454 of 525 people found the following review helpful
on May 27, 2008
Patrick Buchanan has never been shy about taking positions that defy conventional wisdom. He does so again in this extremely well-written and well-documented book (there are over 1300 endnotes). Buchanan argues that both world wars, which constituted a "Civil War of the West", were not necessary and would not have taken place had unwise diplomatic decisions not been made by the major European powers.
In the opening decade of the twentieth century, Germany had a chance to form an alliance with Britain, but let the opportunity pass, as the Kaiser did not believe that England would ever reconcile with France. However, Britain did reconcile with its longtime adversaries, France and Russia, and in 1906 the British secretly agreed to back France should Germany attack. Had the Kaiser known that war with France meant war with Britain, he would have been more conciliatory, as he never wanted war with Britain. On the other hand, had Britain not been pledged to help the French when World War I did come, and had they stayed out of the war, Germany would have defeated France as they had in 1870, but there would have been no Nazi Germany and no Soviet Union as a result the war.
In the interwar years, Britain alienated longtime allies Japan and Italy, who eventually formed an alliance with Nazi Germany.
The Second World War came about, Buchanan believes, as a result of Britain's disastrous guarantee to protect Poland (which it was incapable of doing anyway). Hitler did not want war with Britain, as evidenced by the fact that he never attempted to build a strong navy. If Germany had moved east and had the democracies not intervened, Buchanan opines, Germany would have run into the Soviet Union and the result would have been a Nazi-Soviet war that the democracies would have watched from the sidelines. The totalitarian nations would have pounded each other to death, while the democracies would have had a chance to rearm and become stronger relative to a decimated Germany and a decimated Russia (and China might not have gone Communist, meaning that millions might not have been murdered there). As it worked out in real life, however, America and Britain had to push all the way eastward through France and only then into the western half of Germany. By the time that they did, the Soviets had clamped down on Eastern Europe. Buchanan judges Churchill harshly--Britain was bankrupt and lost its empire shortly after WWII.
The book is a stark assertion that history could have turned out much differently. And while Buchanan's thesis is certainly debatable (in the real world, Nazi Germany, Imperial Japan, and the Soviet Union were all gone by the end of the century--would this have happened in Buchanan's alternate scenario?), and while you may not agree with Buchanan's isolationism concerning today's world, this book is worth reading since it forces one to reexamine many previous assumptions held by most people (especially those who were born well after World War II and never have heard how history might have turned out differently) concerning the two world wars, and the book is sure to ignite debate on cable news shows and on the talk radio circuit.
151 of 179 people found the following review helpful
on August 16, 2008
From all of the other reviews I have read on this book it is certainly obvious that the author has hit a hot button issue and stirred the pot.
This is the first book I have ever read by Pat Buchanan, and it has a very impressive premise. It is filled with over 1200 notes, and has a vast bibliography. Does the author have a point of view? Obviously, but then what author/historian does not wish to interpret history in their own way.
While many reviewers give much time to WW II, the real issue is WW I and the resultant Treaty of Versailles. Such a pathetic war, such a pathetic treaty, one that was so bad even the US Senate refused to ratify it, and other diplomats knew all the Treaty did was ensure another war in 20 years. The dismantling of the old Empire/Monarchy system led to many of todays bastardized countries. Countries that contain people with no common language, culture or background.
And, if you wish to criticize the premise, just look what recently happened with the Georgian invasion by Russia, and now we have US giving its own "Polish Guarantee" for missle defense. The book definitely shows that there were other views with regard to Churchill and the two World Wars, and Buchanan comes down on the side of those who feel that the wars were unnecessary. It has been over 60 years since the WW II has ended, we have seen the files, seen the paperwork and correspondence from that era, and people are now properly wondering if that war was fought for the wrong reasons. Buchanan certainly points out all the atrocities that Hitler and his Generals ordered to happen, but to me the basic premise was that Hitler could have been avoided had their been a better and more civilized peace to end WW I.
