Could Britain and France have stayed out of World War 2? Arguing with Pat Buchanan

Pat Buchanan

Pat Buchanan is an American isolationist. He believes that we should not have fought in either Iraq or Afghanistan. He also believes that Britain should not have entered World War 2. He seems to believe that warlike regimes, including Hitler’s regime of the 1930’s, have limited goals.
I believe this is a mistake. Some regimes, if they have a particular type of ideology, have limitless goals.
But let us first hear out Pat:
In a recent column: “Looking Back at ‘The Good War'”, he says that Britain made a big mistake in announcing it would ally itself with Poland in case of German aggression. He feels this led to a situation where:

The second world war was on. It would last six years, carry off scores of millions and end with Germany in ruins, half of Europe under Josef Stalin’s rule and the British Empire on the way to collapse.
Though it may prove to be the mortal wound that brings about the death of the West, most today accept World War II as inevitable, indeed as “the good war.”
For it is said and believed that Adolf Hitler was not only the incarnation of evil but also out to conquer, first Poland and then Europe and then the world.

To stop such a monster, one must risk everything.

Which makes these two sentences in the final chapter of British historian Richard Overy’s new book, “1939: Countdown to War,” riveting:

“Few historians now accept that Hitler had any plan or blueprint for world conquest. … (R)ecent research has suggested that there were almost no plans for what to do with a conquered Poland and that the vision of a new German empire … had to be improvised almost from scratch.”

But if Hitler had no “plan or blueprint for world conquest,” this raises perhaps the great question of the 20th century.

What was Britain’s stake in a Polish-German territorial quarrel to justify a war from which the British nation and empire might never recover?

Buchanan goes on to say that the argument between Poland and Germany was over the city of Danzig, a port city full of Germans with a corridor to it belonging to Poland.

Supposedly, to get that city, Hitler felt he had to negotiate a pact with Stalin against Poland.

Danzig had been taken from Germany at the end of World War I.
Overy writes that: … The strongly nationalist German population (of Danzig) agitated in 1939 to come … back home to Germany.”

So Pat feels that if Britain had only stayed out, the Danzigers would have re-united with Germany. And he asks:

And what became of Poland? At Tehran and Yalta, another prime minister, Winston Churchill, ceded Poland to Stalin’s empire, in whose captivity she remained for a half-century.

For an alternative view, I read The Mist Procession by Lord Vansittart (published 1958). Lord Vansittart had been a lone voice warning about Hitler to his overly calm British compatriots and had been in the British Foreign Office in the interwar period.

He is not what we would call nowadays “Politically Correct”.
Here are some quotes:

…the polish corridor was inhabited by a vast majority of Poles, and Polish access to the sea had been stipulated in the Fourteen Points. No critic ever suggested a fairer compromise than combining the contrivance with a Danzig placed under the League of Nations. The only other solution would have been to deport all Germans from the city….Germany had swept a continent with the besom of destruction, had violated Belgium and Northern France, reducing them to ruin. Germany had invaded and plundered Eastern Europe…Nobody invaded Germany even at the end.

As to the plans of the Germans (some of this before Hitler) toward Poland, he says the following:

(German) General Seekt…proclaimed that ‘the existence of Poland is intolerable; she must disappear, and will do so through Russia.’
…Lenin measured their school [Vansittart means Lenin understood their motives]: ‘Germany wants revenge, we want revolution.’…They (Germany) bargained for production in Russia of aircraft and poison gas, for tank and flying schools. In return German officers would keep their hand in by training the Red Army…Seekt, with eyeglass screwed hard into his hard face, plotted years ahead to begin the next war with the destruction of the eastern instead of the western Low Countries.

The book Bloodlands (by Timothy Snyder) also quotes Germans on Poland. It quotes one Wehrmacht general “Germans are the masters, and Poles are the slaves.” and the German army chief of staff summarized, it was “the intention of the Leader to destroy and exterminate the Polish people.”

So that makes me ask Pat a question: would abandoning Poland to Hitler have been a favor to the Poles? I think Britain and France were right to try to ward off Hitler from Poland, though admittedly, they could not stop both Hitler and Stalin from doing an awful lot of murder in that country.

Also, in the entire book by Vansittart, I see no actual assertion by the Nazis that they would attack France and Britain, which makes Richard Overy’s book somewhat understandable. But there are clues in Vansittart’s book that they would have eventually.

