June 18, 2008
Victor Davis Hanson has taken umbrage at Pat Buchanan’s description of him as “the court historian of the neoconservatives,” and even more umbrage at Buchanan’s book. Unfortunately for Hanson, Buchanan’s description of Hanson is accurate, and Hanson’s review of Buchanan’s book shows all the care and intelligence we have come to expect from one of the biggest cheerleaders for Bush’s disastrous scheme to bring democracy to the Middle East by force of arms.
To begin with, it is hard to see why Hanson objects to being called “the court historian of the neoconservatives.” Hanson is an historian, and he is, literally, a “court historian,” having been invited to come to the Oval Office to tutor the President. And the history lessons Hanson imparts are undeniably neoconservative ones, and unrelated to any traditional notion of American conservatism. An example of just how far Hanson is from those who founded the magazine for which he most often writes, National Review, showed up in a Hanson column, “The Brink of Madness,” in which, in stereotypical neocon fashion, Hanson wrote that “if we wish to learn what was going on in Europe in 1938, just look around.” But the neocons do more than think every year is 1938; they also consistently reveal a leftist mindset reminiscent of the Popular Front, as Hanson did in this column. Hanson compared “the rise of fascism” in Spain to the rise of Hitler, ignoring the fact that Franco fought to save Catholic Spain from Communist butchery, kept Spain neutral in World War II, and was later an American ally in the Cold War, facts appreciated by such earlier National Review writers as Brian Crozier, James Burnham’s successor as NR’s foreign affairs columnist and a Franco biographer and admirer. Even more astonishingly, Hanson blasted the “fantasies” of “Pope Pius,” writing that “it is baffling to consider that such men ever had any influence.” (The great historian does not tell us which Pope Pius he is criticizing, Pius XI, who authored the anti-Nazi encyclical Mit Brennender Sorge and told Belgian pilgrims in 1938 that “it is impossible for a Christian to take part in anti-Semitism,” or Pius XII, who saved tens of thousands of Jews during the Holocaust and so enraged the Nazis there were plans to kidnap him).
Hanson’s leftist fantasies, of course, extend to the present day, with his belief that we are once again fighting “fascism,” despite the many obvious differences between the Moslem anti-nationalists who want to reestablish the Caliphate and the extreme European nationalists (who were also often anti-white racists) who were the genuine fascists. As Hanson told Front Page Magazine’s Jamie Glazov in November 2005, our enemies in Iraq are part of “a horrific fascism—anti-woman, anti-gay, anti-modern—that is at war with all the Enlightenment has achieved” and the War on Terror should be a “dream come true for proper leftists.” Hanson also tells Glazov that “the only man of the Left who rightly fathomed this” was Christopher Hitchens, who, perhaps not coincidentally, shares Hanson’s views on Franco, any Pope Pius you can think of, and the desirability of risking the lives of American soldiers to bring “all the Enlightenment has achieved” to the Middle East.
A man as eager as Hanson is to label our enemies “fascist” can safely be expected to dislike any book casting doubt on the wisdom of British policy leading up to World War II, so it is no surprise that Hanson disdains Buchanan’s book. What is somewhat surprising is just how much Hanson gets wrong about the book. Hanson claims that Buchanan “accepts that there was nothing intrinsic within National Socialism as practiced under Hitler that would necessarily have led to war,” which ignores one of Buchanan’s central arguments, which is that Britain should have directed Hitler’s blows to the east, not that those blows were never going to fall. As Buchanan writes, “Had Britain never given the war guarantee, the Soviet Union would almost surely have borne the brunt of the blow that fell on France.”
Hanson’s sloppiness spills over into viciousness when Hanson claims that Buchanan in essence “empathize[s] with a psychopath” and charges that “British military weakness is blamed for Auschwitz.” Reading Hanson, one would never guess that Buchanan wrote this: “For what happened to the Jews of Europe, Hitler and his collaborators in the unspeakable crimes bear full moral responsibility. The just punishment for people who participate in mass murder is death, be it in a bunker or on a gallows. The Nazi murderers got what they deserved.” Or this: “For that war one man bears full moral responsibility: Hitler.” Hanson’s review overlooks Buchanan’s endorsement of the Stresa Front against Nazi Germany, his statement that the French should have invaded Germany in 1936 in response to the remilitarization of the Rhineland, and the course of action he says Chamberlain should have taken after Munich: “Tell Britons the truth: Hitler was not to be trusted and he was on the march. Chamberlain could have imposed conscription, stepped up production of aircraft, begun buying munitions from the United States, and waited. Rather than commit Britain to a war she could not win, he could have done what Truman did when another ruthless totaliarian seized an indefensible Prague. Adopt a policy of containment.” What Buchanan criticizes is the British war guarantee to Poland, not British action to contain Nazi aggression. Anyone misled by Hanson into thinking Buchanan “empathizes” with Hitler should consider Buchanan’s description of the Nazi-Soviet Pact: “Hitler won the competition for Stalin’s hand for a reason: They were brothers under the skin, amoral political animals with blood on their hands who would unhesitatingly betray nations or crush peoples to advance state or ideological interests.” Not even Hanson, I trust, would suggest that Buchanan “empathizes” with Hitler’s “brother under the skin,” Iosif Vissarionovich Stalin.
