Monday, September 14, 2009

Pat Buchanan's Apologia for Hitler

This month marked the 70 anniversary of the beginning of World War II. On September 1, 1939, the Nazi army crossed into Poland, and the first shots of the war were fired at point blank range at a Polish shore installation by the battleship Schleswig-Holstein, which was moored in the Polish harbor of Danzig on a friendship visit.

Scarcely two weeks later, on September 17, the Soviet army attacked Poland from the east. The previous month the Soviets had signed a non-aggression pact with Germany, which contained a secret protocol whereby Stalin would get the Baltic states (Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia) and part of Poland if he did not interfere with Hitler's invasion and conquest of the rest of Poland.

Foreign leaders from 20 countries gathered to mark the September 1 anniversary with wreath-laying and speeches. Russian Prime Minister Putin said, “Russians and Poles had fought side by side against a common enemy” and the Russians “had looked upon Poles as their brothers in arms.” Polish President Lech Kaczynski contradicted him by stating flatly that Poland was “stabbed in the back” by the Russians.

The Poles have not forgotten, too, that during the Warsaw Uprising near the end of the war, the Soviet army could be seen just across the river but made no move to help the Poles. The Soviet policy was to let the Nazis and the Poles kill each other as much as possible, and then the Russians would walk in and take over. So much for helping their “brothers in arms.”

Nor have the Poles forgotten the murders of over 20,000 Polish officers and other leaders at the Katyn Forest by the Soviets, atrocities for which the Russians refused to admit responsibility for a half century, until 1990.

Putin said the two countries should “rise above the problems of the past...and solve the problems of the future.” This cause was not furthered by the Russian defense ministry using its internet website in June to blame Poland for provoking World War II by refusing to concede to the “moderate” demands of Nazi Germany. Even a day before the ceremony marking the anniversary, President Medvedev used public TV to blame Poland for WWII. That atrocious claim is surprising even coming from a Russian official—but it is even more surprising and despicable to hear it put forth by Patrick Buchanan in his column “Did World War II Have to Happen?” ( More about that in a moment.

The Poles also resent the Russians not only for saddling them with a satellite communist government in their own country for decades after WWII but for the part of Poland that was seized, occupied and annexed to Russia—not as a result of a Nazi-Soviet Pact but because of agreements by the victorious Allies! A huge chunk of Poland—80,000 square miles—was lopped off of eastern Poland and made a part of Russia. Nobody talks about that any more, just as, I suppose, nobody will talk about the part of Georgia that Russia recently seized; in a few decades it will just be taken for granted as part of Russia like the part of old Poland is now taken for granted by the rest of the world as part of Russia. But the Poles remember.

The part of Poland that Russia received was given away by the conferences at Yalta and Potsdam in 1945. Just as at Munich, some world leaders decided to give away another country's territory without the people there having anything to say about it: at Munich it was Czechoslovakia's territory; at Yalta and Potsdam, it was Poland's. Churchill was opposed to this giveaway, just as he was opposed to the Munich pact. In fact, he was furious. So much so that he even ordered the British military to make a study of the feasibility of invading Russia. After all, his country had gone to war to protect the territorial integrity of Poland, and he did not want to be a party to doing just the opposite. But Britain was weak, Churchill could do nothing by himself, and Roosevelt sided with Stalin. Roosevelt did not oppose the idea of giving a big slice of Poland to Russia because he looked at it as a way of rewarding Stalin for being on the Allied side in the war. And it is well known that Roosevelt wanted Stalin to like him.

As partial compensation for the Polish territory given to Russia, Poland was given 60,000 square miles of eastern Germany. Since Germany started the war, there was no sympathy for her loss of territory. In effect, the country of Poland was shifted from east to west—and lost 20,000 square miles in the process, to say nothing of the hardships of all the people involved. West Germany was slow to accept the new border with Poland, keeping hopes alive that someday it would regain the territory from Poland. Finally, in 1971, when Willy Brandt was chancellor of West Germany, he announced that his government was accepting the border (the Oder-Neisse line) and renouncing all claims to the land east of it.

