This week, Pat Buchanan has continued his slow, disturbing slide into the dark recesses of far right wing politics. In a column marking the 70th anniversary of the invasion of Poland, Buchanan caused such controversy that MSNBC pulled the column from their web site.
But let’s look at what Buchanan actually has to say. His column is a shorter version of some of the arguments he makes in his recent book Churchill, Hitler and the Unnecessary War, in which he critically examines British policy towards Germany in the late 1930s, and ends up assigning much of the blame for the outbreak of World War II on Winston Churchill.
According to Buchanan, the German invasion of Poland was triggered by a dispute over Danzig, a city with a large German majority on the Polish-German border.
What Buchanan fails to mention is that Danzig was an independent state in 1939, not a part of Poland. Although Danzig wanted to re-unite with Germany, the Germans also demanded that Poland give up a corridor of territory between Germany and Danzig, cutting Poland off from access to the sea. The Poles clearly found this unacceptable in light of what had happened to Czechoslovakia that spring after the Czechs acceded to Hitlers’ territorial claims.
But Buchanan argues that the dismemberment of Czechoslovakia was not a bad thing. Rather, he says, it made everyone happier. Germany annexed the Sudeten region which had a German majority. Poland annexed Teschen, which was majority Polish. Hungary annexed (in fact, invaded, occupied and extinguished the independence of the short-lived state of Carpatho-Ukraine, but don’t bother Buchanan with those facts) its “ancestral lands” in the south of Slovakia. Slovakia was now an independent nation. And the Czechs? As Buchanan puts it “they came to Berlin for the same deal as the Slovaks, but Hitler insisted they accept a protectorate.”
In fact, Hitler insisted that they accept German “protection” or be invaded. The “Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia” was placed under the direct administration of Konstantin von Neurath, who instituted strict controls on personal liberties within the Protectorate. When the Czechs protested, 1200 protesting students were rounded up and sent to concentration camps. Despite this, Hitler felt that von Neurath was not killing enough people, so he replaced him with Reinhard Heydrich in 1941.
Heydrich was a die-hard Nazi ideologue whose ultimate goal was to eliminate the Czech people and replace them with Germans. For this, he was targeted for assassination by the British secret services and the Czech resistance. In May 1942, he was killed in Prague when a grenade was thrown into his car.
The Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia was not a positive outcome for the Czechs, in any way. The Poles feared the same fate if they let Hitler get a foot in the door by taking some of their territory.
And yet, Buchanan argues, Hitler was not out to conquer the world:
But if Hitler was out to conquer the world — Britain, Africa, the Middle East, the United States, Canada, South America, India, Asia, Australia — why did he spend three years building that hugely expensive Siegfried Line to protect Germany from France? Why did he start the war with no surface fleet, no troop transports and only 29 oceangoing submarines? How do you conquer the world with a navy that can’t get out of the Baltic Sea?
If Hitler wanted the world, why did he not build strategic bombers, instead of two-engine Dorniers and Heinkels that could not even reach Britain from Germany?
Why did he let the British army go at Dunkirk?
Why did he offer the British peace, twice, after Poland fell, and again after France fell?
Why, when Paris fell, did Hitler not demand the French fleet, as the Allies demanded and got the Kaiser’s fleet? Why did he not demand bases in French-controlled Syria to attack Suez? Why did he beg Benito Mussolini not to attack Greece?
Buchanan’s poor grasp of German strategy comes out full force.
Hitler’s Siegfried Line was built to defend against any French attack into Germany before Germany was ready to invade France. It worked. In September 1939, the French did not even try to attack the Siegfried Line even though there were only a handful of German divisions on the French border.
Buchanan is right that Germany’s goal was invading Russia. But before this could occur, Germany had to remove Poland from the equation, secure its southern flank in the Balkans, secure its rear in France to prevent another World War 1 two-front war, conquer or at least contain Britain and secure resources in Scandinavia. Only then could Germany turn its attention to invading the Soviet Union.
Germany’s fleet was in the middle of a massive expansion in 1939. New ships were under construction that came into service over the next few years.
German two-engined bombers were built in large numbers to support German blitzkreig campaigns, not massive wars of attrition where long-range bombers would be used.
Germany offered the British peace several times because Hitler wanted to contain Britain if he could not conquer them.
Germany let a rump French state keep their colonies because Vichy France was virtually an Axis partner. Having the French administer these colonies kept the Germans from having to devote manpower and resources to the task. In addition, it divided the French and British against each other in a fratricidal war, which was a major propaganda coup for the Germans.
Hitler begged Benito Mussolini to not do a lot of things, because Mussolini tended to get himself into tight jams that Hitler had to devote resources to bailing him out of (such as the failed Italian invasions of Greece and Egypt).
All of these questions have been answered time and time again by historians and are understandable in the context of the broad strategic picture of the Second World War.
Going back to the German demands for the Danzig corridor, Buchanan never explains why these demands necessitated the invasion of Poland and division of the entire country between Hitler and Stalin.
And therein lies the problem. Buchanan sees Hitler as acting from impossibly good motives. Motives that are not supported by Germany’s actions, Hitler’s stated views or any historical evidence. And this puts Buchanan moving in the direction of other pseudohistorians such as David Irving or Ernst Nolte, in the bin of discredited admirers of the Third Reich.