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jeudi, 23 avril 2015

An Army of Lions, Led by Asses


An Army of Lions, Led by Asses


Ex: http://www.lewrockwell.com

One hundred years ago this month – April 1915 – the Allies and Germany were stalemated on the Western Front. Winston Churchill, the young, ambitious First Lord of the British Admiralty proposed a scheme first advanced by France’s prime minister,  Aristide Briand.

The best way for Britain and France to end the stalemate and link up to their isolated ally, Russia, would be a daring “coup de main,” or surprise attack, to seize the Ottoman Empire’s Dardanelles, occupy Constantinople (today Istanbul) and knock Turkey out of the First World War. Though rickety, the Ottoman Empire was Germany’s most important wartime ally.

Churchill’s plan was to send battleships of the British and French navies to smash their way through Turkey’ decrepit, obsolete forts along the narrow Dardanelles that connects the Aegean and Mediterranean with the Sea of Marmara, Constantinople and  the Black Sea, Russia’s maritime lifeline. 

This bold naval intrusion, that some predicted would rival Admiral Horatio Nelson’s dramatic attack in 1801 on Danish-Norwegian Fleet sheltered at Copenhagen, would quickly win the war and achieve for Churchill  his ardent ambition of becoming supreme warlord.

Once the Dardanelles was run,  480,000 Allied troops from Britain, France, Australia and New Zealand would land at Gallipoli and other beaches, march north and keep the strategic strait open.

The Dardanelles are relatively narrow, some 1.6 km, a mere rife shot from the European to Asiatic side. In 1810 the British romantic poet Byron swam the Dardanelles to emulate the feat of the ancient Greek hero,  Leander.

Churchill convinced his reluctant cabinet colleagues to adopt the bold plan. They should have been more cautious: the French-originated plan was unsound, and the French do not have a happy history in naval affairs.

Efforts by 18 older British and French battleships to force the strait failed miserably. Krupp cannon in the old brick Turkish forts and newly laid mines sank three Allied battleships and badly damaged three others.

The much-heralded French battleship “Bouvet” hit a mine and capsized taking 600 crewmen to their deaths.

Two British and two French battleships were put out of action. This was the last significant French naval action in the Mediterranean until World War II when the British sank the rest of its fleet at Toulon.

Meanwhile, a vast amphibious operation was underway, landing tens of thousands of Allied troops on the Gallipoli Peninsula, mostly on the Aegean side. The landing at Sulva Bay was particularly bloody: the Allied troops were caught in a withering enfilade by Turkish machine guns that turned the sea red.


Churchill’s Gallipoli expedition was a triumph of amphibious daring, a precursor to the Pacific island campaign of World War II. But it was also a planning and logistical disaster in which tens of thousands of brave soldiers were sacrificed for the glory of the politicians.

Churchill at least had seen war fighting the Dervishes up the Nile in Sudan (see his “River War”). So too his dashing colleague Lord Kitchner. Fighting natives armed with spears and swords was one thing.

Fighting Germans and Turks quite another. When Britain’s Imperial Army met the Germans on the Western Front it was savaged. The same is likely to happen if and when the US imperial army, also used to fighting natives, has to face Russian or Chinese regulars.

Churchill and his entourage had failed to properly understand Gallipoli’s torturous topography. What looked easy on maps (many of them incorrect) turned out to be deep gulches, and steep, waterless slopes that proved a nightmare for infantry. Just walking up and down them left me exhausted and winded.

With the racism typical of Imperial Britain,  Churchill and the government in London dismissed Turks as backwards, cowardly Muslims. Gallipoli taught them the very opposite.

Out of this fierce battle emerged its hero, Col. Mustafa Kemal Ataturk who defeated the Allies, founded the Turkish republic eight years later, and saved his nation from invasions by Greece, Russia, Italy, Russia and France.

By December, 1915, the Allies began evacuating their troops, a humiliating and bloody defeat at the hands of the “backwards” Turks and their German advisers. The supposed “knockout” blow to the Ottoman Empire ended up knocking out Winston Churchill who was demoted but remained in cabinet for a while. His boss Prime Minister Asquith resigned.


Churchill was at least man enough to take up command of a Scots infantry unit on the Western Front, unlike so many other politicians who sent men to their deaths from the safety of their private clubs in Whitehall.

It is often said that modern Australia and New Zealand were really born as independent nations at Gallipoli, just as the same is said of Canada at the battle of Vimy.

True to a degree, but we should also remember that the British Empire often used its “white troops” from Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Canada as cannon fodder to spare British regiments from the home islands.

The Gallipoli disaster and the surrender of a British army at Kut in Mesopotamia undermined the power and invincibility of the British Empire.  The usual patriotic guff aside, 250,000 Allied troops died or were wounded for no good purpose. A similar number of Turkish troops died, but the Turks could at least claim victory and the defense of their nation.

The Australian and New Zealand troops (ANZAC) who had not previously seen combat fought with honor and gallantry. But their commanders and Churchill made one grave blunder after another, recalling the devastating description of the British forces in the 1854 Crimean War, “an army of lions, led by asses.”

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lundi, 20 octobre 2014

Sennacherib’s Return


Sennacherib’s Return

Advance to Barbarism, FJP Veale

The exclusion of non-combatants from the scope of hostilities is the fundamental distinction between civilized and barbarous warfare.

FJP Veale

Sennacherib, the great king,

And their small cities, which were beyond numbering I destroyed, I devastated, and I turned into ruins. The houses of the steppe, (namely) the tents, in which they lived, I set on fire and turned them into flames.