First let us go back to my point about ideology. Certain ideologies are limitless.
Vansittart says about a Russian Communist:

Manuilsky, a tactless totalitarian, let an enormous cat from his bag. ‘War to the hilt between Communism and Capitalism is inevitable. Today, of course, we are not strong enough to attack. Our time will come in twenty or thirty years. The bourgeoisie will have to be put to sleep, so we will begin by launching the most spectacular peace movement on record. There will be electrifying overtones and unheard of concessions. The capitalist countries, stupid and decadent, will rejoice to co-operate in their own destruction. They will leap at another chance to be friends. As soon as their guard is down we shall smash them with a clenched fist.’
…But Manuilsky might as well not have spoken. We paid no more attention than to the blurts of Hitler, though both told us precisely what they were going to do.

Do these sound like limited goals?

And Vansittart also quotes Horace Rumbold (the ambassador to Berlin). Rumbold wrote “Hitler starts with the assumption that man is a fighting animal; therefore the nation is a fighting unit, being a community of fighters…A country or race which ceases to fight is doomed. The fighting capacity of a race depends on its purity…Intelligence is of secondary importance…Will and determination are of higher worth…It is the duty of the government to implant in the people feelings of manly courage and passionate hatred.”

So the nation has to keep fighting. And who would they be fighting?

Before the Polish invasion Vansittart told Harcourt Johnson, the Liberal patron:

‘Austria, Czechoslovakia, Poland,’ I said, ‘then either West or East or both.’ He later was generous enough to record our interview, adding: ‘I didn’t believe a word of it.’ Nor did anyone else.

Vansittart wrote a book in the pre-war period called Even Now where he said “…the youth of Germany is being fed on false history, hate and pugnacity, is in effect again being told to prepare for the Day. Germany, within the next decade, will be in a position to attack either France and the United Kingdom or– ‘France alone.”

He added that “it is high time to stop the pretence that peoples are not culprits…the German Leader was not alone responsible for German brutality, it was there and he knew how to play on it.”

Interestingly, none of the above is certain proof that Hitler would have attacked westward. Maybe all he wanted was “lebensraum” (living space) for Germans. Maybe, by killing tens of millions of people in the East, he would have attained that, and then become a pacifist. Maybe, even though he thought the Jews controlled American and British capitalism, he would not have attacked either Britain, or the U.S.. However, his record was always saying he wanted peace, and just one more concession and he’d be happy. And of course that was not true.

Let us look at the previous World War, World War I, as described by a few quotes from Vansittart.

Dolchtoss, the legend that the soldiers had been stabbed in the back by civilians, especially Jews. We thought it ungentlemanly to rub in the truth–though you cannot rub it out–so there had to be a second war, and the Jews must be exterminated.

The Americans, red-faced in their defection, pretended to themselves–and to the listening losers–that chief responsibility for the war did not rest with Germans but with big business, bankers, British Imperialism, British propaganda, and other even uglier words beginning with b.

Lloyd George set up an imposing Committee to collect evidence of German ‘breaches of the laws of war’, as we preferred to call nightmares…We discovered all too late that the Germans had been using British prisoners to dig forward trenches against their own side till they either died of starvation or were killed by our shells…The massacre at Bazeilles in the first invasion was comparable with the devilment at Oradour in the third. I have never borne a personal grudge, Sapiens but I shall die execrating all those who have pushed you downward during my life.

Germany demanded the annulment of the ‘war guilt clause’. Vansittart was almost alone in saying it should not be annulled

The clause was not ‘a mistake’, not ‘tactless’, not ‘unnecessary’. Save for its presence no Germans would ever have felt guilty of anything..they would not even have realized that others thought them mainly culpable of bringing catastrophe to the planet.

From very early on, before Hitler rose to power, Germany did everything it could to rearm. For instance, Vansittart says:

German factories for poison-gas were set up in Russia. In due course Professor Fritz Huber went to Russia and cooperated in organizing the Moscow Institute for Chemical Warfare.”


Holding companies for German weapons sprang up in Turkey and Finland, in Rotterdam, Barcelona, Bilbao, Cadiz…(finally) Hitler made cheating unnecessary by denouncing the disarmament clauses of the Treaty of Versailles in 1935.

