Going After Pat Buchanan: Americanism and Anti-SemitismWilliam Halvorsen
The publication of Pat Buchanan's book, A Republic, Not an Empire, coming with Buchanan's departure from the Republican Party in order to seek the presidential nomination of the Reform Party, has created the opportunity for Buchanan's critics to come crawling out of the woodwork with the usual arguments concerning the supposed anti-Semitism and extremism of the conservative Catholic columnist.
The most controversial claim in Buchanan's book is that Hitler had no designs on Western Europe or even the United States, which suggests that World War Two didn't need our participation, and that Private Ryan could have just as well stayed homeThis had led to a number of hysterical attacks in which Buchanan has been smeared as a Hitler lover and as an anti-Semite, and these attacks in turn involve going back 20 years or more to find comments that Buchanan made here or there that can be used to facilitate the recent campaign of demonization. What we will do here is cover some of the themes that support the most recent assaults: the defense of John Demjanjuk, Buchanan's opposition to the Gulf War, and the canard that he is a "Hitler apologist."
Demajanjuk and Diesel EnginesThe first major component of the ongoing attacks goes back to Buchanan's courageous defense of Ivan Demjanjuk, the retired Cleveland auto worker who was sentenced to death by an Israeli court in 1988 for being the notorious "Ivan the Terrible" at the Treblinka concentration camp, where he supposedly operated gas chambers fed with diesel fumes.
The Demjanjuk affair was probably a high profile case of the Jimmy Carter appointed Office of Special Investigations (OSI), a unit that was set up for the purposes of tracking down Nazi war criminals who were supposedly living in the United States. In its 20 year existence, the OSI, usually following evidence provided by communist or former communist governments, has dogged the last days of dozens of American citizens who came from Eastern Europe, and in the case of Demjanjuk, almost contributed to his death.
Buchanan's defense of Demjanjuk was simple. If Demjanjuk was guilty of a crime, let him be tried as an American in America. On the other hand, if he was to be tried, let the evidence against him be reviewed with skepticism, without undue acceptance of the value of materials provided to the OSI by the Soviet secret police. Buchanan had a number of reasons to be skeptical of the case that went far beyond the accusation of OSI-KGB collaboration. Earlier cases that had been mishandled by the OSI include the cases of Frank Walus and Ivan Stebelsky, both of whom had been "positively" identified as death camp guards by survivors, and both of whom were financially ruined in their costly defenses against the limitless funds of the government-sponsored OSI. The cases against both men were eventually dropped, which suggested recklessness on the part of a government agency. Another factor which Buchanan mentioned hinged on the fact that the "documentary" evidence against Demjanjuk had been identified as false by several independent analysts.
After several years of wrangling, Demjanjuk was stripped of his citizenship and was sent to Israel in 1986, where he was put on trial for his life two years later. The prosecution's case rested almost entirely on "eyewitness" testimonies, since the documents were easily debunked, and the court's final guilty verdict, delivered in a converted theater, featured a moment of high drama, with the enraged crowd shouting "Death! Death!" while the elderly Ukrainian grandfather instinctively reached up to his chest and unobtrusively made the sign of the cross.
If not for the further publicity efforts of Buchanan, whose role was similar to that of Zola in the Dreyfus Affair, and the courageous efforts of two Jewish Israeli lawyers, Dov Eitan and Yoram Sheftel, Demjanjuk may well have been hanged. But further investigation revealed, not only that Demjanjuk was not "Ivan the Terrible", but that the Office of Special Investigation had withheld this exculpatory evidence for years. As a result, Demjanjuk was exonerated and allowed to return to his family in Ohio in late 1993.
The price paid for justice in this case was considerable. Dov Eitan died under mysterious circumstances in which he fell twenty stories from an apartment building, supposedly by accident, and Yoram Sheftel was temporarily blinded with sulphuric acid while attending Eitan's funeral. Buchanan, on the other hand, escaped such physical violence, but has never been forgiven for being right about Demjanjuk.
