A Surprising Critique of World War II

Patrick J. Buchanan. Churchill, Hitler, and “The Unnecessary War”: How Britain Lost Its Empire and the West Lost the World. Crown Publishers, 2008.

This is a surprising book, at least to me. I’ve not read much of Pat Buchanan’s stuff. I know him mainly by reputation—a speechwriter for Richard Nixon, self-labeled paleo-conservative, critic of empire, quasi-isolationist, third party presidential candidate in 2000 whose candidacy would have cost George Bush the election had the votes in Florida been accurately counted. And, now, a sharp critic of America and British involvement in World War II.

Buchanan surely is not a pacifist, but there is little here that wouldn’t give the reader the impression that he leans in that direction. He does not come across as a Nazi sympathizer. He greatly dislikes Winston Churchill (with good reason) and Joseph Stalin (also with good reason). One does sense a somewhat extreme hatred of Soviet communism, but this antipathy does not come directly to the surface very often.

Buchanan is not a professional historian—a fact that probably works more in his favor than against him. It’s just that the reader must recognize that what this book gives us is a somewhat speculative essay on what didn’t have to be with numerous historical illustrations (not an exercise in careful archival research tested with professional historian peers). However, the strength of the book is the clarity of its argument which is not overly burdened with qualifications, or with careful delineation of minute arguments, or with “on the one hand/on the other hand” summaries. Certainly, Buchanan’s points need to be viewed cautiously and should stimulate further efforts on the interested reader’s part to test them against the evidence and other opinions. But that’s all to the good.

In a nutshell, Buchanan suggests that Great Britain should not have gone to war against Nazi Germany—which would have meant that the United States would not have gone to war with Germany either. If this had happened (or, rather, not happened), Germany and the Soviets would basically have ground each other to dust, the British Empire would not have disintegrated so quickly, and—probably most important for Buchanan’s purposes—the United States would not have succumbed to the hubris of striving to be the world’s one superpower and followed its current path to self-destruction.

Buchanan’s agenda is surely different than mine. As a Christian pacifist, I am pretty suspicious of Buchanan’s style of American-first patriotism. However, I am willing to walk quite a ways down the path he articulates in this book outlining the hugely problematic dynamics of the American and British participation in World War II and the disastrous consequences (for American democracy and the well-being of millions of victims of American imperialism in the past 65 years) of the aftermath of that war.

So, I am grateful to Buchanan for this stimulating and mostly well-written book. I recommend it, only now I have to figure out if I dare cite it when I try to articulate some of my critical views about World War II and its consequences.

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