The intellectual unraveling of Pat Buchanan is a sad sight. A decade ago, his writing was so incisive. He spoke with clarity and authority. At the 1992 Republican National Convention in Houston, Pat issued a clarion call, when he told delegates: "There is a religious war going on in our country for the soul of America. It is a cultural war as critical to the kind of nation we will one day be as was the Cold War itself."
Thirteen years later, Pat Buchanan has turned into a gloomy, muttering, obsessive crank. Today, he reminds me of nothing so much as the great Russell Kirk’s description of libertarians: "carping sectarians." On foreign policy, Buchanan has gone so far off the deep end that even Jacques Cousteau couldn’t find him.
Still, I didn’t understand the full extent of Pat’s moral confusion until I read his column of May 11, 2005. ("Was World War II Worth It?") Although he doesn’t have the courage to come right out and say it, the clear implication of the column is – no.
The occasion for Pat’s rambling revisionism was Bush’s visit to Moscow and appearance with ex-KGB apparatchik Vladimir Putin, to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II. Putin (who’s still a Communist at heart) had the chutzpah to claim, "Our people not only defended their homelands, they liberated 11 European countries." (And did the Mongol Horde liberate 13th century Russia?)
President Bush put the matter in perspective, when he observed that, "V-E Day marked the end of fascism, but not of oppression…The captivity of millions in Central and Eastern Europe will be remembered as one of the greatest wrongs in history."
Like yelling at the addled uncle who once took a blow to the head, the whole thing set Pat off. "If Yalta was a betrayal of small nations as immoral as the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, why do we venerate Churchill and FDR?" Pat asks rhetorically.
"If the West went to war to stop Hitler from dominating Eastern Europe and Central Europe, and Eastern and Central Europe ended up under a tyranny even more odious, as Bush implies, did Western Civilization win the war?"
That's not what Bush implied. It’s what Buchanan believes.
On what basis? Were gulags worse than Auschwitz? Was the Katyan Forest worse than the slaughter of 100,000 Kiev Jews at Bari Yar? Were the deaths of several million Ukrainians worse than the Holocaust? Admittedly, in the century past, the Communists racked up a higher body count. But they had 70 years to work on it (in the case of China, North Korea and Cuba, it’s an on-going project), compared to the 12-year Reich.
Perhaps Pat has a magical calculator for figuring the sum of oppression, torture, and mass murder. I don’t know how he reached his conclusion, unless – as I suspect – he cares about the victims of the Red terror but is blasé about graves dug by the Swastika.
Again, Buchanan writes: "If the objective of the West was the destruction of Nazi Germany, it was a ‘smashing’ success. But why destroy Hitler? [Pat really puzzles over this one. – DF] If to liberate Germans, it was not worth it. After all, the Germans voted Hitler (in). If to keep Hitler out of Western Europe, why declare war on him and draw him into Western Europe? If it was to keep Hitler out of Central and Eastern Europe, then, inevitably, Stalin would inherit Central and Eastern Europe. Was that worth fighting a world war – with 50 million dead?"
I always expected an isolationist of the Left to someday make the argument that American involvement in World War II was a tragic mistake. I never thought a so-called conservative would be the first to reach that bizarre and immoral position.
Was there ever a war that solved all of a nation’s (or humanity’s) problems? Yes, Communism was still in existence in April of 1945, and in control of more territory than before the war.
But the same reasoning could be applied to any war America has waged. For instance, the Civil War was fought to free the slaves, as well as to keep the Union together. But at the end of the war, the position of African-Americans had only marginally improved. They would continue as second-class citizens for roughly another hundred years. And by the Civil War’s centennial, its wounds still weren’t healed. So – what, then? Should we have allowed the South to go its way, giving us two powerless, truncated nations instead of a United States?
What about Vietnam – the left’s favorite war-we-couldn’t-win? By the fall of Saigon, South Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia had slipped behind the Bamboo Curtain, and America lost more than 50,000 young men. Was it worth it? In a way, it was. By stopping the Communist advance – sapping the strength of Ho Chi Minh and his successors – we managed to keep the rest of Southeast Asia (including Indonesia and the Philippines) free.
Poland was the line drawn in the sand. Britain and France did not go to war in September of 1939 to keep the Germans out of Warsaw, but to keep Hitler and his allies Hideki Tojo and Benito Mussolini from overrunning the world. (That Churchill saw this as early as 1935 is one of many things that made him great.)
Buchanan’s analysis assumes that Hitler would have been satisfied with conquering lands in the East, if London and Paris hadn’t forced him to fight in the West. But Der Fuhrer (a veteran of 1914-1918) had always planned to knock out Russia first, and then deal with the West. He wanted living room ("lebensraum") in the East but believed he had to subdue the West to foreclose the possibility of future threats to his empire. To imagine that Nazi plans didn’t also encompass the Western Hemisphere is naïve in the extreme.
In a way, this is all irrelevant. Japan declared war on us, then sealed it with a kiss at Pearl Harbor. Hitler, who consistently underestimated the U.S., followed suit. Should America’s position have been: Well, maybe we can beat the Nazis and Japs, but then Stalin will inherit Eastern Europe, so – what the Hell? – let’s sue for peace and give the Empire of Rising Sun all of the Philippines and whatever else strikes its fancy. And perhaps Hitler will settle for Milwaukee (at least initially).
The tragedy of Yalta was that it gave Stalin’s occupation of Eastern Europe an air of legality. But by April 1945, the Red Army’s conquest of Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, the Baltic states, etc. was a fait accompli. What does Buchanan think the Allies should have done at that point in time – launched their exhausted armies against Stalin’s legions? Can he even remotely imagine voters in America and Britain standing for another World War, on top of the one we’d just fought, and against a regime we called our ally for the past 4 years?
Yes, it’s a pity we couldn’t send Stalin to Hell along with Hitler. (If nothing else, it would have saved us a half-century of the Cold War and tens of thousands of American deaths in Korea and Vietnam.) But that wasn’t to be, regardless of what decisions were made at Yalta.
In an interview with The Washington Times (published on May 17), Buchanan complains that he has little in common with many folks who say they’re conservatives. Buchanan: There are "a lot of people who call themselves conservatives but who, on many issues, I just don’t consider as conservative. They are big government people."
Perhaps. But then what can we say of a utopian who won’t fight unless we can assure him the outcome of a perfect world?
If there ever was a conflict worth fighting, it was World War II. If you ask the average Pole, Hungarian, Czech, or Lithuanian, they’ll probably say the same – even if they did have to endure a half-century of Communism as a result.
Buchanan owes a cosmic apology to the families of the Americans who fell at Omaha Beach, the Battle of the Bulge, and in the North African and Italian campaigns. To the survivors of Auschwitz, Dachau, and Bergen-Belsen, there’s really nothing he can say that they’d be interested in hearing.