The one element of Buchanan's defense that his critics have seized on goes back to an article that he wrote in March, 1990, when he pointed out that, among other things, the diesel engines that were supposedly used at Treblinka to gas hundreds of thousands of people could not have been used: diesels emit very little carbon monoxide, and in fact rather high quantities of oxygen. Whether or not Buchanan is right on this point -- revisionists tend to think he is right, following the analyses of Fritz Berg -- the fact remains that his critics have never attempted to refute the argument itself, but have simply responded by calling Buchanan a "Holocaust denier".
The Gulf War and the Amen CornerAnother prominent element in the attacks on Buchanan go back to his advocacy of a wait-and-see attitude after the occupation of Kuwait by Iraq's Saddam Hussein. Buchanan, never interested in seeing Americans getting killed fighting someone else's war, had said on television on August 26, 1990, just a few weeks after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, that "There are only two groups that are beating the drums for war in the The Middle East -- the Israeli Defense Ministry and its amen corner in the United States."
Buchanan elaborated on these comments a bit more in a newspaper column that appeared three days later. "'The civilized world must win this fight' the editors thunder. But, if it comes to war, it will not be the 'civilized world' humping up that bloody road to Baghdad, it will be American kids, with names like McAllister, Murphy, Gonzales, and Leroy Brown."
Offhand, there doesn't seem to be anything particularly offensive about the above quote, especially when one considers, in context, that Buchanan was responding to the call of the British editor of The Economist for the "civilized world" to stop Hussein. But Buchanan's critics, already incensed by his "diesels cannot kill" column of just six months before, claimed that there was an anti-Semitic subtext to the article. That bizarre claim rests on the fact that Buchanan four days earlier and in a completely different context had mentioned the names Abe Rosenthal , Richard Perle, Charles Krauthammer, and Henry Kissinger among those who were calling for war, all of whom, apparently, are Jewish.
The weird contortions that his critics went through in this case in order to make Buchanan out as an "anti-Semite" simply goes to show just how baseless these charges really are. The "Amen corner" crack may have been hyperbolic, but certainly no one wants to pretend that Israel was not itching to take down Saddam, or that the Israeli oriented lobbying groups in the United States were defending what they perceived as Israel's interests in typical knee-jerk fashion. The same can be said about the claim, first dredged up around this time, that Buchanan was some kind of "Hitler lover" based on some positive comments he made in the context of reviewing John Toland's biography of Hitler in 1977.
The irony, which strikes one as ridiculous, is that Buchanan has always been a staunch supporter of Israel, and of the conservative ideology that has always justified not only the existence of Israel but also Israel's frequent use of force against its enemies, real, perceived, or imaginary. To say, under any circumstances, that Buchanan is somehow opposed to Jewish interests in general, or to the State of Israel in particular, is simply absurd.
A Republic, Not an EmpireAll of these past issues regarding Buchanan and Jews have resurfaced because of some of the arguments that Buchanan makes in his recent A Republic, Not an Empire. Buchanan's thesis is relatively simple. America was never meant to be the world's policeman, and it goes against our interests to try and play that role. To make his argument, Buchanan goes over the entire course of American foreign policy from the American Revolution to show how the United States, in the 20th Century, began to play an interventionist role contrary to the ideas of the Founders.
Of course, much of what Buchanan has to say about American foreign policy in the 20th Century is not going to be questioned. The blatant imperialism of the Spanish-American War, with its echoes of atrocity in the Philippines, won't arouse any opposition, nor will his description of the tragic futility of Vietnam. Since it is accepted by virtually everyone nowadays that World War One set the stage for the Second World War, and that the first war was fought blindly, and foolishly, and resulted in a peace that satisfied no one, there are not likely to be many that will quarrel with his characterization of that conflict, either. In fact, the current trend, exemplified in Niall Ferguson's recent history, is that the Western World may well have been better off if not only the United States but Great Britain had stayed out of a Russo-German-French war: in that case, we would have probably ended up with a German-dominated European Union just as we have today but without the tremendous loss of life.
