Springtime for appeasers

By Robert Parry


December 2, 1999 | For decades, Republicans and Democrats alike have disparaged British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain.

He was the man with the umbrella who sought to appease Adolf Hitler by trading a chunk of Czechoslovakia for what Chamberlain called "peace in our time." Even the location of the talks -- Munich -- is a modern epithet for cowardice and betrayal.

But with conservative presidential candidate Patrick Buchanan now insisting that the Western powers were wrong when they belatedly tried to stop Hitler in Poland, Chamberlain's appeasement strategy might deserve another look.

According to Buchanan's analysis, Hitler's imperial ambitions were to the East, not to the West, giving Chamberlain no reason to obstruct Nazi land grabs. After Hitler's conquests and extermination campaigns, Buchanan says, the West could have decided whether or not to intervene.

"If the revealed horrors of Nazism in the East mandated a war, the Allies could have chosen the time and the place to strike," Buchanan writes in his new book, A Republic, Not an Empire.

Realistically, however, Buchanan's strategy would have consigned the huge Jewish populations of central and eastern Europe to Hitler's death camps while the Western powers watched.

Buchanan's energetic defense of pre-war isolationism also raises, unintentionally, questions about how deeply pro-Nazi sympathies and anti-Semitism influenced U.S. conservative thinking over the last two-thirds of the century.

Another reminder of that crude anti-Semitism came to light with release of more taped remarks by the late President Richard M. Nixon, who complained bitterly to his aides in 1971 that "the Jews are all over the government" and "you can't trust the bastards."

Buchanan's book takes the debate back even farther, to the dark days before World War II when a strong isolationist movement limited U.S. war preparedness and undermined fitful European efforts to stop Hitler.

In 1938, at the time of the Munich meetings, Hitler was salivating over the Sudetenland, an ethnically German part of Czechoslovakia.

Instead of demanding that Hitler respect the territorial integrity of his neighbor, Chamberlain and other European leaders swapped the region for Hitler's promise to go no further. But Hitler soon broke his word and gobbled up the rest of Czechoslovakia.

Finally, in 1939, Great Britain and France drew the line against Hitler in Poland, though the gesture failed to deter the German dictator. Hitler unleashed his blitzkrieg against the overmatched Polish army, prompting Great Britain and France to declare war.

Hitler then sent his army west to conquer Denmark, Norway, the Low Countries and France. After the invasion of Norway, Chamberlain resigned and was replaced by his rival within the Conservative Party, Winston Churchill, who often had been a solitary voice warning his countrymen that appeasement was a route to war.

In the six decades since, history students have absorbed this bitter lesson: the risk of submitting to tyrants. American politicians incorporated the buzz words -- "Munich," "appeasement" and "Neville Chamberlain" -- into the folklore of Cold War diplomacy.

To conservatives, especially, the names became shorthand for those who lacked the courage to intervene in faraway lands. In 1972, for instance, Vice President Spiro Agnew flogged Sen. George McGovern's Vietnam peace initiative with the comment that "even Neville Chamberlain did not carry a beggar's cup to Munich -- as George McGovern proposes to carry to Hanoi."

In 1985, Ronald Reagan's U.N. ambassador, Jeane Kirkpatrick, cited Neville Chamberlain to trump fears that covert U.S. intervention in Nicaragua could lead to another Vietnam. "It's not Vietnam that's the appropriate analogy," she declared. "It's Munich."

Given that history, it was surprising that Buchanan, who worked for both the Nixon and Reagan administrations, would argue that Great Britain's real mistake in the 1930s was challenging Hitler over Poland, not whetting his appetite by giving him the Sudetenland.

According to Buchanan, President Franklin Roosevelt was wrong, too, when he sided with the Allies and rallied the United States to challenge Hitler's Axis powers.

To Buchanan, Hitler was not a threat to U.S. national security after he lost the Battle of Britain, a defeat that Buchanan dates as 1940, although the Blitz did not end until May 1941.

Hitler presumably did become a threat to the United States six months later, on Dec. 7, 1941, when his Japanese allies bombed Pearl Harbor and Germany declared war on the United States.

As odd as Buchanan's revisionist history might seem, it has disgusted some readers because of its nonchalance toward Nazi brutality.

Buchanan's principal argument is that since Hitler was not a direct threat to the U.S. mainland, the Roosevelt administration should have sat by while Nazi Germany and militarist Japan conquered most of continental Europe and the major countries of east Asia.

Already by 1940, Japanese forces had massacred vast numbers of Chinese civilians, including the systematic rape-murders of women in Nan-ching.

In Europe, the Nazis had begun a relentless extermination campaign against Jews and other ethnic groups deemed inferior to the "Aryan race," as well as against political dissidents.

