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From Pitchfork Pat To Brownshirt Buchanan

In the latest issue of The American Conservative, the Old Right magazine founded by Taki Theodoracopulos and Pat Buchanan, historian John Lukacs reviews Buchanan's latest book, Churchill, Hitler, and the Unnecessary War: How Britain Lost Its Empire and the West Lost the World (yes, it's actually called that). The review is absolutely devastating, and the least that can be said of Buchanan is that he would exemplify the sort of editorial freedom in which a writer could compare him unfavorably to David Irving within the pages of his own magazine (that Buchanan might fancy a favorable comparison to Irving is beside the point). I know few editors who would publish a harsh critique of a book authored by someone on his masthead.

Lukacs begins his review by pointing out the historical amnesia required to make the claim, as Buchanan does, that an American "empire" was inaugurated under the watch of George W. Bush. America's status as a superpower began with the simultaneous end of World War II, the fall of the European powers, and the rise of the Cold War. Buchanan appears to contradict himself here, as he has been ranting about American "empire" at least since 1999, with the publishing of his isolationist tome A Republic, Not an Empire.

More important, however, is Lukacs's take down of Buchanan's most sinister argument, which is that not only was the Second World War "unnecessary," but the fault of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and, chiefly, Winston Churchill. Lukacs writes:

Here I arrive at the main theme of this book. How Britain Lost Its Empire and the West Lost the World is only its subtitle, its main title being Churchill, Hitler, and the Unnecessary War. This emphasis accords with what is—and has been for a long time—Buchanan’s view of history. The Second World War was an unnecessary war; a wrong war, especially involving Europe; it was wrong to fight Hitler; and Churchill was primarily, indeed principally, responsible. A man has, or more precisely chooses, his opinions. The choice, ever so often, depends on his inclinations. In this review it is not my proper business to speculate about Buchanan’s inclinations. I must restrict myself to questioning his arguments.

Far be it from me to speculate about Lukacs's hesitance to question Buchanan's inclinations. Perhaps he'll allow me to do so in his stead.

Now, it's possible that, based upon a good faith reading of history, Pat Buchanan really does believe that the Nazi conquest of Europe would have been better for America (Buchanan argues that had the US remained uninvolved, Germany would have defeated the Soviet Union and thus spared the world the horrors of international communism) than what actually happened during the years 1941-1945. Or maybe Pat Buchanan simply has a place in his heart for ethnic nationalists and brown shirts. Sympathy for racists and authoritarians runs in his family, after all, his father was a fan of General Franco and Joseph McCarthy who told his sons they should be proud to be the descendants of Mississippi Confederates. In his political career, Buchanan had ample opportunity to elucidate his own animus towards minorities throughout his work for Richard Nixon and later as a fringe presidential candidate in 1992 and 1996, issuing dire warnings about the brown hordes banging on America's gates. There was something more than a desire to be provocative in his defense of various Nazi war criminals in the 1990s, as well as his assertions that "diesel engines do not emit enough carbon monoxide to kill anybody" and that some Holocaust survivors engage in "group fantasies of martyrdom and heroics." Yet it was claims about American Jews goading the United States into war with Iraq (the first time) that generated the greatest indictment of Buchanan, which came from one of his mentors, Bill Buckley. In his magisterial, book-length essay, "In Search of Anti-Semitism," the recently departed founder of National Review concluded, "I find it impossible to defend Pat Buchanan against the charge that what he did and said during the period under examination, the military build-up for the Gulf War, amounted to anti-Semitism."

How is it that Pat Buchanan enjoys so much mainstream credibility as of late (he is a near-constant appearance on MSNBC)? This was the man, after all, who relished the moniker "pitchfork Pat" not so long ago. It can't be for his retrograde views on minorities, immigration, homosexuality or any of the cultural issues on which the media has taken a decidedly liberal stance. Rather, I believe that the subtle mainstreaming of Pat Buchanan is owed to his strident America First-ism, which is unfortunately gaining new currency due to an unpopular war. The popularity of Ron Paul -- who carried the mantle of Pat Buchanan in this presidential race -- exemplified this disturbing trend inward.

 --James Kirchick