The book did take me a long time to read, but that is due to the numerous details and notes that are in the book. The author makes a very fine defense of his premise, a premise that can never be proven correct or incorrect since those decisions are always subject to personal opinion. Being married to a woman who came from Romania I can tell you that the horrors and hardship that their country had to deal with under Communism, as well as other Eastern European countries that were dominated by Communism for over 40 years, were certainly not worth the sacrifices made to rid the world of Hitler. Again, these become personal reasons and are hard to quantify to someone who has not lived in those conditions.
Definitely a stimulating read, and from all the comments I think the author has certainly brought a very relevant issue to the fore, the repercussions of which still need to be debated and studied.
99 of 120 people found the following review helpful
on December 19, 2008
Buchanan stakes out some pretty controversial positions here. But, agree or not, he raises questions seldom dealt with in public, and ones that go to the heart of the West's presumed moral authority in its two wars with Germany. Crucially, his is not an apologia for Hitler or the Third Reich. Their wretched horrors during WWII are acknowledged without reserve. Rather, it's an effort to put the diplomatic moves preceding WWII into a more balanced and accurate perspective than the American public is accustomed to. The results amount to a much more ambiguous mix than the history books usually allow, and should come as an eye-opener, particularly regarding Churchill's punitive role.
Churchill is often treated as a god, and not a minor one at that. A reckoning with the British politician's career is long overdue. I doubt that any non-American head of state has been more lionized in our press than the former prime minister. Of course, the focal point of hagiography is Churchill's undeniable role as a wartime leader. It's a role the author Buchanan doesn't dispute. What the author does dispute is the wider context, particularly Churchill's vaunted reputation as a statesman. It's here within an unfolding sixty-year period that Buchanan lays bear the actual record--and contrary to legend, a dismal one it is. From the British politician's earliest service through 1955, the author records again and again gross errors of judgment that helped propagate WWI, instigate WWII, facilitate Soviet expansion, and finally terminate the British Empire. It's a sobering account, to say the least, darn near the equivalent of saying Jesus erred on the Mount of Olives. Nonetheless, it's an account that can't be ignored.
Then too, Hitler is viewed less as a demonic force than as a rabid nationalist intent on retrieving German lands wrongfully expropriated by the treaty of Versailles, and as a dictator ultimately backed into a corner by Britain's reckless guaranteeing of Poland's 1939 borders. Contrary to received wisdom, Buchanan asserts that war with Hitler's Reich was not made necessary by mad global designs, the usual formula for blame. Instead, primary blame is laid on a series of British missteps originating at the ministerial level. The author's thrust here depends on accepting the view that the German Chancellor was interested only in extending influence eastward as a bulwark against the Reich's true enemy, the Soviet Union, leaving the West and their colonial holdings basically intact. This too amounts to a revisionist account and a more difficult one to substantiate. Nonetheless, the author forces a key question usually passed over as an article of faith, viz. was war with the Reich in some sense inevitable or rather the unfortunate result of diplomatic blunder.
Now, all of this would remain academic were it not for the lessons drawn from that 40-year period. Most notably, Britain's empire collapsed from accumulated reversals brought about by blundering diplomacy and the two global disasters that resulted. Britain could no longer support her maritime holdings, resulting in a loss of global primacy and a junior partnership with an ascendant USA. Pivotal in this chain is a myopic vision of where Britain's vital interests lay. They certainly didn't lie in meddling in the disposition of Central Europe, the traditional sphere of Russo-German rivalry. Yet Britain fought two debilitating wars over that disposition, when a truer view of vital interest would have counseled a more detached policy. Wisdom here would appear to lie in being able to separate the essential from the inessential, a distinction apparently muddled by several generations of British leaders.
Now, Buchanan draws lessons from this for American policy. Is meddling in such non-traditional spheres as Central Asia, Russian border regions, and across the Mid-East, producing a distinctly American brand of imperial over-stretch. A pretty strong case is made for viewing America's strength as resting on the wisdom of her forefathers in avoiding foreign adventures. It's not a return to isolationist policy that he's advocating; rather, I take it as a return to separating essential interests from non-essential and not confusing the two in fits of bravado or imperial hubris. Certainly the disastrous adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan suggest an over-stretch with the ominous consequences that follow. Nonetheless, the distinction raises the complex question how to define `vital interests' and how to calibrate them in a world of perhaps unprecedented flux following the Soviet collapse. Add to that an economic dimension surely a big part of vital interest and we glimpse the quandary of current American policy.