At that juncture, President Roosevelt warned that the tyranny sweeping Europe and Asia gradually would erode freedom in the United States. Democratic America could not survive as "a lone island in a world dominated by force," the president declared.

Buchanan's thesis rejects this view. Instead, Buchanan speculates that if the British and French had averted their eyes from the Nazi conquest of Poland, Hitler simply would have continued east to attack the Soviet Union. "Let the monsters eat each other up" was how Buchanan phrased the concept in one opinion column.

"Had Britain not declared war [after the invasion of Poland], Hitler would have attacked an unprepared [Josef] Stalin in 1940," Buchanan argued. "The result might have been the eradication of Bolshevism in Russia and China, no Cold War, no Korea and no Vietnam." [WP, Oct. 11, 1999]

But the reality of the Nazi drive into Russia, finally launched in June 1941, was not the glib image of Stalin, the communist tyrant, and Hitler, the fascist tyrant, eating "each other up."

Across German-conquered territory, millions of innocent human beings were slaughtered in cold blood. At one location called Babi Yar, a ravine near Kiev, invading German troops rounded up 35,000 Jews and executed them on Sept. 29-30, 1941.

The Red Army only prevented a wider national conquest -- and a bigger extermination campaign -- with the benefit of U.S. military assistance, aid that Buchanan presumably would have denied or curtailed.

By 1943, when the Germans were finally driven back from Soviet territory, Babi Yar alone had become a mass grave for 100,000 people.

If Buchanan were a fringe figure, his views certainly would not have attracted as much interest as they have. But the pugnacious pundit was a prominent official in two Republican administrations. He has been a fixture on national television for years and a quadrennial candidate for president.

Because of his high profile, Buchanan's writings have troubled some who see in them a quiet tolerance for right-wing extremism within conservative and Republican circles -- and now in the Reform Party.

But what may be even more troubling is that Buchanan's opinions are not isolated. They track through politically influential sectors of the American ruling elite, from the early part of this century through much of the Cold War.

Tolerance of European fascism was common in political circles of the 1920s and 1930s. In those pre-war days, major American business leaders maintained rich financial ties to Hitler's Third Reich and found Chamberlain's appeasement strategy to their liking.

Among these prominent Americans were Republicans Allen and John Foster Dulles, who later became CIA director and secretary of state, respectively; Democrat Joseph P. Kennedy, U.S. ambassador to Great Britain and the father of John F. Kennedy; industrialist Henry Ford; famed aviator Charles Lindbergh; and Father Charles E. Coughlin, a Catholic priest whose "America First" radio message is often cited as a forerunner to Buchanan's populism.

In his talks and writings, Coughlin blamed Jewish influence in the Roosevelt administration for pushing the United States toward war with Germany. Coughlin also praised Chamberlain as "one of the most outstanding statesmen in the history of the British Empire." [See Robert E. Herzstein's Roosevelt & Hitler: Prelude to War.]

While Coughlin spoke to middle-and working-class Catholics, the Dulles brothers reflected the country-club anti-Semitism prevalent in upper-crust society at that time.

John Foster Dulles, then a senior partner in the powerful Wall Street law firm of Sullivan & Cromwell, saw Hitler's aggression as a legitimate German reaction to World War I's punitive peace terms. Historian Robert E. Herzstein wrote that Dulles believed "the Axis powers were trying to redress an awkward balance" in international relations.

Dulles also felt little sympathy for the Third Reich's Jewish victims. "Hitler's attacks on the Jews and his growing propensity for territorial expansion seem to have left Dulles unmoved," Herzstein reported.

But a major concern of the Dulles brothers was the lucrative business that they arranged with Germany, according to another historical text entitled The Secret War Against the Jews by John Loftus and Mark Aarons.

The Dulles brothers built investment ties between their U.S. clients and major German firms, such as I.G. Farben, a principal supporter of the Third Reich, Loftus and Aarons reported.

One of Allen Dulles's clients was Prescott Bush, father of the future president. Bush was drawn into business with Nazi front companies by his father-in-law, George Herbert Walker, whose Hamburg-Amerika shipping line was identified by a 1934 congressional investigation as a cover for I.G. Farben.

After the congressional disclosures, "instead of divesting the Nazi money, Bush hired a lawyer to hide the assets," Loftus and Aarons wrote. "The lawyer he hired had considerable expertise in such underhanded schemes. It was Allen Dulles."

Later, Allen Dulles used his senior position within the wartime Office of Strategic Services, the CIA's forerunner, to help Nazi businessmen smuggle their wealth to safe havens in Argentina, according to the authors.

After the war, Dulles and other U.S. intelligence officials also assisted Nazis escaping across "ratlines" to South America, supposedly so the Nazis could be helpful in anti-Soviet strategies.

