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Absolving Adolf

There's something more than a little disingenuous about the demands for Patrick Buchanan's political excommunication coming from several Republican presidential candidates, not to mention the former "Crossfire" host's media chums. Buchanan's sympathy for Nazi Germany's strategic predicament is hardly new and is certainly not a secret. For more than 20 years, he has been publicly ventilating his peculiar penchant for a revisionist assessment of both Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany. And, during that time, he managed to secure high-paying work as the host of a leading chat show and as an official in Ronald Reagan's White House.

Buchanan's fixation with the not-so-bad side of Hitler (and the not-so-good side of President Roosevelt's opposition to him) is not just long-standing--it's practically lifelong. From William Baldwin Buchanan, his iron-fisted father, Buchanan absorbed a powerful Anglophobic and anti-Communist Weltanschauung. As Pat Buchanan writes in his 1988 memoir, Right From the Beginning, "Before Pearl Harbor, my father's sympathies had been with the isolationists, with Charles Lindbergh and the America First Committee.... Sending millions of American boys to fight and die in Europe a second time, to pull Britain's chestnuts out of the fire, was something he could not accept. A popular sentiment, `Let Hitler and Stalin fight it out,' would have summed up his attitude in the late 1930s." (Or Pat Buchanan's today.)

In his new book, A Republic, Not an Empire, Buchanan goes to great lengths to exonerate Lindbergh of the charge of anti-Semitism that has haunted his legacy ever since his notorious 1941 Des Moines speech, in which he blamed Jews in Hollywood and in the press for stirring up pro-war sentiment in the United States. Buchanan does not provide his readers with the exact anti-Semitic words, noting only that Lindbergh had begun his odious remarks by saying, "It is not difficult to understand why Jewish people desire the overthrow of Nazi Germany. The persecution they suffered in Germany would be sufficient to make bitter enemies of any race. No person with a sense of dignity of mankind can condone the persecution of the Jewish race in Germany."

Buchanan seems to think this shows what a broad-minded fellow Lindbergh really was. But, of course, this view of the Jews as a separate "race" within America pursuing their own racial agenda--not as loyal American citizens who might have had their own country's interests at heart--is simply a more-benign-than-usual repackaging of the old "dual loyalty" smear. It is revealing that Buchanan implies that it negates Lindbergh's other animadversions--to say nothing of the Lone Eagle's acceptance of a medal with four swastikas on it from Herman Goering (which, indeed, is something else Buchanan neglects to mention to his readers).

In Right from the Beginning, Buchanan chronicles how his uncles who had served in World War II returned to tell him that the Germans "they had encountered had been excellent soldiers ... the German people would come back." There's an allusion to Germans picking through the rubble left by Allied bombs, but it's untempered by any frankness about the German people's role in the genocide. (In childhood war games, Buchanan recalls, "the Japanese were the preferred enemy. We hated `the Japs.'") Now, Buchanan was all of seven years old when World War II ended. Thus, he would have only been old enough fully to comprehend--and, apparently, accept--such indulgent sentiments toward Germany, along with the rest of his father's America First ideology, after the Nazis had been defeated and the full extent of their barbarism became clear to all.

Buchanan's fascination with all things Nazi continued into his early adulthood. In his autobiography, Buchanan recalls attending the 1963 March on Washington with his brother Buchs. The Buchanan boys' first move upon arriving on the Mall was to seek out George Lincoln Rockwell, whom Buchanan describes as "the ex-naval officer and articulate Nazi, who had set up headquarters in Arlington, and whom I had never met." Buchanan claims his purpose in paying this spontaneous visit to the "articulate" Fuhrer of the American Nazi Party was to find out whether there was going to be any violence between the Nazis and the demonstrators. There wasn't. The reader is left wondering why Buchanan thought it so necessary to stipulate that "I had never met" Rockwell. Who said he had?

After leaving the Nixon White House, where he worked as a speechwriter, Buchanan presented his first, and still most extraordinary, piece of writing about the man who permanently defiled the German nation. In a 1977 syndicated newspaper column, Buchanan wrote: "Though Hitler was indeed racist and anti-Semitic to the core, a man who without compunction could commit murder and genocide, he was also an individual of great courage, a soldier's soldier in the Great War, a political organizer of the first rank, a leader steeped in the history of Europe, who possessed oratorical powers that could awe even those who despised him."

As communications director in the Reagan White House, Buchanan lobbied in favor of Reagan's plan to accept a 1985 invitation by German Chancellor Helmut Kohl to visit the military cemetery at Bitburg--despite what Buchanan's notes from one White House meeting on the subject referred to as the "pressure of the Jews." The visit had become a public relations nightmare for Reagan when it was revealed that the cemetery contained the remains of both Wehrmacht soldiers and Waffen SS troops, yet Buchanan wanted Reagan to speak of these dead soldiers as "victims" of the Nazi regime.