Understandably, the book doesn't take up the economic dimension. On the other hand, sacrificing commercial factors remains a pitfall for any purely diplomatic history such as Buchanan's. In short, to what extent were the blunders of the book the result of economic imperative rather than the ministerial myopia emphasized here. After all, a financial dimension has the potential of converting the seemingly reckless into the understandably rational, particularly where national self-interest is at stake. Nonetheless, the author has produced a provocative and worthwhile work, deserving of wide readership.
29 of 33 people found the following review helpful
on July 15, 2008
Read this cover to cover in two days: captivated by how easy it was to deceive an entire population of Anglo-Americans for nearly 50 years by chanting the magic word "Winston." What would happen if this book was required reading for a high school history class? I'm not sure if the US is ready for such savvy citizens. Not the five stars I award anything written by Flemming but an easy read with compelling arguments. For instance, Chamberlain may have acquiesced but I never thought him a pacifist (the period of appeasement coincided with huge strides forward in aircraft design, production etc which were decisive in the BforBritain) and so I think some of the arguments set forth in this book are at several points (um) skewed/not developed enough beyond the point to merely titillate the reader. It helped me understand how America's focus is always lured toward the Western when our real economic interests were in the Pacific and the REAL killing went on in the Eastern European theatre. Partially explains why the West didn't play their cards right and let the Facists and the Soviets grind each other to a pulp. Pity England had to stumble over a half century of Churchill because the real boogeyman might have been strangled in the crib. Are our American Ivy Leaguers (the guys holding the reins now) as inbred/inept/insane as the British "good old boy" counterparts that made up their Foreign Service? Heaven help us.
60 of 72 people found the following review helpful
on December 21, 2009
Patrick Buchanan joins the league of authors who rightfully dethrone the "man of the century", Winston Churchill. Churchill, a man of aristocratic descend, a man of abysmal political judgement, ruthless and reckless, bloodthirsty in his inner soul, was the man who was ultimately responsible for the decline not only of the British Empire, but for the Decline of the Abendland as we witness it today.
This historical review was long overdue.
The German "Kaiser" who had in 25 years of regency not fought one single war, much to the contrary of the haughty later victorious allies, England, France, Russia, and the US, was insidiously dragged into the first World War because England, and foremost Winston Churchill, thought Germany was becoming too strong, economically and politically. While the old empires England and France and the US were morally fully entitled to have their colonies and to rule the seas, Johnny-Come-Lately Germany, was not to have her slice and to leave her merchant fleet at the mercy of the green-eyed British. France and Russia had their own motives to destroy Germany.
Buchanan unfortunately fails to point out that the German speaking regions west of the Rhine "Elsass and Lothringen" had been annexed by the French king Louis XIV in the 17th century when the German principalities were too weak to resist the maroding French armies. After the French-German war of 1870/71, which was declared by the French, France had to cede these German regions to the German Reich. The German conditions for peace in 1871 were mild compared to those which would be imposed onto her by the victorious allies in 1919.
After Churchill had successfully starved Germany into submission by 1919, one of his many crimes against humanity, German lands were torn from the Fatherland, millions of Germans were against their own will put under the rule of foreign countries, the country plundered. The seeds for Hitler's rule were sown. Above all, the vengeful clique of western statesmen, who forced Germany to sign that Carthaginian treaty in Versailles, knew already in 1919 that they we were paving the way into a new bloody war. They knew very well that what they were doing to Germany was a villainous crime.
Were the Germans and Hitler not right to demand their century old territories back ? Imagine if England had lost Cornwall to France ? Would the English not have done the same and reclaimed their lands ? The English and their leaders Baldwin, Hallifax, Eden, and last but not least Chamberlain, tacitly supported German moves to right the wrongs of Versailles. Austria, which had been forbidden by the allies to unite with Germany in 1919 and the Sudetenland were united with Germany.
All that had been achieved without spilling a drop of blood. True, Hitler was a dictator, but who was not ?