Of the Germans, Vansittart says:
“The rich hoped that the stumpy champion would destroy Marxists; Communists that he would destroy Socialists; everybody hoped that he would destroy somebody, and to oblige he destroyed all.”

Vansittart had sources in Germany “A few brave men there knew that I realized a war to be nearing. They thought that, if they fed me with sufficient evidence, I might have influence enough to arouse our Government and so to stop it.”

None of this proves that Germany wanted to attack Western Europe. But even if Germany’s original plan was to attack Eastward, a country that was led by a regime that was planning to kill millions of Eastern Europeans by starvation (see Bloodlands) was not a country you could trust to then become friendly or trustworthy to the West. A country that made hatred of Jews its passion, could not be trusted to leave the populations of Jews in the West alone either.

Bloodlands does confirm that Hitler definitely wanted a large, economically self-sufficent empire, made out of conquered land from the East. There was oil in the Soviet Caucasus, and there was wheat in the Ukraine. To obtain this empire, as Timothy Snyder points out, “Defeating Britain was not necessary for this. Defeating the Soviet Union was.” In Snyder’s opinion, “Hitler intended to use the Soviet Union to solve his British problem, not in its present capacity as an ally, but in its future capacity as a colony.” To make this colony, one German plan said that between 31 and 45 million people, mostly Slavs, were to disappear. After the corrupt Soviet cities were razed, German farmers would establish, in Himmler’s words, ‘pearls of settlement,’ utopian farming communities…”. Germany would be a continental empire fit to rival the United States…As Hitler imagined the future, Germany would deal with the Slavs much as the North Americans had dealt with the Indians.

I (the blog writer) personally would argue that even if Britain and France had not allied with Poland and taken their alliance more seriously than Hitler expected, they would not have been safe. Perhaps Hitler would have attacked Western Europe anyway with his Blitzkrieg, as he ended up doing, or he would have digested Russia and produced a Nazi superpower that could have swallowed up Western Europe later. It is likely that he did not send an invasion force into Britain because he did not have the naval and air superiority to guarantee a victory.

Germany today is a prosperous country, perhaps the top exporter in the world, and all this is admirable. It has helped the U.S. in Afghanistan, and has given submarines to Israel. But we have to remember the past correctly. This can help us understand the ambitions of countries such as Iran, for example.

Bloodlands – by Timothy Snyder
The Mist Procession – by Robert Vansittart


6 thoughts on “Could Britain and France have stayed out of World War 2? Arguing with Pat Buchanan

  1. There is absolutely no doubt that Hitler’s desire for conquest was unlimited, even if it was never clearly formulated. He would not have been planning an attack on New York by rocket, using a nuclear device, if Europe, North Africa, and the USSR had represented the limits of his ambition. And Vansittart — and Churchill — were right to emphasize that Hitler and the Nazis grew out of the German culture. There are a couple of old photographs that, for me, sum up the cultural differences between the British and the Germans. They show crowds of people receiving news of the outbreak of WWI. The British look concerned, anxious, thoughtful; the Germans are cheering and elated. Hitler knew his people and exactly how to appeal to the worst aspects of their nature. Maybe they didn’t know how far he would go but he was pretty explicit about his hatred of the Jews; even high-level Nazis like Speer, though embarrassed by Hitler’s outbursts, regarded them as a valid way of unifying the German people. I fear that nobody could really “stay out of the war” and that the only two alternatives were collusion or surrender.

    1. The reference you make to the crowds in Germany receiving news of the outbreak of WWI is backed up by a new book by Robert Zubrin (Merchants of Despair). He says this: “But perhaps a hint of the insanity that had already been instilled in them could be seen on the fateful evening of August 4, 1914, when it became clear that England would stand by its treaty to defend Belgium from German invasion. A mob of Berliners, enraged by the news, stoned the British embassy, knocking out all the windows. “Rassenver-rat!” they screamed, venting their hate of the Anglo-Saxons. “Race treason!” One reason this is so interesting is that we are not talking about World War 2 here, we are talking about World War One.

      1. Exactly. The German national culture was the same both times — authoritarian, conformist, and with a sense of superiority. Hitler, like all good cult leaders (and con-men) knew his target audience (and did, genuinely, share their beliefs), knew how to play on their emotions and their desire to be led by a strong personality. It is fashionable to separate Nazism from German culture, but Hitler was hugely popular. There is one account by a French journalist of Hitler’s visit to a German town, where he was based at one of those dramatic castles built on a sheer mountainside. People–many of them women–were climbing up the rock face, risking their lives, just to be close to the Fuhrer.

