Sunday, April 18, 2010

“There is none so blind as....”: Pat Buchanan

A plane crash killed the president of Poland and 94 other high ranking officials of the Polish government who were on their way to a memorial service at the site of the Katyn Massacre 70 years ago. During WWII, 22,000 Polish officers and other leaders were murdered there by the Soviets. Pat Buchanan took the occasion to blame Poland for the massacre: “For it was Polish defiance of Adolf Hitler's demand to negotiate the return of Danzig, a German town...that gave birth to the Hitler-Stalin Pact, which led to Katyn.” (http://original.antiwar.com/buchanan/2010/04/12/katyn-and-the-good-war/ )

Patrick J. Buchanan is a well-known public affairs commentator and author. His recent book Churchill, Hitler and the Unnecessary War has attracted much attention and seems to be selling well. But it, along with his column on Katyn and an earlier column on the anniversary of the start of WWII, “Did World War II Have to Happen?” (http://original.antiwar.com/buchanan/2009/08/31/did-hitler-want-war/) contain historical inaccuracies, unwarranted assumptions, faulty analyses, and a horrendous conclusion that must be challenged.

In his book and his article “Did World War II Have to Happen?” Buchanan claims World War II, like Katyn, was Poland's fault for not negotiating with Hitler: “Why did Warsaw not negotiate with Berlin, which was hinting at an offer of compensatory territory in Slovakia [in return for giving up Danzig]?” 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 several times, tore up his non-aggression pact with Poland (which still had five years to run), and violated his non-aggression pact with Stalin by attacking Russia.  See my rebuttal “Pat Buchanan's Apologia for Hitler” http://amlibpub.blogspot.com/2009/09/pat-buchanans-apologia-for-hitler.html

WWII began when Hitler invaded Poland on September 1, 1939. She became a double victim of aggression on September 17, 1939, when the Soviet army invaded from the opposite direction. Buchanan asserts those attacks, as well as the rest of WWII, wouldn't have happened if only Poland had been more cooperative with Hitler and Britain had not agreed to come to Poland's aid.

In faulting Poland for not “negotiating” over Danzig, Buchanan does not mention that from the first discussion on this issue (October 24, 1938), Germany's “suggestions” included an extraterritorial railroad and highway through the Polish “corridor” that would cut Poland off from the Baltic. Poland could not possibly agree to this, nor could any reasonable person expect her to. Nor does he mention that apparently friendly conversations regarding Danzig ended because Poland steadfastly refused the demand to join in aggression against the Soviets.

Buchanan claims, “Hitler tried to negotiate Danzig. But the Poles, confident in their British war guarantee, refused.” Wrong. Gerhard Weinberg is one of the foremost experts on the Hitler era. He has spent his entire professional life studying it, authored scholarly works on it for more than 50 years, and has received important honors and awards for his work. He says it was Hitler, not the Poles who refused to engage in talks on Danzig. He states that highlighting Danzig as a grievance was merely a pretext for Nazi aggression. (See The Foreign Policy of Hitler's Germany Starting World War II, pp 561-584.) As further evidence that Danzig was a pretext and that Hitler wanted war, not a negotiated settlement, consider a speech he made the week before he invaded Poland. On August 22, 1939 he told his commanders, “Now Poland is in the position I wanted...I am only afraid that some bastard will present me with a mediation plan at the last moment."

Hitler relished the prospect of the slaughter. The Nazis had 2,600 tanks; the Poles, 180. The Nazis had over 2,000 aircraft; the Poles, 420. The Nazis invaded with 1.8 million troops against Poland's 600,000. Certainly Poland could have held out somewhat longer without the Soviet invasion, which forced her to fight one massive invader on the east and another on the west. But there could have been no doubt about the outcome. Hitler did not need Stalin's help.

In the conferences at Yalta and Potsdam at the end of WWII, Franklin Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, and Joseph Stalin gave a huge chunk of Poland, shown in pink on this map, to Stalin. According to historian Piotr Wrobel, “The American president, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, accepted the loss of East Central Europe in exchange for a Soviet agreement on his United Nations plan and a Soviet promise to participate in the final stage of the anti-Japanese operations.” We know, too, that FDR wanted Stalin to like him and wanted to offer compensation to him for the millions of Russian lives lost during the war.

