Literally Churchill

Previously: Literally Hitler


Book review of Churchill, Hitler and The Unnecessary War: How Britain Lost Its Empire and the West Lost the World by Patrick J. Buchanan, 2008.

Executive summary: Churchill and friends ruined Britain by blundering into both world wars.

The claim about the First World War is much less controversial than the Second. In fact, I considered skipping the section on the lead-up to WWI because I’d read a lot about it already. A few pages in, I changed my mind.

Even if you already know enough about the breakfast enjoyer to abhor Darkest Hour, read the whole thing. From his derring-do adventures in Africa that put others at risk through to his incessant war-mongering once in power, he’s a bigger twit than you can imagine.

No wonder neocons love him.

The Great War

Most people understand that the European powers’ rivalries and web of flammable alliances led to the first war, but examining the details makes the mind boggle. You think we’re stupid today? You think our leaders are idiots and nincompoops? Same as it ever was. They blundered and blundered, each passing numerous exit ramps and continuing steadfastly towards the cliff. As Pat quotes:

This war really is the greatest lunacy ever committed by the white races.

Admiral Tirpitz, 1915

It’s still a front-runner.

On the British side, perhaps the silliest act was entering into a secret alliance with France, sometimes through staffers acting behind the Cabinet’s back. An alliance is meant to deter attack. Keeping it secret encourages attack and increases the chances of a larger war.

This brings us to Churchill’s essential failing:

“Churchill was the only Minister to feel any sense of exultation at the course of events,” writes biographer John Charmley. On July 28, [Churchill] had written to his wife Clementine: “My darling one and beautiful: Everything tends towards catastrophe and collapse. I am interested, geared up and happy. Is it not horrible to be built like that?”

Later, when war was days away:

“When [the Cabinet] broke for an interval at luncheon time all those I saw looked racked with anxiety and some stricken with grief. Winston alone was buoyant.”

And it only got better for him:

Churchill was exhilarated. Six months later, after the first Battle of Ypres, with tens of thousands of British soldiers in their graves, eh would say . . . “I think a curse should rest on me – because I am so happy. I know this war is smashing and shattering the lives of thousands every moment and yet – I cannot help it – I enjoy every second.”

There’s much more of this. It goes on and on, even after his own friends died. I wonder if anyone thought to check his freezer.

If people think poorly of Churchill today, it is most commonly for the Gallipoli disaster or for wanting to hold on to India. These are the least of his sins. In fact, consider the first: strategy aside, Churchill insisted on attacking neutral Turkey after insisting that Britain enter the Great War because Germany attacked neutral Belgium!

I knew he reminded me of someone

I’m with BLM on this one. Tear that bastard’s statue down.

Democracy

I do not wish to place all the blame for the war on Churchill or Britain – others were just as bad. I focus on him because, for most readers, he’s ‘our guy’ – the Anglosphere’s Big Man in the catastrophe.

We must be careful not to simply blame politicians for the war. The public must share the guilt, especially in democracies. The book frequently describes how easily citizens were manipulated, stirred-up and used as a cudgel against voices of reason. To take just one example:

. . . the public rejected such noble sentiments [for moderate terms of peace] and took up the cry “Hang the Kaiser!” Ever attentive to popular opinion, [Prime Minister] Lloyd George was soon pledging to bring home a peace in which Germany would be made to pay the “full cost of war.” They will pay to the utmost farthing, he roared to one crowd; “we will search their pockets for it.”

The wisdom of mobs.

Readers are familiar with how the inhumanity of the Treaty of Versailles set Europe up for the second war. They may not be aware (as I was not) that Germany was forced into it through a starvation blockade, supported by US warships. Thousands dies after German forces has laid down their arms.

One day, an obscure man with a funny mustache would not let them forget it.

The Second World War

Now we come to the hard sell. We all agree that WWI was insane from start to finish. However, once Hitler was in power and on the warpath, how can we blame Churchill or other Allied leaders for what happened next?

There are two prongs to Pat’s attack – strategic blunders between the wars and then a single, massive blunder once hostilities resumed.

Between the wars

We tend to think of this period as a contest between cucked Chamberlain and based Churchill. The reality is more complex, with Western governments enacting various policies that guaranteed future trouble. Let’s consider some examples.

