Even before it was published (May 27, 2008), Pat Buchanan’s book, Churchill, Hitler, and “The Unnecessary War”: How Britain Lost Its Empire and the West Lost the World, set the cat amongst the pigeons, not least because of John Lukacs review, “Necessary Evil”, which appeared, somewhat incongruously, in the June 2, 2008 [sic] issue (presumably online), sometime late last May, of The American Conservative. As an anti-anti-communist, who considers Nationalism to have been the supreme evil of the 20th century, Lukacs, whom Geoffrey Wheatcroft, a more considered judge of Churchill’s achievements, describes as “preeminent among intellectually respectable Churchillians”, has always idolized Churchill, who fought against that most extreme form of 20th-century Nationalism, Nazism, and made common cause with Uncle Joe Stalin.
On May 25, Buchanan posted an excerpt from his book, titled, “Man of the Century”, on Taki’s Magazine. He begins:
As the twentieth century ended, a debate ensued over who had been its greatest man. The Weekly Standard nominee was Churchill. Not only was he Man of the Century, said scholar Harry Jaffa, he was the Man of Many Centuries. To Kissinger he was “the quintessential hero.” A BBC poll of a million people in 2002 found that Britons considered Churchill the “greatest Briton of all time.”
As a Briton, I well remember the poll, tho’ I didn’t take part in it.
Buchanan goes on to examine whether Churchill really deserves that accolade and concludes that “Churchill succeeded magnificently as a war leader”, but “failed as a statesman”: “He had been a great man—at the cost of his country’s greatness.”
He also says of his own country, which has ceased to be a republic and has become a fast-declining empire: “There is hardly a blunder of the British Empire we have not replicated.”
Two days later, Buchanan posted a second article, “How the West Lost the World”, on Takimag, in which he outlines the series of British “blunders” which led to the Second World War.
Churchill, Hitler, and “The Unnecessary War”: How Britain Lost Its Empire and the West Lost the World, is one of a number of books on the subject reviewed by Geoffrey Wheatcroft in his review, “Churchill and His Myths” (a possible allusion to Churchill’s phrase, “Hitler and all his works”), which appeared on the same day in The New York review of Books, the others being John Lukacs’ own Blood, Toil, Tears and Sweat: The Dire Warning, Lynne Olson’s Troublesome Young Men: The Rebels Who Brought Churchill to Power and Helped Save England, about the Tory rebels who voted against Chamberlain in 1940, and Nicholson Baker’s Human Smoke: The Beginnings of World War II, the End of Civilization, which Lukacs has denounced, unsurprisingly, as “a bad book”.
In the best sentence in her book, about the Suez adventure of 1956, [Olson] writes, “Not for the first time, and certainly not for the last, the lessons of Munich and appeasement were wrongly applied to a later international crisis.” Likewise, having rightly observed that “there has arisen among America’s elite a Churchill cult,” Patrick Buchanan devotes a chapter, “Man of the Century,” to denouncing the cult, and the man. He not only looks askance at Churchill’s saying in September 1943 that “to achieve the extirpation of Nazi tyranny there are no lengths of violence to which we will not go”; he chastises the administration of George Bush the Younger—who installed a bust of Churchill in the Oval Office—for having emulated “every folly of imperial Britain in her plunge from power,” and having drawn every wrong lesson from Churchill’s career. There is by now an entire book to be written about the way that “Munich,” “appeasement,” and “Churchill” have been ritually invoked, from Suez to Vietnam to Iraq, so often in false analogy, and so often with calamitous results.
Pat Buchanan himself appeared on CNN’s Situation Room to discuss his book with Wolf Blitzer, an appearance which was written up in an article, “Pat Buchanan Blames Britain for Holocaust”, by Jason Linkins on the Huffington Post, and which he peppered with ad hominem attacks:
He also appeared with Lester Holt on the Today Show:
Immediately following the publication of Lukacs review in TAC, Tom Piatak sought to distance TAC from Lukacs position in an article titled, “John Lukacs, Neocon?”, which appeared in TAC on May 23, a position challenged by Daniel Larison in a piece titled, “On Lukacs And Buchanan”, which appeared on the same day in Eunomia.
On the following day, Marcus Epstein wrote an article, titled, “The American Conservative, John Lukacs, and the Unnecessary Review”, in Taki’s Magazine, explaining why such a negative review of Buchanan’s book should appear in what many people perceive to be “Pat Buchanan’s Magazine”, and lamenting the fact that TAC hadn’t asked Churchill admirer, Peter Hitchens (Chris’s older brother), who, on April 19, wrote a more considered review for The Daily Mail, titled, “Was World War Two just as pointless and self-defeating as Iraq, asks Peter Hitchens”, to write it.
On the same day Daniel Larison wrote a second piece in Eunomia, titled, “On Lukacs and Buchanan (II)”, saying that Epstein made too much out of the publication in the TAC of the Lukacs review and explaining TAC’s publication of Lukacs review as “part of TAC’s ongoing efforts to maintain lively debate and welcome different perspectives within the same magazine”, and calling for general calm amongst conservatives whom, he said, agreed 95% of the time.
On My 29, some of Buchanan’s paleo buddies rallied round their idol in a veritable plethora of articles which appeared on the same website, these being Richard Spencer’s “Lukacs, Buchanan, and ‘Anti-anticommunism’”, in which he accuses Lukacs of reducing the Second World War down to a morality play and takes issue with the claim that it’s irreconcilable to argue that the Third Reich was evil and that it might have been a mistake for Churchill to war against it, “Pat, John and the Others”, by Paul Gottfried, a friend of both “John” and “Pat”, yet another article on the same subject by Daniel Larison, “On Lukacs and Buchanan (Again)”, “FDR vs. Churchill”, by Grant Havers, in which he argues “that FDR bears infinitely more responsibility than Churchill for the rising influence of Stalin at the end of the war” and heartily recommends Robert Nisbet’s, Roosevelt and Stalin: The Failed Courtship¸which, he says, “put[s] to rest any doubts about then role of FDR in fostering the influence of the Soviets while attempting to marginalize Churchill at Teheran and Yalta”, and “John Lukacs: Crank”, by John Zmirnak.
© Anthony T. Hopkins, 2008