As partial compensation for the eastern territory of Poland that was given to the Soviet Union, the Allies gave Poland territory to the west (in yellow) which was taken from Germany. This is the area where Buchanan laments that people were driven out of “ancestral homes.” I am certainly sympathetic to the plight of innocent German civilians, but Buchanan doesn't even mention the six million innocent civilian Poles, including old men, women and children, who were similarly driven from their ancestral homes in the much larger pink area of the map and resettled in the west after millions of Germans living there were evicted. Hundreds of thousands of other Poles were shipped after the war to the Soviet Gulag.

Earlier, with part of Poland under Soviet occupation for 21 months before the end of the war, “the Soviets deported about 1.5 million people, mostly Poles, to Siberia, the Arctic regions of European Russia, and Central Asia,” according to Wrobel. Oscar Halecki (History of East Central Europe) says the number of these victims “certainly exceeded one and a half million, all of whom were used as forced labor under conditions of starvation and utmost misery.” While it was deplorable that innocent German civilians were driven from their homes, at least those in the part of Germany conveyed to Poland were relocated within Germany—they were not shipped to Siberia or the Arctic regions of European Russia or Central Asia nor condemned to forced labor as the Poles in the eastern part of the country were by the Soviets. Yet Buchanan says nothing about the injustice and miseries inflicted upon these innocent Poles. He writes only about the innocent Germans

In his previous article, Buchanan not only downplayed the importance of Danzig but even made the absurd statement “Hitler had never wanted war with Poland [!]” In my rebuttal I wrote that 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.” (emphasis added).  (See volume 2 of Richard J. Evans monumental three-volume work The Third Reich in Power.) These are only a small sample of the quotations from historians who have identified Hitler's goal of territorial expansion to the east, both in Poland and Russia, from the 1920s, throughout the 1930s and into the 1040s until the Nazis were defeated. How can Buchanan be unaware of this undeniable evidence? As the saying goes, “There is none so blind as he who refuses to see.”

Buchanan also appears sympathetic to the Germans regarding geographic name changes of their “ancestral” land that Germany lost to Poland after the war. He laments “...Prussia disappeared...Danzig became Gdansk, Breslau became Wroclaw.” But these were “ancestral home” to the Poles long before they were occupied by Germanic people. This is land that was forcibly taken from Poland in the 18th century. Poland neighbors, Prussia, Russia and Austria, ganged up on Poland on three separate occasions, seizing portions of Poland and adding them to their own countries. Poland was helpless against the armed might of the three countries. After the Third Partition, in 1795 during the reign of the last king of Poland, Stanislaw August Poniatowski, nothing was left of Poland. For 124 years it did not exist as a nation, until it was reestablished by the Treaty of Versailles in 1919, which ended WWI. Apparently Buchanan thinks it was all right for this land to be taken from Poland by military aggression but not all right to give it back to her after WWII.

Evidently Buchanan would have preferred that areas such as Prussia, Danzig and Wroclaw had remained in German hands—thereby preventing the millions of Poles who lived there from living in territory that had been their “ancestral home” for more than a thousand years. The Polish state was founded more than a thousand years ago not by foreign conquest but simply by the unification of all the tribes of Poles.  Boleslaw Chrobry was Poland's first king. His dynasty lasted five centuries.

Buchanan gives the impression that the Polish geographic names were new ones that replaced ancient German names, but the opposite is true. Wroclaw, for example, is the first name of this city, according to the oldest evidence, Theitmar's Latin chronicle. That was in the year 1000. Though the city was Polish, it included communities of Bohemians, Jews, Walloons, and Germans.

Gdansk is even older. The name refers to amber, the colored stones used for jewelry, which were collected along the Baltic coast here from the time of the Romans, and even earlier.  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. 

In Roman times a main route of the Amber Road was from Gdansk on the Baltic coast, through what many centuries later became Prussia, through Wroclaw, to the head of the Adriatic Sea, as shown in this map:


In my previous rebuttal to Buchanan, I also used the example of Stettin (German) and Szczeczyn (Polish) to show that the German name was derived from the Polish, not the other way around. There are many, many other examples of this, which show this land was ancestral Polish land centuries before it became Prussian.

It may be useful to look now at the events leading up to the British guarantee to understand why that seemed necessary at the time, and why such guarantees were extended to other countries as well. It will also shed light on Hitler's intentions and Buchanan's faulty assumptions and conclusions.

