leads you to the wildly unsound argument that we didn’t need to defeat Hitler, along with all the rationalizatons needed to back up that argument.]
If there is one point on which all American platforms of the ’30s can be faulted, it’s that the U.S. could and should have made a real effort to evacuate the Jews of Central Europe. That was the time for an open-borders policy. Heck, Trujillo in the Dominican Republic wanted as many Jews as we could ship him. For obvious reasons. Only a handful ever got there, more out of State Department inertia and genteel anti-Semitism than anything else. If the America Firsters had made saving the Jews without entering the war a centerpiece of isolationism, I think hindsight could do little to fault them. How many Jews did the war save?
[LA replies: Oh, several million Jews in Europe and Russia, plus all the Jews in North Africa, Palestine, and throughout the Moslem world, all of whom would have been liquidated had Hitler succeeded in conquering Egypt and Palestine as he was trying to do.]
Does Buchanan assert as a certainty that Hitler would not have invaded the West? I don’t know. I haven’t read the book. I wouldn’t come anywhere near that close. My point is just that it’s a historically defensible position to regard Hitler and Stalin as roughly equally murderous, and (more to the point) dangerous to the U.S. I was under the impression that this was Buchanan’s position. If I’m wrong, perhaps he is demented.
I am certainly not defending Hitler. Hitler was a gangster, and we know the depths of evil to which he sunk. And I would be careful not to describe anything but Holocaust denial as “equivalent” to Holocaust denial.
My point about German nationalists has nothing to do with Hitler’s intentions. Let’s agree that Hitler was simply evil. But the Third Reich, despite the propaganda, was not a single cohesive unit operating at Hitler’s whims. It had internal politics. If Hitler had ordered the invasion of Antarctica, it would not have happened. The reason that Hitler could rise to power was that he was aligned with the traditional German right, the remains of the imperial system, whose post-Versailles grievances he played on. He did not have a support base for attacking the West, as he did the East.
This is not a moral condonement of Hitler, or of the Third Reich. It is a practical consideration that was well understood by the people whose job it was to defend the U.S. and Britain from Hitler. Or at least it should have been well understood. My point is that this issue—internal German politics—was a constraint on Hitler, just as real as, say, the Atlantic Ocean. It is possible that he could have overcome both. Or not. My point is just that I don’t think it’s “demented” for Buchanan to view these as solid constraints.
Let’s say that WWII preserved three million out of nine million Jews roughly in Hitler’s orbit. The policy I proposed, benefiting from hindsight of course, could have saved all nine. It’s a matter of historical fact that the State Department and the American and British establishments in general did almost nothing to help Jews escape from Central Europe, and in fact hindered their escape in many ways.
As for tarring the cause of immigration restriction, you might have noticed that people are calling you a neo-Nazi already. Short of adopting the factually incorrect Jonah Goldberg position that Nazism is really a form of leftism, there is no defense for the fact that Nazism was a far-right movement, and the farther you are to the right the closer you are to Hitler.
My view is that as an honorable rightist, this obliges one to have an especially close understanding of Nazism, so that you understand and can explain why Nazism was so evil, why German nationalism so fatally lent its support to this madman, and why your program of American nationalism does not run the same risk. For example, my position on Nazi Germany is very much the same as that of the Prussian nobleman Friedrich Reck-Malleczewen, who was eventually shot by the Nazis. I am also very fond of the Jewish linguist Victor Klemperer, who survived in hiding, and who was also a German nationalist.
We’re so far apart on this that discussion cannot be useful.
You do not grasp that someone who calls Hitler a “gangster” appears to other people to be demonstrating a massive cluelessness and/or denial about the nature of Hitler.
Then you switch and concede for sake of discussion that he was “evil.”’ That is also besides the point. The point is not his abstract moral status. The point is is his desires, his intentions, his nature, the kind of leader he was, the forces that drove him. And to this, you are insensible. All this secondary stuff about the constraining forces within German politics sound like rationalizations and distractions. The primary factor is Hitler’s will, and the fact that Hitler was master of Germany. Everything Hitler did—especially after his successful coups in the Rhineland and Austria and Czechoslovakia silenced the generals, and from point onward his word was absolute—proceeded from his will. He singlehandedly started World War II. He singlehandedly subjected Poland to horror. He singlehandedly initiated. the war of dehumanization and destruction of the Jews. And on and on.
