Buchanan delivers self-inflicted wound with new book

September 24, 1999|By Jack W. Germond and Jules Witcover

WASHINGTON -- There's an old axiom for political candidates: Don't step on your own story. Television commentator Pat Buchanan seems never to have heard it, or has forgotten it.

Just as the Republican dissident is prominently in the news over his expected jump to the Reform Party to seek its presidential nomination, Mr. Buchanan's new book is out with more of the "America First" concepts that have been a conspicuous part of his campaign pitch -- only this time with a vengeance.

His prime contention -- that Adolf Hitler originally did not pose a threat to the United States and much of World War II might have been averted if England and France had not come to the rescue of Poland in 1939 -- has set off a firestorm of criticism. He argues that without the guarantees to Poland, "Hitler would almost surely have delivered his first great blow to Stalin's Russia" -- a fight that would have served American interests without necessarily drawing the United States into the war.

"Had Britain and France not given the war guarantees to Poland," Mr. Buchanan writes, "there might have been no Dunkirk, no blitz, no Vichy, no destruction of the Jewish populations of Norway, Denmark, Holland, Belgium, Luxembourg, France or even Italy." Notably, he does not mention here the murder of Jews in Germany itself and Austria.

Soviet atrocities

The Soviet Union, Mr. Buchanan also says, "was a far greater long-term threat than Hitler's Germany," and he argues that by mid-1941, six months before Pearl Harbor and the American entry into the war, "the body count of those murdered by Stalin still exceeded Hitler's by the millions."

After overrunning France and driving British forces from the continent at Dunkirk, he goes on, "Hitler made no overt move to threaten U.S. vital interests. . . .

"No one can know the mind of Hitler. But as of mid-1940, his actions argue that beneath the overlay of Nazi ideology, he was driven by a traditional German policy of Drang nach Osten, the drive to the east" and was ". . .determined to carve a new empire out of Eastern Europe and Bolshevik Russia."

All this is too much for Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain, an Arizona Republican. He says such views have "no place in the Republican Party," and that "defeating Hitler's Germany and Tojo's Japan was a very noble cause."

Mr. Buchanan says in the book that once Japan bombed Pearl Harbor and Germany declared war on the United States, America had no choice but to fight back. To suggest that he doesn't think America's fight was not a noble cause, he says, "is a vicious and damnable lie."

But Mr. Buchanan is not likely to get off the hook with such denials. Until the book appeared, Reform Party members seemed mostly concerned that Mr. Buchanan's emphasis on social issues like abortion would overshadow their own focus on smaller, less intrusive government. Now Mr. Buchanan must contend all over again with old accusations of anti-Semitism in what some will read as a cavalier attitude toward the plight of Polish Jews in 1939.

His blunt and impolitic views about Hitler and World War II (not to mention about Franklin D. Roosevelt) inevitably will divert attention from the basic message of his book, which is a warning that continued U.S. involvement in foreign wars will be the nation's undoing.

He may disagree, but Americans by and large look back at World War II as a "just war" against totalitarianism in East and West that demanded U.S. intervention.

Rethinking history

In making his "America First" case, Mr. Buchanan suggests that Japan had no choice but to attack Pearl Harbor if it hoped to survive FDR's economic stranglehold, and that if the United States had just left Hitler to his own devices, he might have rubbed out the Soviet Union for us and stayed in his own East European backyard.

Mr. Buchanan's White House aspirations were dim, either as a Republican or a Reform Party nominee, before his latest book hit the stores.

Its timing, and the characteristically contentious arguments in it, will make those aspirations even dimmer, and is certain to keep him busy defending them. That is not the ideal posture for any presidential candidate.

Jack W. Germond and Jules Witcover write from the Washington Bureau.

Pat Buchanan must contend all over again with old accusations of anti-Semitism in what some will read as a cavalier attitude toward the plight of Polish Jews in 1939.

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