Archive for the ‘World War II’ Category

Pat Buchanan has again put forward the view that World War II was avoidable, that the Western Allies should not have defended Poland’s frontiers, and that the confluence of events compelled Hitler to seek world conquest where he might have otherwise been appeased.  I believe this is rubbish, it contradicts Hitler’s own stated messianic aims, and Buchanan’s error is rooted in his attempts to rewrite the past to conform to his foreign policy preferences of the present, namely, American isolationism.  While isolationism may be justified now–after the defeat of Hitler and the defeat of Soviet Russia–it is unfortunate that he has ignored and twisted the facts about Hitler and the very necessary European War to make a point (and in the process discredit a point) that is otherwise quite compelling under the historical circumstances of today.

I think his view of Hitler as a victim of British insouciance is his absolutely weakest position.  If neoconservatives look at foreign policy as a puzzle that must be solved in such a way that the foreign policy positions today should always yield a response to WWII that gets America involved earlier than it did to avoid the evils of German expansion and oppressive racial policies in occupation, Pat views the evils of excessive American interventionism today such that history must be re-written so that all such intervention is morally suspect (including British intervention to prevent the rise of a German hegemon) .

While Germany was treated pretty shabbily after Versailles, it was the Poles who were deprived by the Austrians, Germans, and Russians of a nation state from 1795 to 1918.  Their national defense and their position on Danzig was hardly an extreme one.  Further, the question of borders being resolved by force has a very thin and unsustainable moral basis, as pretty much the entire Western half of Poland such as Silesia, Posen, Danzig, as well as other parts of Europe with German minorities, were subject to colorable German claims for realigning borders because of scattered German minorities in all of these regions, and the East of Poland was equally subject to Russian claims because of scattered Ukrainian and Belarussian minorities.  There was no perfect solution that did not arguably require the country to be destroyed in the name of an amoral European peace.  The Pilsudski regime was not perfect, but Hitler would not have been content with anything less than annexxing a half or more of Poland, most of Ukraine and Belarus, and the Baltics.

I wrote two longish pieces on this subect at Takimag last year here and here.  Among other things, I note the following:

But the war in the East did not depend on British involvement, nor did it become more likely because of the Franco-British security guaranty to Poland. Indeed, the war arguably would have been delayed by these measures if they were undertaken with greater vigor. Britain reasonably viewed their diffidence on the eve of WWI as having emboldened the Kaiser; they reasoned that clearer commitments might arrest the conflagration from occurring a second time. This became particularly important after Munich, because Hitler showed his bad faith and moved on to the next item on his list by threatening the weak and recently re-born nation of Poland.

Second, the argument about the justice of liberating millions of Germans under Czech control “proves too much.” Many Germans also lived in Poland, Russia, Latvia, Romania, Bulgaria, Slovakia, and France too. Poles lived in Lithuania. Russians lived in Ukraine. Ukrainians lived in Poland. Magyars lived in Romania and Slovakia. Jews and Gypsies lived everywhere. It would have been impossible to align the political and ethnic borders in 1938 Europe. To avoid the real and imagined harms to vulnerable ethnic minorities, either the borders of all of Europe would had to move and at least some of the people would have to be moved en masse, which is more or less what happened post-war. The Germans would not have stopped at Danzig, and there is no logical reason under Pat Buchanan’s reasoning that they should have. For the Germans, any German being ruled by a non-German was an injustice.

In other words, from the Alsace-Lorraine to the Volga, the Germans had a pretext to engage in wars to “liberate the oppressed Volksdeutsch.” Let’s be clear. This was a zero sum game: if the Germans got Danzig, the Poles of Pomerania would be Germanized, expelled, or oppressed, as they eventually were when it was annexed by the Third Reich.

Britian in 1939 is not America in 2009.  Further, Hitler and the Nazis, like Stalin and the Soviet Communists, were unique and thankfully rare threats to world peace and the entire human race.  Their threat was sui generis, and the American response should be seen as such as well.  It neither requires permanent pax Americana, but nor does that exceptional engagement become wrong, simply because it’s wrong to fight for democracy today when the threats of barbarism from African or South American or Caucasian hell holes are picayune in comparison.  It is appropriate Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia were stopped with the help of American arms, and it was even morally defensible to ally with the Soviets from 1941-1945 given the stakes.  Sometimes the enemy of my enemy must be cooperated with, even if far too much was eventually lost at Yalta and Tehran.

As bad as the latter situation was, it would have been far worse if a successful Hitler had dominated Europe with his crackpot, racist, and anti-Christian ideology.  Since nationalism is inherently stronger in many ways than communism, and since the post-WWII environment preserved a distinct competitor to the Soviets in the form of NATO and the United States, it is quite likely that a successful Hitler or his successor regime would still be dominating Europe today and in effect destroying European civilization but for the actions of Churchill, Roosevelt, de Gaulle, and the rest of the West in World War II.

