For Goodness Sake, Read the Book!
Jude Wanniski
October 19, 1999


I was disappointed to see in The Washington Post that you had invoked the name of one of your heroes, Winston Churchill, to join the crowd criticizing Pat Buchanan's book, A Republic, Not and Empire, without having read it. When you decided to drop out of elective politics and join the ranks of "elder statesman," you said you were now free to be a truthteller, meaning you could speak your mind without offending important segments of your political constituency. But by saying Winston Churchill may be "turning over in his grave" because of Pat's book -- WITHOUT YOU HAVING READ IT -- suggests a poor start as a truthteller. The Post, which hasn't quoted any of the last two dozen press releases you have issued at Empower America, could not wait to rush into print with your gratuitous remark, inserted into a speech you gave last week about global warming. "Oh Boy, Jack Kemp is piling on fellow conservative Pat Buchanan!!"

If you read the controversial book, as I recommended you do weeks ago, you will find only a quick sketch of Britain's diplomatic blunders under Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain in dealing with Hitler and the Third Reich. If you then read Churchill's more comprehensive The Gathering Storm, volume one of his six volume history of the second world war, you will find that Churchill probably would be cheering Buchanan from his grave, not spinning in dismay. According to Churchill, there is hardly an error Chamberlain did not make, including some Buchanan skipped over in his adumbrated version. Remember, Pat was not writing a history of WWII, but a brief history of American foreign policy from George Washington to the current day. When I saw the first reference to his commentary on Chamberlain's guarantee to Poland, I knew it would get him in trouble, because the Establishment is looking for any reason to tear him to pieces. There is a concerted effort underway to get people to NOT read his book, by making it appear that it is a celebration of Hitler and the Nazis and simply an apology for the American isolationists of the period. Here is what you will find if you combine the commentaries of Buchanan and Churchill:

Hitler gambled that he could march into the Rhineland in 1936 and occupy it without being contested by the French, who sat behind their Maginot Line and watched. The British were concerned with the Soviets and the sentiments in London were that Germany had probably been treated too harshly by the Versailles Treaty. Churchill actually was part of this sentiment and in 1935 wrote a profile of Hitler, "Hitler and His Choice," (which Pat quotes) that suggests he may turn out to be a good guy after all: "History is replete with examples of men who have risen to power by employing stern, grim, and even frightening methods, but who, nevertheless, when their life is revealed as a whole, have been regarded as great figures whose lives have enriched the story of mankind. So may it be with Hitler." Buchanan notes: "Thus did even Churchill believe and hope as late as 1937." The hope was based on the idea that Hitler's aggressions were responding to the wishes of the German people who were living in the countries bordering on Germany, having been dealt out of the Fatherland as a result of Germany's defeat in WWI and the Versailles Treaty.

Churchill may have hoped until 1937 that Hitler would at some point be checked, but had been warning that the British government should not bank on those hopes, but build up its military in the event a broader war came. In 1938, Churchill lost that hope even as Chamberlain continued to believe that if he let Hitler annex Austria and the Sudetenland, where there was popular support among the Volk for participation in the Third Reich, he would achieve a lasting peace. The deal at Munich in September 1938, when Chamberlain signed away the Sudetenland to Hitler, brought no protest from President Roosevelt. Buchanan quotes Henry Kissinger: "Roosevelt felt obliged to emphasize repeatedly that America would not join a united front against Hitler. And he disavowed subordinates and even close friends who so much as hinted at that possibility." When Chamberlain got back to London after Munich, he found a telegram from FDR: "Good man." Roosevelt's Undersecretary of State Sumner Welles delivered a radio address giving FDR credit for urging Chamberlain in this direction: "Europe escaped war by a few hours, the scales being tipped toward peace by the president...." Indeed, it must be embarrassing for those who want to make FDR the "Man of the Century" to read the sorry account of FDR's own isolationism, appeasement, and refusal to spend money on rebuilding the nation's military all through the 1930s. "As Roosevelt reflected the will of the people," says Buchanan: "In September 1939 a poll showed that only 2.3 percent of Americans wanted to go to war. Only 13.5 percent favored war if Britain and France were on the verge of defeat. By October, after Poland had been overrun, the 13.5 percent fell to 10.1 percent."

