Paul Gottfried on the Causes of War

The Name That Must Not Be Mentioned
by Paul Gottfried

Among the neoconservatives’ kept pontificators on modern history, Victor Davis Hanson may well be the most ridiculous. A respectable scholar when writing about Greek hoplites and other aspects of ancient military history, Hanson becomes a raving maniac as soon as he puts on his neocon spectacles. His latest syndicated column, “World War II: Unfashionable Truths” illustrates this process of transformation.

On the seventieth anniversary of the outbreak of World War Two, Hanson is in a tizzy about “revisionist histories,” for example, those that “blame Germany’s aggressions on the supposedly harsh terms of the Treaty of Versailles.” Does Hanson believe that a treaty that stripped Germany of a third of its territories and placed millions of its citizens under hostile foreign regimes, such as Polish rule in West Prussia and Danzig, was only “supposedly harsh?” Was the reduction of Austria from a great empire to a shrunken ward of Europe at the hands of the Allies or the attempted reduction of Turkey in the Treaty of Sèvres to a principality around Ankara, a fate that, by the way, only the military brilliance of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk kept from happening, look anything like just peace terms? According to Hanson, “Versailles was more lenient than what Germany had planned for Britain and France should they have won in 1918.” Moreover, “the terms imposed on a defeated Russia by the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk in early 1918” was far harsher than the comeuppance the Germans got at Versailles in 1919.

These generalizations are so breathtakingly one-sided that one wonders what research Hanson has done to reach his flawed opinions. The Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, which the German Empire, then at war in the West, concluded with Lenin’s regime in March 1918, was intended to release both food and war matériel to a blockaded country. The Germans took what they could, which was the Western part of European Russia, to carry on a grim military struggle they would soon lose. As historian Egmont Zechlin has observed, the German gains at Brest-Litovsk should be viewed as Kriegsmittel (means of continuing a fight) rather than as Kriegsziele (war aims). They represented the same kind of military-diplomatic measure as the Treaty of London, signed in April 1915, the bait by which the British tempted Italy into joining the bloodbath. The effect of that treaty, only parts of which were (fortunately) ever implemented, would have dragged millions of unwilling subjects, mostly South Slavs and Austrians, into an expanded Italian empire. Needless to say, the victorious Allies did nothing to return territory to Lenin’s government that had been taken by the Germans. They divided this land among their client states, which were either brought into existence or expanded as a counterweight to Germany. The Allies also used these states to contain a crippled Austria and an amputated Hungary. As for the “harsher” treaties that Hanson claims the Germans had in store for the Brits and the French had they won, since he doesn’t elaborate, we’ll treat this comment as mere space-filler.

Note all of this is lead-up to going after the name that dare not be mentioned, that of Pat B, who has treated the Second World War as a confrontation that could have been limited to Germany and Russia. Although I for one have expressed some disagreement with Pat’s argument about the likelihood of Hitler’s going directly for Russia after occupying Western Poland, I would like to make one point crystal (pardon the pun!) clear. Buchanan has every right to argue what he does without being called a Nazi or Nazi-sympathizer. Further, everything he has written about World War One is entirely correct, although Pat may understate the role of the British government (and particularly of Churchill) in greasing the skids for the Great War.

Pat’s assignment of at least some responsibility to what Hanson calls “neutral Poland” in fanning hostilities with Germany seems indisputable. The Polish government in the mid- and late 1930s went on the rampage inciting violence against Germans and periodically closing off Danzig and the “Polish Corridor,” a strip of land through which Germans by agreement with the victorious Allies were allowed free access between East Prussia and Central Germany. As former German major general and military historian Gerd-Schultze Rhonhof demonstrates exhaustively (although not to the satisfaction of the obsessively antinational German press) in 1939: Der Krieg, der viele Väter hat (1939: The War that Had Many Fathers), Hitler’s bargaining position in dealing with Poland’s military dictatorship up until September 3, 1939, was actually quite reasonable.