Little-known fact: Japanese warships escorted Anzacs across the Indian Ocean to Gallipoli. The alliance between Britain and Japan had the effect of reining in the worst excesses of the latter – they were already militaristic by then but needed to play by international norms in order to keep things friendly with the Brits.

Following the war, the Americans claimed that disarmament and untangling alliances were the keys to peace in Europe so they pressured Britain to break from Japan and limit its own naval forces. This left Asia and Australia exposed while offending Japan and undoing restraints on their behaviour – the disastrous outcome of which many predicted at the time.

Then there was the withdrawal of forces from the Rhineland in order to provide political support to the failing Weimar Republic. Other measures with this aim, such as renegotiated war reparations, made sense and indeed should have been much extended, but the whole point of occupying the Rhineland was to make invading Germany easier should the need arise. As it was likely that either the Nazis or Communists would seize total control there in the near future, abandoning this ace would come back to haunt the allies.

There was also the rejection of an alliance with Italy and other dumb moves, but we cannot list them all. Western diplomacy at this point was almost as alienated from reality as it had been in the lead-up to the First World War.

After Poland

You’ve probably heard the argument about whether the Western powers were right to declare war after Germany’s invasion of Poland or whether this should have been done earlier, perhaps after the invasion of Czechoslovakia or even during Germany’s rearmament.

Pat makes a very convincing point about this: the last opportunity for Western powers to effectively intervene was right after Germany had reoccupied the Rhineland with a few lightly-armed men. Once that line had been tested and the area reinforced, there wasn’t much they could do. Eastern Europe was out of reach.

Despite the enormous war, Poland remained occupied by foreign powers until the 1990s. That, right there, is proof that its alliance with Britain was worthless and that the Allied declaration of war didn’t help Poland in the end. An early declaration of war would have been similarly vain, perhaps more so. From the start, the Allies overpromised and underdelivered. A wiser Poland would have come to terms with its menacing neighbour while it could.

The reader may see modern modern parallels.

The alternative

So what does Pat propose?

Many who have not read the book like to imagine that he suggests Hitler was the goodie and should have been allowed to rule Europe, or something like that. This is an irresistible accusation to make against a one-time Republican presidential nominee.

His actual proposal, after the long set-up, is hard to refute.

Once the Rhineland was lost, the only sensible option was to accept that war was coming, remain uninvolved for as long as possible, rearm and hope like hell that Hitler first went east. This was a reasonable hope. In Mein Kampf, Hitler made it clear that his main territorial ambition lay in that direction. He had unfinished business with France but perhaps he might leave that for later.

‘Later’ in this case would mean that Hitler would first have to smash his forces against the Soviet Union and be much weakened by the time he got around to settling scores in the west.

As for Britain, there’s firm evidence that he never intended to invade it at all.

The security guarantee with Poland dragged the Allies into the war before they were ready. Without it, the Nazi occupation of France might have been avoided. The Americans might have focussed all their forces in the Pacific and won a swifter victory. The Allies might even have had the strength left over to help the Chinese Nationalists defeat Mao. Imagine if modern China were a giant, friendly Taiwan!

As the fate of the world hung in the balance in the 1930s and 40s, it would have made sense for liberal democracies to let the fascists and communists decimate each other, prepare for a struggle and then taken on the battered survivor.

Lessons learned

Pat writes of the situation in 2008 (my emphasis):

As Chamberlain gave a war guarantee to Poland he could not honor, the United States began to hand out NATO war guarantees to six Warsaw Pact nations, the three Baltic republics, and, soon, Ukraine and Georgia. Should a hostile regime come to power in Moscow and reoccupy these nations, we would have to declare war. yet no matter how much we treasure the newly free Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia, their independence is not a vital U.S. interest, and never has been. And the threatened loss of their independence cannot justify war with a nuclear-armed Russia.

Since the time of writing this review, much he warns of has come to pass.

Lesson to the Eternal Anglo: stay in your lane.

Lesson to potential allies: be careful.