I truly feel that you are unable to see the forest for the trees.
Despite the fact that you’ve probably read many more times about World War II than I have, what is it that lacking on your part, in my opinion? An intuitive, holistic grasp of what Hitler was about.
Also, because of your profound opposition to big government, you tend to gravitate to anything that supports a view of history that would have made the U.S. involvement in the war, and thus the growth of big government, unnecessary.
Simon N. writes:
It seems to me that Buchanan and many others are wrong to conflate Hitler’s policy towards England with Hitler’s policy towards France. German war strategy had long called for knocking out France before attacking Russia, in order (in theory) to avoid a two-front war with both. That’s the strategy the German general staff followed in 1914, and which Hitler likewise followed in May 1940. It seems to me very likely that Germany would have attacked France whatever Churchill did. But the Germany-England situation is quite different. From the German perspective they were natural allies; Germany would have preferred an alliance with Germany controlling continental Europe and England (Britain) retaining her maritime empire, to the benefit of both. This however conflicted with England’s long-term policy (inherited after WW2 by the USA I believe) of preventing a single power from dominating continental Europe. England’s policy had previously been directed against France; as France weakened towards the later 19th century it became directed against Germany. Indeed by all accounts even today the British Foreign Office still retains a policy of allying with France against Germany—a completely obsolete policy since France and Germany since WW2 have had a policy of mutual alliance in order to dominate Europe together. In summary, it seems to me that Buchanan might be partly correct—Britain could have allied with Nazi Germany, disavowed all interest in continental Europe, and retained her empire. But France, and effectively all of continental Europe, would have been lost to Nazism. From a purely selfish point of view, Britain and Churchill made the wrong choice. From the point of view of humanity and civilisation, it seems to me to have been a price worth paying.
In what way is it a compliment to call Hitler a gangster? To be a gangster is to be a criminal. Hitler was a criminal. If I say he’s a super-criminal, is that worse? Fine, he was a super-super-criminal. That still makes him a criminal, and a gangster. And evil.
As for our understandings of the Third Reich, we’ll have to agree to disagree. While I have no professional credentials in “Hitler studies,” and I can’t count the number of books on the period I’ve read, it might be fifty. I suppose that’s more embarrassing than anything else, but it’s the truth.
If I’m being unfair, I apologize. but my sense is that you do not have a sense of the daimonic. And the daimonic was what Hitler was about.
Calling him a “criminal,” of whatever scale, is not ultimately the right word. The right word, from Plato’s Republic, Book VIII and IX, is tyrant. But Plato discusses the psychology of the tyrant in a different way from everyone else. It is someone who places no limit on his desires, whose waking life is like a dream, because, as in a dream, he can have and realize and do whatever he wants.
Combine that psychology with Hitler’s particular drive and hatred and nihilism, and combine it also with his plans to depopulate the Slavic countries, to reduce the British to slavery, and with his plan to conquer the Mideast, and of course kill the Jews of Palestine, and on and on and on, and what you start to understand is that he would not have stopped anywhere.
The notion that Hitler was rational at his core is profoundly, disastrously mistaken.
Steve D. writes:
It seems to me the weak point in Buchanan’s argument is the assumption that Britain went to war to protect Poland. In fact, Poland was no more than a test case. By that time, it had become apparent to everyone that Hitler’s Germany was a danger to peace, and that their territorial ambitions must be stopped. Britain’s guarantee to Poland was intended as a warning to Hitler that Britain was serious about stopping those ambitions—the idea being that if Hitler resorted to force anyway, knowing that such action would mean war with the western Allies, it would constitute proof that there was no longer any possibility of living in peace with Germany—and that the Allies might as well get started on the business of stopping them while there was still a chance of success.
[LA replies: this is an excellent point that makes mincemeat of the notion that it was simply about defending Poland. The idea is, Hitler had repeatedly said of each seizure of land that THIS was the last, that Germany’s ambitions were NOW satisfied. So when he violated the Munich agreement by occupying the rump of Czechoslovakia, the lesson was, NOTHING will satisfy Hitler’s ambitions, he will keep taking and taking until he is stopped. So the line had to be drawn. It wasn’t about Poland primarily, it was about saying “No more.” This explanation returns us to a correct perspective on the lead-up to the war that Buchanan’s tendentious account obscures.]