Over the whole of his wide land I swept like a hurricane. The cities Marubishti and Akkuddu, his royal residence-cities, together with small towns of their area, I besieged, I captured, I destroyed, I devastated, I burned with fire.

In the course of my campaign, Beth-Dagon, Joppa, Banaibarka, Asuru, cities of Sidka, who had not speedily bowed in submission at my feet, I besieged, I conquered, I carried off their spoil.

As for Hezekiah the Judahite, who did not submit to my yoke: forty-six of his strong, walled cities, as well as the small towns in their area, which were without number, by levelling with battering-rams and by bringing up seige-engines, and by attacking and storming on foot, by mines, tunnels, and breeches, I besieged and took them.

I captured their cities and carried off their spoil, I destroyed, I devastated, I burned with fire.

Furthermore, 33 cities within the bounds of his province I captured. People, asses, cattle and sheep, I carried away from them as spoil. I destroyed, I devastated, and I burned with fire.

The cities which were in those provinces I destroyed, I devastated, I burned with fire. Into tells and ruins I turned them.

…strong cities, together with the small cities in their areas, which were countless, I besieged, I conquered, I despoiled, I destroyed, I devastated, I burned with fire, with the smoke of their conflagration I covered the wide heavens like a hurricane.

Veale continues his examination of the Advance to Barbarism, focusing first on the World War II bombing of areas outside of the battlefield and culminating in the carpet bombing of German cities.  This bombing marked the complete repudiation of one of the cornerstones of the concept of civilized warfare: warfare should be the concern only of the armed combatants engaged; non-combatants should be left outside of the scope of military operations.  It marked the return, or advance as Veale puts it, to a form of warfare for which Sennacherib the Assyrian was well known.

May 11, 1940

churchill.jpgVeale introduces J. M. Spaight and his book “Bombing Vindicated.” Spaight describes the awesomeness of this day, the “splendid decision” to bomb German targets well outside of the area of military operations.  The next day, newspapers announced that “eighteen Whitley bombers attacked railway installations in Western Germany.”

Looked at from today’s eyes, there is nothing shocking in this statement; however, compared to what came before in European wars, this was news:

Western Germany in May 1940 was, of course, as much outside the area of military operations as Patagonia.

At the time the battle for France was in high gear, yet the pilots flew over these battlefields to reach their objective:

To the crews of these bombers it must have seemed strange to fly over a battlefield where a life and death struggle was taking place and then over a country crowded with columns of enemy troops pouring forward to the attack…Their flight marked the end of an epoch which had lasted for two and one-half centuries.

…against a background of prosaic twentieth railway installations we can imagine the grim forms of Asshurnazirpal and Sennacherib stroking their square-cut, curled and scented beards with dignified approval….

This was only the beginning, with the culmination to come in Dresden some five years later, but this is to get too far ahead in the narrative.

The entire reason for the development of Britain’s bomber command “was to bomb Germany should she be our enemy,” according to Spaight.  Philosophically, this concept was offered as early as 1923, by Air Marshal Sir Hugh Trenchard: “The Army policy is to defeat the enemy army; our policy is to defeat the enemy nation.”  Not very European.

Spaight points out that this was also obvious to Hitler, which is one reason Hitler was anxious to reach an agreement with Britain to confine “the action of aircraft to the battle zones.”  Spaight agrees that Hitler undertook civilian bombing only three months after the RAF began bombing the German civilian population.

Germany did not design its bombers for such use, instead designed to support ground troops:

“For Germany,” Mr. Spaight continues, “the bomber was artillery for stationary troops dug fast into the Maginot Line; for Britain, it was an offensive weapon designed to attack the economic resources of the enemy deep within his country.”

In order to establish the groundwork for this shift, in May, 1940 Churchill and his advisors extended the definition of military objectives to include…

…factories, oil plants, public buildings and any structure which contributed or was of use, if only indirectly, to the war effort of the enemy.

Railway installations, industrial zones, etc.  The British Cabinet argued that these are used to support the military, therefore are fair targets.  Of course, by this reasoning – and by including the word “indirectly” – virtually every resident of a warring nation could be a legitimate target.

However, even via this logic, bombing accuracy must be taken into account.  There is no such thing as “collateral damage” when bombing an actual war zone – there is no collateral to damage.  Even with modern accuracy, collateral damage is a given (and intended) – and with the technology of World War Two, collateral damage was more likely than damage of the purposeful sort.

May 14, 1940

…a date on which Hitler’s triumphal progress which, thanks to the outcome of events on that day he was able to continue for the following two years, came so near to being brought to an abrupt and final halt.

On May 10, the Germans invaded the West, in an offensive that stretched from the North Sea to Switzerland.  On May 12, German General von Kleist occupied Sedan in the Ardennes, and the next day established a beachhead on the other side of the Meuse River – four miles deep and four miles wide.

Meanwhile, British bombers were flying overhead, on their way to targets far from the battlefield.

While this great conflict was raging along the Meuse, another conflict of a different kind was raging between the French and British High Commands.

The breakthrough by the Germans had been so swift that no heavy artillery was moved into place – artillery that might have cut-off the bridgehead established by the Germans. The French, believing that the purpose of heavy bombers was for long-rage artillery (just as the Germans designed)…

…clamoured for an immediate concentration of bombers for a mass attack on the crossings of the Meuse.  They found however the chiefs of the R.A.F were reluctant to cancel the plans which they had made for large scale air attacks on German industrial centres in accordance with Air Marshal Trenchard’s conception of the role of the heavy bomber in warfare.