A further lesson for democracies is that any policy disaster – the Forever Wars, the Covid response – cannot be blamed on government alone. They are an indication of societal rot. We are too easily manipulated and frightened; our minds and morals are weak. For ‘the greater good’, we cheerfully throw innocent people under the bus and are enraged when they are so selfish as to complain. Sometimes ‘dictatorial’ leaders are only so because the people demand it. As unelected despots, they might have been more moderate.

Every easy solution to this problem is wrong. Monarchs can turn out to be just as bad. Religiosity sometimes increases moral certainty when doing the wrong thing, as with Bush the Smaller.

Face it: as a species, we are unable to keep ourselves out of trouble or to act rationally for any length of time. Ideologies that promise otherwise are farcical.

24 comments

  1. dickycone · March 8

    “On the British side, perhaps the silliest act was entering into a secret alliance with France, sometimes through staffers acting behind the Cabinet’s back. An alliance is meant to deter attack. Keeping it secret encourages attack and increases the chances of a larger war.”

    I didn’t know about this. It sounds a lot like a non-nuclear version of the doomsday device in Dr. Strangeglove.

    I’ve never read this book and I appreciated your summary. I don’t think most people in the US remember Buchanan nowadays, but to the extent they do he is persona non grata to normies and his opinions are to be discarded automatically without consideration, on pains of cancellation. I suppose you could say that’s the case with most people whose opinions on important matters make sense in current year.

    Liked by 3 people

    • TechieDude · March 9

      Buchanan’s speech at the convention in 92 was my first realization of gaslighting and narrative.

      I saw the speech. It was energizing and I couldn’t find much to disagree about. Over the next few days the Clinton machine spun a narrative that it was a bigoted off the wall crazy speech and I was an evil sexist, bigot, homophobe for agreeing with any of it.

      Dude’s books have generally been right on. Although some of them can be the same premise that would be an essay stretched to a few hundred pages to make a buck.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Stefan · March 8

    Eugenics can solve this – if you can breed smarter dogs bigger pigs, you can ceratinly breed smarter humans, but it takes longer time to create Kwisatz Haderach. The Atlantic had an article about how all big tech CEOs are now Indians, but not just Indians – they are from the Brahmin caste, who bred within themselves for thousands of years. Similar to the story of the Aschkenazi jews.

    The big issue is that this is a very long process and people in power are not willing to wait that much because they will not be alive to sea the results.

    Perhaps this can be achieved if the politician selection includes adherance to long-term goals – like pre-screen the elections and allow only MPs who have managed to save for a house instead of borrowing from the bank for example, or something similar.

    Like

    • Nikolai Vladivostok · March 9

      I wonder if we could breed nicer humans.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Frank K · March 9

        I think Arthur C Clarke covered that in his novel The Songs of Distant Earth. I his story a race of hedonistic and non ambitious humans was bred in a lab to colonize an extra solar world called Thalassa.

        Anyway, Clarke seemed to believe that it was possible to breed “nicer humans”. Unfortunately, in the story a ship arrives with regular humans and well … I’ll let you read the story,

        Like

  3. Liz · March 8

    I have a son who is a history buff. I will have him read this when he wakes up, if he has time, and ask his impression.
    For now:
    His actual proposal, after the long set-up, is hard to refute.
    Once the Rhineland was lost, the only sensible option was to accept that war was coming, remain uninvolved for as long as possible, rearm and hope like hell that Hitler first went east. This was a reasonable hope.

    Was it though? History is lived forward but viewed backwards. In hindsight 20/20 glasses, Hilter’s invasion of the USSR was a “good bet”. Lived forward, he not only had an alliance with the USSR (which was supplying him regularly with a LOT of much needed kit), Germany and the USSR both invaded Poland together. Was it really reasonable and/or sensible to believe his next course of action would be to turn on that alliance? I don’t think so.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Liz · March 8

      Just to add, it wasn’t until Finland fought so well against the Soviets that Hitler made his decision to invade. It is much less a stretch to say that factored into his equation of ‘could I beat the Soviets if we attack?” Well, that tiny country schooled them what would they do against our Panzers…

      Like

    • Nikolai Vladivostok · March 9

      Declaring war first still brought it forward.

      Like

  4. Liz · March 8

    I didn’t see it referenced above. Just curious did the author reference the Kellogg-Briand Pact?