The first target of Hitler's aggression was Austria. It happened quickly, in just three days. Chancellor Kurt von Schuschnigg realized his efforts to appease Hitler had been a mistake. So on March 9, 1938, intending to demonstrate that the majority of Austrian people did not favor Nazism, he announced a plebiscite to take place on March 13 on whether Austria should remain independent or combine with Germany. On March 10, Hitler began mobilizing 200,000 troops on the Austrian border. On March 11, he issued an ultimatum: unless Schuschnigg resigned and was replaced by a Nazi named Seyss-Inquart, the 200,000 troops would invade Austria. Schuschnigg's appeasement had already gone too far. To appease the Nazis, he had appointed several of them to his cabinet, including Seyss-Inquart. As interior minister he was in charge of all security. To avoid hopeless bloodshed, Schuschnigg accepted Hitler's ultimatum and resigned in an hour. The next day Seyss-Inquart invited the Nazi troops to come in. Austria was absorbed as a German province, in violation of the Versailles Treaty, and persecutions began immediately, not only of Jews but loyal Austrians. Even Schuschnigg was quickly arrested.

The brutal Austrian annexation posed a threat to other countries. Hungary and Yugoslavia now shared common borders with Germany. Czechoslovakia, encircled on three sides, was the obvious next target. Secret meetings took place in Berlin between Hitler and Konrad Henlein, who represented the largest group of ethnic Germans in the Sudeten part of Czechoslovakia. Henlein agreed to provide a pretext for German aggression by making demands that the Czech government could never be expected to meet—just as was later done with Poland. The Czech government never had a say in the matter. It was not invited to the meeting in Munich that handed Czech territory to Germany in the hope that this appeasement would bring “peace in our time,” as Neville Chamberlain put it. With the approval of the governments of Britain, France and Italy, Hitler annexed Czechoslovakia's Sudeten territory of 10,000 square miles and a population of 3.6 million people, including 800,000 Czechs. The nation also lost her natural boundaries, her only defensible fortifications, and three-fourths of her industry. With those losses, it was obvious that the rest of Czechoslovakia was indefensible and would soon belong to Hitler, too.

Buchanan says, “Hitler never wanted war with Poland, but an alliance such as he had with...Mussolini's Italy...and Father Jozef Tiso's Slovakia.” Most readers know about the alliance with Mussolini—hardly something to hold up as a model—but few know about Tiso and Slovakia. Is this the model Buchanan has in mind for Poland to achieve, in order to avoid war over Danzig? After Hitler annexed the Sudetenland, the Slovaks, who lacked any autonomy in the federation of Czechoslovakia, declared their autonomy within Czechoslovakia and Tiso became premier of this autonomous region. Despite a vote by the Slovak Parliament for complete independence, Tiso placed Slovakia under the “protection” of Hitler. Tiso was later hanged for treason and collaborating with the Nazis.

Emil Hacha, president of what remained of Czechoslovakia, met Hitler in Berlin on March 14, 1939. Hitler kept him waiting for five hours, then told him Nazi troops were poised to enter his country from three sides. Hitler offered two options (1) cooperate and the entry would take place “in a tolerable manner,” or (2) fail to cooperate and “resistance would be broken by force of arms, using all means". After suffering a heart attack following Goring's threat to bomb the capitol, Hacha effectively signed over the rest of Czechoslovakia to Germany. The French ambassador Robert Coulondre reported that Hacha was "in a state of total collapse, and kept going only by means of injections." The document Hacha signed created the “Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia” with Germany as the “protector.” German troops immediately occupied the country.

On March 22, Lithuania was forced to accept an ultimatum that relinquished Memel and its territory to Germany. This loss of her only port strengthened Germany's position in East Prussia for invasion of Poland.

All of the above led to Neville Chamberlain on March 31 offering Poland a guarantee of her independence in the event of a German attack. On April 6 that was converted into a joint British-French guarantee.

Nor was Poland the only country to receive such a guarantee. On April 18 Britain and France extended similar guarantees to Rumania and Greece. Greece was viewed as particularly vulnerable because Mussolini had invaded Albania on April 7 and forced it to recognize him as its king.

Hitler was on a roll. Buoyed by his string of easy successes, his next target was going to be Poland, with or without the British-French guarantee—and with or without participation from Russia. In fact, the above actions against Lithuania and Czechoslovakia were undertaken five months before the Nazi-Soviet pact and with the intention of enabling a Nazi attack against Poland from those countries, in order to ensure a speedy victory over Poland.

As in the case of Czechoslovakia, a pretext was made for aggression by making demands that the Polish government could never be expected to meet. Poland could never be expected to acquiesce to the demand to join Germany in a war against the Soviets. Obviously, that would have been national suicide.