Now, it’s true that Hitler thought the British guarantee was a bluff, and that neither Britain nor France would actually go to war over the Polish issue. But it’s also true that once war was declared, Hitler welcomed the clarification, and made plans to take the offensive in the West as soon as possible. There was, in fact, no living in peace with Germany so long as the Nazis were in power. Britain did not throw away her Empire on an irrational policy—she lost the Empire as the price of being willing to save Europe from a demonic regime.
There is certainly much to criticize in the way the Allies actually handled the war—in particular, the way that Roosevelt was outmaneuvered by Stalin in both Europe and Asia, thus consigning scores of millions of innocents to death under Communism. But to call the war unnecessary is to say essentially nothing about it. In a sense, ALL wars are unnecessary. They happen only because an aggressor decides they will happen. The Second World War happened because Hitler decided to invade Poland—an unnecessary act. He could have decided otherwise, but he didn’t—and the decision was his, not Chamberlain’s, and certainly not Churchill’s. Once the invasion started, however, the war for the Poles became not only necessary, but crucial. It very quickly became crucial for the rest of Europe. If Britain was the first to realize that truth, and act in the only way they could to forestall the disaster, they are more to be congratulated than condemned.
Jeff in England writes:
Your most recent entry on Buchanan where you point out to a reader/commenter that the reader’s term for Hitler, “gangster,” hardly reflects the demonic nature of Hitler really MOVED me.
With all due respect to your excellent writing, I think it was the first time your writing ever affected me as it did.
Don’t thank me, thank Plato. His account of the downward course of the city in Republic Book VIII and IX, culminating in tyranny, is one of the supreme achievements of human genius, taking us into the depths. Once you’ve read Plato, the notion of Hitler as a gangster becomes inadequate.
I wonder if Jeff could tell us what it was that particularly moved him about my comment, since it strikes me as basically intellectual and analytical, not emotional.
Also, I want to explain the difference between the conventional view of how freedom leads to tyranny, and Plato’s view.
The conventional view is simple: too much freedom leads to chaos, and a strong leader is needed to impose his will on society and restore order.
Plato’s idea is entirely different. In the democratic stage of the polis as described by Plato, men can do as they please. Every kind of desire is liberated and not restrained. Democracy then changes to tyranny when the man with the most powerful and most unrestrained desires emerges and takes over.
Thus, instead of tyranny being needed to suppress the chaos brought on by an excess of freedom, as in the conventional account of tyranny, tyranny in Plato’s account arises as an extreme outgrowth of the excess of freedom. Plato’s tyrant is the man who is the most “free,” i.e., the most unrestrained.
I see this. But I see it in Lenin and Stalin, too, and probably also in Napoleon. Napoleon was a nicer guy, perhaps, but the drive is the same. And then there are the really Oriental oriental despots—Tamerlane, Genghis Khan, etc. Conquest and mass murder are not exceptional in history.
I don’t think anyone really understands Hitler as a person. He never let himself be understood. I find Lothar Machtan’s version of Hitler as a homosexual fairly convincing, but this is about as far as it gets with the secret Hitler. I certainly would not treat him as rational.
And Himmler, too, was a very nasty person, as well as many others in the SS. But this is a different thing from saying that it was not possible for statesmen outside Nazi Germany to manage it. Only after his attempted assassination and the failed coup in 1944, for example, was Hitler able to really purge the Wehrmacht of officers he knew perfectly well were opposed to him and even plotting against him. I was just reading a book of letters between a German officer—actually a historian who was drafted and served as a clerk in France, Albert Hoemberg—and his Canadian wife, who was trapped in Germany. The husband would say all kinds of bad things about the Nazis in his letters home, delivered by military post. The alliance between Hitler and the old Prussian system was not entirely one-sided. And if Hitler had lost both popular support and the support of the military, he was a dead man.
This was an internal limitation. And there should have been external ones, too. The classical, pre-liberal approach of international law was to set extremely firm red lines, go ape when they were crossed, and always stop the war when the loser learned his lesson. Instead the West dealt with the Third Reich the way bad parents deal with a bad teenager. At first the Allies’ bark was stronger than their bite, and later they played to kill rather than to win.