    Like

    • Nikolai Vladivostok · March 9

      I don’t remember it.

      Like

      • Liz · March 10

        It was pretty important to the context of the buildup to war. It banned war itself, essentially. All the large powers signed it. Treaties requiring limits on offensive kit (like the building of battleships) followed. All after WWI. It’s also good to remember the British and French funded and supported the white army in Russia.

        Like

  5. TechieDude · March 9

    “Face it: as a species, we are unable to keep ourselves out of trouble or to act rationally for any length of time”
    Ergo, the thesis of the “Fourth Turning”. We do idiocy in patterns.

    Not long after he wrote this, Victor Davis Hanson recorded an Uncommon Knowledge episode about this very book. He refuted Buchanan’s main points about having stayed out of it, Hitler would’ve gone east. I had issues with his take, because this book was pretty thoroughly researched, readable, and clear. And you can’t argue, whatsoever, that by Uncle Sucker outfitting the Russians, we breathed life into troubled regime that turned out to burn us later.

    Interestingly, Hanson is parroting much of the party line when it comes to Putin. Again, I’m a no one but Putin’s message, even through the media narrative, has been remarkably clear and consistent.

    We’re in those very same stupid times. I think the worst is the crowd crowing that it’s a good thing NATO is still around, and Putin is proving it’s worth, as if NATO meddling hadn’t caused any of this, even all the way back to the Balkan countries and Georgia (cough cough Aesop..cough). Same as happened in Poland – Lot of flirting and winking that we’d have their back and they go and do something stupid like poking the Russian Bear.

    At the end of the day, Those newer NATO members have to realize that no one is coming to help. NATO only wants the arms profiteering as if we hadn’t proved that repeatedly over the last 50 years or so.

    What’s funny is I think we’re far more stupid than back in the day. You can’t cut off a resource rich member of the global trading system, responsible for anywhere from 20-80% of some very important commodities – such as wheat, fertilizer, oil, titanium, and whatnot and think everyone won’t feel that pain. Shocking to see ordinary Russians, who had no say and have no part, being cut off apple, google, et al. You can see chess pieces aligning that’ll blow the dollar to smithereens. Shooting off our foot to spite our face.

    Liked by 5 people

  6. mblanc46 · March 9

    Shoulda, woulda, coulda. It’s easy to write in 2008 what people should have done in 1938, when one knows what the result of those 1938 actions were. Buchanan’s analysis ignores the fact that the linchpin of British foreign policy was balance of power on the Continent, while the Royal Navy ruled the waves. Why would they have abandoned that policy in 1939 simply because we know after the fact that it led to end of Britain as a great power?

    Like

    • Nikolai Vladivostok · March 9

      He says they should have abandoned that policy to head of WWI.

      Like

      • mblanc46 · March 9

        Again, hindsight. The policy served the Brits pretty well for a couple of centuries. Perhaps they might have abandoned it after the bloodletting of 1914-1918, but they did come out on the “winning” side in that war, so what would have been the motivation to change?

        Like

        • Nikolai Vladivostok · March 9

          The two wars led to them losing their global empire.
          I’m probably not doing Buchanan justice; I encourage readers to go to the horse’s mouth if this topic is of interest.

          Liked by 1 person

          • mblanc46 · March 10

            You’re dong fine. What I’m objecting to is Buchanan or anyone thinking it’s possible to put themselves in the place of historical actors in historical situations and coming up with a better, or even different, course of action.

            Like

  7. Phil B · March 9

    The decision to go to war by Britain in 1914 was based on a treaty with Belgium – if the Belgians fought the German invaders, then Britain would join in. Belgium did resist, so Britain honoured its treaty obligations.

    I would disagree about the negative assessment of Neville Chamberlains motives for agreeing to the “deal” after Munich. I would argue against “appeasement should never be resorted to”. Used judiciously, it can prove to be a sensible tactic to buy time. Neville Chamberlains “appeasement” at Munich is used as a classic example of how “wrong” this was.

    The facts are that after “The War to end all wars” there was a strong “never again!” sentiment in the UK and between the Wars, the defence budget was repeatedly cut and little was spent on defence, other than the Royal Navy. Britain still had a large overseas empire and the sea routes and trade needed policing and no British person would object to paying for the Navy.

