arch-conservative Patrick Buchanan has never found an isolationist
cause, other than the anti-anti-communist one, that he didn't like.
First he penned A Republic, Not an Empire to make the case for
American active disengagement from the world's woes but, apparently
unheeded, this hasn't sufficed. Accordingly, in his latest tome, Churchill, Hitler and The Unnecessary War: How Britain Lost Its Empire and the West Lost the World,
he has targeted the biggest objection to his preferred course of action
– the disastrous consequences of appeasing Nazi Germany in the 1930s.
His argument is simple and tries to get out from under: appeasement of
Hitler wasn't the culprit – the Allied victors of World War One were.
asks: "How did Munich lead to World War II?" and answers – it didn't.
Instead, he says, the war-causing event was the Allies' violation of
the principle of self-determination by creating Czechoslovakia, which,
as he put it in a recent column, absorbed "3 million Germans, 3 million Slovaks, 800,000 Hungarians, 150,000 Poles and 500,000 Ruthenians."
What Buchanan doesn't mention is that there was no way to provide viable self-determination for some groups without creating new minorities,
as Europe's populations were deeply entangled. Nor does he disclose
that the Munich agreement incorporated 800,000 Czechs into the Third
Reich, whose right to self-determination Buchanan lacks the audacity to
claim was in any way inferior to that of Germans in Czechoslovakia.
These are gaping omissions in an argument claiming that the Allies
violated the principle of self-determination. Nor does Buchanan argue
for any alternative principle the Allies should have followed.
omissions enable a disingenuous argument. They convey the false
impression that self-determination was a sound, rather than
problematic, idea and that it was dishonored by the Allies rather than
imperfectly implemented by them. This in turn allows Buchanan to
insinuate that the problems of inter-war Europe were the creation of
the Allies, rather than inherent in the situation.
Buchanan presents Nazi demands in 1938 and 1939 as being simply
instances of Germans justly seeking self-determination. That in turn
entails another omission: failing to mention why applying the
principle of self-determination to create Czechoslovakia proved so
disruptive that a world war was risked in 1938. After all, many peoples
have their minorities in other lands. That is no necessary tragedy. The
tragedy is to be everywhere a minority. Yet in 1938, the overwhelming
majority of Germans enjoyed self-determination, embodied in the
largest, most powerful state in the heart of Europe. Yet even this
proved insufficient. Why? Buchanan doesn't say.
answer is this: the Nazi supremacist policy of conquest and enslavement
that anyone who cared to know at the time could have discovered meant
that either the Allies would have to concede all Hitler demanded, or
war would result. But the appeasers didn't want to know it then and
Buchanan, who knows it now, simply strikes it from the record – while
belittling the most prominent figure who did understand from the
beginning, Winston Churchill. Like the appeasers, Buchanan detaches
shards of legitimacy from totalitarian claims – much like present day
appeasers of Islamist aggression.
for Buchanan, the historical record is not amenable to this sort of
engineering. Issues of self-determination led to world war not because,
as Buchanan argues, Britain and France took an imprudent interest in
standing by Poland's refusal to disgorge itself of German-populated
territories, but because the dynamic aggressiveness of Nazi Germany
made a stand at some point imperative.
was painfully clear by 1939 that Germany did not simply want the Paris
peace settlement redrawn as if Germany had not lost: it wanted it
rewritten as if Germany had won. In that distinction lies the world of
difference between legitimate claims that can be arbitrated, and
consuming appetites that cannot be, if I may for once use the word,
tactfully says nothing about why Britain found itself in 1938 at Munich
with the unenviable dilemma of either conceding Hitler's demands
or going to war with Germany when "she had no draft, no Spitfires, no
divisions ready to be sent to France." Yet the reason for precisely
this dilemma and these near-fatal deficiencies was years of appeasement
– precisely the policy Buchanan is at pains to resurrect.
refusal to arm and maintain necessary forces to keep the peace; a
refusal to reverse Hitler's violation of the peace when he
remilitarized the Rhineland in 1936 – something that could have been
accomplished easily with available forces when Hitler's armies were as
yet too weak and small to face determined opposition; a refusal to make
common cause with the Soviets to counter Hitler – all these and more
found Britain so fatefully unprepared for the crisis when it came. But
Buchanan fixates on Munich, divorced of its historical and moral
context, his unctuous tone notwithstanding.
however woefully unprepared was Britain for war in 1938, it was in
arguably better shape for the supreme test than a year later when it
did go to war. True, the Royal Air Force won a year's reprieve in which
to build up its strength, which proved hugely important, but the
failure to stand firm at Munich was also militarily disastrous. It
deprived Britain and France of a Czech ally who, rendered defenseless,
was dismembered by Hitler six months later, along with its excellent
army of 40 divisions. This freed up 30 German divisions for service
elsewhere, handed to Hitler the resources of the Czech arms industry,
economy and territories, and brought about the collapse of France's
short, abdication at Munich led to the ill-considered and unenforceable
guarantee to Poland, which Buchanan deplores – he merely fails to
explain that his preferred appeasement policy brought Britain to that
its unpreparedness, Britain nearly forfeited its existence, not merely
its empire, and had to fight for its life in a monumental war that
could have been headed off earlier at much lesser cost by a combination
of prudence and moral clarity. Those searching for either will not find
it in Buchanan's book. People who neither wish to confront aggression
nor inquire into the evil that animates it are the first to find
spuriously altruistic reasons for so doing – a truism that can stand as
an epitaph for Patrick Buchanan.