Whatever the merits of bombing German industrial centers, the French did not believe that the time to begin doing so was during the opening of a great land battle.




On the night of the 13th, German troops frantically repaired the Gaulier Bridge over the Meuse; on the 14th, the heavy tanks of the 1st Panzer Division under General Guderian crossed the river and raced along a route toward the English Channel.

“Upon the destruction of the Gaulier Bridge depends victory or defeat,” declared General d’Astiere de la Vigerie imploring that every available bomber should be assigned this vital task.

About 170 British and French bombers were sent; German anti-aircraft proved quite accurate – about 85 were shot down.  Yet only one bomber needed to be successful; might the likelihood have improved with more thrown into the attack?

We now know that 96 heavy bombers were at this vital moment available to join the attack.  While this supreme effort was being made to cut the communications of the German tank spearhead advancing toward the English Channel, these 96 heavy bombers were waiting passively on nearby airfields in preparation for a mass attack on the factories and oil plants in the Ruhr which had been planned to take place on the evening of the following day.

This attack, far from the front line, took place as planned.  Ninety-six bombers took off, of which 78 were directed at oil plants.  Of these, only 24 crews claim to have found them.

One extra load of bombs on the crossing over the Meuse by Sedan – let alone ninety-six loads – might have made all the difference between victory and defeat as General Billote pointed out at the time.  Had the supplies of Guderian’s Panzers been cut off, he would soon have been brought to a halt from lack of petrol and then forced to surrender when his ammunition was exhausted.

Veale speculates that this might have brought the battle in the West to a rapid end: the German generals, hesitant to invade France in the first place, might have compelled Hitler’s retirement; the National Socialist party would have collapsed; Britain and France could have been in a position to dictate the terms of peace.

I cannot say if any of this would have happened – beyond the understanding that the German generals did not support this invasion.  One thing I suspect is true: if the British were successful in blowing the bridge, the war in the west would have been much different.

From the “Splendid Decision” to Terror Bombing

On December 16, 1940, 134 planes took off for a nighttime raid on the town of Mannheim, with the object of the attack – according to Air Chief Marshal Pierse – “to concentrate the maximum amount of damage in the centre of the town.”  So much for any semblance of military objectives.

From The Bansusan-Butt Report dated August 18, 1941:

The British Cabinet were horrified to learn that aerial photographs taken of the targets described as having been completely demolished disclosed that most of them showed no signs of damage; of all the aircraft credited with having bombed their targets, only one-third had, in fact, bombed within five miles of them.

Within five miles – a rather generous standard.  Only one-third – a rather criminal rate. Even this loose definition of “military objectives” was not enough:

…early in 1942 – the exact date, it now appears, was March 30th, 1942 – Professor Lindemann submitted a Minute to the War Cabinet in which he urged that bombing  henceforth should be directed against German working-class houses in preference to military objectives.

He estimated that 50% of the houses in German towns of 50,000 and more would be destroyed.

The first application of this plan was executed on March 28, 1942 (this presents some conflict in the dates), with the attack of Lilibeck by 234 aircraft.

The focus of the attack was the Altstadt composed of medieval houses with narrow, tortuous streets; some 30,000 people lived in an area of two square kilometres.

The climax, of course, was Dresden.

The climax of the offensive was reached on the night of February 13th, 1945 when a mass raid by several thousand heavy bombers was directed against Dresden.

The Associated Press at the time had no difficulty in calling it, according to Veale, a deliberate terror bombing…as a ruthless expedient to hasten Hitler’s doom.

From The Times, immediately after the bombings:

“Dresden, which had been pounded on Tuesday night by 800 of the 1,400 heavies sent out by the R.A.F. and was the main object of 1,350 Fortresses and Liberators on the following day, yesterday received its third heavy attack in thirty-six hours.  It was the principal target for more than 1,100 United States 8th Army Air Force bombers.”

The focus of the attack was the Altstadt – the beautiful center of the city so well-known to western travelers – palaces, art galleries, museums and churches.  No military objectives nearby.

With fires raging from the first wave, a second wave descended on the city.  No air raid shelters; the public buildings swollen with refugees stood between the falling bombs and the ground.  The city was covered with black smoke – making it difficult, I imagine, for the pilots to see even what they were bombing.  It mattered little, as the point wasn’t military.

The city burned for days.

The city was swollen by hundreds of thousands of women and children, escaping the horrors of Stalin’s armies from the east – escaping the murder, rape and arson.  Western reconnaissance planes certainly saw the dense crowds moving westward.

So enormous were the number of bodies that nothing could be done but to pile them on timber collected from the ruins and there to burn them.  In the Altmarkt one funeral pyre after another disposed of five hundred bodies or parts of bodies at a time.  The gruesome work went on for weeks.

Estimates of the dead range from 100,000 to 250,000.

The war, by now, had already been won.  The only military question left was where the line between east and west would be drawn.  Apparently it was desirous to aid Russia in the placement of the line.

I hope someday, through my work in my Timeline to War, to have a comprehensive picture of events leading up to the Second World War – I imagine this will be a never-ending task.  One of the puzzles to piece together as relates to German and British bombing of the other will be…who started it?  Not that it matters to me greatly, as two immoral wrongs cannot make a moral right.

Veale addresses this question:

In passing it may be observed that the question which air offensive was a reprisal for which has now long ceased to be a subject for dispute.