Danzig, where WWII began, and the rest of the part of Germany that became Polish after the war, had been Polish to begin with. Poland has had the unfortunate geography of being located between larger—and more warlike—states, Germanic on one side and Russian on the other, which over the centuries were detrimental to Poland. At one time, the Kingdom of Poland and Lithuania was larger than the Holy Roman Empire ever was. But it was a weak state, could not defend its borders, and so her territory was taken from her. In the 18th century, there was a series of partitions: the surrounding countries simply annexed parts of Poland to their own countries. Prussia, Russia, and Austria divided Poland among them, with each country taking a cut on three separate occasions. Poland was helpless to resist. The final partition was under the last king of Poland, Stanislaw August Poniatowski, in 1795, after which there was nothing left of Poland. The nation did not exist for more than 120 years. It wasn't until the Treaty of Versailles in 1919 that she was restored as a national state. That happened because Paderewski, the world's most famous pianist, maintained contacts with many world leaders and persuaded Woodrow Wilson to include restoration of Poland as a national state as one of his Fourteen Points for the Treaty ending World War I. Paderewski signed the treaty for his country and became his nation's first prime minister.

When Poland was re-established by the Treaty of Versailles, it included Danzig because it was felt the country needed a seaport. It's true that at that time it was populated largely by Germans; but that city, as well as the rest of eastern Germany that became part of Poland after WWII, had previously been Polish. A thousand years ago the Polish state was founded not by foreign conquest but simply by the unification of all the tribes of Poles. Boleslaw Chrobry was Poland's first king, but even before him the tribes, according to the oldest Polish chronicle, extended as far north as the Baltic. Boleslaw's dynasty lasted five centuries.

Furthermore, the names of cities and towns themselves tell us the Poles were there first. For example, the present city of Gdansk was known as Danzig before Poland's sovereignty was restored. Since the names are similar, one name must have been derived from the other. Which came first? Gdansk refers to amber, the colored stones used for jewelry, which were collected along the seacoast here from the time of the Romans. The Romans valued these semi-precious jewels, but Italy had no natural amber; the amber they had came all the way from the Gdansk area. What does Danzig mean? Dancing. It's seems unlikely that long ago people named this city for dancing. More likely, they derived the name from Gdansk. Also, consider Szczeczyn. Parenthetically, here is a short lesson in some Polish pronunciations. Polish is actually very easy once you know a few simple rules. It's much easier than English, which has so many variations and irregularities; Polish is completely regular. Don't let that jumble of consonants discourage you! There are no phonetic sounds here you don't already know from English! For example, the combination "sz" is pronounced like "sh" in English (e.g. "shirt"), and "cz" is pronounced like "ch" in English (e.g. "church".) Now, you may think that the combination "szcz" does not exist in English--but it does! Just not in the same word. But it is there when we put words together: "lush cherries," "fresh cheese", "fish chowder", "plush chair". And, unlike English, every Polish vowel has only one sound. For “e” the sound is like the “e” in the English word “met.” Now try Szczeczyn as: "Shche chin". That wasn't so bad after all, was it? (By the way, in Polish the accent is always on the next-to-last syllable. Nice and regular. No exceptions. Ever.) Back to our example. The German name of this municipality was "Stettin". That word has no meaning whatsoever. Did people simply make up a name with no meaning and decide to call a city that? Not likely. But in Polish, szczeczyn refers to the stiff hairs on the end of a pigs tail, which are used in brushes. Maybe there were lots of pigs raised in this area, or maybe it was a community known for making good brushes. At any rate, szczeczyn means something; stettin has no meaning at all. So which do you think came first? A Polish scholar once recited to me a whole list of towns in this (former) part of Germany and explained what each of those names meant in Polish but said they all had no meaning in German. This territory was in the part of Poland that was seized by Prussia in the 18th century.

When Pat Buchanan proposes that Danzig should have been given to Germany, he evades the moral issue of how the land was acquired and who is rightfully entitled to it. He substitutes a “might-makes-right” policy that rewards some people for forcefully depriving others of their land. According to his policy, Poland would not even exist today: its land would instead still be parts of the nations, and their descendants, that seized and divided it among themselves in the 18th century. And tens of millions of Poles born on that land since 1919 would have been deprived of living in a country of their own, just as their ancestors were for over 120 years.