It is the worst kind of ideology that can defend a general principle, such as American non-interventionism–a principle which I share–but is blind to the exceptions and willing to refashion them in the most naive and results-oriented manner possible.

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German Troops Dismantling a Polish Border Post on September 1, 1939

How did World War II begin?  It didn’t begin on D-Day or at Auschwitz or on December 7, 1941 when Pearl Harbor was attacked.  It began 70 years ago today with the German invasion of a newly independent Poland.

The Poles fought valiantly against the Germans and waited for promised aid from the French.  The French and British instead sat by as the Polish Army was crushed.   Less than a year later the French themselves were overrun by the German Wehrmacht in a campaign more swift than the Polish campaign.

The Poles continued to fight for many years underground against both the Nazis and their erstwhile Soviet allies.  It is an inconvenient historical fact that the Soviets invaded Eastern Poland nearly simultaneously with the Germans.  The Soviets were not attacked by Germany until 1941, but were instead attacking Finland, Lithuania, Estonia, and Latvia in 1940 in the same fashion as they attacked Poland in 1939.  After all that, FDR got many Americans to whitewash the very recent past and call Stalin “Uncle Joe.”

The German invasion, like so many wars, was a war of territorial conquest based on the supposed “natural frontiers” of Germany and alleged offenses against German ethnic minorities in Jozef Pilsudski’s nationalist Poland.  The Soviet attack was a bit of opportunism and score-settling going back to the Miracle on the Vistula. After World War I, the Poles saved their newly reborn country from the Bolsheviks and annexed parts of Lithuania, Belarus, and Ukraine from the former Russian Empire during the brief window of opportunity during the early days of the Soviet regime.

After the Nazi invasion, Poland would not form a collaborationist regime, unlike most of Western and parts of Central Europe.  Instead, it was subject to government by German rule, in some cases annexed directly into Germany, and in all cases subject to mass privation, ethnic cleansing, and forced labor.  Far from being mere “bystanders” to the Holocaust, the Poles suffered mightily from the Nazis’s campaign of anti-Slavism.  Some 3 million Polish Christians died at the hands of the Nazis in addition to the more well known mass murder of some 3 million Polish Jews.  The Polish people would resist until the very end, when its exile government was secretly sold out to the Soviets at Yalta by the British and Americans.

For those westerners who think of World War II as the “good war,” it’s worth remembering that the story is a bit more complicated.  While the Nazis were clearly very evil and a threat to European peace, it’s to their shame that the Allies so frequently subordinated their strategic aims and moral authority to the Soviet Union.  The war that began in defense of Polish sovereignty ended with a Soviet land-grab in the East.  The Soviet-controlled communist government of Poland soon undertook the liquidation of the Polish leadership and intelligentsia that had been begun by the Soviets during the 1939-1941 interregnum at Katyn.  The  mass murder and ethnic cleansing undertaken by the Soviets in Eastern Europe was very predicable.  The Soviets’ bad faith should have been self-evident 70 years ago when they invaded Eastern Poland in a preplanned destruction of the Polish state undertaken in concert with their Nazi allies.

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When I read about the death of the last British World War I veteran, I wonder if  in 20 or 30 years time World War II will similarly be reduced the level of historical curiosity, where the death of the last veteran is a mere human interest story.  As it stands, World War II remains prominent in our consciousness, but in the process World War I has been forgotten.

World War II is the biggest war in human history and will, God willing, remain so.  It also is tied up in a moral narrative that sustains liberalism.  W e know more and more about one aspect of the war because the Holocaust is front and center as an indictment of the Western World; the various military and foreign policy lessons of the war are assuming less and less significance. The Pacific Theater is nearly forgotten, other than as proof of American “racism” in dropping the nuclear bomb on Japan. So long as the narrative of the evil Western World persists, the human rights violations of the Nazis will continue to be given top billing, while the gallantry of the Allies, the evils of the Soviets, and the human suffering from the war in general will be suppressed. It is unfortunate that our historical memory is so shallow that the most recent world war obliterates the memory and lessons of all of its predecessors, and even its own lessons are simplified and channelled into a single narrative designed to advance the cause of liberalism.  We all are supposed to learn that appeasement and short-sighted and selfish nationalism led to Chamberlain’s capitulation and thus allowed the Holocaust, but we never learn the evils of hair-trigger alliances and transnational loyalties that set the powder keg off in the Great War, nor the similar mass murder committed by Communists during war and peace.

Our leaders and our educated classes have fewer and fewer reference points in making decisions about complex matters.  Obama’s shallow understanding of history is the perfect complement to Bush’s “One Note Johnnie” fear of appeasement.  I should hope that neither the Great War, nor World War II, both of which are great testaments to the capacity of man for evil and the costs of war, become so forgotten or misunderstood as simple lessons about “resisting aggression,” that anyone should be inclined to repeat them.

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