The scope of Patrick J. Buchanan’s 2008 book Churchill, Hitler and “The Unnecessary War” is rather wider than its title would suggest. Buchanan (quite rightly) sees the First and Second World Wars as being inextricably linked and he devotes considerable attention to the first of these disasters as well as the sorry history of the interwar years.
The monstrous injustice of the Treaty of Versailles made a future European war much more likely. Although Germany was the least anxious of all the great powers to go to war in 1914 and tried harder than any of them to prevent a minor Balkan squabble from engulfing the continent it was Germany that was saddled with the blame. Germany was humiliated, starved and bled dry financially and millions of Germans found themselves living as second-class citizens in the nonsensical artificial nations that deluded statesmen created out of the wreckage of the once great civilisations of central Europe. But while Germany was mutilated and humiliated she was not destroyed. Had Germany been destroyed utterly by being broken up into smaller states it would have been an even greater injustice but there might at least have been a chance of peace. Instead Germany was left powerful enough to rebuild, with a host of perfectly legitimate grievances that would ensure much future trouble.
One of the men most responsible for the First World War was the brilliant but unbalanced and amoral British First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill. Whenever storm clouds threatened at any time over the next three decades Churchill would be in the thick of things, doing his best to drive the ship of state onto the rocks. As Chancellor of the Exchequer in the 1920s Churchill would play a key role in the destruction of the world’s mightiest navy thus ensuring that Britain would be hopelessly unprepared for any future war.
The Treaty of Versailles made the failure of the Weimar Republic and the rise of Hitler a certainty. This need not have been a complete catastrophe for western civilisation. Hitler was remarkably successful in achieving redress for many of Germany’s grievances by peaceful means. Hitler was a tyrant but he was a tyrant who was desperately anxious to avoid another war with Britain and France. Hitler’s ambitions lay entirely in the East. This was always going to bring him into eventual collision with Soviet Russia. Given that the Soviet Union was a far greater menace to world peace than Germany that should not have been a concern to anyone in France or Britain. Tragically, as in 1914, the blind and deluded “statesmen” of France and Britain would manage to get themselves embroiled in affairs to which they should have gave given a very wide berth.
Fortunately Churchill was not Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain was. And Neville Chamberlain had no wish to plunge the continent into another catastrophic war. The policy of appeasement has been much misunderstood. The essence of this policy was to find peaceful means of redressing legitimate international grievances. Chamberlain, quite correctly, believed it would be insanity to start a war in order to save the Sudetenland, given that the inhabitants of the Sudetenland were Germans who wished to be part of Germany, rather than part of Czechoslovakia where they were treated as second-class citizens.
Unfortunately, having successfully avoided disaster over that issue Chamberlain would go on to commit the greatest act of folly in British history by offering the fascist dictatorship of Poland an absurd guarantee. If Poland felt itself threatened it could drag France and Britain into the very war Chamberlain had struggled so mightily to avoid. And armed with a blank cheque from Britain and France Poland could refuse to negotiate with Germany over Germany’s very real grievances in regard to Danzig and the Polish Corridor. Chamberlain’s moment of insanity would lead to a war that would leave tens of millions dead and leave Britain a bankrupt third-rate power.
Even then all was not lost. Hitler would repeatedly offer Britain remarkably generous peace terms but by 1940 Churchill was Prime Minister and that ended any hope of peace.
As Buchanan makes clear, this was only the beginnings of Churchill’s career of infamy. He would go on to introduce the enlightened policy of making war on civilians by terror bombing of cities. He would sell out the people of eastern Europe, including the very people on whose behalf Britain had gone to war in the first place, to the monstrous Stalin. He would be complicit in a horrific campaign of ethnic cleansing that would claim millions of lives. What had begun, supposedly, as a high-minded moral war would deal western civilisation a blow from which it has never recovered.
Buchanan does not let the United States off the hook either. The cynicism and duplicity of Roosevelt would play a major role in the rape of Europe.
Buchanan draws heavily on the work of earlier historians. There is nothing new or startling in this book but it does provide an excellent synthesis and a convenient summary of the arguments against the Second World War as either a just or a necessary war, and of the case for regarding Churchill as one of the major war criminals of modern history. Highly recommended.