Only when Buchanan touches on the shibboleths of Franklin Roosevelt, and the "necessity" of going to war to stop Hitler and the Holocaust that his critics have gone over the edge.
Again, Buchanan's arguments are simple and frankly somewhat similar to Ferguson's but applied to a different war. Germany's foreign policy aims, ever since the 1880's, were to extend German influence into Eastern Europe, a region where several millions German ethnics lived. It was wrong for the Western governments to perceive Germany -- whether under the Kaiser or under Hitler -- as a threat to their interests. Furthermore, in the 1930's, there were other factors in play.
Millions of Germans had been denied the right to self-determination at Versailles. The Soviet Union was under the heel of Stalinist madness, and several of the governments of Eastern Europe were fascist or proto-fascist and were actively engaged in persecuting their minorities, including Jews. The Anglo-French guarantee of Polish neutrality, which came in March of 1939, was unenforceable, and only guaranteed that another German war would necessarily become a world war.
What happened next proved the point. Hitler and Stalin made a deal to divide Poland and the rest of Eastern Europe in August, 1939. Germany invaded Poland a week later, and within a matter of months, the entire region was under either Nazi or Communist rule. Meanwhile, neither the French nor the British were able to do anything to save Poland, other than declare war on Germany (they did not declare war on the Soviet Union for taking about 40% of Poland's territory.) In the end, America's participation did nothing to save Poland or the rest of Eastern Europe from fifty years of communist dictatorship
Contrary to his critics, there is a considerable body of scholarly opinion that can be cited to defend Buchanan's interpretations. There are a number of historians who now concede that Germany's interest was in Eastern expansion, not world war, and there are also a number of historians who grant that the Holocaust itself was contingent on the failures the Germans encountered during the war (the so-called "functionalist" school of Holocaust historians.) In fact, it has recently come to be accepted that the German plan to deport the Jewish population from Europe to a Jewish homeland was still seriously considered in the Third Reich until the summer of 1941. The inevitable conclusion would appear to be that, if Hitler had won the European war, the Jewish people would have suffered far less than they in fact did.
Among the reactions was the remark of Deborah Lipstadt (author of Denying the Holocaust), who claims that Buchanan's argument "is a serious distortion of history because it shifts part of the blame for the Holocaust of 6 million Jews to the Allies" which is totally gratuitous. Buchanan says nothing about the Holocaust in his book. Still another non sequitur was offered by Walter Reich, former head of the USHMM, who said that Buchanan was practically an Anti-Semite because in 1990 he had written that diesel engines did not provide enough carbon monoxide to gas human being en masse. The best that can be said is that Buchanan's critics are consistent, consistent in their use of slogans instead of reason, and consistent in using irrelevancies to advance their specious accusations of anti-Semitism.
ConclusionPat Buchanan is a leading force of traditional and conservative thought in the United States. He has always called things as he saw them, and he has played a leading role in conservative attempts to inject some sanity in American politics, dominated as it is by a mindless "multiculturalism", by global rejections of traditional standards of morality and personal behavior, and by a reckless disregard for the truths upon which Western Civilization evolved. As a defender of the past, Buchanan puts himself squarely on the side of continuity, but he also leavens his reactionary tendencies by a disarming directness and humanity that shows his training in the Catholic faith. Not bad people, but bad and stupid ideas, are the enemies that he tirelessly exposes in his columns, his books, and his frequent television appearances. Only the narrowest perspective can see his energetic advocacy as "extremist", only those who derive satisfaction from trotting out vulgar platitudes and their own pet prejudices would smear his perceptive and original analyses as "anti-Semitic." The ultimate result of continually using such maledictions against an American of Pat Buchanan's caliber will be to put such terms into disrepute. Along with their authors.
Installed: 01/15/00, 9: 30 AM, EST