Saturday, June 28, 2008

Buchanan and the Necessary War

Most sane people acknowledge that World War II was a vertigo-inducing height of human achievement. When my grandfather and the rest of the 2nd Army Ranger Battalion assailed the sheer cliff at Pointe Du Hoc in Normandy, they were fighting, albeit unknowingly, to defend Western civilization, and indeed civilization as a whole, from forces that would have ripped it apart like tissue paper. This, at least, is the widely accepted story.

Patrick J. Buchanan, the irascible but rock-ribbed anti-neo-con/libertarian-leaning Conservative, has a new book out, entitled--with, I'm sure, absolutely no aim to cause controversy--"Churchill, Hitler, and the Unecessary War." Of course, it refers to World War II.

Buchanan is an outspoken critic of the War in Iraq, and it is not hard to guess why he chose to write this book in the current climate of anti-war hysteria. He means, by denigrating WWII's status as a "just war," to provide an analogy to the Iraqi conflict. As if they are really comparable. World War II was a world-shaking conflict of philosophies. The Iraq War is hardly more than a regional turf conflict--granted, with the simmering juices of Islamic Jihad, it could become more--but it is in it's essentials something which is only such an enormous worldwide news item because it is the only conflict going on in the world at this time involving one of the world's Superpower(s).

In his book, Buchanan targets Churchill. Churchill, perhaps the greatest leader of the twentieth century. The man who led Britain through the greatest struggle she has faced since Boadicea met Gaius Suetonius Paulinus where modern-day King's Cross Station stands. Possibly the second-most-quotable man that has ever lived, after The Bard. It is he that Buchanan choses to attack. Hitler was amenable to peace, he says. Appeasement would have worked, he says. This conflict could have been avoided, he says.

Buchanan does not, it seems, believe in the just or necessary war. Most people, as I mentioned earlier, think that despite the horrible human toll, World War II was worth fighting--that it in fact was just an necessary. By glossing over Hitler and punching down Churchill, Buchanan undermines the basis for WWII. But what does he mean by it?

David Pryce-Jones, in his review of this book for National Review (unfortunately behind the subscriber barrier, says,

As the book unfolds, the puzzled reader is driven to ask himself more and more insistently what Buchanan’s intention is. What is the point of trying to twist Churchill’s wartime role inside out? Does he seriously believe there is no such thing as a just war? He can’t want to denigrate democracy, can he? Nor can he really want to rehabilitate Hitler, can he? He can’t think Stalin might have been a sincere ally, can he? Whatever is an American doing bewailing the end of the British Empire and criticizing his own country for picking up as many of the pieces as possible? Why the superficiality of the argument? Why the aggressively politicized tone?
Pryce-Jones is as puzzled as I am, because in the end, Buchanan can only mean to say that on some level, Hitler was not worth fighting, or alternatively, he's stretching the truth and even what he believes into knots, attacking the current war with analogy. So, there are two possibilities. Either Buchanan doesn't have it in for old Adolph like the rest of us do, or he is shamelessly lying to undermine the idea of a "just war," and thus the War in Iraq.

Neither of those conclusions are particularly appealing. I expected better of Buchanan, who after all did run for the Republican nomination in 1996.

Are there really just wars? Some people, even some Christians, do not believe so. To study this question in depth would take more time and Biblical knowledge than I have at the moment, but perhaps just one small example I think pertinent: When Jesus ransacked the temple of everything unclean, he was fighting. Fighting against the hypocrisy in the Jewish religion, fighting the desecration of His Father's temple. The soldiers in World War II were also fighting. Although no one would claim that Great Britain and its allies were perfect, they were orders of magnitude better than their opponents. Of course, the latter is a human endeavor, and perhaps it is arrogant to compare the two things. However, when the Allies pulled down the Swastika flag from the Reichstag, they were striking a blow for freedom. Freedom, if nothing else, is a Biblical concept. Christ set us free with his sacrifice.

God gave Man the world in Genesis. He remains in ultimate control, but we have power over what we do in this world. And our actions in this world are ultimately accountable to God. So, there were two choices Americans and Britons faced in the early stages of the Second World War: appease Hitler and allow him to do untold damage to the Jews, the Roma, and everyone else who stood in his way, or fight him to the last man and secure a "new birth of freedom" in the Republic and around the world.

I hope the right choice is clear.

I hesitate to compare the Iraq War to WWII. I can safely say that there are tyrranical regimes just as bad as Saddam Hussein. North Korea, Cuba, and Iran come to mind. The Al-Qaeda terrorists aside, why did we have to attack the country on this list with the greatest oil reserves. Sure, we have struck a blow for freedom in the Mideast: the only question is, will it last?

Pryce-Jones concludes:
After hundreds of pages, the final sentence of the book suddenly illuminates these questions: “And to show the world he means business, President Bush has had placed in his Oval Office a bust of Winston Churchill.” So here’s another wretched so-called statesman repeating old mistakes by setting off in search of adventures abroad that are not in the national interest, indeed unnecessary. So Churchill had to be knocked down in order to scotch any notion that President Bush in his foreign policy might have been following a good and brave example.
The method behind Buchanan's madness comes to light: discredit Bush at any cost. Even if this needed doing, I think Buchanan could have chose a far better argument against Bush than attacking his role model, Winston Churchill, perhaps the greatest leader of human endeavors since Nelson, a century and a half earlier, who also struck a blow for freedom at Trafalgar, and gave his life for it.

In the end, this hit job on Churchill can only fail miserably. If it was written for some other motive than to discredit Bush, it might be worth something historically, but even that is denied to it. It never works to go back through history and change things to suit your premeditated conclusion, which is exactly what Buchanan did.