It was also during the Reagan years that Buchanan sought to exercise his influence on behalf of accused Nazi war criminals living in the United States. He supported efforts to shut down the Office of Special Investigations, a Justice Department agency that attempts to track down Nazis. He met, in the White House, with supporters of Arthur Rudolph, a former Nazi rocket scientist who was campaigning to regain American citizenship. He tried to get Attorney General Ed Meese to halt the deportation to the Soviet Union of Karl Linnas, an Estonian who was accused of being a guard in a Tartu concentration camp.

Buchanan justified these efforts as resistance to turning people over to Soviet justice, and, in one case, he had a point, of sorts. After his White House stint, Buchanan's pet cause was John Demjanjuk, the Ukrainian-born Cleveland autoworker who was accused by the Justice Department and Israel of being "Ivan the Terrible," the notorious sadist of the Treblinka death camp. An Israeli court ultimately exonerated Demjanjuk on appeal.

But, as usual, Buchanan pursued a valid point in the most inflammatory way possible. He referred to Demjanjuk's plight as "an American Dreyfus" affair, as though there were some parallel between the overzealous prosecution of a former Nazi camp guard and the European anti-Semitism of which Dreyfus was only a single, symbolic victim. And Demjanjuk was, indeed, a camp guard. Though the documents purportedly proving him to be Ivan the Terrible turned out to be KGB forgeries, the investigation did reveal that he had been a guard at the Sobibor death camp and had lied about it on his American immigration papers.

The effort to bring Nazis, any Nazis, to book has always rankled Buchanan. Nuremberg, the trial that most people today regard as a flawed but important precedent in establishing individual accountability for war crimes, was attacked after the war by the remnants of America First as Soviet-influenced "victor's justice." Buchanan has kept this flame burning brightly not only in his Demjanjuk crusade but in other cases as well. In a 1990 column, he described the decision of the court not to indict Hermann Goering for the terror bombing of Rotterdam, London, and Warsaw as a product of British hypocrisy. How could the authors of Dresden indict the air marshal when they had done the same thing first? "When Goering turned his bombers loose on London in September 1940, the British had been terror bombing since May 11," Buchanan wrote. (In fact, the British had unsuccessfully bombed a few industrial targets; Dresden lay five years in the future.) Buchanan added that "Admiral Erich Raeder went to Spandau for life as a war criminal for plotting an invasion of Norway designed to block a British attack. Before the German troops landed, Norway's neutrality had already been violated by British mines; and British marines were 24 hours away." Again, Hitler was only acting in self-defense.

Buchanan has not only sought to establish a moral equivalence between Britain's purported war crimes and Hitler's; he has even flirted with outright denial of Hitler's crimes. In a 1990 column defending Demjanjuk, he claimed that diesel fumes couldn't have been toxic enough to kill 850,000 Jews at the Treblinka death camp--as, in fact, they did. His proof? "In 1988, ninety-seven youths, trapped 400 feet underground in a D.C. tunnel, while two locomotives spewed diesel exhaust into the car, emerged unharmed after forty-five minutes," Buchanan wrote. The source for Buchanan's column is still unknown (he never revealed it). But similar canards have appeared in the literature of the Institute for Historical Review, an organization that openly advocates Holocaust denial.

Buchanan also has not hesitated to claim that the United States ran concentration camps that were practically as bad as Hitler's. In yet another 1990 column, Buchanan praised Canadian revisionist James Bacques's book Other Losses, which claims that one million German POWs had perished after the war at the hands of General Dwight D. Eisenhower, who was supposedly running POW camps in which Hitler's captured troops were systematically starved to death.

Buchanan also turned his Lindberghian rhetoric against the Bush administration's Gulf war plans and the support they enjoyed from the Israeli Defense Ministry's "American amen corner." Once again, his views seemed to be related to a sympathetic reading of Hitler's career. To insist that Saddam Hussein depart from Kuwait, Buchanan wrote in 1990, "is to demand that the Iraqi dictator commit suicide, that he resign himself to living in Arab history as a coward who caved in to the United States. Even Adolf Hitler preferred to die, a suicide in his bunker, than agree to such a disgrace." One might have thought that by April 1945 Hitler had already managed to disgrace himself and his nation. The real reason Hitler committed suicide, of course, was that he feared being put on trial by the Soviets.

This column was perhaps the ultimate homage to Buchanan's "individual of great courage." Having invented a palatable, if not exactly honorable, life for Hitler, Buchanan had invented a noble death for him, too.