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Pat Buchanan Got His Facts Wrong

Historians/History




Norm Goda , associate professor of history at Ohio University, is the author of Tomorrow the World: Hitler, Northwest Africa, and the Path Toward America (1998).

While there are many bothersome aspects about Pat Buchanan's isolationist tract, A Republic, Not an Empire, his argument that Adolf Hitler posed no direct threat to the United States in 1940 -- an argument that has correctly triggered a controversy within the Reform Party -- is especially troubling. Perhaps this is because, as Mr. Buchanan knows, World War II is the one conflict this century about which Americans have no moral doubts. If United States intervention against Nazi Germany was unjustified, then political and military intervention elsewhere would never be warranted regardless of the circumstances. The recent humanitarian crisis in Kosovo would of course fail such a test as well.

The argument also smacks of Mr. Buchanan's rather unique brand of anti-Semitism, which here takes on the innocuous, respectable guise of a simple foreign policy debate. For if the United States did not fight Nazi Germany owing to any geopolitical threat, then the war on Hitler must have been for some other reason. The implicit argument here, of course, is that Jewish global interests were paramount in American governmental thinking, and that they even outweighed United States security interests. Apparently those hardworking Americans of decent Christian values that Mr. Buchanan claims to represent, in this case retroactively by six decades, would take no moral offense at a regime whose central policy aim was to isolate and murder Jews. As it turned out, they did not have to. As Mr. Buchanan mentions only reluctantly, it was Hitler who declared war on the United States, not vice versa.

Most eerie, however, are the distant echoes behind Mr. Buchanan's disturbing rhetoric. These include the voice of Charles Lindbergh whose reputation as a hero in the United States was ruined by his similar argument in 1940 that Hitler posed no threat to the Western Hemisphere. That Mr. Buchanan would seek to bolster a run at the presidency with such crackpot ideas is disquieting. The echoes also include the voice of Adolf Hitler himself. Hitler, like Mr. Buchanan, was convinced that United States foreign policy was controlled by Jews, and had even asked the German military attaché in Washington whether President Franklin Roosevelt's family tree had any Jewish branches. To Hitler, it was the Jews who had put Roosevelt in power, it was the Jews who supported anti-German rhetoric after Reichskristallnacht in 1938, and it was the Jews who were behind the efforts to support Great Britain and keep her in the war. Were the United States to enter the war at an inopportune time, Hitler reasoned, it would be due to the same Jewish threat that Hitler was, not coincidentally, preparing to eliminate in Europe.

As matters turned out, however, Hitler did not plan to wait for an attack from the United States to materialize. Even before war in Europe erupted in 1939, the German Navy had, on Hitler's insistence, let contracts for six super battleships, which dwarfed the Bismarck itself and were to be completed by the mid-1940s. In 1940 itself, the year Mr. Buchanan sees Hitler at his most benign, the German government awarded the contract for the Messerschmitt 264, also known as the "Amerika-Bomber" -- a nickname no doubt meant to connote the amiable feelings Nazi Germany presumably had for the United States. The design was to enable the aircraft to drop five-ton bomb payloads on New York City and return to the Eastern Hemisphere without refueling. In the same year, Hitler tried to bully Francisco Franco's Spain and the new Vichy government in France to surrender sites in Casablanca, Dakar, and in the Canary Islands so that the Germans could build elaborate base installations for these new weapons. Plans were also in the works for the seizure of Portugal's islands in the Atlantic, most notably the Azores and Cape Verde. As Hitler's Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop told Germany's Italian allies, "this huge programme must not be regarded as...directed against England. As far as England is concerned, the war is already won....The programme has more of an anti-American character."

Though the details of Hitler's planning remained unknown to Roosevelt, no one in Washington felt comfortable with the signing of a Japanese-Italian-German military alliance in September 1940, whose public terms were overtly aimed at a militarily unprepared United States. Still, Roosevelt's hope was to keep the United States out of the war if he could. He understood implicitly that a German defeat of Great Britain -- the one surviving liberal democracy in Europe in late 1940 -- would represent a long-term threat to the United States not only in the ideological sense, but in the geopolitical sense as well. If the trade of fifty old U.S. destroyers for British bases in September 1940 and the Lend-Lease program of 1941 were geared toward keeping the British in the war, they were also geared toward keeping the Americans out. The notion that these programs were Roosevelt's way of sneaking the country into the conflict with Hitler had wide currency, but primarily with German diplomats and attachés who detected a Jewish presence behind it all, and now, with Mr. Buchanan as well.

Frighteningly, Mr. Buchanan has attacked his critics -- in this case Donald Trump -- for having "an almost paralyzing ignorance of the history of World War II." While one cannot speak here one way or another for Mr. Trump's command of American military history, Mr. Buchanan's substitution of shrill rhetoric over fact is most reminiscent of another demagogue who came to power in Germany in 1933. For weeks we have heard ad nauseam on the Sunday morning talk shows from the horse's mouth what "President Pat Buchanan" would do, particularly in the field of foreign policy. A more poignant theoretical exercise, however, may be to ask the following question: What policies would "President Pat Buchanan" have followed in 1940 and how would the world look today had he followed them?


This article was first published at TomPaine.com in 1999.


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Randll Reese Besch - 9/4/2009

Buchanan and Gingrich should write such a what if novel. I would read it to see what his view of the past and subsequent future would be. Just curious. Would we be part of the Axis? Willingly?