Nor could Poland ever be expected to agree to allowing Germany to cut her off from the Baltic. Poland was a poor, largely agricultural country. It could not possibly produce modern armaments for its defense to match the weapons being turned out by an industrialized nation such as Germany with almost three times the population. With Nazi Germany on one flank and the Soviet Union on the other, Poland's lifeline to the outside world was access to the Baltic. It was important for economic reasons but indispensable for acquiring means to defend itself. Though Buchanan claims Poland refused to relinquish Danzig to Hitler because of the British guarantee to aid Poland if attacked, he appears blind to the fact that Poland consistently refused to relinquish Danzig in all the time before that guarantee.

Long before the 1939 British guarantee, which Buchanan claims precipitated WWII, Poland had mutual defense agreements with France dating from 1921 and 1925. These provided that if either was attacked, the other would come to its defense. But when Buchanan claims Poland should have “negotiated”—meaning given in to Hitler's demands—on Danzig, he is advocating a course that would have prevented a way for France or any other country to aid Poland. This would have made Nazi invasion of Poland even more inviting. Buchanan seems oblivious to the military consequences and the incalculable loss of Polish lives his policy would have produced.

France also had a mutual defense guarantee with Britain dating from 1925, the Locarno Pact. So if France was attacked, Britain was obligated to go to war, too. It is worth pointing out, also, that Britain's entry into war on the side of France would not depend solely on honoring its obligations under the Locarno Pact. It was in her own self interest to do so. The British drew the obvious conclusion that if France fell to Hitler, they would be the next vicitms; therefore, it was better to partner with the French and fight the Nazis in France than to fight alone in Britain after France had fallen.

Hitler, of course, did not believe either Britain or France would honor their guarantee to Poland, because they had made no move to stop his earlier aggressions against Austria and Czechoslovakia or, even earlier, his other Versailles Treaty violations. His opinion was reinforced by his foreign minister Ribbentrop, whom Hitler regarded as the leading Nazi expert on Britain due to his status as former ambassador to London. Ribbentrop's appraisal was based in part on an alleged statement to him by French Foreign Minister Georges Bonnet in December 1938 that France recognized Eastern Europe as Germany's exclusive sphere of influence, hence would not come to Poland's aid. Gordon Craig says Ribbentrop showed Hitler only diplomatic cables that supported his analysis. And Hitler's Ambassador to London Herbert von Dirksen reported that Neville Chamberlain knew "the social structure of Britain, even the conception of the British Empire, would not survive the chaos of even a victorious war" and so would not fulfill its guarantee.

Buchanan compares the deaths from a few weeks of the Nazi-Soviet conquest of Poland to the deaths from six years of world war, but he does not include the Polish deaths that would have occurred from the Hitler's policy of exterminating the Poles if he had not been stopped. Heinrich Himmler, the second most powerful man in Nazi Germany, was in charge of all concentration camps and extermination camps. He said, “All Poles will disappear from the world....It is essential that the great German people should consider it as its major task to destroy all Poles.” And on August 22, 1939, the week before he invaded Poland, Hitler explicitly authorized his commanders “to kill without pity or mercy, men, women and children of Polish descent or language.”

Lynn Nicolas, author of The Rape of Europa, states: “The Nazis planned to take Poland and clear out the indigenous population and then repopulate the whole area with Germanic peoples. Poland basically as a civilization and a country would cease to exist.”

What had been known as Poland would become part of Greater Germany with no Polish people. Nazi leadership expected that the Poles would eventually be completely eliminated through expulsions to Siberia, famine, mass executions and slave labor of any survivors. But because there were not enough Germans to immediately replace the Poles, some Poles were to be retained to work until the arrival of a sufficient number of Germans made them unnecessary. Buchanan naively assumes that after the Danzig issue was “negotiated,” Poles and Germans would somehow get along. He refuses to see (“There is none so blind...”) not only the deaths but the persecution and discrimination to which the Poles who survived would be subjected, as explained by Janusz Gumkowski and Kazimierz Leszczynski in Poland Under Nazi Occupation, from Nazi documents:

"Since it was unavoidable that there would be a great number of Poles still living in the annexed territories for a number of years, the memorandum [dated November 25, 1939] provided for an intense system of discrimination against them. This was to cover all fields of political, social, economic and cultural life. The Poles would be unable to become citizens of the Reich or enjoy any political rights. They would be expropriated of all rural and urban property without compensation. They could not carry on any independent trade; they could only work as hired labor for German employers. There wages would be fixed at much lower scales than those of Germans.

"All Polish theatres and cinemas, restaurants and cafes would be closed. The Poles would be forbidden to go to German theatres or cinemas. They would also be forbidden to have radio sets or gramophones.