Buchanan’s problem, in fact, is that he is a serious anti-Communist, who believes that Stalinism was worse than its slightly less murderous German rival. Buchanan writes that if the Nazis had attacked the Soviet Union instead of France in 1940, “Bolshevism might have been crushed. Communism might have perished in 1940, instead of living on for fifty years and murdering tens of millions more in Russia, China, Korea, Vietnam, and Cuba. A Hitler-Stalin war might have been the only war in Europe in the 1940s.” This view earns Buchanan nasty attacks from anti-anti-Communists of both the left and right, but it does not win much agreement from Americans who find it easier to sympathize with the victims of Nazism than the victims of Communism, in part, no doubt, because books and movies have made the Nazis’ victims more familiar to us. How many Americans even know of the two million people deported from eastern Poland, the Baltic States, and Romania in 1939 and 1940 to die in the Gulag, the seven million Soviet citizens killed in the camps during World War II, the million POWs (including Finns and Poles) killed by the Soviets during World War II, or the million members of minority nationalities, such as the Volga Germans or Crimean Tatars, who perished in the Gulag during the war, not to mention the five to six million who died there following World War II, including those repatriated (sometimes with British and American help) from territory that had been occupied by the Nazis? How many Americans realize that Mao-Tse Tung—who came to power only because Stalin survived World War II—was the greatest tyrant in history, responsible for the deaths of tens of millions of Chinese?
Given the enormity of Stalin’s crimes both during and after the war, it is curious that Hanson writes that “millions of Red Army soldiers were not communists, but brave patriots” and that “the motivation for many was not global communism or Comrade Stalin.” This is no doubt true, but the motivation of Red Army soldiers is no more relevant than is the motivation of German soliders. Both the Red Army and the German army were instruments of power for aggressive totalitarian dictators. The Red Army whose soldiers Hanson lauds used World War II to install Communist dictatorships over Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Poland, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria, and to help spread Communism to Yugoslavia, Albania, and Asia, not to mention guard the Gulag and keep it supplied with a fresh stream of victims. Those who think of World War II as a “good war” are ignoring half of the war.
Incredibly, Hanson even claims that there was “no one more suspicious of the ally Stalin, or more sympathetic to the Poles” than Churchill. In fact, Churchill had already agreed to giving eastern Poland to Stalin at the Tehran Conference in 1943, without bothering to inform the Poles of this secret arrangement. This is what Churchill told Parliament, on August 2, 1944, as the Red Army was standing idly by watching the Germans crush the Warsaw Uprising: “The Russian armies now stand before the gates of Warsaw. They bring the liberation of Poland in their hands. They offer freedom, sovereignty, and independence to the Poles.” And when some MPs questioned the wisdom of Yalta, Churchill told them: “Marshall Stalin and the Soviet leaders wish to live in honourable friendship and equality with the Western democracies….I know of no Government which stands to its own obligations, even in its own despite, more solidly than the Russian Soviet Government.”
Those who share Hanson’s view of Churchill should carefully consider those words, spoken by the prime minister not only in the knowledge that he was lying but knowing that his brave words of defiance to the Nazis in 1939 and 1940 had been paid for, in part, with Polish blood, both in resistance to the Nazi invasion of 1939 and the defense of Great Britain. In the crucial days of September and October 1940, Polish pilots constituted between an eighth and a quarter of the pilots available to Fighter Command for the defense of London and accounted for 18 percent of German planes destroyed on September 11, 14 percent on September 15, 25 percent on September 19, and 48 percent of all German planes destroyed on September 26. As Air Chief Marshall Dowding admitted after the Battle of Britain, “had it not been for the magnificent material contributed by the Polish squadrons and their unsurpassed gallantry I hesitate to say that the outcome would have been the same.” For this “unsurpassed gallantry,” the Poles received at Yalta what the Czechs received at Munich—the subjugation of their country—with one difference: This time, Churchill defended the betrayal in Parliament.
It is to Buchanan’s credit that he questions the morality of Britain’s guarantee to defend Poland in 1939, a guarantee Britain made no real effort to honor in 1939, when the British and French essentially did nothing when Poland was invaded by both the Nazis and the Soviets or, indeed, at any time during the war, when Soviet designs were masked in part by British lies. Buchanan’s book is a well-written and exhaustively documented attempt to explore whether different strategies could have helped avoid some of the bloodshed and terror of those tragic years, and its arguments are well worth considering even when one disagrees with them. Alas, the same cannot be said for Hanson’s review of the book.