When Hitler then gobbled up Czechoslovakia five months after Munich, Chamberlain finally decided he had misjudged Hitler. Britain had pledged to help maintain the borders of Czechoslovakia, but Chamberlain was off the hook when the Slovakia Diet quickly announced its independence, making that guarantee moot. It was at this point, March 31, 1939, that Chamberlain announced the guarantee to Poland -- and then Rumania as well. Buchanan, who was born a year later, could now argue that it was a mistake, and for that he is now being cut to pieces. Churchill, who had been practically begging for a line in the sand, on the spot welcomes the guarantee for that reason alone, even though it comes at the worst possible time, after all other opportunities to stop Hitler had been bypassed. On page 347, Churchill says: "And now, when every one of these aids and advantages has been squandered and thrown away, Great Britain advances, leading France by the hand, to guarantee the integrity of Poland -- of that very Poland which with hyena appetite had only six months before joined in the pillage and destruction of the Czechoslovak state."

Events moved rapidly from the date of the guarantee. Churchill is much clearer than Buchanan in discussing the view from Moscow. Stalin knows full well that Hitler has every intention of invading the Soviet Union at some point, as Hitler had practically announced those intentions. Churchill: "The British Government had to consider urgently the practical implications of the guarantees given to Poland and Rumania. Neither set of assurances had any military value except within the framework of a general agreement with Russia. It was, therefore, with this object that talks at last began in Moscow on April 15 between the British Ambassador and M. Litvinov [the Soviet representative at the League of Nations... and a Jew who Hitler would not deal with," notes Churchill]. On April 16 Litvinov made a formal offer for the creation of a united front of mutual assistance between Great Britain, France and the USSR, to contain Hitler and protect Poland and the rest of Eastern Europe. Churchill then states: "There can be no doubt, even in the after light, that Britain and France should have accepted the Russian offer, proclaimed the Triple Alliance, and left the method by which it could be made effective in case of war to be adjusted between allies engaged against a common foe."

Stalin did not bank on his offer being taken up. On the very next day, April 17, the USSR Ambassador to Berlin met with the State Secretary of the German Foreign Office to discuss the possibility of improvements in relations between the two countries. "It was," Churchill notes, "the first obvious move of Russia from one leg to another." Litvinov was soon replaced by Molotov, not Jewish. The dilemma for Poland, caught between Hitler and Stalin, was which man to trust. "They refused to choose," writes Buchanan, "and were attacked by both. ‘With all the wisdom of hindsight,' wrote a scholar of Polish history, ‘it is impossible to suggest a foreign policy that might have saved Poland.'" One does, though, get the impression from Churchill that he believed the Triple Alliance could have worked, because it would have meant for Hitler a war on both fronts. Buchanan quotes Hitler ranting to the Danzig League of Nations commissioner on August 11, 1939: "Everything I undertake is directed against Russia. If the West is too stupid and blind to grasp this I shall be compelled to come to an agreement with the Russians, beat the West and then after their defeat turn against the Soviet Union with all my forces. I need the Ukraine so that they can't starve me out as happened in the last war." A week later, August 19, Stalin told the Politburo of his intention to sign a non-aggression pact with Hitler, and the next day, notes Churchill, "[German Foreign Minister] Ribbentrop arrived in Moscow... The Non-Aggression Pact...[was] signed rather late on the night of August 23."

Upon learning of this pact, American Communists of the 1930s almost immediately divided. Those Jewish intellectuals of the left who had been toying with some form of communism as the wave of the future, including the Trotskyites, were naturally horrified that Moscow would do a deal with the bloodthirsty racist (who Buchanan notes had been sending Jews to Auschwitz as early as 1933). The U.S. Communist Party , which did not have any special interest in the plight of the Jews, continued to rationalize the Pact, knowing Stalin needed to buy time to build up his own neglected armed forces and prepare for war with Hitler after he dealt with the West. As soon as Hitler invaded Russia, the U.S. Communist Party ended its isolationist stance.