From the book “The Royal Air Force, 1939 – 1945,” Veale finds:

…the destruction of oil plants and factories was only a secondary purpose of the British air attacks on Germany which began in May 1940.  The primary purpose of these raids was to goad the Germans into undertaking reprisal raids of a similar character on Britain.  Such raids would arouse intense indignation in Britain against Germany and so create a war psychosis without which it is impossible to carry on a modern war.


Probably future historians will agree with the learned authors of the official history of the British strategic air offensive that the Second World War was not won by British terror bombing.  On the other hand, terror bombing, officially adopted in March 1942, was the only logical outcome of Churchill’s “Splendid Decision” of May 1940.

Future historians might also conclude that the “Splendid Decision” prolonged the war in the West by five years.

The lesson that could have been drawn from the Battle of Britain was that long range terror bombing offers a low likelihood of military advantage.  In this regard, General JFC Fuller wrote:

“This lesson was lost on the British Air Force which continued to hold that ‘strategic bombing’ was the be all and end all of air power.  This fallacy not only prolonged the war, but went far to render the ‘peace’ which followed it unprofitable to Britain and disastrous to the world in general.”

This lesson remains lost on those who choose air power over a distance of thousands of miles as the weapon of choice.

Reprinted with permission from Bionic Mosquito.



Copyright © 2014 Bionic Mosquito

mardi, 08 février 2011

Churchill: More Myth than Legend


Churchill: More Myth than Legend

by Patrick Foy

Ex: http://takimag.com/

Last week a country-club Republican friend in Palm Beach gave me a copy of The Weekly Standard and urged me to read “A World in Crisis: What the thirties tell us about today” by opinion editor Matthew Continetti. The article would have the reader believe that the universe’s fate hinged upon a little-known 1931 Manhattan traffic accident involving Winston Churchill.

Churchill was crossing Fifth Avenue at 76th Street in the late evening of December 13th, 1931 on his way to Bernard Baruch’s apartment for a powwow when he looked the wrong way, crossed against the light, and was sideswiped by a car going 30MPH. The hapless statesman spent over a week in Lenox Hill Hospital recovering from a sprained shoulder, facial lacerations, and a mild concussion, all of which required a doctor’s prescription for “alcoholic spirits especially at meal times.” Continetti mentions “the granularity of history,” whatever that means: “If the car had been traveling just a little bit faster, the history of the twentieth century would have been irrevocably altered.” True enough, but for the better or the worse?

Continetti would argue that this chance mishap worked out for the best. His premise is that the 1930s were dangerous times much like our own, and it took the astute Winston Churchill to come to humanity’s rescue and make things right: “A few people in December 1931 recognized the growing danger. The patient at Lenox Hill Hospital was one.” Oh, dear. What bilge.

The Weekly Standard, as well as National Review Online and Commentary Magazine, all belong to the same faux-conservative neocon fraternity which hijacked Washington starting with H. W. Bush in the Cold War’s aftermath and has demolished any hope of a “peace dividend” ever since.

Fighting fire with gasoline is not generally a good idea, and Islamic extremism is a logical byproduct of the Tel Aviv-Washington alliance. Hence, the slow-motion downfall of the world’s “indispensable nation” is now upon us. It reminds me of the sad state of Little England in WWII’s aftermath, all thanks to Sir Winston’s myopic leadership.

Neocon opportunists have grabbed Churchill as one of their own. He is always linked to the presumed “good war” and has been glorified to the skies as a result. But what if that car had been traveling faster down Fifth Avenue in 1931 and knocked the British bulldog into the next world? Could the Second World War have been avoided altogether?

“Neocon opportunists have grabbed Churchill as one of their own.”

The “good war” resulted in approximately fifty million fatalities worldwide, left Europe a starved and blasted continent, destroyed the far-flung British and French empires, brought the Soviets into Europe’s heart for more than forty years, and handed China over to Mao Tse-tung.

Churchill actively participated in making World War II a global conflict. He promoted war’s outbreak in Europe in the summer of 1939, utilizing the Versailles Treaty’s last unresolved issue: Danzig and the Polish Corridor. Prime Minister Chamberlain gave Poland a blanket guarantee of the status quo, terminating a negotiated settlement and making war between Berlin and Warsaw inevitable.

In 1941, Churchill withheld vital information from the Hawaiian commanders about an imminent outbreak of hostilities. London’s Far East code-breakers had cracked the Japanese naval code, JN-25, and Churchill had access to it. The “surprise” attack on Pearl Harbor turned the European conflict into a truly global war. It was Pearl Harbor that saved Churchill’s backside and rescued the Roosevelt presidency.

Churchill had some surprisingly positive things to say about Hitler prior to the invasion of Poland. In Francis Neilson’s The Churchill Legend Neilson quotes what Churchill wrote about the German leader in a letter to himself dated September 17th, 1937 and included in Step by Step, published in 1939:

“One may dislike Hitler’s system and yet admire his patriotic achievement. If our country were defeated, I hope we would find a champion as indomitable to restore our courage and lead us back to our place among the nations.”

Along the same lines, Neilson cites the 1937 book Great Contemporaries, in which Churchill states that Hitler’s life’s story “cannot be read without admiration for the courage, the perseverance, and the vital force which enabled him to challenge, defy, conciliate, or overcome, all the authorities or resistances which barred his path.”