Danzig was a free city, guaranteed by the Treaty of Versailles. So the Germans could use it freely. They were not restricted by the Polish government. But it was not unreasonable for the Poles to fear they would not enjoy freedom of the city, as Germans did, if the city was in German hands.

Buchanan asks, “Why did Warsaw not negotiate with Berlin, which was hinting at an offer of compensatory territory in Slovakia?” Sounds like he is trying to tell us the war was the fault of the Poles for not giving Hitler what he wanted. Did he learn nothing from Munich? Sounds, too, like he is favoring the same type of immoral solution regarding Slovakia that was done at Munich, Yalta and Potsdam, i.e, some people giving away land from other people's country. Why does he think such a policy here would avoid WWII—bring “peace in our time”—when it didn't at Munich? And why does he think the Poles could trust Hitler to keep any agreement he might have signed with them? Hitler violated his agreement at Munich, violated the terms of the Versailles Treaty, and double-crossed Stalin by violating his non-aggression pact with Russia. There is also very clear evidence that Hitler intended to double-cross Britain at an appropriate time if the alliance he sought with that government (which Buchanan mentions) came about. He wanted that alliance only for Britain's help in defeating France, after which he planned eventually to turn on his partner Britain.

Buchanan says the war simply “had come out of a quarrel over a town [Danzig] the size of Ocean City, Md.,” as though that fact really had no further significance. He also says, “Hitler had never wanted war with Poland.”[!] And he scoffs at the idea that Hitler wanted to invade Russia: “Hitler did not even have a border with Russia. How then could he invade Russia?” (Here's a hint, Pat: Poland lay between Germany and Russia.) On May 23, 1939, Hitler told his military leaders, including Goring, Halder and Raeder, “It is not Danzig that is at stake. For us it is a matter of expanding our living space to the east and making food supplies secure....It is necessary, therefore, to attack Poland at the first suitable opportunity.” He also stated that “further success cannot be won without bloodshed.” (See volume 2 of Richard J. Evans authoritative three volume work The Third Reich in Power.)

Jeremy Noakes, in Hitler and 'Lebensraum' in the East, writes, “Between 1921 and 1925 Adolf Hitler developed the belief that Germany [with its growing population] required 'Lebensraum' (living space) in order to survive. The conviction that this living space could be gained only in the east, and specifically from Russia [are you listening, Patrick?], formed the core of his ideas, and shaped his policy after his take-over of power in Germany in 1933.” (emphasis added.)

“At his first meeting with all of the leading generals and admirals of the Reich on February 3, 1933,” says historian Gerhard Weinberg, “Hitler spoke of 'conquest of Lebensraum in the East and its ruthless Germanization' as his ultimate foreign policy objectives.”

According to, “Hitler's version of Lebensraum differed from the traditional imperial model in that the Nazis proposed to pursue a continental empire rather than a colonial one....A continental empire required only a large army, and the resources could be secured through land invasion and conquest.” (emphasis added.) [This helps to answer Buchanan's question “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?”]

“The Nazi plan was to unify the Germanic peoples, and then to expand eastward into Russia and the Ukraine, securing large areas of land and access to the oil and other natural resources that lay in those areas.” (emphasis added.)

Hitler himself wrote: "For it is not in colonial acquisitions that we must see the solution of this problem, but exclusively in the acquisition of a territory for settlement.” (emphasis added) --Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf (1925)

Paul Schmidt, who was Hitler's interpreter and therefore very knowledgeable, testified at the German war crimes trials: “The general objectives of National Socialism were known from the start - namely, the domination of the European continent, to be achieved first by the incorporation of all German-speaking groups into the Reich, and secondly, by territorial expansion under the slogan of 'Lebensraum'." (emphasis added.)

“That slogan 'Lebensraum'...was from the earliest days an openly avowed part of the Nazi doctrine - yet any thinking person must have known that it would lead inevitably to war."

