As I mentioned the other day, September 1 marked the 70th anniversary of the Nazi invasion of Poland and the “official” start of World War II. I say “official’ because the invasion of Poland marked the beginning of a true shooting war in Europe after a long period of escalating tensions and increasingly brazen provocations by the Nazi regime, culminating in March 1939 with its invasion of what parts of Czechoslovakia Britain and France hadn’t already given it in the Munich Agreement from the prior year. Because of mutual defense pacts signed earlier, which declared that an attack on any of the three signatories (Poland, Britain, and France), Hitler’s invasion drew Britain and France into war with Germany. Both dutifully declared war 70 years ago today, on September 3, 1939, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Well, at least if you care about history.
If you’re Pat Buchanan, of course, you never let a little thing like history stop you from a good opportunity to try to paint Hitler as being on OK guy and to explain how Adolf Hitler didn’t really want war and he was just a poor, misunderstood guy forced to fight by those nefarious Allies, who were unreasonable and wouldn’t give him what he wanted. Sadly, Buchanan never misses an opportunity to try to convince people that Hitler was really not interested in war, and the 70th anniversary of the invasion of Poland provides him with yet another opportunity to do just that–again–with an article entitled Did Hitler Want War? After slapping down a particularly stupid Holocaust denier the other day, I hadn’t planned on writing about Holocaust denial again for a while. Little did I know that I’d end up seeing the big macher of Hitler apologia launching into another of his nonsensical and ahistorical tracts:
On Sept. 1, 1939, 70 years ago, the German Army crossed the Polish frontier. On Sept. 3, Britain declared war.
Six years later, 50 million Christians and Jews had perished. Britain was broken and bankrupt, Germany a smoldering ruin. Europe had served as the site of the most murderous combat known to man, and civilians had suffered worse horrors than the soldiers.
By May 1945, Red Army hordes occupied all the great capitals of Central Europe: Vienna, Prague, Budapest, Berlin. A hundred million Christians were under the heel of the most barbarous tyranny in history: the Bolshevik regime of the greatest terrorist of them all, Joseph Stalin.
What cause could justify such sacrifices?
Gee, I get the feeling that Buchanan is about to argue that World War II wasn’t worth the sacrifices it took to destroy the Third Reich, don’t you? Also, note the clever way he describes the people who perished. He doesn’t say “50 million people had perished.” Rather, he said “50 million Christians and Jews [emphasis mine] had perished.” It’s a non-so-subtle ploy among those who don’t much like Jews to try to remind people that, you know, Hitler killed Christians, too. In fact, given that Hitler “only” killed six million Jews, that means Christians must have taken the brunt of Hitler’s fury. In terms of sheer numbers, there’s no doubt that most of the dead were Christian. However, as a percentage of prewar population, the number of Jewish dead far outstrips any other group, mainly because Hitler meant what he said when he proclaimed the Jew the mortal enemy of the Reich and promised a war of extermination. No doubt Pat would say I’m being unfair, but I don’t think so. If he didn’t mean to minimize Jewish suffering during World War II, why did he make such a point of saying “Christians and Jews” instead of just “people”?
Consider the context, as well. Buchanan goes on to describe how Danzig was a flashpoint of conflict between Germany and Poland leading up to the war. He apparently can’t understand the difference between what Hitler said was the reason for his invasion of Poland and what was really behind the invasion. Here’s Buchanan’s highly one-sided version of the Danzig conflict:
The German-Polish war had come out of a quarrel over a town the size of Ocean City, Md., in summer. Danzig, 95 percent German, had been severed from Germany at Versailles in violation of Woodrow Wilson’s principle of self-determination. Even British leaders thought Danzig should be returned.
Why did Warsaw not negotiate with Berlin, which was hinting at an offer of compensatory territory in Slovakia? Because the Poles had a war guarantee from Britain that, should Germany attack, Britain and her empire would come to Poland’s rescue.
But why would Britain hand an unsolicited war guarantee to a junta of Polish colonels, giving them the power to drag Britain into a second war with the most powerful nation in Europe?
Was Danzig worth a war? Unlike the 7 million Hong Kongese whom the British surrendered to Beijing, who didn’t want to go, the Danzigers were clamoring to return to Germany.
Apparently Pat never read Mein Kampf. Either that, or, more likely, he did read it but, as so many fundamentalists do with the Bible, decided to ignore the bits he didn’t like. While it is true that Hitler fantasized about an alliance with Britain, which he admired, Mein Kampf laid out a stepwise progression for Germany’s return to power. This was referred to by one of the translators of Mein Kampf as the Stufenplan (stage-by-stage plan). The first step was to form alliances with Britain and Italy; the second step was to wage war on France and its Eastern European allies, the most prominent of which was Poland; and the third step was to invade destroy the “Judeo-Bolshevist” regime in Russia and thereby obtain Lebensraum (“living space”) for the German volk.