I think the best summary of WWII I’ve read is in the book Wedemeyer Reports, by Albert Wedemeyer, who was George Marshall’s chief strategist and later replaced Stilwell in China. Wedemeyer spent a couple of years at the Prussian Staff College, so he was not considered entirely trustworthy back home, and he also had friends in the America First circle. Despite this he did a fine job of fighting the Nazis. In many ways Wedemeyer and Buchanan have the same interpretation, but I find Wedemeyer a much more trustworthy source. He also steers an excellent middle course between the liberal establishment and the Birchers.
Again I think you are focusing on secondary and even tertiary matters and missing the primary matter: namely Hitler, what he was, what he wanted, what he would have done to the world if he could. We don’t have to delve deeply into the details of his personal psychology to understand this. The thing to grasp is his will to dominate, to keep expanding his power, and to destroy everything he hated, which was most of the world. So he would not have stopped at some convenient point that you consider rational. Chamberlain came to understand this essential fact about Hitler in March 1939. But you and Buchanan and the Buchananites, 70 years later, have still not grasped what even the appeaser Chamberlain grasped. As far as you’re concerned, Chamberlain should not have stopped being an appeaser, he should have kept on appeasing to the end, so that in June 1940, with Hitler overrunning France, Prime Minister Chamberlain (the war-monger Churchill having been kept out of power) should have said to the House of Commons:
Even though large tracts of Europe and many old and famous states have fallen or may fall into the grip of the Gestapo and all the odious apparatus of Nazi rule, we shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end. We shall appease in France, we shall appease on the seas and oceans, we shall appease with growing alacrity and growing cowardice in the air, we shall surrender the whole of Europe to Hitler and beg him to let us keep our Island, whatever the cost may be; and even if, which I do not for a moment believe, Hitler breaks his promise and attempts to subjugate this Island or a large part of it, we shall go on to the end. We shall appease on the beaches; we shall appease on the landing grounds, we shall appease in the fields and in the streets; we shall appease in the hills; we shall never fight.
Unfair, you will say, since you are not proposing that Britain should have surrendered itself to Hitler. But your proposal is tantamount to that, since letting Hitler dominate all of Europe from the Atlantic to Moscow, from the Mediterranean to the Arctic circle, leaving only Britain free, would have left Britain a helpless toady under Hitler’s thumb, a powerless Island off the coast of Nazi Europe. And you and Buchanan think, even assuming Hitler had kept his agreement and not attacked Britain and its empire, that this would have been tolerable and sustainable. But even if he had kept it (which, as I have explained, I do not for a moment believe), all of European civilization would have been destroyed, its peoples reduced to slavery at best, liquidated at worst, with Hitler and Japan dominating all of Europe, Asia, and the Pacific. And Buchanan and all his paleocon supporters believe this would have been tolerable, and they think that this is the world order that Britain and America should have accepted and been satisfied with, and that it was the most calamitous error in history that they did not accept it.
I don’t need to condemn this view and the scale of values that supports it. It condemns itself.
Mencius, somehow unvanquished by my last comment, replies:
I think of the policy I’m recommending, with hindsight of course, is actually the direct opposite of appeasement.
Appeasement allowed Nazi Germany to remain uncertain about whether Great Britain would defend the Rhineland, Austria, Czechoslovakia, Poland, and perhaps even (as you suggest) France. When Hitler, personally, said that Great Britain would not defend Czechoslovakia, his general staff laughed at him and was actually prepared to overthrow him, and he turned out to be right, Nazi Germany became all that much more dangerous. The answers turned out to be no, no, no, yes in theory and no in practice, and yes, but no one in 1935 could have been sure of that.
Think of the Third Reich, or any aggressor, as a cancer. Every time you reward aggression, the cancer becomes more malignant. Appeasement delivers a succession of rewards. A sharp smack on the nose in 1936 when the Rhineland was retaken would have ended Hitler and his regime. By the time Poland had been conquered, without any military effort by Britain and France to defend it, Hitler was far more in control of the Nazi war machine, and the Third Reich probably did need to be destroyed—although the policy of demanding unconditional surrender was still, as Wedemeyer points out, unwise.