    In short, the UK was defenceless and had Chamberlain taken Britain to war in 1936 when the Rhineland was reoccupied by Germany or 1938 over Czechoslovakia, the UK would have lost big style.

    Germany had been training its pilots and army in secret (Lipetsk since 1926) and Panzertruppe (Kazan since 1929) in Russia, had fought in the Spanish Civil War and had modern aircraft (the Messerschmitt BF 109, Junkers 87 Stuka, Heinkel 111 and Dornier 17) plus by that time had a large number of experienced and battle tested crews, having used the Spanish Civil war to iron out the teething troubles in their equipment and perfected their tactics. They were again tested and further refined in the invasion of Poland.

    At the time of Munich, although Britain had the largest air force in the world, it consisted of open cockpit fighters, little different from those at the end of WW1, and when rearmament commenced, coincidentally during 1936, Britain upgraded the equipment. However, for the RAF, the first Squadron (No. 19) began to exchange its Gauntlet biplanes for Mk I Spitfires only on the 4th August 1938.

    At the time of the 1938 Munich Crisis (September 1938), No. 19 was the only squadron to possess Spitfires and had certainly not worked up to combat ready status. The second unit to receive Spitfires started to receive them on 31 October 1938. By the end of 1938, the RAF had two fully-equipped Spitfire squadrons with 100 per cent reserves (that is, if all the aircraft in the squadrons were destroyed or not airworthy due to battle damage, they could be completely replaced from the reserves).

    At the outbreak of war on 3 September 1939, the British Royal Air Force was still a peacetime unit unlike the highly experienced German forces. At that time, nine squadrons were equipped with Spitfires. Another squadron (No. 603 Squadron) was in the process of replacing its Gloster Gladiators (obsolete before it was introduced into service) with the Spitfire and needed to get up to speed with the new aircraft so were effectively not ready for combat. A total of 306 Mk I Spitfires had been delivered of which 36 had been written off in training accidents. The new aircraft was a quantum leap forward in comparison to the Bristol Bulldogs, Gloster Gauntlets and even the Hawker Fury – all of them biplanes – and the increase in performance plus inexperienced pilots led to the training accidents. In the Battle of France and the Battle of Britain, many of the squadrons were Auxiliary Air Force Squadrons (equivalent to the National Guard) and were “weekend warriors”. They did well, nonetheless.

    France was invaded in May 1940 and 67 Spitfires were lost during the Battle of France. By the time the Battle of Britain started (officially 10 July to 31 October, 1940) Fighter Command had built up to 27 squadrons of Hurricanes and 19 of Spitfires. Between the beginning of July and the end of October, 565 Hurricanes and 352 Spitfires were lost.

    Production of the BREN machine gun began in 1938 too – the best LMG of WW2 (and for quite a while afterwards). The majority were lost in the battle of France but it was a start in modernising the army. Don’t mention the state of British tanks of that era, particularly compared to the tried and tested German armour and the experience of their crews.

    Now, I believe that at the time of the Munich Crisis as it was known in the UK, Chamberlain knew that Britain was defenceless and the breathing space between Munich and the invasion of France allowed Britain time to rearm and train. Had the Luftwaffe attacked in 1938 or 1939 and Britain had to defend itself with Gloster Gauntlets, Bristol Bulldogs, Hawker Fury’s and the more modern Gloster Gladiators (all biplanes, all open cockpit except the Gladiator) plus the few Spitfires and Hurricanes, then the War would have turned out differently.

    Chamberlain, I firmly believe sacrificed himself to buy time. He placed the welfare of his country above his own personal benefit and accepted the criticism and scorn, knowing that he could not reveal the weakness of Britain’s defences and had to sacrifice Czechoslovakia. Poland was a different matter. What would you have done under the circumstances?

    Don’t forget that at the same time that Britain was rearming, France was doing so too. They placed a lot of orders with America for aircraft and munitions. When France was invaded, the USA diverted a lot of the war matériel to the UK and demanded payment for kit that was not needed or unsuitable for the needs of the UK forces. My uncle who was in the Royal Navy at the time told me how he helped dump tons of 8mm Lebel rifle ammunition in the Atlantic as it was useless to Britain.

