Friday, May 13, 2005

The man in the low castle 

Great many bloggers and commentators have already landed on Pat Buchanan like a ton of bricks for his stupid column, in which he questions whether it was worth fighting World War Two, since at the end of it Eastern and Central Europe had ended up not free but under the Soviet domination. I was somewhat reluctant to join in the fray, since others have already covered every possible ground, but as somebody who actually comes from the part of the world that Buchanan seems so concerned about, I couldn’t resist putting in my two cents (or two Polish grosze).

Give Buchanan his due – he’s an old style isolationist and sticks to his faith consistently and consequently. The hell might take the rest of the world and the devil himself hold the dominion, but Buchanan would be quite happy and unconcerned so long as the flames stop just off-shore. There is no inkling in his piece that civilized nations might have some sort of a moral duty to resist unprovoked aggression, or confront evil, such as the Nazi Germany undoubtedly was. There is no mention of the Jews and the Holocaust, either (but to be fair, stopping the genocide was never actually one of the Allies’ main rationales for going to war). One can argue with Buchanan on all these points, but at least they have solid basis in his world-view, however twisted it is.

What I want to take Buchanan on are two points, one specific and one general. Starting with the former, this quote struck me as particularly silly:
True, U.S. and British troops liberated France, Holland and Belgium from Nazi occupation. But before Britain declared war on Germany, France, Holland and Belgium did not need to be liberated. They were free. They were only invaded and occupied after Britain and France declared war on Germany – on behalf of Poland.
The portrayal of Hitler as an essentially non-expansionist and non-aggressive leader, who was only provoked into invading the Western Europe by the rash and unjustified actions of Britain in France, smacks of the worst type of historical revisionism. True, Hitler was largely set on an Eastern expansion of the Reich and on racial grounds he was fonder of the more Aryan Westerners than he was of Slavs, but no serious historian had ever argued that the Nazi masterplan involved anything else but the eventual total German domination over the whole of Europe (and eventually beyond), a sort of an European Union under a jackboot and swastika, ruled from Berlin and not Brussels.

Secondly, let’s look at the general point that fighting the war was not worth it because at the end of it Eastern and Central Europe had replaced Hitler’s tyranny with a worse tyranny of Stalin. Sadly, it appears that Buchanan knows as little about Nazism as he does about communism, a case of isolationism of one’s mind as much as of one’s politics.

To Hitler and the Nazi hierarchy, the Slavs were subhumans –untermenchen. Their plan for the conquest and colonization of the East, or finding lebensraum for the German people, involved the decapitation of local societies through extermination of their elites – basically, anyone with education above high school was to be gotten rid off to leave the masses leaderless. The rest of the population was to be kept at a slave level and over the course of one or two decades slowly worked to death, with the remainder perhaps to be eventually expelled beyond the Urals.

I have no quarrel with the view that Stalin was a bloodthirsty tyrant – he clearly killed more people than Hitler had ever managed, although partly, I’m sure, because his reign of terror lasted longer. The point though with respect to Eastern and Central Europe is that the great majority of Stalin’s victims were his own people.

No, what happened in the region from 1944 onwards was not liberation, and certainly at least hundreds of thousands of Stalin’s enemies there were murdered, millions more persecuted, and the whole populations denied a chance of freedom and prosperity for the next four and a half decades. But whereas Hitler wanted the Slavs dead, Stalin merely wanted them as his obedient subjects. I would have preferred for Poland and other countries in the region to have been liberated by the US Army, but given a choice between a continuing Nazi occupation and a Soviet “liberation”, I have no doubt which one I would choose. Had Hitler’s grand dream of the Thousand Year Reich worked out, I would not have been born. I’m sure this would have made some of my critics happy but I personally rather like being alive.

So I appreciate the suffering and the sacrifice of the hundreds of millions caught in the maelstrom of war. I understand that in practical terms there was not much that the West could have done in 1945 or after to roll back the Soviets from Eastern and Central Europe (although more honesty among the Western elites would not have gone astray), but I also appreciate that, with various degrees of determination and seriousness, the West had stood ground over the next few decades of the Cold War, to eventually see the Evil Empire collapse and thus see the Second World War finally end for us Poles and other brotherly nations.

By the way, bonus points for those who picked the allusion in the title of the post to Philip K Dick's alternative history, "The Man in the High Castle", which takes place in North America whose west coast has been occupied by the Japanese and the east coast by the Nazis, with a neutral American buffer zone stuck in between at the mercy of both. In this dystopia, a man is writing an alternative history where the Allies have actually won the war. Sadly, Pat Buchanan is writing another one, where the Allies haven't even tried.


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