PAT BUCHANAN’S “DID HITLER WANT WAR?” A CRITIQUEJanuary 9, 2012
Recently, Mr. Pat Buchanan wrote the following blog arguing, or rather, attempting to argue that Hitler did not want a general European war:
It is difficult to write this blog, because on the one hand I have a great deal of respect for Mr. Buchanan, and on the other, I have grave misgivings about his recent efforts in the service of what may best be called "revisionist history." Mr. Buchanan makes a number of assertions in his article that must be dealt with and I have numbered them for ease of reference:
(1) "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? Why did he start the war with no surface fleet, no troop transports and only 29 oceangoing submarines? How do you conquer the world with a navy that can’t get out of the Baltic Sea?
(2)"If Hitler wanted the world, why did he not build strategic bombers, instead of two-engine Dorniers and Heinkels that could not even reach Britain from Germany?
(3)"Why did he let the British army go at Dunkirk?
(5)"Why, when Paris fell, did Hitler not demand the French fleet, as the Allies demanded and got the Kaiser’s fleet? Why did he not demand bases in French-controlled Syria to attack Suez? Why did he beg Benito Mussolini not to attack Greece?
(6)"Because Hitler wanted to end the war in 1940, almost two years before the trains began to roll to the camps."
Let's look at each of these:
(1) It is to make complete military fools of the German General Staff or indeed of the Nazi leadership to assume that they intended upon the military conquest and occupation of the entire world. Under the exigencies of military operations of that period, the Germans knew this was an impossibility, and everyone else knew it too. The Nazi war aim was to dominate the world by dominating the crucial Eastern European and Russian-European area of the Eurasian heartland, and thus to dominate Asia, and thus to dominate the world. It was, after all, a stated intention of Hitler himself in own notorious autobiography and exposition of his "philosophy," Mein Kampf. As for the Siegfried Line, this was constructed as a defensive bulwark against France, to be sure, but only because in German General Staff planning of the period, it was a stop-gap measure to allow Germany a defensive position against Allied invasion while dealing with the East. As for the German navy, it is simply untrue that it had no surface fleet. To be sure, Germany's surface fleet in World War Two was tiny, and not the monster that the Kaiser's High Seas Fleet had been. Nonetheless, Germany started World War Two with three pocket battleships, the two battlecruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau, a number of cruisers and destroyers. And the two behemoths, the battleships Bismarck and sister-ship Tirpitz were being constructed, and two even larger battleships were also under way, along with the aircraft carrier Graf Zeppelin (launched but never completed). No troop transports? Well, think again Mr. Buchanan, for what do you think Germany invaded Norway with? Dreams? Wishes? The German navy was unable to get out of the Baltic Sea? On the contrary, at the outbreak of the war, Grand Admiral Raeder began to dispatch the German surface raiders over the surface of the globe, ranging during 1939 and 1940 over the North and South Atlantic Oceans and as far away as the Indian Ocean. Don't believe me? Google the German raider Atlantis or the pocket battleship Graf Spee. The Scharnhorst and Gneisenau sank the British aircraft carrier Glorious during the Norwegian invasion, which had the unfortunate luck to be sited by the German battlecruisers within range of their long-range 11" guns. They went on to a career in the North Atlantic, sinking British merchantmen while the Royal Navy hunted unsuccessfully for them.
(2) OK, on then to the strategic bomber question. To be sure, Germany did not place as heavy a reliance on the creation of a strategic bomber force, and the story of why this decision came about is locked within the internal murky politics of Nazi Germany. Luftwaffe General Wever in fact pressed heavily for the creation of just such a bomber force until his untimely death prior to the war. As for the Luftwaffe not being in a position to be a potential for "world conquest," just ask the Dutch of Rotterdam, or the English of Coventry, or the Russians at Sevastopol or Kursk. And as for not having long range bombers, well, to set the record straight once again, that while their numbers were always small in comparison with the rest of the Luftwaffe, Germany did have a small number long range bombers, from the pre-war four-engine He 274, to the various wartime projects which, thankfully, never saw full production, such as the Me 264, which looks suspiciously like the B-29 (or, to put it with more accuracy, the B-29 looks suspiciously like the Me264).
