Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Personal Aside: Buchanan’s “History” Books Are Like Fantasy Baseball Trades…and Just as Meaningful.


Some people collect old baseball cards, others match-covers. Pat Buchanan writes “what if” scenarios where he carefully selects the options and comes to the judgment that modern wars—since World War I—were unnecessary…all done with the aim of proving that the George W. Bush he despises and his Iraq War are follies, the War being a waste that could have been avoided. It’s an innocent enough hobby…not unlike Fantasy Baseball…except that he loses his equilibrium, appropriates to himself a rear-view mirror of historical infallibility, producing what he hopes is a godlike view of world history in a foolish “what if?” scenario in his latest “Churchill, Hitler and the Unnecessary War: How Britain Lost Its Empire and the West Lost the World” which was preceded by the direly pessimistic “The Death of the West.”

Wait—what the hell is this “LOST the World” and “Death of the West” stuff? Didn’t the West win the Cold War? That pesky fact is inconvenient to him so it’s not registered in the book. Now I must make a confession here. I have known Buchanan well—since we both served Richard Nixon--and have until recent years thought him prescient. I used to hire him to make speeches in Washington to sales meetings of Quaker executives, thought he served Ronald Reagan as director of communications very well. Moreover, I appreciate that like me, he had a father he loved dearly who was imbued with American nationalism. My own instructed me faithfully during the 1930s and early `40s about how evil Franklin Roosevelt was.

The more I restudy New Deal economics—especially the books written by Amity Shlaes--the more I think Roeser pere was ahead of his time. As for our entry into World War II, the elements surrounding the Pearl Harbor “attack” are so suspicious as to defy credibility. I think a reasonable case has been made by Thomas Fleming (the historian not the president of the Rockford Institute) that our entry into the war was needless, begotten originally by Woodrow Wilson’s insensate drive to push us into World War I after he was reelected on the pledge “He kept us out of war.” And since I served a statesman of the grocery products industry who was for many years as CEO of The Quaker Oats Company and who as a Yale Law grad headed America First, where he teamed with the young John F. Kennedy, Sargent Shriver ands others, you might say I should be with Pat.

Moreover, I think there are some foreign-defense policy revisions that can and should be made that are distinct from George W. Bush’s Wilsonian second inaugural address—but clearly Bush will be venerated after I am gone for his courage to defend America by moving against Iraq. It is immaterial in retrospect as to whether Iraq had something going with the Al-Qaeda. Bernard Lewis, the nation’s greatest expert on the Middle East is right when he says that the attack on Iraq was imperative because for the first time in modern history, someone took the battle to militant Islam. There is little doubt in my mind that we have been spared further attacks on our soil because of Iraq.

What disturbs me about my old friend Pat is that increasingly he is indistinguishable from in his attacks on this country’s foreign policy. While it can be argued that our entry into both world wars could have been avoided, my father as well as my beloved old boss Robert D. Stuart, Jr., now 93, understood that no matter the exigencies of our entry into the two global wars of the 20th century, Communism was a great threat to our existence and that we should do what we reasonably can to defeat it. Ronald Reagan pretty much overthrew the USSR and Pat was part of that administration. Wherefore comes this dire Oswald Spengler-like view that we have “lost the world” and are plodding to oblivion? Whence comes this Buchanan hatred of Winston Churchill whom he acknowledges was a great man…very big of Patrick to acknowledge this…but under whom “Britain lost an empire.”

Ridiculous historical short-hand. Britain was horribly overextended and due for shrinkage. Pat’s xenophobia …his fear of immigration…including ALL legal immigration by the way…his abhorrence of free trade…his support of protectionism because it was emblematic of the founders of 1789…tied with his barely concealed worry that Caucasians will lose domination of this country by the races of color…all coincide to product an exceedingly eccentric view of history. Still in all, I share the view of the late Hunter Thompson that of all the people I’ve met, I would rather have a cold one with Pat Buchanan than anyone else, because of his rich humor and great imagination. Unfortunately, his imagination has run away with him in foreign affairs.

Pat is on a tear concerning “unnecessary war.” The answer is that a case can be made that all the wars we have been engaged in were unnecessary. Pat either doesn’t know this or supports the right kind of war he believes in. Take the major theses of the Stamp Act crisis was the Virginia Resolves of 1765, the seven resolutions outlining the colonies’ position on the Stamp Act. The first two were reasonable enough—proclaiming that the colonies had all the rights of Englishmen. The third was specious: maintaining that the principle of colonial self-taxation coincides with the British constitution. The British constitution was and is unwritten. Now get ready for the fourth—one which was definitely usurpative and war-fomenting from a British perspective, that Virginia and all the colonies have the right to be governed solely by laws passed by their own legislatures with a sop saying that they would have to be approved by the royal governor. You could have debated that one since the colonies were not independent and joined with the British empire.

Following the 4th came the 5th which involved Britain having to take a giant swallow mandated by the arrogant little colony. The “General Assembly of this colony have the only and sole exclusive right and power to lay taxes and imposition upon the inhabitants of this colony” and that any attempt to usurp it undermines colonial—and British—freedom. Now wait a minute! These were colonies, not part of the British mainland. Applying Pat’s prescription, if the 4th and 5th were not passed as an insult to the crown and negotiations substituted by wise men, the break with England might never have occurred. But obviously Pat shares the view that we were correct to break with England. It’s all in how you look at it. His shuffling of the cards in history and presuming other pretexts…the Kaiser would have been deterred from acting had he known the Brits were plotting to send troops to the Franco-Prussian war—is ridiculous.

See how ridiculous Pat’s recasting of history is? I might just as well recast the War of the Roses, the war between the houses of York and Lancaster in medieval times, focusing on what might have been a failing of the house of York. Or let us fantasize how it would work out if the war was conducted only at night. Useless time-waster.

Let’s look at one thesis in his “Churchill, Hitler and the Unnecessary War.” He writes “…it was the colossal blunders of British statesmen, Winston Churchill foremost among them, that turned two European wars into world wars that may yet prove the mortal wounds of the West.” The first blunder was “a secret decision of the inner Cabinet in 1906 to send a British army across the Channel to fight in any Franco-German War. Had the Kaiser known the British Empire would fight for France, he would have moved more decisively than he did to halt the plunge to war in July,1914.” How, I ask, does my friend Pat know this? This pro-German mind-reading stuff is endemic throughout the book. Nineteen six was the year Churchill was first elected to the parliament so he is spared that “colossal blunder,” if in fact there was a private decision (unverified).

In Contrast, Britain’s Sagacity to Align with the U.S.

Now let’s consider his thesis that by engaging in these wars, Britain lost an empire. While the small island deservedly had to retrench from its glory days, Britain was prescient…prescient under Churchill as his predecessors and successors…for joining with the United States to compose a grand strategy that has brought the two English-speaking nations to a pinnacle of prestige unmatched in world history. The culture blended from both has been susceptible to capitalism under which both nations grew prosperous. As result, the union of these two nations…one endowed with almost matchless resources, the other not so but wisely cooperating…has created the democratic system that continues over outside threats to dominate and expand throughout the world. Far from committing serious blunders, Churchill was wise to enlist this nation’s help in building that bond. Whether we were wise to be beguiled by his oratory and personal friendship with FDR is another question—but, com’on Pat, pal, lighten up.

More later. Read Buchanan if you must but don’t take the gas-pipe route just yet. He’s full of beans.

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