Britain should never have given security guarantees that were weak or ineffective. If Poland, Czechoslovakia, Austria and France had known that they were on their own, they would have been determined to defend themselves. Poland and Czechoslovakia, for example, would have made an ideal defense league. Instead Poland even participated in the final partition of Czechoslovakia. Even without local security partnerships, a smaller country can deter a larger one by its willingness to become hypermilitarized, like Israel. The Czechs, the Poles, the Austrians and the French, though each smaller than Germany, were all economically capable of defending themselves against Nazi Germany—at the price of committing a larger percentage of their GDP to arms. Note that Switzerland, for example, took this approach, and quite successfully too.
Instead, the Central European states counted on their big brothers overseas. This is even true of Britain, which was far too reliant on American assistance for her own security. The result was that Central Europe was devastated, and Britain lost her empire and became an American satellite. Plans can always be judged by comparing intent to outcome, and this was certainly an outcome intended by few Britons.
This whole British approach was the logical endpoint of a century of misguided foreign policy in which Britain felt free to take a side in every Continental quarrel no matter how distant or irrelevant. It is impossible to argue, for example, that Britain had any real national interest in protecting the Ottoman Empire from Russia (the cause of the Crimean War). Essentially, the Foreign Office got into the habit of making work for itself by creating flimsy, bogus, ambiguous and informal protectorates, disrupting the basic principle of sovereignty in which every independent state must be responsible for defending itself from all comers.
Of course, the U.S. today has extended this principle to the nth degree, in our policy of “aid the world, invade the world, invite the world.” I do believe we agree that all three arms of this octopus should be cut off at once. The only reason for the U.S. to have a foreign policy today is to deter potential aggressors from even thinking about attacking us.
An interesting argument. But as I remember, Czechoslovakia was not merely helpless, but was an armed state with many divisions and a mountainous region bordering Germany that was ideal for defense. Yet the Czechs felt they could not stand alone against Germany, and, without France’s and England’s backing, they felt they had no choice but to yield to Hitler and gave up the Sudetenland.
Chris L. writes:
Mencius writes: “The classical, pre-liberal approach of international law was to set extremely firm red lines, go ape when they were crossed, and always stop the war when the loser learned his lesson. Instead the West dealt with the Third Reich the way bad parents deal with a bad teenager. At first the Allies’ bark was stronger than their bite, and later they played to kill rather than to win.”
What was Poland other than a firm red line? If Hitler had immediately left Poland once France and Britain declared war and mobilized their forces, doesn’t it stand to reason that France and Britain would have negotiated a quick peace? At that point, no one was calling for Germany’s unconditional surrender. Therefore, saying that the Allies were playing to kill is wrong. Hitler was playing to kill which is why the Allies spent a lot of time barking a lot. They thought it was the old game where agreements would be kept for the most part. After Hitler broke the Treaty of Versailles and Munich, the Allies realized that armed force was the only way to stop him.
“The alliance between Hitler and the old Prussian system was not entirely one-sided. And if Hitler had lost both popular support and the support of the military, he was a dead man.”
This argument is worthless. The officer corps never acted until 1944 and when it did act it was a bumbling mess. They may have groused a lot, but that isn’t true resistance. When the Germans were winning, the corps was perfectly happy to go along because the glory of the German military had returned. Once it became obvious they were going to lose the war, only a small handful were willing to act. By 1940, Hitler had effectively neutralized the officer corps. Claiming it as a balancing force doesn’t mean much after that.
Both of these arguments show the problems of the reasoning of Buchanan and Mencius. They take certain facts, the Allies call for unconditional surrender and the German officer corps dislike of Hitler, and place them in the wrong timelines. The Allies didn’t call for German unconditional surrender until later in the war. The German officer corps could have stopped Hitler up until the successful conquest of France. After that, Hitler held absolute power.
In this sort of debate one gets the impression that no matter what the Allies did they were wrong in the eyes of Buchanan and his followers.
I agree with Chris’s last sentence. Mencius reminds me of a leftist I knew, who, whatever the historic war under discussion, had a “scenario” in mind by which that war could have been avoided. All war was wrong to her, therefore there was not a single war in history that she would admit simply had to be fought. I think Mencius is like that with regard to World War II. The war deeply offends him, therefore he cannot admit a reality in which the war simply had to be fought, so he keeps coming up with scenarios by which it could have been avoided. Not that there’s anything wrong with asking how could things in the past have been done things differently, and constructing alternative histories.