The most Hitler demanded from the other side was joint German-Polish control over Danzig and assurances that Germans would be permitted to move through the Corridor without Polish military harassment. It should be possible (although perhaps it is not) to document Polish abuses of German minorities, without being accused of being in love with Hitler. In the same way it would be reasonable (and perhaps even helpful to an ambitious journalist in his leftist profession) to point out that what Stalin devoured after the Second World War was what Churchill and FDR had helped put on his plate.

Needless to say, I could make this observation, unlike discussing Polish provocation in September 1939, without running the risk of being called a Nazi-sympathizer.

Rhonhof and the Russian (Jewish) historian Dmitrij Chmelnizki, both of whom deal with the outbreak of the war in the East, do not deny the brutality of Hitler’s regime. Their conclusion, however, is that other belligerents had something to do with inciting the war. And the unwillingness of the Allies to address the wretched treatment of German minorities in the successor states they supported after World War One added to the tensions contributing to the next European war. Had the German head of state in 1939 not been Hitler but any patriotic German, he too in all likelihood would have pressed the Polish government on the same grievances Hitler raised.

Hanson makes other statements that recall Allied propaganda during or right after World War Two. He goes on about how England, standing alone, “saved Western civilization between September 1939 and June 1941.” Indeed as late as “December 1941 the odds were all in favor of the Axis powers.” Moreover, the only reason that “Germany, Italy and Japan were transformed from monstrous regimes into liberal states whose democracies have done much for humanity” is that unlike our overly lenient treatment of the Central Powers after World War One, we took time to “monitor” our justly crushed enemies.

A few rectifications would be in order. The RAF was more than a match for the Luftwaffe during the Battle of Britain; and after March 11, 1941, the US was extending material support to the British side in the form of Lend Lease and manning British bases in the Atlantic. One might also note that the British were far from consistent in defending Western civilization, even in the form of the allies they supposedly went to war over. When Stalin’s erstwhile Nazi ally attacked Soviet Russia, Churchill and Anthony Eden ran to betray the Poles, by yielding to the Soviet tyrant the Eastern part of Poland, which he had acquired during his alliance with Hitler. Nor is it possible to give the odds for winning the war to the Axis, particularly when the world’s most powerful country, the US, was moving to enter the conflict, as quickly as FDR could have his way. None of this is to take credit away from the British for resisting the true Axis of Evil, the Nazi-Soviet non-aggression pact, in 1940 after the fall of France. But there is no reason to overstate the advantage enjoyed by Hitler in a war in which he overextended himself, with extremely limited energy resources. His attack on Russia may well have been necessary to gain oil supplies, without which his side was doomed.

Hanson’s attempt to ascribe the recent nice behavior of the Germans to the “monitoring” we did after World War Two, an activity that we apparently failed to perform after the Treaty of Versailles, is inexpressibly naïve. In the last eight months of World War Two, the British and Americans incinerated over 700,000 German civilians and obliterated about forty percent of German cities, and particularly the historic areas of German cities, including such “military” targets as cathedrals, universities, and palaces. This, plus the need to resettle about 15 million Germans, who were driven out of Eastern Europe, and the anti-national effects of forced American “re-education” upon the defeated German population, created a pacifistic and indeed demoralized nation. Perhaps if we had blessed our enemies with more phosphate and atomic bombs, the “democracy” we then bestowed on them would have been an even greater boon for “humanity.”

Alas my memory may be failing. But I can’t recall that “monstrous regime,” as opposed to an incompetent, authoritarian one, that Mussolini established in Italy. And I’m also unable to discover the “liberal” regime toward which we have helped the Germans ascend. The state of civil liberties in that country is today more precarious than I could ever imagine it becoming in Obama’s America. Organized “antifascists” vandalize the premises of “reactionary” publications and attack their critics on the street, while the police ignore these assaults. Meanwhile immigration-critics and those suspected of Holocaust-denial (whatever that expanding term may mean by now) are threatened with fines and jail sentences. Antinationalism practiced with a jackboot has become the state-creed of the only German state that Hanson would approve of, but neither tolerance nor freedom seems to have benefited from our terror-bombing and subsequent re-educational efforts in that part of the world.