I’m now wondering about pre-1931. If the twentieth century could have been “irrevocably altered” by Churchill’s brush with death in a traffic accident between the World Wars, what if Churchill had never been engaged in politics in the first place? For the answer, one has only to get a copy of The Churchill Legend and read it. Francis Neilson, who was a member of Parliament at the outbreak of the Great War, claimed to have known Churchill longer than anyone alive.

The list of disasters Churchill presided over prior to the Second World War includes the fiasco at Gallipoli, the Lusitania’s sinking (when Churchill was First Lord of the Admiralty), and the issuance of the Balfour Declaration in 1917 by the British War Cabinet, which opened a Pandora’s box from which has sprung endless injustice and bloodshed in the Middle East. Not that Churchill deserves the sole credit for these disasters, but his fingerprints are there. He was certainly involved at the highest level. Both the sinking of the Lusitania and the Balfour Declaration were the byproducts of a desperate strategy to drag America into the Great War.

One gets the impression from reading Neilson that Churchill’s entire public career—grounded in both World Wars—shows indisputable evidence of incompetence, opportunism, ruthlessness, mendacity, and bad judgment. Yes, history is repeating itself.

jeudi, 21 janvier 2010

How the West Was Lost

How the West Was Lost

Churchill, Hitler, and “the Unnecessary War”
How Britain Lost Its Empire and the West Lost the World
Patrick J. Buchanan
New York: Crown Publishers, 2008

Patrick J. Buchanan's <i>Churchill, Hitler, and the Uncessary War</i>

Many reviewers of the respectable class become unhinged upon seeing the words “unnecessary war” in the title of a book dealing with World War II—in their minds, the “Good War” to destroy the ultimate evil of Hitler’s Nazism.[1] And, of course, Buchanan was already in deep kimchi on this issue since he had expressed a similar criticism of American entry into World War II in his A Republic, Not an Empire.[2]

With this mindset, most establishment reviewers simply proceed to write a diatribe against Buchanan for failing to recognize the allegedly obvious need to destroy Hitler, bringing up the Holocaust, anti-Semitism, and other rhetorical devices that effectively silence rational debate in America’s less-than-free intellectual milieu. However, Buchanan’s book is far more than a discussion of the merits of fighting World War II. For Buchanan is dealing with the overarching issue of the decline of the West—a topic he previously dealt with at length in his The Death of the West.[3] In his view, the “physical wounds” of World Wars I and II are significant factors in this decline. Buchanan writes: “The questions this book answers are huge but simple. Were these two world wars the mortal wounds we inflicted upon ourselves necessary wars? Or were they wars of choice? And if they were wars of choice, who plunged us into these hideous and suicidal world wars that advanced the death of our civilization? Who are the statesman responsible for the death of the West?” (p. xi). Early in his Introduction, Buchanan essentially answers that question: “Historians will look back on 1914–1918 and 1939–1945 as two phases of the Great Civil War of the West, when the once Christian nations of Europe fell upon one another with such savage abandon they brought down all their empires, brought an end to centuries of Western rule, and advanced the death of their civilization” (p. xvii).

Buchanan sees Britain as the key nation involved in this process of Western suicide. And its own fall from power was emblematic of the decline of the broader Western civilization. At the turn of the twentieth century, Britain stood out as the most powerful nation of the West, which in turn dominated the entire world. “Of all the empires of modernity,” Buchanan writes, “the British was the greatest—indeed, the greatest since Rome—encompassing a fourth of the Earth’s surface and people” (p. xiii). But Britain was fundamentally responsible for turning two localized European wars into the World Wars that shattered Western civilization.

Contrary to the carping of his critics, Buchanan does not fabricate his historical facts and opinions but rather relies on reputable historians for his information, which is heavily footnoted. In fact, most of his points should not be controversial to people who are familiar with the history of the period, as shocking as it may be to members of the quarter-educated punditocracy.

Buchanan points out that at the onset of the European war in August 1914, most of the British Parliament and Cabinet were opposed to entering the conflict. Only Foreign Minister Edward Grey and Winston Churchill, then First Lord of the Admiralty, held that it was necessary to back France militarily in order to prevent Germany from becoming the dominant power on the Continent. In 1906, however, Grey had secretly promised France support in the event of a war with Germany, which, Buchanan implies, might have served to encourage French belligerency in 1914. However, it was only the German invasion of neutral Belgium—the “rape” of “little Belgium” as pro-war propagandists bellowed—that galvanized a majority in the Cabinet and in Parliament for war.

Buchanan maintains that a victorious Germany, even with the expanded war aims put forth after the onset of the war, would not have posed a serious threat to Britain. And certainly it would have been better than the battered Europe that emerged from World War I. Describing the possible alternate outcome, Buchanan writes:

Germany, as the most powerful nation in Europe, aligned with a free Poland that owed its existence to Germany, would have been the western bulwark against any Russian drive into Europe. There would have been no Hitler and no Stalin. Other evils would have arisen, but how could the first half of the twentieth century have produced more evil than it did? (p. 62)