“I wonder if Jeff could tell us what it was that particularly moved him about my comment, since it strikes me as basically intellectual and analytical, not emotional.”
Perhaps it was the fact that you were fighting against the acceptance of Hitler as rational. In other words you were fighting on the written page against actual EVIL. That’s what was evoked. Even if that is not what you exactly meant. That Hitler happened to have killed specifically Jews (of course I am Jewish) in huge numbers may be part of it though I think less than you might think. He was subconsciously intent on destroying not only Jews, not only the West, not only mankind, but God Him/Herself.
I am moved by even the most banal crucifixion of Jesus scenes, often to the point of tears. While I wasn’t at the point of tears, something similar was evoked here.
Your commenter wasn’t even some horrible person. Not a Nazi or anything remotely like that. Simply deluded and naive.
I thank Jeff for this. It is good explanation. I think he is right about what I was saying. I was arguing against placing Hitler in some ordinary, familiar, delimited framework. Hitler was not ordinary. He was not de-limited. He wouldn’t have stopped anywhere. That’s what some people fail to grasp.
And, to throw in the other half of Buchanan’s double delusion which was the original subject of this entry, the same is true of Islam. Islam has no principle of ultimate limitation. Its aim is nothing less than the Islamization of the earth, and the conversion or death of all non-Muslims—particularly, on the last day, the Jews, when even the stones and trees will cry out, “Oh Muslim, there is a Jew hiding behind me. Kill him.”
At the same time, though, unlike Nazism, Islam is not in a compulsive rush (which is why I call Muhammad a successful Hitler) and it has non-aggressive modes of behavior possible to it, if it is forced into them by some outside power. Therefore, unlike in the case of Nazism, sufficient defense against Islam only requires that it be driven back, disempowered, contained, and quarantined, not utterly destroyed.
LA writes to Simon N.:
It seems to me that Buchanan and many others are wrong to conflate Hitler’s policy towards England with Hitler’s policy towards France. German war strategy had long called for knocking out France before attacking Russia, in order (in theory) to avoid a two-front war with both…. It seems to me very likely that Germany would have attacked France whatever Churchill did. But the Germany-England situation is quite different…. In summary, it seems to me that Buchanan might be partly correct—Britain could have allied with Nazi Germany, disavowed all interest in continental Europe, and retained her empire. But France, and effectively all of continental Europe, would have been lost to Nazism.
So in that scenario, England makes peace with Germany, accepts its domination of the continent, and in that case Germany does not invade Africa?
Simon N. replies:
That’s what I’d expect. Of course Germany would expect to regain her pre WW1 colonial possessions. And a successful Third Reich dominating Europe would have worked hard to bring Britain and America into line with Nazi ideology, just as she brought Italian Fascism into line with Nazi ideology and as Soviet Russia worked to bring the West into line with Communist ideology. So Britain and America would not have remained pure unsullied exemplars of Anglo-Saxon democracy; the prestige and power of Nazism would I think have gradually brought us into the Nazi orbit, even though Germany probably would not have attacked us. I guess this doesn’t bother Buchanan, but it certainly bothers me.
Alan Levine writes:
Saw your discussion with Mencius only today. I thought your and others’ arguments with Mencius were excellent. I would add the following miscellaneous points:
1) Apart from the point I have made before about Hitler’s actual plans in 1937 to 1939, to knock out the Western Europeans before going after the Soviets; the Nazis, and even non-Nazis like Admiral Raeder, always looked forward to eventual war with the British and the Americans, sometime, as is shown by the plans for a naval buildup, which were pursued before the war and even when Hitler expected Britain to make peace in 1940.
The idea that his aims were limited to Eastern Europe has long been shown to be a fallacy, by Weinberg and others.
2) It is not true that no one defends the Versailles treaty, however unwise it was. And, however unwise, it was not worse than the peace that ended the Franco-Prussian war or that the Germans would have imposed had they won the First World War.
3) Czechoslovakia was not formed out of or given territories that had belonged to Germany before WWI.
4) It, and the other Central and Eastern European countries, were allies of France, not Britain, much less being puppets of either. The British notoriously disliked the French alliances in the region.
