Patrick buchanan, the maverick right-wing candidate for the US presidency, argues for a more limited international role for the US. To support his case he has suggested that Britain had no need to go to war against Hitler in 1939 and that the US was dragged into an unnecessary war. This, in the general American view, has put him beyond the pale.
But Buchanan is right. Without the isolationism of Stanley Baldwin in the 1930s and the blundering of Roosevelt in 1941, Hitler would have been a nine-month wonder and the Japanese would not have attacked Pearl Harbour.
Adolf Hitler came to power in 1933 with a programme to scrap the Treaty of Versailles, rearm, bring back the lands in Czechoslovakia and Poland wrested from Germany in 1919, then march against Russia, crush Bolshevism and win an industrial empire in the east.
Britain was not threatened by this. Hitler respected Britain and its empire. Nevertheless, Hitler’s plans made war in Europe inevitable. In September 1933 the French government told the British that they had proof of German rearmament. They planned to march into Germany and crush Hitler before he became too strong. But they had to have British support to sell this to their people. Baldwin, the leading member of the British cabinet and later prime minister, refused. In 1936, when Hitler marched into the Rhineland, the French made the same plea. Baldwin again refused. These were the two worst decisions ever taken by a British government. Had they marched with the French, the Holocaust would never have happened and 55m would not have died in history’s bloodiest war.
Having refused to intervene at the right time, the British government then intervened at the wrong time. Neville Chamberlain stepped into the row between Germany and Czechoslovakia. Hitler was determined to get back the 3m Germans under Czech rule (and ill-treated by the Czechs, as their President Edvard Benes admitted). Britain did not have the resources to defend the Czechs, so intervening meant either humiliation or war. Having been humiliated, Chamberlain then offered a guarantee to Poland in the belief that this would dissuade Hitler from taking back the Polish Corridor. Lloyd George, when told this, burst out laughing. As with Czechoslovakia, Poland involved no vital British interest. It was a military dictatorship “despised and disliked by every decent Pole” (as a British foreign office report put it). Britain had…