Forgive me, but I am starting to feel sorry for Pat Buchanan. Here the guy has been saying the ugliest things all these years to little more than nods from his fellow Republicans. Then he propounds a theory about World War II that is not as crazy as it sounds and he is virtually drummed out of the GOP. Clearly, you can insult Jews, gays, blacks, Hispanics, immigrants and common sense itself, but question America's role in World War II and you're sentenced to life listening to Ross Perot. Solitary would be better.
What brings on this cruel and unusual punishment? The supposed offense is Buchanan's theory that, as late as 1940, Hitler represented no threat to the United States. He does not say that Hitler was a good guy, and he does not say that we should not have fought the war once Pearl Harbor was bombed and Germany, Japan's ally, declared war. He is merely saying that maybe this was a war that did not have to be fought.
Almost instantly, Buchanan got jumped. First John McCain, then Elizabeth Dole, then a Steve Forbes spokesman and then almost everyone else in the GOP trained their faxes on him. Dole, in the fashion of the Johnson and Nixon White Houses when it came to the Vietnam War, accused Buchanan of being "grossly insensitive" to vets and the WWII dead. Others used more measured rhetoric. Still, after a while you could be forgiven for concluding that the United States had gone into World War II for humanitarian reasons -- to save Europe, to save the Jews, to save face. But we did nothing of the sort. We fought because we were attacked. By that point, the vast majority of Europe's Jews were already in the Nazi maw.
Earlier this year Americans finally got the chance to read Niall Ferguson's "The Pity of War." In it, this Oxford University fellow writes that Britain was to blame for World War I. Now that's a controversial position for you. It means, in other words, that Britain is to blame for much of what followed -- the rise of Bolshevism, fascism and, of course, the loss of Britain's own empire.
But Ferguson was not booted out of Oxford or accused of sullying all those Englishmen buried under poppies in Flanders fields. Of course, he is a scholar, not a politician, and I imagine he lacks Buchanan's purple history or his rhetorical body language. Buchanan is a porcupine of jagged prejudices and that, it seems, makes all the difference.
Still, this recent attack on Buchanan is a bit late. Here, after all, is a man who called AIDS "nature's awful retribution" against gays and whose statements regarding Jews and Jewish influence led William F. Buckley to conclude it was "impossible to defend Pat Buchanan against charges of anti-Semitism."
Here is a man who wants immigration restricted to "people like us," who could find nothing good to say about the civil rights movement and who, in the course of defending the occasional accused war criminal (sometimes with good cause) has clearly suggested that our understanding of the Holocaust is partly based on myth. He is not a Holocaust denier, just a Holocaust quibbler.
This is ugly stuff. But it was not Buchanan's godawfulness on these matters that so stirred GOP heavies but his amoral isolationism. Yet in asking "What are the vital interests for which America will sacrifice its young?" and answering the question to exclude the ultimate human rights crisis, the crimes of Nazi Germany, Buchanan is merely expanding on a foreign policy that has many followers today.
In fact, some of those who attack him for saying -- correctly -- that the United States faced no imminent threat from Hitler, opposed U.S. intervention in Iraq, Haiti, Bosnia, Kosovo and now East Timor. Buchanan is hardly the only isolationist in the GOP -- hardly the only one who defines "vital interest" in the most coldly pragmatic way. He would fight no moral crusades abroad. Well, neither would a hunk of the U.S. Senate.
Poor Pat. Why me? he must be wondering. Why not Pat Robertson for his virulent homophobia? Why not Jesse Helms and his appeals to racism? Why not congressional leaders who oppose U.S. intervention, it seems, anywhere and anytime? The answer, I fear, is that these political figures didn't fritter away their constituencies and become increasingly marginalized. Unfortunately, moral repugnance was never enough.
Buchanan, of all people, should understand.