4) Contrary to Mencius’s implications, the America Firsters were not particularly anti-Communist, nor were their ideas based on some sort of recognition of the Soviet threat. Like most people before late 1941, they expected a German-Soviet war to be quickly won by the Germans, and did not rate Soviet power highly.
5) Arguments about the fate of the European Jews, in judging prewar issues as they were seen BEFORE the war, are arguably neither here nor there. That might seem a strange thing to say, especially from a Jewish man, but very few people EXPECTED the Nazis to exterminate the Jews, and even those who did tended to think they would wait until they had won the war.
The appeasers failed to defend even their own countries and peoples; so arguing about what they should have done about the Jews seems to me to have little point!
6) Something about what Mencius said leads me to think that he places exaggerated credence in the more extreme criticism of American policy toward Jewish refugees before the war. In fact, despite some sabotage and hostility, at least one-quarter and probably considerably more of the German Jewish population found refuge here.
It so happens that I have been typing up the first chapter of my next book on WWII, and have attached a section here you might find useful in these arguments.
Did you see Simon N.’s point, that Hitler had plans in the ’30s to knock out France, but not Britain? Does that affect your view of the Buchanan argument?
Also, a key point is not clear to me. Does Buchanan say that Hitler, absent a British declaration of war, would have left all of Western Europe alone, and therefore Britain should have avoided war with Germany? Or does Buchanan say that Hitler would only have left Britain alone, and therefore Britain should have avoided war with Germany?
A correspondent writes (June 15):
This from an e-pal…
R___, don’t you know that Pat Buchanan lost a very dear uncle in a concentration camp? The man fell off the guard’s tower…
As someone who has never called Buchanan an anti-Semite, for the simple reason that he has never said anything attacking Jews as Jews, I nevertheless find this pretty funny.
And how can Buchanan object to such cracks, given that he says that he not only would have had no problem with the permanent Nazi domination of Europe, but that he even sees the permanent Nazi domination of Europe as preferable to the defeat of the Nazis?
I had no desire to launch into more attacks of Buchanan, but with the positions he takes, which are not only terrible in themselves, but so harmful to the conservative movement, he simply makes it impossible not to attack him.
The only way I can explain it—and I said the same thing six years ago—is that he really does have a profound problem with Jews which he has never expressed openly and directly, but which comes out in his various positions on Israel, Hitler, Islam, and so on. When we remember his Islam apologetics, and his position that we must “win the hearts and minds” of Muslims, and his excuses for Muslim terrorists who mass murder Jews and seek the destruction of Israel, and his constantly expressed hostility to Israel as a country, and his policy recommendation for a one-state solution that would mean the instant extinction of the Jewish state, as well as his advocacy—stated in a few pages in his 1999 book A Republic Not an Empire and as the central thesis of his new book—that Britain and America should have allowed Hitler to control all of Europe, what is the one common element we find in all these positions? Harm to the Jews.
I wish this weren’t true. I’ve written a lot against Buchanan on this in the past, and it hasn’t exactly won me friends on the paleo right, and I’d much rather not be attacking once again a fellow immigration restrictionist. But Buchanan’s own obsessions make it impossible to not to conclude that he is driven by a twisted reaction against the Jewish people.
Here’s an attempt to explain it. When I read Buchanan’s first book, Right from the Beginning, back in 1988, I was very disappointed to find that instead of having coherent, thought-out positions, he basically had a lot of emotional likes and dislikes, mostly picked up from his family and his growing up years—his Catholic loyalty, his adolescent affection for “Tail Gunner Joe” McCarthy, and various other things, and that these emotions constituted his conservatism. Everything—even his Catholicism—was expressed in terms of feelings and loyalties, not in terms of truth and principle.
Well, we know that Buchanan’s father was anti-Semitic, and we know that Buchanan followed along with his older brothers when they beat up Jewish kids. Therefore, just as Buchanan imbibed other feelings and values from his family that stayed with him through life, it’s a fair guess that he picked up his father’s and brother’s anti-Semitism, and it has stayed with him through life, and is coming out more and more as he gets older.