As someone who has closely studied the German Second Empire, I’m also unaware of how it lagged behind present-day Germany in its protection of constitutional rights and academic freedom, in the limits placed on the taxing power of the state or in the advancement of the sciences and humanities. Historians such as Niall Ferguson and Eberhard Straub have dwelled on the many political, economic, and intellectual accomplishments of the German Second Empire, and Straub, a biographer of the last Kaiser, contrasts the civil liberties of Germany in the early twentieth century to the antifascist snooping regime under which his country now lives. Ferguson makes the point in The House of Rothschild that Germany in the late nineteenth century treated Jews as fairly as any other European country. Educated German Jews were among the Empire’s economic and professional leaders, and the Jewish ship magnate Albert Ballin was one of the Kaiser’s closest personal friends and, not surprisingly, a fervent German nationalist. Germans back then could also boast of the best-educated and most prosperous working class in the world, and their universities and educational and scientific foundations had achieved international renown.

Today in what Hanson imagines is the only good state the Germans have ever enjoyed, roving gangs, with the implicit support of the powers that be, burn down “fascist” newspaper buildings. Those who formed Red Brigades in the 1970s have been able to occupy the corridors of power, and public moneys and government coercion are used to carry on a “struggle against (a largely marginalized) right.” German inner cities are full of Muslim, which often means Islamicist, underclass populations, and the demoralized “reeducated” native Germans have the lowest birth rate in Europe. Perhaps once the European German population disappears entirely, after the country has surrendered its sovereignty, without a popular vote, to the EU, Hanson and other neocons will have what they want, a Germany that has blessed humanity by vanishing forever.

September 8, 2009

Paul Edward Gottfried (born 1941) is outside the mainstream of Jewish intellectuals. He is an American paleoconservative political philosopher, intellectual historian, columnist and former Horace Raffensperger Professor of Humanities at Elizabethtown College in Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania, as well as a Guggenheim recipient. He is currently an adjunct scholar of the Ludwig von Mises Institute, and H. L. Mencken Club President.


  1. The German National Socialist government was responsible for World War Two. And the German Imperial government was responsible for World War One.

    People who want to defend the German position (in either war) have to overlook basic facts – such as that the German Declaration of War upon France in 1914 was a pack of lies (it even claims the French were bombing German cities).

    In 1939 the National Socialist government of Germany took concentration camp prisoners and dressed them in Polish uniforms – then murdered them. This was done to pretend that the Poles had attacked Germany (the bodies were produced to “prove” the charge).

    The real Ludwig Von Mises (as opposed to the organisation that bares his name – but which was not created till some years after his death) never tried to pretend that either World War was caused by Anglo American bankers or whatever – both wars were caused by the German government (period).

    Western policy was at fault at the end of World War One – it was a fault for being too SOFT.

    The Allies should have marched on Berlin (as both the French commander Foch and the American commander Pershing wished to do) and broken up the unnatural union that was Germany (both German and Italian “unification” were really conquests of centuries old Kingdoms and Free Cities) restoring an independent Bavaria and so on.

    As it was (not breaking up Germany) meant that (as Foch predicted) that the peace would only be a “20 year truce” (yes Foch even got the timing right).

    “But why?” – for the answer to that question one must grasp not just the doctrines of Nazi Germany (which everyone, bar idiots, understand was one of limitless expansion – for the purpose of spreading evil, yes it was “that simple”. people who try and complicate matters lose sight of this basic truth), but also of Imperial Germany.

    All major power had (by 1914) become corrupted (to a greater or lesser extent) – but Germany most of all. As the real Ludwig Von Mises understood German academia (in 1914) was the most collectivist of all – with the study of real (i.e. Classical Liberal) economics forbidden in the universities, the collectivist ignorance of the “Historical School” was honoured in Germany (although it was spreading to the other powers also) and even monsters from a century before (such as Fichte and Frederick List) had become honoured names in German intellectual life (just as Frederick the Great who plunged 18th century Europe into a series of wars to further his desire of conquest. created the first national state education system, and held that worship of the state was more important than the worship of God – was held in high honour by the political class of Germany. although again his cult had spread to other lands)

    In no other nation was the academic elite and the political elite so close – the Germans quite CORRECTLY declared themselves the most educated nation on Earth. The only “detail” that was left out that is that the fundamental principles of this “education” were (at least by 1914 and among the elite) evil.