As it was, the four year world war led to the death of millions, with millions more seriously wounded. The utter destruction and sense of hopelessness caused by the war led to the rise of Communism. And the peace ending the war punished Germany and other members of the Central powers, setting the stage for future conflict. The Allies “scourged Germany and disposed her of territory, industry, people, colonies, money, and honor by forcing her to sign the ‘War Guilt Lie’” (p. 97). Buchanan acknowledges that it was not literally the “Carthaginian peace” that its critics charged. Germany “was still alive, more united, more populous and potentially powerful than France, and her people were now possessed of a burning sense of betrayal” (p. 97). But by making the new democratic German government accept the peace treaty, the Allies had destroyed the image of democratic government in Germany among the German people. In essence, the peace left “Europe divided between satiated powers, and revisionist powers determined to retrieve the lands and peoples that had been taken from them” (p. 95). It was “not only an unjust but an unsustainable peace. Wedged between a brooding Bolshevik Russia and a humiliated Germany were six new nations: Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, and Czechoslovakia. The last two held five million Germans captive. Against each of the six, Russia or Germany held a grievance. Yet none could defend its independence against a resurrected Germany or a revived Russia. Should Russia and Germany unite, no force on Earth could save the six” (p. 98). It should be noted that Buchanan’s negative depiction of the World War I peace is quite conventional, and was held by most liberal thinkers of the time.[4]

Buchanan likewise provides a very conventional interpretation of British foreign policy during the interwar period, which oscillated between idealism and Realpolitik and ultimately had the effect of weakening Britain’s position in the world. Buchanan points out that Britain needed the support of Japan, Italy, and the United States to counter a revived Germany, but its diplomacy undercut such an alliance. To begin with, Britain terminated its alliance with Japan to placate the United States as part of the Washington Naval Conference of 1922. Buchanan contends that the Japanese alliance had not only provided Britain with a powerful ally but served to restrain Japanese expansionism.

Britain needed Mussolini’s Italy to check German revanchism in Europe, a task which “Il Duce” was very willing to undertake. However, Britain drove Mussolini into the arms of Hitler by supporting the League of Nations’ sanctions against Italy after it attacked Ethiopia in 1935. “By assuming the moral high ground to condemn a land grab in Africa, not unlike those Britain had been conducting for centuries, Britain lost Italy,” Buchanan observes. “Her diplomacy had created yet another enemy. And this one sat astride the Mediterranean sea lanes critical in the defense of Britain’s Far Eastern empire against that other alienated ally, Japan” ( p. 155).

America, disillusioned by the war’s outcome, returned to its traditional non-interventionism in the 1920s, so it was not available to back British interests. Consequently, Britain would only have France to counter Hitler’s expansionism in the second half of the 1930s.

Buchanan provides a straightforward account of Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s and Foreign Minister Halifax’s appeasement policy. The goal was to rectify the wrongs of Versailles so as to prevent the outbreak of war. “They believed,” Buchanan points out, “that addressing Germany’s valid grievances and escorting her back into Europe as a Great Power with equality of rights was the path to the peace they wished to build” (p. 201). Buchanan asserts that such a policy probably would have worked with democratic Weimar Germany, but not with Hitler’s regime, because of its insatiable demands and brutality.

Munich was the high point of appeasement and is conventionally considered one of the great disasters of British foreign policy. Buchanan explains Chamberlain’s reasoning for the policy, which was quite understandable. First, morality seemed to be on Germany’s side since the predominantly German population of the Sudetenland wanted to join Germany. Moreover, maintaining the current boundaries of Czechoslovakia was not a key British interest worth the cost of British lives. Finally, Britain did not have the wherewithal to intervene militarily in such a distant, land-locked country.

Churchill, who represented the minority of Britons who sought war as an alternative, believed that support from Stalinist Russia would serve to counter Hitler. Of course, as Buchanan points out, the morality of such an alliance was highly dubious because Stalin had caused the deaths of millions of people during the 1930s, while Hitler’s victims still numbered in the hundreds or low thousands before the start of the war in 1939. Moreover, Communist Russia would have to traverse Rumania and Poland to defend Czechoslovakia, and the governments of these two countries were adamantly opposed to allowing Soviet armies passage, correctly realizing that those troops would likely remain in their lands and bring about their Sovietization. It should also be added that it was questionable whether the Soviet Union really intended to make war on the side of the Western democracies, because Stalin hoped that a great war among the capitalist states, analogous to World War I, would bring about their exhaustion and facilitate the triumph of Communist revolution, aided by the intervention of the Soviet Red Army.[5]

Buchanan concludes that Chamberlain was right not to fight over the Sudetenland but “was wrong in believing that by surrendering it to Hitler he had bought anything but time,” which he should have used to rearm Britain in preparation for an inevitable war (p. 235). Instead, Chamberlain believed that Hitler could be trusted and that peace would prevail.

While Buchanan faults Chamberlain for not properly preparing for war after the Munich Agreement, he does not believe that Munich per se brought on the debacle of war. What did bring about World War II, according to Buchanan, was the British guarantee to defend Poland in March 1939. This guarantee made Poland more resistant to compromise with Germany, and made any British decision for war hinge on the decisions made by Poland. Moreover, as Buchanan points out, “Britain had no vital interest in Eastern Europe to justify a war to the death with Germany and no ability to wage war there” (p. 263).

Buchanan, while citing several explanations for the Polish guarantee, seems to give special credence to the view that Chamberlain was more of a realist than a bewildered naïf. Buchanan holds that a clear analysis of Chamberlain’s words and intent shows that in the guarantee the Prime Minister had not bound Britain to fight for the territorial integrity of Poland but only for its independence as a nation. “The British war guarantee,” Buchanan contends, “had not been crafted to give Britain a pretext for war, but to give Chamberlain leverage to persuade the Poles to give Danzig back” (p. 270). Chamberlain seemed to be “signaling his willingness for a second Munich, where Poland would cede Danzig and provide a road-and-rail route across the Corridor, but in return for Hitler’s guarantee of Poland’s independence” (p. 270). Hitler, however, did not grasp this “diplomatic subtlety” and believed that a German effort to take any Polish territory would mean war. The Poles did not understand Chamberlain’s intent either, and assumed that Britain would back their intransigence and thus refused to discuss any territorial changes with Germany. Buchanan, however, seems to reverse this interpretation of Chamberlain’s motivation when discussing his guarantees to other European countries in 1939, writing that “Chamberlain had lost touch with reality” (p. 278).