My point is that his animosity toward the Jews is not a thought out position. If it were a thought-out position, he would have expressed it, since no person, especially a writer, could go through his whole life never saying something that he strongly believes. Rather, it’s a feeling, a negative attitude toward the Jewish people (not, I believer, toward Jews as individuals), a conviction that the Jews always cause “us” problems,—such as supposedly leading us to oppose Hitler more than was good for us, such as getting us caught up in the problems of Israel, such as making Muslims dislike us since we’re friends with Israel—and the sum result of these feelings is his tendency never to side with the Jewish people, but always to take the side of their enemies.
If what I’ve said is untrue, Buchanan is free to show me where I’m wrong.
Looking through the ever longer thread on Buchanan’s inane and insane latest book, and Mencius Moldbug’s ever odder digressions, I found myself wondering this simple question:
“Am I the only person who ever read “Mein Kampf”?”
Look, it’s in there. It’s all in there: what Hitler intended to do with power, how his desires for remolding not just German society but humanity itself had no limits, and so forth. It is clear enough to me that had Hitler been able to do so, once the Jews and the Senta/Romany people (“Gypsies”) were destroyed, the Poles were next in order that Hitler’s “Aryans” would have plenty of lebensraum for the future.
I repeat: it’s in there. Yes, “Mein Kampf” is turgid, no matter which translation one looks at, because that’s how Hitler wrote. Yes, there are a myriad side issues, distractions, private score-settlings, “he said/he said” arguments, etc. that make the book tedious to read as well.
But Hitler really made no secret of his intentions. The book is available in any college library. A careful reading of it, along with Shirer’s “The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich,” arguably ought to be prerequisites to any serious discussion.
And I am not convinced that Buchanan, or Moldbug for that matter, have actually read the primary source that is “Mein Kampf.”
P.S.: The ongoing popularity of Hitler’s book, called “My Jihad” or something similar, in Palestinian and Turkish shops, ought to give Buchanan and his supporters pause. Unhappily, it does not appear to do so.
I read an abridged version of Mein Kampf when I was in my teens. I’ve owned the Shirer all my life, and re-read it a few years ago. It really holds up. A rare combination of high quality and accessibility. And Shirer was not even a historian by background, he was a reporter.
Charles M. writes:
I haven’t read PB’s latest book and don’t plan to. But from what I hear, it says what a lot of my WW2 era relatives said when they called it “Roosevelt’s War”. They weren’t Nazis, rather they were small town Republicans who saw no reason to prefer Stalin’s cause to Hitler’s or Hitler’s to Stalin’s. They admired the British for their valor and steadfastness but thought them heroic fools, who exchanged world power for bankrupt dependency. The term “cost/benefit analysis” probably hadn’t been invented yet, but that’s what they were driving at, I think. Mind you, I wasn’t alive at the time, so maybe these uncles and great uncles were rearranging their recollections to take credit for predicting how things turned out.
Still, most of them were vets and served and fought, albeit unenthusiastically. That alone entitles them to be heard. Perhaps Buchanan is their unworthy messenger.
I really doubt that small town Republicans during World War II were thinking that way. I think once we were in the war, there was complete unanimity on the need to defeat Hitler. Yes, I’m sure the more conservative types were unhappy about our excessively close alliance with Stalin, which was highly objectionable. But that’s not the same thing as saying that they thought we should be fighting Stalin INSTEAD of Hitler.
And I think it’s impossible that any of them were saying, during the war, and unlikely that any of them were saying for many years after it, that the British were “heroic fools, who exchanged world power for bankrupt dependency.”
Charles M. replies:
Ah, but they did say such things. I heard them. And whether they actually spoke so while the bullets were flying and the messerschmidts strafing or years later in rueful hindsight doesn’t matter. (Although an amusing piece of family oral history suggests the former)
Posted by Lawrence Auster at June 14, 2008 08:45 AM | Send
No contradiction here really. That it’s always better to win your wars than lose them, even the stupid and wrong-headed ones, seems a reasonable and prudent stance to me. So these senior relatives of mine held their noses and did their duty. My country, right or wrong….
So we can dismiss Buchanan as a loon for laying profane hands on certain sacred truths; can we vets who actually had to do the fighting? Were there many such in the Greatest Generation who thought it to be the greatest waste of time? Who knows? There’s no Gallup in the hereafter to sample opinion.
But your reply is interesting and thought-provoking, as always.