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The War That Didn't Need Waging

By Patrick J. Buchanan

Monday, October 11, 1999; Page A25

In "A Republic, Not an Empire," I take many controversial stands: indicting Jefferson for naval disarmament, defending Polk's war with Mexico, decrying U.S. annexation of the Philippines and supporting Harding's Washington naval treaty.

But all has been trampled by the hysterical reaction to two assertions: that Britain's war guarantee to Poland was a monumental blunder, and that after the Luftwaffe lost the Battle of Britain in 1940, Germany posed no strategic threat to the United States.

Why was Britain's war guarantee flawed? Because Britain had neither the will nor power to honor it. In 1939 only one nation could save Poland from Hitler: Russia. "Without Russia," declared Lloyd George, "our [Polish] guarantees are the most reckless commitment any country has ever entered into. I say more, they are demented."

By threatening war for Poland, Britain impelled Hitler to cut his deal with Stalin. Result: annihilation of Poland, and Stalin's serial rape of Finland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, as Hitler swallowed Denmark, Norway, the Low Countries and France. By mid-1940 Hitler controlled Western Europe, and Stalin, Eastern Europe; the British had been routed at Dunkirk and ensnared in a war that would cost 400,000 dead and bring down the empire.

Yet Poland was not saved. What, then, did the war guarantee accomplish? And why would it have been immoral for Britain to redirect Hitler's attack away from the West, toward Stalin's slave empire and let the monsters eat each other up as Harry Truman urged?

Had Britain not declared war, Hitler would have attacked an unprepared Stalin in 1940. The result might have been the eradication of Bolshevism in Russia and China, no Cold War, no Korea and no Vietnam. Instead of six years of World War II bloodletting, we might have seen six months of a Hitler-Stalin war, ending with one dead and the other crippled.

But, comes the cry, Hitler sought "world domination." After Russia he would have seized Western Europe and Britain and launched his final attack on us. But would he? According to historian A. J. P. Taylor, "Eastern expansion was the primary purpose of Hitler's policy, if not the only one." To Labor Party statesman Roy Denman, "The fear that after Poland Hitler would have attacked Britain was an illusion. . . . Britain was dragged into an unnecessary war."

On Aug. 11, 1939, Hitler had railed to the Danzig League of Nations commissioner: "Everything I undertake is directed against Russia. If the West is too stupid and too blind to comprehend that, I will be forced to come to an understanding with the Russians, to smash the West and then after its defeat, to turn against the Soviet Union."

This, writes Henry A. Kissinger, "was certainly an accurate statement of Hitler's priorities: from Great Britain, he wanted noninterference in continental affairs, and from the Soviet Union, he wanted Lebensraum, or living space. It was a measure of Stalin's achievement that he was about to reverse Hitler's priorities. . . . "

Yes, and an equal measure of Britain's blunder.

Challenging my contention that the United States faced no strategic threat after 1940, critics cite Nazi plans for an "Amerika-Bomber." Berlin, they say, had "embarked on a campaign to obtain bases in Africa and the Canary Islands as part of what . . . foreign minister Joachim von Ribbentrop called a 'huge program . . . of an anti-American character.' "

But this is comic-book history. Not only did the Royal Air Force achieve superiority in 1940, the Royal Navy had never lost it, as the French learned when Churchill ordered his ships to sink the French fleet at Mers el-Kebir in mid-1940 to keep it out of Hitler's hands.

In November of 1940, the Italian fleet was smashed at Taranto. "By this single stroke," exulted Churchill, "the balance of naval power in the Mediterranean was decisively altered." In early '41 Hitler's mighty surface raider, Bismarck, was sunk on its maiden voyage; the Graf Spee had been scuttled off Montevideo in 1939.

By Pearl Harbor, Hitler was overextended and blocked at the Channel and Atlantic by the Royal Air Force and Navy, and at Moscow and Leningrad by the Red Army. By 1942, he was finished in Africa.

The idea that Hitler, with no surface navy or fleet of transport ships, no landing craft or seamen who had even served on a carrier, could construct in Africa or the Canary Islands ships to threaten the United States, on the other side of an ocean the U.S. and British navies had ruled since Trafalgar is a proposition too absurd to require rebuttal.

The writer is a candidate for the Republican nomination for president.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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