WHY TWO WORLD WARS WERE FOUGHT
By John J. Ray (M.A.; P.h.D.) -- 29 May, 2008
Pat Buchanan knows his history, whatever else you might think of him, and he has just written a good summary of the revisionist arguments about the two world wars. I myself alluded briefly to such arguments on 23rd.
I am one of the many history buffs who agree that WWI was the big mistake so I agree with Buchanan there and I certainly agree with him that the peace-obsessed politics of the interwar period were the breeding ground for WWII.
Buchanan is however being wise in hindsight, something easy to do. What he seems largely unaware of is the psychology behind those two disastrous wars. WWI was NOT fought over the assassination of an Austrian archduke in Serbia. Politicians can be pretty foolish but we do our ancestors discredit to think that they were as foolish as that.
Strangely, WWI was the fruit of the long peace engineered by the "Iron Chancellor" of Prussia, Prince Otto von Bismarck. Bismarck gained great authority from the way he used both war and politics to extend the Prussian domain to the point that almost the whole of the German-speaking lands came under the sway of the Prussian crown in the form of a united Germany -- with the Prussian defeat of Napoleon III at Sedan being the clincher.
So how did Bismarck use that great authority and the pre-eminent German military machine that he controlled? If he had been a Leftist like Napoleon, he would have attempted to conquer the world. But he was a conservative so he did no such thing. Once he had attained his aim of a united Heimatland (homeland) -- i.e. a united Germany --- he used his great talents and resources to ensure that there were no more wars in Europe.
And the long peace from 1872 onwards allowed Europeans to concentrate on constructive pursuits for change -- leading to vast economic growth in most of Europe (including Russia). But the huge leap forward in science, technology and prosperity in the late 19th century led to hubris among the populations concened. They were so impressed by their own achievements that they thought they could conquer the world -- literally. And they actually did to some extent -- bringing large slices of what we would now call the Third World under their rule.
Sadly, however, communications then fell a long way short of the global village that we inhabit today and most people in the national populations concerned concluded that their great achievements were the fruit of a national genius peculiar to them. That other nations were doing about equally as well was lost sight of. It was, in short, a time of overweening national pride and they all thought that they could conquer anyone. So they were all spoiling for a fight. They thought that if they could have a war, they could conquer the other nations around them in six weeks. So after Bismarck was no longer there to restrain them, a pretext for a fight was found and the nations of Europe all marched into WWI in full confidence of a rapid national triumph. It was however reality that triumphed.
And after the colossal horror of WWI, who can blame the politicians of the interwar years for doing everything they could to run away from another war? That running away does more harm than good is however the lesson we must learn from that.
The wisdom of allied involvement in WWII is is a very old debate and one in which I have long taken an interest. And the continued issuance of books that raise the question anew does seem to legitimate continued discussion. So I will approach WWII via further review of Buchanan's claims and from a review of a Leftist contribution.
The Leftist book concerned (by novelist Nicholson Baker) is reviewed here and the conservative book (by Pat Buchanan) is reviewed here. I will confine myself to mentioning what I think are the important points that the reviews pass over.
The Baker book seems to center strongly on the flaws in Churchill's actions -- in keeping with the usual Leftist ad hominem style of argument. There is of course no doubt that Churchill was a flawed human being and there are acts by Churchill that I deplore too (the fire bombings, the "repatriation" of the Cossacks etc). Baker however in essence claims that it was only the character faults of Churchill and FDR that caused them to make war on Hitler. He seems to think we would all have been fine if the British and American bombers had stayed home.
That is all deeply unserious, however. You have to look at the political and strategic realities behind the declarations of war if you are to evaluate them intelligently. Blaming everything on the conspiracies of bad men is very Leftist but it betrays no real effort at understanding at all. All it tells us is that the speaker/writer is steamed up about something and is too stupid or lazy to investigate how it really came about. Baker seems to think that a pacifist response to Hitler would have worked in some way. The generally passive response of the German Jews to their persecution should have told Baker how well that worked with Hitler.
So on to the Buchanan book. Sadly, the reviewer there also seems inclined to play the man and not the ball. He is very abusive about Buchanan and is less than fair in evaluating Buchanan's arguments. I think that Buchanan is wrong in his conclusions but he is not so far wrong as to be completely dismissed.
The critic completely dismisses Buchanan's argument that Hitler had no designs on Britain and in fact regarded them as racial comrades -- so Britain had nothing to fear and no reason to go to war. There is no doubt that Hitler himself argued exactly that way. I have myself heard a recording of one of his speeches to that effect. So dismissing the argument out of hand is pretty slapdash history.
I myself think that the jury will always be out on that one. It seems strange that I have to stress it but Hitler WAS a racist and there is no doubt that the Britrish and the Germans are essentially the same race. So the idea that Hitler might have given very favourable consideration to the racial identity of the British is hardly far-fetched. The remarkably benign German occupation of Denmark is even a test-case of sorts.
But, as a good conservative, Churchill was cautious and there was no doubt in his mind that Hitler was an example of that most-disapproved type of person in a British value-system of the time: A man who "goes too far". Churchill saw that Hitler recognized no constraints on his actions and that Hitler's rhetoric was full of anger and hate. And Churchill could not entrust the world to such a man. So Churchill swung British foreign policy into its traditional "balance of power" role and ensured that NOBODY would ever come to dominate the whole of Europe. With what we now know about Hitler, I think we can be glad that Britain found a man who at the last moment activated that traditional British policy.
Note that it was actually Chamberlain who declared war on Germany. But it is Churchill who made it stick.
See also the review of Buchanan by Pryce-Jones here
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