(3) On to Dunkirk. It is true that a revisionist case has been made in recent years that "Hitler showed mercy" to the encircled British and French forces at Dunquerque in 1940, and some have argued a plausible, if not entirely convincing, case that Hitler was trying to show clemency to the British in hopes for a negotiated end to the War. And to be sure, Hitler was sending out quiet peace feelers to the British. All true. But equally true is the fact that Reichsmarschal Goering had persuaded Hitler to allow the Luftwaffe to finish off the British on the beaches (which of course didn't happen), to the consternation of the German General staff which wanted the German army to do so. The point here, is once again, Mr. Buchanan's assertions are debatable.
(4) Why did Hitler offer the British numerous peace overtures after the fall of Poland and France? Well...do we really need to ask? Hitler's mortal enemy was Russia. Hitler no more wanted a two front war than the Kaiser, but if forced to fight one, he would. And let's all remember something. Russia did not fare too well in World War One, and eventually surrendered to the Kaiser. Hitler faced a much tougher, much more industrialized Russia, and a much more determined opponent in Josef Stalin. And both dictators, to be sure, were planning invasions of the other's country, and both dictators knew it. We may debate endlessly all we wish whether Great Britain's geopolitical motives in the war were entirely "moral," but in June of 1941, had Hitler not had to tie down divisions in the West against the British, the result of his war in Russia may very likely have been very different. As it was, it was a close enough call. (Just ask the Russians!) The result of that victory, had Hitler secured it, would be a German dominated Europe.
(5) The French Fleet, Bases in Syria, and the Italian Invasion of Greece. Here Mr. Buchanan, in my opinion, is either simply unduly ignorant(which I find hard to believe), or simply raising questions he (probably) knows have different explanations than the simplistic ones he is implying. Hitler, in not pressing for the surrender of the French Navy, was simply acknowledging facts. Admiral Francois Darlan had made it abundantly clear that the French Navy would never be surrendered, and took the wise and precautionary step to evacuate the bulk of it from metropolitan France to naval bases in North Africa. For Hitler, it was also a politic decision, to persuade the Vichy government of a pliant attitude. As for bases in Syria, this is simply ... and to put it as honestly as possible - nuts. Bases would have required a heavy naval presence in the eastern Mediterranean, which was basically a British lake, the Italian Regina Marina notwithstanding. Admiral Iacchino was no less a naval adventurer and playboy than Admiral Darlan, and was ill-disposed to risk his fleet for Hitler's or Mussolini's adventures. As for Mussolini's poorly-handled invasion of Greece, Hitler's main concern, once again, was not out of some altruistic desire to see a free and independent Greece, but simply to make sure he had no problems in the Balkans before his invasion of Russia. In the final analysis, he did, and to avoid a prolonged British presence on his flank during his invasion of Russia, in early 1941 launched Operation Merkur, and swiftly crushed Yugoslavia and Greece in an almost textbook case of efficient military operations.
(6) This, really, is the saddest point in Mr. Buchanan's whole dismal exercise, and that is, that somehow, the Final Solution was not on Hitler's mind after the Fall of France in June of 1940, the implication being, that had Britain but negotiated a peace, the whole brutality of the Holocaust might not have happened. To be sure, Mr. Buchanan does not say this, but it is one of the logical implications of his remark. Again, this makes short shrift of the reality. The Nazi Nuremberg race laws were in effect before the war. Kristallnacht had already happened in 1938. The camps were already being built. In January of 1939, Hitler had warned the world in a speech before the Reichstag, that if the Internazionalfinanzjudentum (or was that, International-Finanzjudentum, or maybe it was international Finanz-Judentum, or maybe international Finanzjudentum, or maybe ... well, this isn't the place to explore the subtleties of whatever his original German text really stated), succeeded in plunging the world into another world war, then it would not result in a victory for Bolshevism (there's the International part of his speech), but in the annihilation of the Jewish race in Europe. This is eight months before the outbreak of the war, Mr. Buchanan, and the meaning, in view of subsequent events, is quite clear. The real question, and it is one that both defenders of the status quo history, and the revisionists alike, have never answered, is who is Hitler really talking about in that speech? Who is he fingering as the "real conspirators"? To whom is he really sending his "message"?
As for the the historical lesson of Mr. Buchanan, the devil, as they say, is in the details, and Mr. Buchanan's details are sadly lacking.