Most of the evidence of Nazi collaboration by the Dulles brothers and others was kept secret at the time. But some senior figures inside the Roosevelt-Truman administrations fumed over these Nazi dealings.

In an interview before his death, former Supreme Court Justice Arthur Goldberg, who served in U.S. intelligence during World War II, stated bluntly: "The Dulles brothers were traitors."

One side effect of the "ratlines" was that the relocated Nazis contributed to the violent extremism that dominated South America for the next 40  years. [For details, see iF Magazine, Jan.-Feb. 1999 & Sept.-Oct. 1999.]

 Often with the support of conservative U.S. politicians and the CIA, neo-fascist "death squads" and military counterinsurgency campaigns killed hundreds of thousands of leftists and suspected sympathizers, from Chile and Argentina in the south to Guatemala and El Salvador in the north.

Those bloody Latin American strategies were not policy aberrations, either. Indeed, they echoed the theory that Buchanan propounded for Hitler: let the far right wipe out leftist movements regardless of the criminal methods employed and with little concern about collateral civilian deaths.

Buchanan's bosses in the White House -- Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan -- certainly shared that hard-nosed attitude. Nixon even mixed his anti-communist fervor with a crude anti-Semitism more fitting a Nazi beer hall than the White House.

"Most Jews are disloyal," Nixon told his chief of staff, H.R. "Bob" Haldeman, in one 1971 tape-recorded conversation released by the National Archives. From this generalization, Nixon excepted a few Jews, such as national security adviser Henry Kissinger, White House counsel Leonard Garment and speech-writer William Safire. [WP, Oct. 6, 1999]

To Nixon, Jews also staffed the international communist conspiracy. "The only two non-Jews in the communist conspiracy," Nixon said, "were [Whitaker] Chambers and [Alger] Hiss. Many felt that Hiss was [a Jew]. He could have been a half, but he was not by religion. The only two non-Jews. Every other one was a Jew. And it raised hell with us." [NYT, Oct. 7, 1999]

Nixon also hoped to incite public outrage by linking a Jew to the leaking of the Pentagon Papers, the secret history of the Vietnam War. Nixon urged that his allies in Congress "can really take this and go. And make speeches about the spy ring. ... But you know what's going to charge up an audience. Jesus Christ, they'll be hanging from the rafters. � Going after all these Jews. Just find one that is a Jew, will you."

This Republican deafness toward Jewish sensitivities returned in 1985 with President Reagan's decision to pay homage to German war dead at Bitburg, although members of Hitler's Waffen SS were buried among them.

In one meeting with reporters, Reagan expressed his opinion that the Nazi soldiers "were victims, just as surely as the victims in the concentration camp." [For more details, see story about Edmund Morris's Dutch in iF Magazine, Nov.-Dec. 1999.]

Beyond questions of anti-Semitism, Republicans became magnets for suspicions about racial prejudice. Nixon appealed to white voters with his "Southern strategy," making crime and welfare key issues.

In 1988, then-Vice President George Bush exploited a case in which black prison inmate Willie Horton raped a white woman while on a prison furlough that Bush blamed on then-Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis.

This past year, Republican leaders, including Sen. Trent Lott and Rep. Bob Barr, came under criticism for addressing the Council of Conservative Citizens [CCC], a reincarnation of the white Citizens Councils that fought to preserve racial segregation across the South.

In 1992, Lott addressed the group and praised its members who, he said, "stand for the right principles and the right philosophy." But that "right philosophy" often crossed over into reactionary racial attitudes.

As Martin A. Lee reports in the paperback preface to The Beast Reawakens, one CCC board member, Sam Francis, complained in a syndicated column, "One thing you can't get at an American university is or slave holders."

The CCC also called Abraham Lincoln "surely the most evil American in history" and denounced Martin Luther King Jr. as a "depraved miscreant."

Republicans insist that no strain of neo-fascist or racist bigotry runs through the GOP mainstream and that a few quotes suggesting otherwise simply have been taken out of context.

Some conservative pundits, such as Robert D. Novak, also have rushed to defend Buchanan's "isolationist" arguments. Novak chastised "columnists and even reporters [who] leaped in to libel him as a Nazi-loving bigot." [WP, Sept. 27, 1999]

Still, the long history of conservative tolerance toward right-wing brutality -- resurfacing with Buchanan's equanimity toward the idea of Adolf Hitler's unchallenged control of continental Europe in the 1940s -- understandably unnerves many Americans.

At best, some see a naivete about the corrosive influence of fascism and its modern offshoots.

As historian Robert Dallek wrote about Hitler's supposedly beneficial aggression, "Buchanan entirely overlooks how difficult it would have been to maintain our democratic institutions in a world of hostile totalitarian regimes." [WP, Oct. 19, 1999]

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