Austria had been a dictatorship under Schuschnigg, Poland under Pi'sudski , Spain under Franco, Russia under Stalin, Italy under Mussolini, the Czech Republic under Benes. Also true, Hitler should not have made the remains of the multiracial Czech republic a "protectorate", but how many "protectorates" did the British, the French and the Americans have ? As Buchanan emphasizes, this was not Britain's backyard and it was not a reason to go to war with Germany.
In March 1939, in order to halt Germany's successful re-unifications, the British panicked and they signed away their empire when they gave the "pigheaded" Polish Gen. Beck a guarantee which would lead straight into part 2 of the Second 30 Year European Civil War. The Germans shall not have their old city of Danzig back, let alone the other lands that they were forced to cede to the Poles in 1919.
True, Hitler dreamt of swallowing the Ukrainian wheat fields, but given the English sea blockade from 1914-1919 which had killed millions of German civilians, was that not of an existential necessity for Germany, as was the control of the seas for the British ? Besides, the Ukraine had a substantial German speaking population that despised Stalin who had been terrorizing them for many years.
To return to our "hero" and the "man of the 20th century" Winston Churchill. Although all these events in Middle and Eastern Europe posed no threat to England's security, the English declared war on Germany, because Germany, this time with force, wanted to re-united the old German town of Danzig with the Fatherland.
Why did Chamberlain and the English panic in Sep 1939 ? Germany and Hitler, had always wanted to be "brothers in arms" and friends of the British, they had never even though about attacking the British, the Kaiser's mother was English. Hitler had even offered troops to protect the British Empite. But instead of taking the hands of the Germans the British boot-licked the greatest mass murderer at the time, Josef Stalin, and Churchill admitted " I really like that man." By 1939 Stalin had killed at least 20 million of his own people, apart from Poles and Baltic people. A thousand times more than Nazi Germany.
So it came that when Chamberlain resigned in 1940 after Churchill personally had botched the British invasion of Norway, which constituted a flagrant violation of Norwegian neutrality, Churchill became PM and he embarked on a brutal crusade against a European brother nation which was unique in European history and turned a European War into a World War. This time, the German people should be bombed into submission which culminated in the raid of Dresden by 700 Lancaster bombers. An estimated 50.000 - 200.000 civilians burned in their homes and in the streets crowded with refugees. A hero's work.
In the end Churchill had lost it all : the British Empire was gone, sold to the Americans, 100 million East Europeans were under a brutal Communist dictatorship, and England was soon to be no longer white.
Was it just to declare war on Germany because she had violated the Versailles Treaty and she had tried to use force to re-unite her former territories with the Fatherland ? Maybe.
But was it wise to declare war on Germany ? Certainly not.
Winston Churchill was certainly a successful warrior, but a man of abysmal political and often even disastrous military judgment and he will be regarded as the man who was ultimately responsible for the Decline of the Abendland and for the fall of the White Race which had bled itself to death in the greatest Civil War of European history.
Buchanan's book is highly commendable, although many aspects are not new to the informed reader and certain other aspects are left out completely.
If you had believed that Germany was the root of all evil in the 20th century, you will have to think again.
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on August 9, 2008
As interesting as any fiction you might read, except, it is history and you know what is going to happen, but you find yourself wanting to know what happens next!
Buchanan's work is not a Macro view of the war, it is an adventure into the microcosm of world leaders who determined the outset of WWII. He'll take you to the beginning, WWI, and lead you down the path into the how's and why's of WWII. But from a fresh perspective. From the perspective of world leaders, there quotes, there actions and there blunders that lead us to WWII.
It is not a yawn of a history book, it has the feeling of history with the excitement of fiction.
No book is perfect and from time to time, Buchanan would reiterate topics repeatably or in long winded form.
I also think it would have been a plus to dedicate a small chapter on how Hitler started the war machine.