[In a totalitarian state] “any means justifies the end, and the immediate end was ruthlessly to gain complete control of the German State and to brutalise and train its people for war.... [T]he plans for aggression required a nation trained in brutality, and taught that it was both necessary and heroic to invade other countries."

The Nazis policy was to kill, deport, or enslave the Polish, Russian and other Slavic Untermenschen (sub-human) populations, and to replace them with Germanic peoples. The entire urban population was to be exterminated by starvation, leaving agricultural surpluses for the German upper class.

Some historians debate whether Hitler's Lebensraum was “globalist”—world domination—or “continentalist”—-limited to Europe. Even within the Nazi regime there were differences of opinion. But those positions were not contradictory but, rather, compatible in a broader “stufenplan”, or “plan in stages.” Evidence can be cited for both sides of the argument.

On the one hand, Hitler knew nothing about naval warfare—and knew it. He was no expert in land warfare either, but he thought he was and constantly interfered with the plans of his generals, ignored their advice, and frequently reversed his own decisions, to their enormous frustration and the loss of situational military advantages. Not so with naval decisions. He left those to Admiral Doenitz, whose military judgment he respected. It is interesting, too, that Doenitz never joined the Nazi Party, yet he was Hitler's hand-picked successor to be the second and last fuhrer of the Third Reich, an office he held for just 23 days after Hitler's suicide.

We know, too, from fairly recent but very convincing research, that, contrary to the popular assumption, Hitler never intended to invade Britain. His bombing campaign there was undertaken with the expectation that it would compel the British to beg for peace, which he would then grant on his own terms and thus achieve his objective without an actual invasion. (Of course, he hadn't counted on the stubborn defiance of Winston Churchill.) When a senior Nazi military official once asked about the invasion, Hitler cited the 20 miles of water in the English Channel as a reason for avoiding it. If his army couldn't drive to the battle, he didn't want to go there. He had no idea how to conduct an invasion across the channel and had no means of transporting his army there. All this helps to explain why he concentrated his money and efforts on building submarines to attack Atlantic shipping, to try to subdue Britain by denying her much needed supplies (along with the bombing raids), instead of building surface warships and troop transports for an invasion. As early as 1935, in clear violation of the arms limitations required by the Versailles treaty, Hitler had begun a clandestine program of building submarines.

On the other hand, Germany began building “pocket battleships” as early as 1931—before Hitler came to power and more or less in agreement with Versailles limitations. These were very heavily armed but relative small ships that acquired their name from the British reference to them as “a battleship that fits in a pocket.” The Treaty of Versailles set a displacement limit of 10,000 tons for these armored ships, with the intent of limiting Germany to coastal defense ships. But all ships of this class were over the weight limit, constructed initially as 10,600 ton and later enlarged to 12,100 tons, although Germany always misrepresented them as being within the treaty limit. Other, even larger ships were subsequently constructed in the 1930s in blatant violation of the treaty limits. In 1936 the keel was laid for the Bismark, the most famous warship of WWII, which displaced 50,000 tons. She was the world's largest warship when she was launched on February 14,1939.

The millions of lives lost in WWII are most regrettable, but Buchanan is shortsighted and naive to think the world would have been better off if the war with Germany had been avoided. The death total—particularly of civilians—would have been far greater, given Hitler's intent to exterminate the entire populations of countries, the urban areas by starvation and the rural ones by other means, to be replaced by agrarian German settlers. The world was saved from that horrible fate by millions of courageous people, like the Poles, who, like our Founding Fathers, thought liberty was worth fighting for—even dying for if necessary. Besides, how could the U.S. have avoided war with Germany when Germany declared war on us first? After it did, the U.S. Senate voted 88-0 to declare war, and the House vote was 393-0.

Hitler said, “I have seen my enemies in Munich, and they are worms.” If Patrick Buchanan had been at Munich, he would have been one of the worms.

1 comment:

Alex Szczech said...

Ed, nice rebuttal to Buchanan's article. The bit about etymology of 'Szczecin' was interesting. I hadn't know that.