In the end, Britain and France went to war with Germany over Poland without the means to defend her. Poland’s fate was finally sealed when Hitler made his deal with Stalin in August 1939, which, in a secret protocol, offered the Soviet dictator the extensive territory that he sought in Eastern Europe.

Some reviewers have claimed that Buchanan excuses Hitler of blame for the war, but this is far from the truth. Buchanan actually states that Hitler bore “full moral responsibility” for the war on Poland in 1939 (p. 292), in contradistinction to the wider world war, though even here the charge of “full responsibility” would seem to be belied by much of the information in the book. For Buchanan points out that the Germans not only had justified grievances regarding the Versailles territorial settlement, but that, despite Hitler’s bold demands, the German-Polish war might not have happened without Britain’s meddling in 1939. Buchanan’s analysis certainly does not absolve Hitler of moral responsibility for the Second World War (much less palliate his crimes against humanity), but it does show that there is plenty of blame to go around.

Buchanan writes that “had there been no war guarantee, Poland . . . might have done a deal over Danzig and been spared six million dead” (p. 293). It is quite possible that after any territorial deal with Poland, Hitler would have consequently made much greater demands against her. Perhaps he would have acted no differently toward Poland and the Polish Jews than he actually did—but the outcome could not have been worse for the Polish Jews, almost all of whom were exterminated during the World War II. And Polish gentiles suffered far more than the inhabitants of other countries that resisted Hitler less strenuously. In short, a war purportedly to defend Poland was an utter disaster for the inhabitants of Poland. It is hardly outrageous to question whether this was the best possible outcome and to attempt to envision a better alternative.

Buchanan shows how World War II was hardly a “Good War.” The Allies committed extreme atrocities such as the deliberate mass bombing of civilians and genocidal population expulsions. The result was the enslavement of half of Europe by Soviet Communism. “To Churchill,” Buchanan writes, “the independence and freedom of one hundred million Christian peoples of Eastern Europe were not worth a war with Russia in 1945. Why, then, had they been worth a war with Germany in 1939?” (p. 373).

Buchanan holds that had Britain not gone to war against Germany, a war between Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany would have been inevitable, and that such a conflict would have exhausted both dictatorships, making it nigh impossible for either of them to conquer Western Europe. Although this scenario would not have been a certainty, a military stalemate between the two totalitarian behemoths would seem to be the most realistic assessment based on the actual outcome of World War II. Certainly, the Soviet Union relied on Western support to defeat the Nazi armies; and Germany was unable to knock out the Soviet Union during the lengthy period before American military began to play a significant role in Europe.

Buchanan contrasts the lengthy wars fought by Britain, which gravely weakened it, and the relative avoidance of war by the United States, which enabled it to become the world’s greatest superpower. In Buchanan’s view, the United States “won the Cold War—by avoiding the blunders Britain made that plunged her into two world wars” (p. 419). In the post-Cold War era, however, the United States has ignored this crucial lesson, instead becoming involved in unnecessary, enervating wars. “America is overextended as the British Empire of 1939,” Buchanan opines. “We have commitments to fight on behalf of scores of nations that have nothing to do with our vital interests, commitments we could not honor were several to be called in at once” (p. 423). Buchanan maintains that in continuing along this road the United States will come to the same ruinous end as Britain.

Buchanan’s British analogy, unfortunately, can be seen as giving too much to the position of the current neo-conservative war party. Although I think Buchanan’s non-interventionist position on the World Wars is correct, it should be acknowledged that Britain faced difficult choices. Allowing Germany to become the dominant power on the Continent would have been harmful to British interests—though the two World Wars made things even worse. In contrast, today it is hard to see any serious negative consequences resulting from the United States’ pursuit of a peaceful policy in the Middle East. No Middle East country or terrorist group possesses (or possessed) military power in any way comparable to that of Germany under the Second or Third Reichs, and, at least, Iran and Iraq do (did) not have any real interest in turning off the oil spigot to the West since selling oil is the lifeblood of their economies.

Another important aspect of the book is Buchanan’s attack on the cult of Winston Churchill, who has served as a role model for America’s recent bellicose foreign policy, with President George W. Bush even placing a bust of Churchill in the Oval Office. Buchanan maintains that Churchill, with his lust for war, was the individual most responsible for the two devastating World Wars.

In contrast to the current Churchill hagiography, Buchanan portrays the “British Bulldog” as a poor military strategist who was ruthlessly indifferent to the loss of human life, advocating policies that could easily be labeled war crimes. Churchill proposed both the incompetent effort to breech the Dardanelles in 1915, ending with the disastrous Gallipolli invasion, and the bungled Norwegian campaign of April 1940. Ironically, the failures of the Norwegian venture caused the downfall of the Chamberlain government and brought Churchill to power on May 10, 1940.