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on July 4, 2011
This is an honest and courageous book. Buchanan fears that American foreign policy since Reagan is starting to make the same mistakes that reduced Great Britain from being head of the history's greatest Empire to a small mendicant state whom history has passed by. But while that was Buchanan's motivation his point is not of much interest to me. Like many second generation Germans and Austrians who knew people and had family who were involved in the Nazi era I have always had a strong interest in learning "What happened?". And this book does give us and account of "what happened". It is a more mature look at the early twentieth century than what I've been exposed to and is very well researched. It doesn't give us a picture of Hitler as an evil genius out to conquer the world but rather as an extraordinarily gifted opportunist whose ambition was to restore the Germany of 1918 but who did not want war except perhaps some distant showdown with the Soviet Union. The most surprising revelation in a book full of surprising revelations was that Hitler earnestly wanted friendship and an alliance with Poland. All he wanted from Poland was the return of Danzig, a German city, and an autobahn and rail link across the corridor. And yet, over these trivial demands the greatest war in history was fought. Amazing! You really get a look at the motivations of Hitler and Chamberlain and Churchill and the tragic interplay between them. Thank you Mr. Buchanan for giving us an honest look at those years, long gone, that we may appreciate the tragedy and futility of life without the guidance God.
16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on September 15, 2009
Reading "Churchill, Hitler, and the Unnecessary War" was extremely beneficial to my overall knowledge of the World Wars. There is so much emphasis in other sources on battles, valiant leaders, and the glories of victory that I very much welcomed this fresh look at the politics, failed institutions, and real costs of the disastrous first half of the twentieth century.
There is no question Buchanan's version of history is in some ways unorthodox. That, of course, is one of it's main appeals. Buchanan brings to bear on events the kind of good, level-headed analysis one would expect from a true conservative.
His apparent differences with the mainstream on the facts themselves seem relatively mild. The biggest divergence is his emphasis on an all but forgotten secret agreement that committed Britain to France prior to the first World War -- an agreement which he claims would have dissuaded the Kaiser from going to war, had he known of it. His claims surrounding that agreement seem to be well-sourced.
Much bigger and more important differences are how Buchanan puts facts in their proper context. Whereas most historians and politicians celebrate Churchill as one of the greatest leaders ever to have lived, Buchanan properly puts the facts of Churchill's reign -- through both World Wars -- in the context of a crumbling world empire. Churchill was basically incompetent; he was inexperienced and overzealous. Indeed, these are the qualities one would expect to find in a leader who turned what was once the mightiest, wealthiest, proudest empire the world had seen into a tiny, bankrupt island nation totally dependent on the United States for survival.
Equally insightful is Buchanan's reminder that Hitler was not hell-bent on ruling the entire world, as we are so often led to believe. Instead, Hitler sought to rebuild the German Empire on the continent and eventually crush their biggest threat, Russia. The question that is begged is, 'what if Hitler had been allowed to invade Poland and pursue an unfettered war with Russia?' Unspeakable horror awaited the Poles either way, but as Buchanan points out, most Polish leaders had the attitude, "better Hitler than Stalin."
Most historians correctly point out that the root causes of the second world war lay in the outcome of first one, with its crushing punishment of Germany. Most also understand, more or less correctly, that Germans were eager to reclaim their empire and their pride and Hitler tapped that desire in his own pursuit of power. But what is often overlooked and is perhaps the most important reminder offered in Unnecessary War, is that reparations against the Germans were so severe following Versailles that many citizens of allied nations by the late twenties and thirties felt downright guilty about what the Germans were being made to suffer. This guilt puts the so-called "appeasement" of Hitler at Munich in a different light. Its more complex than the mindless "giving in to evil" that our cartoon history classes tell us about.
In short, this book is excellent and earns my highest recommendation.
30 of 36 people found the following review helpful
on July 8, 2008
"The Unnecessary War" makes a good case: namely, that Churchill's bad political decisions and character flaws were largely at fault for making the European war between Germany and her neighbors into a world war. Furthermore, disastrous political decisions both before and during World War II ensured that the post-war world would be dominated in large part by the Soviet Union. Although it is a very interesting and compelling read, Buchanan does occasionally lapse into repetitious arguments, reminiscent of journalistic style. His comparison with more recent U.S. policy is also worth considering, although he doesn't spend much time developing this argument (at least in the present book). Highly recommended for its stimulating presentation of certain oft-neglected facts of twentieth-century European history.
194 of 249 people found the following review helpful
The question Buchanan addresses is not whether the British were heroic - that has been settled long ago for all time. Rather, the question is "Were their statesmen wise?" (Was WWII an unnecessary war?)