It also just so happens that I’m in the midst of reading Richard J. Evans’ magisterial three volume history of the Third Reich. Here is a telling passage from the second volume, The Third Reich in Power, describing the buildup to war in Poland:
On 23 May 1939 Hitler told military leaders, including Göring, Halder, and Raeder, that “further successes cannot be won without bloodshed.”
“It is not Danzig that is at stake,” he went on. “For us it is a matter of expanding our living-space to the east and making food supplies secure…If fate forces us into a showdown with the West it is a good idea to possess a largish area in the East. It was necessary, therefore, to attack Poland at the first suitable opportunity. Hitler conceded that Britain and France might come to Poland’s aid. “England is therefore our enemy and the showdown with England is a matter of life and death.” If possible, Poland would perish alone and unaided. But in the longer run, war with England and France was inevitable. “England is the motive force driving against Germany.” It was to be hoped that such a war would be short. But it was well to prepare, he said, for a war lasting ten to fifteen years. “Time will decide against England.” If Holland, Belgium, and France were occupied, English cities bombed, and overseas supplies cut off by a maritime and airborne blockade, England would bleed to death. However, Germany would probably not be ready of the conflict for another five years he added. German policy in 1939 therefore had to isolate Poland as far as possible and to ensure that the coming military action did not lead immediately to a general European war.
Indeed, by March 1939, Hitler had already mostly decided upon invading Poland. He had even set the date for August or September 1939. Then he cleverly set about trying to isolate Poland. The most cynical part of his strategy was the Nazi-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact, which was negotiated and signed in August 1939. Part of that pact was a secret protocol whereby, if Stalin didn’t interfere with Hitler’s conquest of Poland, he would get the Baltic States (Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania), and Poland was to be divided between the two nations along the Narew, Vistula, and San rivers. Thus, when Hitler invaded on September 1, 1939, the Soviet Union did nothing; nothing, that is, until September 17, when it invaded Poland from the East.
But in Pat’s world, Lebensraum means nothing. Hitler’s proclamations, dating back to the 1920s, that Germany needed Lebensraum in the East mean nothing. No, it was those nasty Poles’ fault for not turning Danzig over to Hitler, and it was those horrible Brits’ and Frogs’ fault for being pissed off at having been played the fools at Munich a year earlier and therefore not wanting to give in to Hitler any more. How unreasonable! It couldn’t possibly be that Hitler used Danzig as one (of several) pretexts for invading Poland, at least not to Pat! It couldn’t possibly have been that the Nazi Party in Danzig had been staging incidents and violence for propaganda value, could it? Perish the thought! It couldn’t possibly be that Goebbels had grotesquely exaggerated stories of oppression by the Poles, in which Poles were allegedly murdering ethnic Germans or even shooting at random passers-by, were fiction, could it? Not to Pat. Pat apparently can’t believe that Hitler would never lie about such things. Or anything, for that matter, apparently.
After all, Hitler had been such a nice guy to Czechoslovakia. Pat tells us so:
After Munich in 1938, Czechoslovakia did indeed crumble and come apart. Yet consider what became of its parts.
The Sudeten Germans were returned to German rule, as they wished. Poland had annexed the tiny disputed region of Teschen, where thousands of Poles lived. Hungary’s ancestral lands in the south of Slovakia had been returned to her. The Slovaks had their full independence guaranteed by Germany. As for the Czechs, they came to Berlin for the same deal as the Slovaks, but Hitler insisted they accept a protectorate.
Now one may despise what was done, but how did this partition of Czechoslovakia manifest a Hitlerian drive for world conquest?
My goodness, Pat sure does like the straw men. By 1938, it wasn’t world conquest by Germany that European leaders were worried about but rather European conquest, a not unreasonable fear at all, particularly given that all it took was reading Hitler’s book to know that, at least in Eastern Europe, he wanted space and lots of it. Indeed, one reason that Stalin agreed to a non-aggression pact with Hitler was because he knew war was likely but feared that the Red Army was in no shape to face the Third Reich. In other words, Stalin was playing for time. And if he got a little taste of eastern Poland to absorb into his empire, well, that was just an added bonus.