With hindsight, given this view of the European chessboard, Buchanan almost is certainly correct in his view that if not for Chamberlain's blunder in giving Poland a guaranty of protection, the Polish government would not have had the idea that Britain would save it from Hitler. It might have succumbed to Hitler's demand for a corridor through Poland for its assault on an unprepared USSR. Or, Hitler would simply have marched over Poland without permission, as Germany did anyway in a few days after it made its deal with Moscow. The deal included secret protocols that conceded half of Poland to the USSR along with the Baltic states. Stalin marched the Red Army into Poland a few weeks after Germany did.

What particularly distresses Pat's critics is his summation, that if there had been no guarantee to Poland, "Hitler would have delivered his first great blow to Stalin's Russia. Britain and France would have had additional years to build up their air forces and armies and to purchase, as neutrals, whatever munitions they needed from the United States. If the revealed horrors of Nazism in the East mandated a war, the Allies could have chosen the time and place to strike. Even if Hitler had conquered the USSR at enormous cost, would he then have launched a new war against a Western Europe where his ambitions never lay? Had Britain and France not given the war guarantees to Poland, there might have been no Dunkirk, no blitz, no Vichy, no destruction of the Jewish populations of Norway, Denmark, Holland, Belgium, Luxembourg, France, or even Italy. Even had Hitler, victorious in the East, launched a war in the West, the British and French would have been far better armed and prepared to receive him. Ultimately, it was not Poland that benefited from Britain's war guarantee to Warsaw -- Poland lost millions of its people and fifty years of freedom -- but Stalin."

Nowhere does Pat argue that after the "mistake" was made by Chamberlain the dominoes that followed did not eventually compel the United States to enter the war -- having been attacked at Pearl Harbor, with Hitler then declaring war on the United States to satisfy the terms of the 1936 Axis Pact he had made with Japan.

* * * * *

The central point Pat is making in this brief sketch of our history in wars is that we should learn from Chamberlain's mistake in giving a nation in which we have no direct national interest the power to involve us in war. The relevance today is with China, as the anti-China Coalition that has formed in the Republican Party wants to give a guarantee to Taiwan that if Beijing makes a grab for it, we will automatically intervene, even if it means a nuclear World War III. It isn't enough for the anti-China crowd to warn China that we would respond if it intervenes without provocation from the cowboys in Taipei, who want to proclaim independence and have us do their fighting for them. They would like the "cowboys" to be able to provoke Beijing into an attack. The threat is nothing to sneeze at Jack, as the anti-China crowd appears to have George W. Bush in its back pocket.

Finally, and for the last time, I will certify to you that Pat Buchanan does not have an anti-Semitic bone in his body. He has no secret affection for Hitler and the Nazis. He and I both grew up as small boys, both Roman Catholics, against the backdrop of WWII. We both hate war and have spent much of our adult lives trying to figure out why wars occur and how they might be avoided. He has studied the political and diplomatic failures that lead to war while I have concentrated on the economic causes of war. We both grew up with Jewish friends and neighbors and were aware of the "horrors of Nazism" at the most impressionable age. The 6 million Jews who were lost because of the combination of blunders made by Britain, France and the United States are lost forever, but there are another 6 million that neither Pat nor I wish to see lost in the century ahead. My Jewish friends have at times told me to take my nose out of their affairs -- that they will handle it without my interference. I tell them flatly that I consider the Jewish people as a class and as a culture to be the most gifted people to have ever walked the earth -- except when it comes to politics. If I leave the politics to them, they will lose the next round as they lost the last... and will do so not knowing who their true friends are. Pat Buchanan is a true friend and so am I -- because we give them our best opinion and wisest counsel, not what we think they want to hear so they will in some way favor us. If I were you, Jack, I'd read the book, then pick up the phone, call Buchanan and apologize. Many of our other friends and political allies who have done as you have should do the same.