[Quoting directly from the Nazi memorandum:] “In order to destroy all forms of Polish cultural and economic life, there can be no Polish associations, unions or federations; church associations are also banned.”...

"Generalplan Ost had ceased to be merely a blueprint. Its first part, the KleinePlanung, was already being put into practice. The western areas of Poland had been incorporated into the Reich, hundreds of thousands of Poles had been expelled from them, and further deportations were in progress."

Most of the details of Nazi's Generalplan Ost were drawn up before the invasion of Poland, and the final version appeared in early 1940. It included plans for mass transportation and creation of slave labor camps for 20 million Poles, where all were intended to die in the draining and cultivation of the vast Pripet Marshes of Russia. In addition to the Poles, other Slavic people would also be displaced from their homes and deported. The 1940 final version of Generalplan Ost concluded that 31 million Slavs would have to be deported in 25 years, and that version was amended only once. In 1942 the number was revised to 51 million to account for natural increases and other factors. By comparison, the number of Jews Hitler murdered in the Holocaust was six million.

I am not in favor of the United States being the world's policeman and righting wrongs all over the planet that are none of our business. But nations have a right to engage in mutual defense treaties as a corollary of the inherent right of self defense, and the existence of such treaties may in itself deter war. NATO is a successful example of this, for it preserved peace in Europe for a half century after WWII. The British guarantee to Poland was not similarly successful, but the mistake was not in Britain making the guarantee but in Britain and France not taking a stand against Hitler sooner—which even he later admitted would have quickly stopped him. Instead, they attempted for too long what Buchanan seven decades later says would have avoided the world war: further accommodation with Hitler.

Here is a roster of important dates for 1940. April 9, Germany begins occupation of Denmark and invades Norway. May 10, Germany invades Belgium, Holland and Luxembourg. May 15, Holland surrenders to Germany. May 27, Belgium surrenders. June 10, Norway surrenders. June 10, Italy declares war on Britain and France (Italy and Germany had signed a “Pact of Steel” alliance on May 22, 1939.) June 14, German army enters Paris. June 18, Soviets invade Baltic states. June 22, France surrenders. June 30, Germany begins occupation of the Channel Islands. July 10, Battle of Britain begins. August 3, Italy begins occupation of British Somaliland. September 17, Italy invades Egypt. September 27, Germany, Italy and Japan sign Tripartite Pact. October 7, German army moves into Rumania. October 28, Italy invades Greece. Can anyone—besides Buchanan—really believe these aggressions would not have occurred if Britain had not issued its guarantee to aid Poland?

WWII would have occurred even if Chamberlain had not issued the British guarantee, and the U.S. could not have avoided being involved. WWII was not an unnecessary or avoidable war. The attack on Pearl Harbor had nothing to do with Danzig or the British guarantee to Poland and would have occurred anyway. Four days after that Japanese attack, Germany declared war on the United States! Does Buchanan think we could have avoided declaring war against Germany in return? Impossible! The U.S. Senate voted 88 to 0 to declare war on Germany. The House voted 393 to 0. Not a single senator or representative would vote against going to war with Germany!

Even without the 1939 Chamberlain guarantee to Poland, Britain would have still gotten into the war because of her mutual defense treaty with France. After Germany crushed Poland, Hitler would still turn, as he did, on France. So Britain would have then entered the war. And after we declared war against Germany, it was perfectly logical that we would be allies with Britain who was also at war with Germany. So we would be right back in the same historical position that developed following Britain's issuance of its guarantee to Poland. There would still have been a world war; it would not have been a mere three-week German-Polish conflict as Buchanan assumes. And it probably wouldn't have been much different than what we know as WWII. Certainly it would have been much worse than what Buchanan believes. Had Hitler not been stopped, even more lives would have been lost than actually occurred in WWII, and even more of those would have been innocent civilians.

2 comments:

Hugh Whiting Jr. said...

Iknow you wrote this many year back but thank you for setting the record straight. As an American of Polish descent and an actual proponent of truth you did a stellar job putting this Hitler worshiping "hack" in his proper place. Bravo Sir.


Hugh Whiting

Hugh Whiting Jr. said...

Thank you Sir for putting Buchanan the revisionist Hitler lover/apologist in his proper place. How dare this uninformed fool write such garbage. As an American of Polish descent and a believer in truth, you have done well and defended the honor of the Polish servicemen who died from 1939 to 1945 defending freedom and trying to liberate their homeland.

Hugh Whiting