Hit & Run

Buchanan: Everything You Know About Hitler's Foreign Policy is Wrong


Back in 1996, George Will wrote a column in Newsweek attacking Pat Buchanan's peculiar brand of conservatism; one that replaced the sunniness of Reaganism with a "snarl of resentment about people 'sitting on the corner playing bongo drums' in downtown Washington, about the economic onslaught from mighty Mexico, about the voicelessness of 'Euro-Americans' about the teaching of 'Godless evolution,' and other affronts to this 'Christian country.'" Will reminded readers of Pitchfork Pat's curious fixation on Nazi war criminals, and his revisionist view of how Jews were murdered at Treblinka:

In 1990 Buchanan, blithely misrepresenting "1,600 medical papers," ridiculed the "so-called 'Holocaust Survivor Syndrome'," which he said involves "fantasics" of martyrdom and heroics. He said that "reportedly" half the survivor testimonies on file at Yad Vashem memorial in Jerusalem are considered "unreliable." He did not say who reported that.

Regarding the use of diesel engine exhaust to asphyxiate Jews at the Treblinka concentration camp where 850,000 died, in 1990 Buchanan wrote: "Diesel engines do not emit enough carbon monoxide to kill anybody." How did he know? "In 1988, 97 kids trapped 400 feet underground in a Washington, D.C., tunnel while two locomotives spewed diesel exhaust into the car, emerged unharmed after 45 minutes." The source of that anecdote? "Somebody sent it to me." It had already appeared in a publication specializing in Holocaust denial.

Buchanan's eagerness to use such stuff that comes in, as it were, through his transom is telling. And as Jacob Weisberg wrote in The New Republic: "Carbon monoxide emitted by diesel engines is sufficient to asphyxiate people when they are crammed by the hundreds into thirteen-foot chambers. According to the 'Encyclopedia of the Holocaust,' suffocation at Treblinka took as much as half an hour: Buchanan's comparison only proves that the children he described had sufficient oxygen to survive whatever length of time they were trapped in the tunnel." Even though the tunnel was open at both ends, some children were made sick.

I covered much of the same territory responding to Buchanan's fact-free column on the John Demjanjuk case, in which he misunderstood the German penal code, compared a former concentration camp guard to Alfred Dreyfus, and generally made a hash of the facts surrounding the prosecution's case. And I took on Buchanan's view of the Holocaust—which he viewed as merely a consequence of a war started by Churchill—here.

And now Buchanan is back, with a column arguing that Hitler, the misunderstood Reichsfuehrer, didn't really want war, and could have been negotiated back from the brink. There is so much nonsense here that one barely knows where to begin, but here is a representative sample of Buchanan's argument:

The German-Polish war had come out of a quarrel over a town the size of Ocean City, Md., in summer. Danzig, 95 percent German, had been severed from Germany at Versailles in violation of Woodrow Wilson's principle of self-determination. Even British leaders thought Danzig should be returned. Why did Warsaw not negotiate with Berlin, which was hinting at an offer of compensatory territory in Slovakia? Because the Poles had a war guarantee from Britain that, should Germany attack, Britain and her empire would come to Poland's rescue.

Same was true of the Sudetenland, says Buchanan. These are, coincidentally, the very talking points one would find on the September 2, 1939 editorial page of the Völkischer Beobachter. And like much revisionism, such idiocy requires a significant refutation (which can be found in most any objective study of the war's origins). But let me just address a rhetorical question posed by Buchanan, and designed to convince readers that Hitler had no strategic designs on his neighbors:

But if Hitler was out to conquer the world — Britain, Africa, the Middle East, the United States, Canada, South America, India, Asia, Australia — why did he spend three years building that hugely expensive Siegfried Line to protect Germany from France?

This is pretty thin gruel, even by Buchanan's low standards of evidence. The Siegfried Line (or Westwall), a defensive structure built on Germany's western border, was by no means an indication of Germany's peaceful intentions. During the Sudeten crisis, which resulted in Czechoslovakia's incorporation into the Reich, "Hitler was hoping to prevent British intervention [by building the Westwall], and was certain the French would not act alone," writes historian Ian Kershaw. "A key deterrent, in his view, was the building of [the Westwall]…to provide a significant obstruction to any French invasion." There are piles of evidence to support this uncontroversial argument; simply, the German leadership constructed fortifications in the west in order to move on the east. As one book on the Westwall states flatly, the fortifications were "built not to protect against a French aggression per se but to deter France from attacking in support of her allies when Hitler sought to realize his territorial ambitions in the east."

And full credit to Adam Serwer at The American Prospect for his headline, "Pat Buchanan: Sotomayor? Racist. Hitler? Misunderstood."