  2. On May 2012, I found more support for the idea that Hitler had unlimited goals, so I came back to this post of October 2011, and inserted this new comment based on a book called “Hitlerland” about American reporters in Germany in the 1920’s and 30’s. Some people saw the German motivations clearly, and some people did not.
    One person who saw it was the Chicago Tribune’s Sigrid Shultz. Shortly after Germany’s defeat in the first world war, Schultz interviewed a German officer named Raeder who said “You Americans need not feel proud of yourselves. Within twenty-five years at the latest, your country and my country will be at war again. And this time we shall win, because we will be better prepared than you will be.” Raeder became the Grand Admiral of the German navy in the second World War.
    Once the Nazis took power, Sigrid talked with Karl Boehmer of the Propaganda Ministry. He said “Just imagine what we can do with Russia’s resources, she squanders them as badly as America does hers.” Shultz then asked if his country planned to control America’s resources as well, and he said “Why, yes”.
    Another American reporter who saw clearly was William Shirer. He was convinced Hitler wanted war with the United States, and said “The contest between tyranny and democracy is as inevitable as that of two planets hurtling inexorably through the heavens toward each other.”

    Interestingly, in America, initially President Roosevelt wanted global disarmament. In May 16, 1933 he appealed to world leaders to begin scrapping all offensive weapons and to pledge not to engage in acts of aggression. The next day, Hitler appeared at the Reichstag to deliver his own “Peace Speech.” Calling the American president’s proposal “a ray of comfort for all who wish to co-operate in the maintenance of peace,” Hitler professed his country’s willingness to renounce all offensive weapons and “to disband her entire military establishment” if her neighbors would do the same thing. War was “unlimited madness,” he added.

    After Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, Hitler declared war on the United States, perhaps because he had an alliance with Japan, or perhaps because he saw a strategic opportunity, with the U.S. having to cope with a war in the Pacific. His declaration denounced Roosevelt and the “entire satanic insidiousness” of the Jews who were backing him.

    The psychology of this is hard to understand for some people, including Pat Buchanan. But maybe we can learn from political scientist Frederick Schuman who spent eight months in Germany in 1933. He said this: “Like every form of highly emotionalized and subjectivized mass mysticism, National-socialism demands acceptance or rejection,” “Objectivity is equivalent to rejection.” He predicted a new war inspired by “pathological hatreds, lusts, and longings for extinction.”

    Hitlerland – American Eyewitnesses To The Nazi Rise To Power by Andrew Nagorski (2012)

  3. That you seriously quote Vansittard as a legitimate source is quite breathtaking and invalidates everything you write. He was the worst Germanophobic racist within the British government, whose stance towards the Germans is only comparable to Goebbels views on the jews.

    With credible witnesses like him, how can your pipe dreams about German world domination be wrong?

    And how can your distorted vision of Germany’s supposed ambitions through the lens of the British German-hater in charge Vansittard “help us understand the ambitions of countries such as Iran, for example”???

    I think you have an evil agenda here.

    No, to understand Iranian psychology you should look up, how the UK and the USA overthrew the democratically elected Iranian leader Mossadegh in 1953 and installed the Shah as a brutal dictator.

    That’s the pertinent “psychology of evil”, of which you have no desire to understand anything.

    With counselors like you, US will go the way of Britain an go broke about its constant warmongering. And honestly, I don*t know if that is the worst possible outcome.

    1. Vansittart did not want to throw all Germans in ovens. (so his ‘racism’ is not all comparable to the German racism toward the Jews in the Nazi period.) If you read my post, he also talks about good Germans, who he calls “brave men”. He does ascribe some brutal traits to Germans as a group. Maybe that makes him a racist. On the other hand, he describes (if you read my post) some German mis-behavior even in the first World War, which does explain his attitudes. Maybe the Germans are no worse than anyone else, and all people in their environment would act that way. I don’t know. As far as Iran goes, I talked to a Jewish refugee from Iran, he says the Shah was nowhere as bad as the current regime. (The current regime jails teenage girls and then kills them. for being anti-Islamic.) Also Mossadegh dissolved his democratically elected parliament. He was a lunatic. And there was a popular uprising against him.

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