Buchanan also confuses military incompetence with not wanting war:
But if Hitler was out to conquer the world — Britain, Africa, the Middle East, the United States, Canada, South America, India, Asia, Australia — why did he spend three years building that hugely expensive Siegfried Line to protect Germany from France? Why did he start the war with no surface fleet, no troop transports and only 29 oceangoing submarines? How do you conquer the world with a navy that can’t get out of the Baltic Sea?
If Hitler wanted the world, why did he not build strategic bombers, instead of two-engine Dorniers and Heinkels that could not even reach Britain from Germany?
Why did he let the British army go at Dunkirk?
Why did he offer the British peace, twice, after Poland fell, and again after France fell?
Why, when Paris fell, did Hitler not demand the French fleet, as the Allies demanded and got the Kaiser’s fleet? Why did he not demand bases in French-controlled Syria to attack Suez? Why did he beg Benito Mussolini not to attack Greece?
Ethan Porter addresses this idiotic argument quite well, namely by pointing out that Hitler had megalomaniacal ambitions, but his talent as a military strategist left much to be desired.
Moreover, Buchanan once again falls for Hitler’s propaganda. The Siegfried Line, after all, served more of a propaganda purpose than any real military purpose. For one thing, it was started in part as a make-work program like the Autobahn, designed to put hundreds of thousands of Germans back to work. For another thing, it proclaimed Germany’s defensive intentions to its neighbors, while at the same time serving the purpose of protecting Hitler’s rear when he finally did turn his military attention to the East.
Other questions are more clearly a matter of poor planning. For instance, German military strategy was ahead of its time in that it emphasized close coordination between light bombers and infantry. That’s part of what allowed them to pioneer Blitzkrieg invasions, which worked so well in Poland and then later in France and Western Europe. The problem is that the bombers and fighters that were so effective in a Blitzkrieg were not nearly as effective at bombing strategic targets. Hitler didn’t demand the French fleet because he was in a magnanimous mood, and the armistice agreement stipulated that the French fleet would be largely disarmed and confined to its harbors under French control. That’s one reason why the British attacked the French fleet in Algeria at Mers-el-Kébir. Moreover, the French were not amenable to giving up their fleet, as evidenced later when, rather than let it be taken by the Germans, the French fleet in Toulon was scuttled on November 27, 1942 on the order of the Admiralty of Vichy France. The Germans couldn’t just “take” the French fleet because France would not easily permit it, and an attempt to do so might have destroyed the armistice and led to widespread resistance.
Finally, the reasons that Hitler backed off at Dunkirk and thus let most of the British Expeditionary Force escape are multiple, but they included his believing the boasts of Goring that his planes would finish it off and his being urged by one of his generals to give the troops a respite before re-engaging. There was also an element of politics in that Hitler also saw this as an opportunity to assert his control over his generals. Whatever the full reasons, by the time Hitler resumed the attack, the evacuation was well under way, and weary German troops had a hard time overcoming the resistance of the rearguard defending the evacuation. In any case, why shouldn’t he offer peace after he had conquered Poland? He already had what he wanted!
Apparently history was never Buchanan’s strong point. Indeed, get a load of this howler with which Buchanan answers all his rhetorical questions above:
Because Hitler wanted to end the war in 1940, almost two years before the trains began to roll to the camps.
That’s right. To Buchanan, if Britain and France hadn’t allied themselves with Poland and then actually honored their commitment after Hitler invaded to take what Germany was due but that those stubborn Poles, confidence buoyed by their alliance with France and Britain, refused to give up, then the Holocaust would never have happened. The implication is that the Holocaust was all France’s and Britain’s fault! Now there’s real Holocaust revisionism!
Pardon me while I barf.
Leave it to Mel Brooks to get it exactly right:
Mel knows his history better than Pat.
You know, I’m dreading 2011. We’ll be hitting the 70th anniversary of so many other key events of World War II: Operation Barbarossa, the invasion of the Soviet Union (June 22) and the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor (December 7). I just can’t wait to see an article by Pat on June 22, 2011 proclaiming how Hitler really had no choice but to invade the Soviet Union to save Europe from Bolshevism or an article on December 7, 2011 stating that Hitler wasn’t really our enemy and that we shouldn’t have declared war on Germany after its ally launched a sneak attack and Hitler declared war on the U.S. himself on December 8. After all, I seem to recall he’s already argued that Roosevelt shouldn’t have concentrated on Germany first more than Japan.
Next, poor ol’ Pat will be saying the Holocaust was America’s fault for not teaming up with Hitler to fight the Soviet Union. Poor misunderstood Hitler! Those nasty Jews, with the help of the Allies, forced him to kill six million of them! But Pat understands. He’s the only one who understands that Hitler really had no choice.