    Hitler was probably unaware of the full weakness of either country. Had he turned westward rather than eastward in 1938, he might well have succeeded in winning the war.

    Again, in 1940 when he was preparing an invasion fleet, the “Battle of the Barges” (RAF Bomber Command attacking and destroying the barges and ships Hitler needed to cross the channel) was carried out by medium, twin engined bombers (Vickers Wellington, Handley Page Hampden, Armstrong Whitworth Whitley) which were the result of a 1934 invitation to tender for bombers to replace the single engined bombers (Hawker Demon and Fairy Battles) that would have been totally inadequate for the task. Guy Gibsons book Enemy Coast Ahead describes his involvement with this “battle”. They did not come into service until just before the Munich crisis and again, Britain had no effective bomber force or the numbers to project power in 1938.

    Had the “unsinkable aircraft carrier” that was Britain been invaded, then neither America nor the British Empire could conceivably have projected enough force across an ocean to re-invade Europe. Nor I suspect would there have been the will to do so.

    The difference between a politician and a Statesman is:

    A politician thinks of the next election.

    A Statesman thinks of the next generation.

    Chamberlain, I maintain was a Statesman and was unjustly condemned for “appeasement”. Britain was totally unprepared to fight the Wehrmacht in 1938 and 1939 and the time that “appeasement” bought was essential. It was still a close run thing, though.

    As for Stalin, he was retraining his army to fight an offensive war and wanted the Allies and Germany to fight themselves to a standstill and then he would have invaded Europe. It was necessary that Poland was invaded both by Germany AND the USSR to eliminate the gap between the two countries. Had Stalin had to fight his way across Poland, then that would have delayed him long enough for the Germans to organise a defence and the surprise would have been lost. Victor Suvorov wrote a book called Icebreaker about this and is well worth reading – it is available as a free PDF here:

    Click to access icebreaker.pdf

    For the lead up to WW1, Robert R Massey’s Deradnought is the best I have read. The interference by the USA and the Washington Naval Treaty between the wars effectively neutered the British Navy and caused a lot of problems.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Kentucky Gent · March 10

    OK I stopped reading after “Japan offended” because I want to bring up a point. You talk about Churchill’s blunders, but is having a personality disorder really a blunder?

    “I made the mistake of becoming a sociopath” just seems beyond the self awareness available to a sociopath.

    Like

    • Nikolai Vladivostok · March 10

      I don’t know what his issue was. He’d be an interesting person to analyse if he were still living. Whether idiot or sociopath, the blunder was letting him anywhere near power.

      Like

  9. philebersole · March 11

    Very interesting.

    We now know that if the Allies has resisted the remilitarization of the Rhineland or the annexation of the Sudetenland, the German generals would have deposed Hitler. Since they didn’t, some of them started to wonder if maybe he was a genius after all. So Pat Buchanan was right about the best time to have resisted him.

    I think Buchanan’s analysis would have been sound if Hitler had been “evil within normal parameters” — another Mussolini or Vladimir Putin. It is true that he did not intend to completely destroy France and envisioned Britain as a potential partner. But his plan for Poland, Ukraine, Russia and the rest of the Slavic world was kill off most of the population by execution and starvation and turn the rest into slaves of the German pioneers moving into their new living space. He might well have succeeded/

    If Hitler and Stalin had been left alone to fight things out, the result may not have been mutual exhaustion. The result might have been a new superpower with the industrial power of Germany and the natural resources of all of northern Eurasia. Such a regime would inevitably have challenged the United States and the British Army for world supremacy at some point.

    All that aside, we need to free ourselves of the notion that every new adversary (Ho Chi Minh, Saddam, Putin) is a new Hitler and the correct response is to act out the fantasy of being another Winston Churchill.

    Like

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  12. Steven C. · May 17

    Hitler and Stalin were both aware that many in the West were hoping for the Third Reich and the USSR to engage in a “war of exhaustion” with each other, and then the West would “pick up the pieces”. That was a major reason for the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. This pact wasn’t a result of a new-found friendship between the two countries; but a need for both to eliminate, or weaken, their opponents before squaring off against each other.

    Like

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