The second reason Buchanan gives for writing the book is to collapse the Churchill cult among America's elite that asserts defiance of the U.S. must be met very harshly, and such leaders seen as new Hitlers.
Churchill was the most forceful advocate in the British Cabinet for entering any Franco-German War in 1911. Most of England's leaders were against such, but relented in the face of popular pressure. Churchill saw an opportunity in this for himself to shine as a war leader - building on his prior record in the Boer War and elsewhere. Buchanan, however, sees a chain of "if only . . ." involving leaders from all the involved nations that not only brought WWI but the ensuing foundation for WWII as well as the rise of Lenin in Russia (followed by Stalin, et al).
The British rationale included preserving France as a great power (an early application of the "domino theory"), preserving British honor by standing behind a 70+ year-old treaty with Belgium (Germany saw moving its troops through Belgium to attack France on its weak side), retaining popular support (became bellicose when Belgium was involved), and Germanphobia. The conflict also became seen as "Good against Evil," and making the "world safe for democracy." Following this logic, leaders of the Dominions, without being asked, also were swept up in the war hysteria that ultimately dismembered not only the British empire, but three others as well.
Buchanan asserts that had England not entered the war, Germany would not have taken Lenin from Geneva to St. Petersburg to take advantage of the chaos and push Russia to sue for peace, and the U.S. would not have entered. Even if the Bolsheviks still came to power, the victorious German army would have quickly removed them.
Unfortunately, the mistakes continued. The mood of the country required an onerous peace treaty with Germany. One-tenth her people and one-eighth the territory were taken, as well as it overseas empire and all private property of its citizens in those colonies. Its army was restricted to 100,000, much of its navy seized, it was forbidden to build tanks, heavy artillery, or an air force, and Germany was assessed impossible reparations and forced to accept full responsibility for causing the war. P.M. LLoyd George and John Maynard Keynes, among others, saw the settlement as sowing the seeds of future conflict. The U.S., for its part, demanded that England not renew is 1902 alliance with Japan - pushing it into belligerency.
Hitler achieved great popularity by forcing other nations to allow former German areas to rejoin Germany. Chamberlin's error was not in reaching agreement with Hitler in Munich ("appeasement"), but failing to use the time it bought to rearm. Then, frustrated by Hitler's continued moves and embarrassed by Munich, Chamberlin gave Poland a promise to defend it - even though there was no way England could enforce such.
Actually it was in England's interest that Hitler move East towards Russia. Both England and Germany stopped communicating, misunderstood each other, and the war began. (Buchanan also presents considerable evidence that Hitler did not have a goal of world conquest - backed up by Hitler's actions, words, and writings.)
Hitler saw Russia as eventually attacking Germany, and with resources that would allow Germany to become self-sufficient. Thus, he attacked Russia, even after agreeing not to.
The end of Buchanan's book brings his summary of Churchill. Yes, a great leader in some ways, but hardly infallible - primarily because his actions largely led to WWI, WWII, and the rise of Stalin. Churchill also underestimated the role of aircraft and submarines vs. ships, caused neutral Norway to be taken by Germany, sold out Poland and other nations to appease Russia, initiated a number of tactical blunders, supported a naval blockade of Germany during WWII that starved 750,000, supporting civilian bombing of Germany during WWII - as well as the use of poison gas, fire-bombing, and germ-warfare on civilians.
Buchanan's belief that the hundred+ million killed in WWI, WWII, and the Stalinist purges could (should) have been prevented is documented from those involved at the time, as well as contemporary historians. "Churchill, Hitler, and the Unnecessary War" also painfully makes clear how lack of communication between the parties sealed the momentum towards war, and jingoistic notions of patriotism were misused for incorrect assumptions and personal glory.
Finally, Buchanan sees a parallel between England 100 years ago and the U.S. We are now greatly overextended - forces in too many lands, too many defense guarantees, and pushing other nations around until they create new blocs (eg. Russia + China). He also notes that Bush II keeps a bust of Churchill in the Oval Office.
No book that I've ever read makes clearer the need for leaders to have a good grasp of history (eg. Britain not only allowed itself to be sucked into WWI via its treaty with Belgium, but into WWII as well, via a pointless pact with Poland), and full control of their emotions and motivations.