17 June 2008

History: UR DOIN IT RONG!!!

So Christopher Hitchens has an essay in the latest edition of Newsweek in which he rightly takes Pat Buchanan to task over his new revisionist history of World War II speciously titled Churchill, Hitler and "The Unnecessary War": How Britain Lost Its Empire and the West Lost the World.

World War II? THAT war was unnecessary??? I haven't read it, but already I can see Pat is once again wearing his daffy isolationism on his sleeve. Thankfully, Hitchens has summed up Pat's main points for quick refutation:

  • That Germany was faced with encirclement and injustice in both 1914 and 1939.
  • Britain in both years ought to have stayed out of quarrels on the European mainland.
  • That Winston Churchill was the principal British warmonger on both occasions.
  • The United States was needlessly dragged into war on both occasions.
  • That the principal beneficiaries of this were Joseph Stalin and Mao Zedong.
  • That the Holocaust of European Jewry was as much the consequence of an avoidable war as it was of Nazi racism.

Point one is obviously ludicrous: it wasn't as if Germany hadn't ALREADY taken over two of its neighbours (Austria in 1937-8, and Czechoslovakia in 1938-39) and intervened in another country's bloody civil war to help install another fascist dictator (Spain, 1936-39). No, it's not like Germany wasn't aggressive all across the board. True, the Versailles Treaty was a raw deal for the Germans, but not in 1914!! Anyway, Hitchens does pretty well taking Pat apart on this one.

Point two is also ridiculous, and simply reflects Buchanan's dangerous belief that countries should mind their own business, apparently even when the business of that other country is to take over yours...

Point three is partially correct, ol' Winston was as gung ho as they came, but as Hitchens remarks, that he was unwilling to even be in the same room as the Nazis is a point in his favour, not against.

Point four is just plain stupid, old-fashioned, head-in-the-sand, isolationism. 'Nuff said.

Point five is confusing at first look, because Hitler had talked about invading the Soviet Union for years before he actually did it (as part of his push for more lebensraum or "living space"). But according to Hitchen's reading of the book, Buchanan apparently makes the case that Hitler invaded Russia to impress the British and show them that he was on their side. I don't think anymore needs to be said, that's batshit crazy enough. As for China, I think that Buchanan is forgetting that the Nationalists lost China, and had started to lose it as early as the 1920s, but hey, it wouldn't be a book by Pat Buchanan if it didn't include at least one old cold-warrior trope about losing China to the Reds.

The sixth point is not wrong, rather it's a distortion. It's true that without the war, the Holocaust could not have happened as it did. But even before the war started, the Nazis had already been imprisoning Jews and other "enemies" in concentration camps since 1933, and had been quietly murdering their handicapped at least a year before the war began. So much for point six...

Anyway, the REAL reason I wanted to write this is because I caught Hitchens in an error. It's a common error, and not a big deal, but because it's Hitchens, I HAVE to do it! How often does one get to correct one of the top intellectuals in the world today? :D

So here's the statement:

This might perhaps have worked if Germany had been governed by a right-wing nationalist party that had won a democratic vote. However, in point of fact Germany was governed by an ultra-rightist, homicidal, paranoid maniac who had begun by demolishing democracy in Germany itself, who believed that his fellow countrymen were a superior race and who attributed all the evils in the world to a Jewish conspiracy.

Ok, so we have two sentences, and only the first is wrong. It's true. The Nazis were ELECTED to power, they didn't seize it like so many think they did. It's easy to think they did, I know, because COME ON!! They're Nazis, after all, right? Yeah, but they were still elected by the German people in 1932-33, and Hitler was appointed Chancellor by the democratically elected President Paul Hindenberg in January 1933, following the previous July and November elections, and his cabinet was subsequently approved by the Reichstag. These two elections were both before the famous Reichstag Fire, which preceded the March 5, 1933 election that saw the Nazis achieve their greatest democratic gains and gave impetus to the Enabling Act which gave Hitler unfettered power over Germany.

The second sentence is correct: the Nazis wasted no time in dismantling the Weimar Republic with the Ennabling Act, and they believed unequivocally that they were the superior race on Earth.

So w00t for me! I got to correct Christopher Hitchens on something! I feel so empowered! :P

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