Churchill supported the naval blockade of Germany in World War I, which in addition to stopping war materiel prevented food shipments, causing an estimated 750,000 civilian deaths. Churchill admitted that the purpose of the blockade was to “starve the whole population—men, women, and children, old and young, wounded and sound—into submission” (p. 391). He successfully proposed the use of poisonous gas against Iraqi rebels in the interwar period and likewise sought the use of poison gas against German civilians in World War II, though the plan was not implemented due to opposition from the British military. Churchill was, however, successful in initiating the policy of intentionally bombing civilians, which caused the deaths of hundreds of thousands. Equally, if not more, inhumane, Churchill’s support for the forcible “repatriation” of Soviet POWs to the Soviet Union and the “ethnic cleansing” of Germans from Eastern and Central Europe involved the deaths of millions of people. And, of course, Churchill was willing to turn over Eastern Europe’s millions to slavery and death under Stalinist rule.

Overall, the Buchanan thesis makes considerable sense—though in some cases it assumes a foresight that would not be possible. For example, the pursuit of containment by the United States in the Cold War period, which Buchanan praises, was a policy largely rejected by the contemporary American Right, of which Buchanan was a member. The American Right held that the policy of containment was a defensive policy that could not achieve victory but instead likely lead to defeat—a position best expressed by James Burnham. And, at least up until Reagan’s presidency, the power of the Soviet Union greatly increased, both in terms of its nuclear arsenal and its global stretch, relative to that of the United States. While Buchanan touts Reagan’s avoidance of war, what most distinguished Reagan from his presidential predecessors and the foreign policy establishment was his willingness to take a harder stance toward the Soviets—a difference that terrified liberals of the time. Reagan’s hard-line stance consisted of a massive arms build-up, and, more importantly, an offensive military strategy (violating the policy of containment), which had the United States supporting a revolt against the Soviet-controlled government in Afghanistan. (The policy was begun under President Carter but significantly expanded under Reagan.) Perhaps, if the United States had launched such a policy in the early years of the Cold War, the Soviet Empire would have unraveled much earlier and not been such a threat to the United States. The Soviet Union was obviously the first country that could destroy the United States, and it achieved this lethal potential during the policy of containment. To this reviewer, it does not seem inevitable that everything would have ultimately turned out for the best.

While Buchanan makes a good case that the two World Wars were deleterious to the West, it would seem that they were only one factor, and probably not the primary one, in bringing about the downfall of Western power—a decline that was observed by astute observers such as Oswald Spengler prior to 1914.[6] (Buchanan himself is not oblivious to these other factors but gives a prominent place to the wars.) Moreover, it is questionable if Britain would have retained its empire any longer than it did, even without the wars, given the spread of nationalism to the non-Western world and the latter’s greater rates of population increase compared to Europe. Also, the growing belief in the West of universal equality obviously militated against European rule over foreign peoples.

In sum, Buchanan’s work provides an excellent account of British diplomacy and European events during the crucial period of the two world wars, which have shaped the world in which we now live. It covers a host of issues and events that are relatively unknown to those who pose as today’s educated class, and does so in a very readable fashion. While this reviewer regards Buchanan’s theses as fundamentally sound, the work provides a fount of information even to those who would dispute its point of view.

Forthcoming in TOQ vol. 9, no. 1 (Spring 2009).


<!--[if !supportFootnotes]-->[1] The phrase “The Unnecessary War” is not placed in quotes on the paper jacket or on the hardback cover but is in quotes inside the book, including on the title page. This tends to make the meaning of the phrase unclear. (I owe this insight to Dr. Robert Hickson who has produced a review of this book, along with others, for Culture Wars, though I present a somewhat different take on the subject.) Buchanan quotes Churchill’s use of the phrase in his memoirs (p. xviii). Churchill wrote: “One day President Roosevelt told me that he was asking publicly for suggestions about what the war should be called. I said at once, ‘The Unnecessary War.’ There never was a war more easy to stop than that which has just wrecked what was left of the world from the previous struggle.” But Churchill meant that the war could have been avoided if the Western democracies had taken a harder line, while Buchanan supports, in the main, a softer approach for the periods leading up to both wars.

[2] Patrick J. Buchanan, A Republic, Not an Empire: Reclaiming America’s Destiny (Washington, D.C.: Regnery, 1999). See also Stephen J. Sniegoski, “Buchanan’s book and the Empire’s answer: Fahrenheit 451!” The Last Ditch, October 13, 1999, http://www.thornwalker.com/ditch/snieg7.htm.

[3] Patrick J. Buchanan, The Death of the West: How Dying Populations and Immigrant Invasions Imperil Our Country and Civilization (New York: Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Press, 2002).

[4] One early critic was the well-known British economist, John Maynard Keynes, The Economic Consequences of the Peace (New York: Harcourt, Brace, and Howe, 1920).

[5] Viktor Suvorov, Icebreaker: Who Started the Second World War? (New York: Viking Press, 1990); Viktor Suvorov, The Chief Culprit: Stalin’s Grand Design to Start World War II (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2008); R. C. Raack, Stalin’s Drive to the West, 19381945: The Origins of the Cold War (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1995); R. C. Raack, “Stalin’s Role in the Coming of World War II,” World Affairs, vol. 158, no. 4 (Spring 1996), http://www.mtholyoke.edu/acad/intrel/raack.htm; James E. McSherry, Stalin, Hitler, and Europe: The Origins of World War II, 19331939 (Cleveland: World Pub. Co, 1968).

[6] Spengler had developed his thesis of the Decline of the West (Der Untergang des Abendlandes) before the onset of World War I, though the first volume was not published until 1918.