    The President of France in 1914 (the man who so much German, and SOVIET, gold was spend libelling in the 1920s – for Germans and Soviets cooperated in the 1920s in their propaganda campaigns in the English speaking world) said in his reply to the (pack of lies) German Declaration of War that the struggle would not just be for France – but for the “universal principles of reason and justice”.

    Leave aside the question of whether France fully stood for those principles (of course it did NOT – no power has ever been perfect, that is not the nature of things) the German academic (and other) elite (at least by 1914) did not even believe there were “universal principles of reason and justice” – the whole point of German historicism (in its “right” form as well as its “left” form) was to DENY universal principles of reason and justice (dismissing everything in terms of “historical stages” and notions about “race” or “class”).

    It is no surprise that the National Socialist movement won over the students and many of the academics – long BEFORE it became popular with ordinary Germans. It was the intellectual elite who were the real problem – that and the incredibly high prestige they had.

  2. Short version.

    Blaming the West for the actions of the enemies of the West (whether Imperial Germany, Nazi Germany, the Soviets and other Marxist powers, or the Islamists today) it an old Rothbardian tactic.

    But it is also a false tactic.

    The enemies of the West are NOT “driven” to do what they do because of the evil actions of Britain and the United States (and so on), they CHOOSE to do what they do, and their choice is based on the false (and evil) doctrines they follow.

    German music is good, Persian carpets are good – it is NOT “culture” generally that is at fault. It is certain specific doctrines (political and/or religious) that are at fault.

  3. As for the Keiser’s personal opinions – they are a matter of record (it is astonishing, or perhaps not so astonishing, that Gottfried tries to whitewash him).

    However, it is the opinions (the doctrines – principles) of the German educated elite generally (not of any one man) that were the problem.

    The educated elites of other nations were infected by the same evil ideas – but German intellectual life (that of the educated elite) that was the heart (the source) of them.

    This is made clear by Hayek (in such works as the Road to Serfdom, the Constitution Of Liberty and Law, Legislation and Liberty) as well as Mises in such works as Nation, State and Economy and Socialism, as well as Omnipotent Government and Human Action.

  4. Mr. Gottfried might also have mentioned that the US (& Britain, for what it’s worth today) is once again agitating for war between Europe (Germany) and Russia, via Ukraine. I wonder if Paul Marks would deny that.

  5. “once again” – Marc?

    Neither Britain or the United States encouraged the German invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941 (although Stalin was also planning to betray his ally Hitler – so if the Germans had not attacked the Soviets soon would have).

    Indeed both Britain and the United States sent vast amounts of supplies to Russia after the German invasion, including Spitfire aircraft that had been ear marked for Singapore (that proved to be a very bad decision).

    Thousands of allied sailors went to their deaths in the Artic Convoys to get the supplies to Russia after the German invasion.

    As for you idea that either Britain or the United States is agitating for war between Germany and Russia now – you are totally in error.

    The German armed forces are weak (and the German nuclear forces non existent) – they can not help the Ukraine against Mr Putin. The British armed forces have been cut to pieces (I was recently reading Eric “Winkle” Brown on the harm an ex Communist British Defence Secretary did to the Royal Navy Air Arm, and to the RAF, in the late 1960s) and the American military is in terrible decline.

    As for the Putin’s supporters in the Ukraine – they are dancing around statues of Lenin and Stalin (and so on) and waving Soviet era banners.

    I trust you know how many millions of people were murdered by the Soviets in the Ukraine from 1917 onwards?

    That this site seems to be placing itself on the side of those who dance around statures of “Lenin” and co, set up “People’s Republics” , and wave Soviet banners – is astonishing.

  6. Re this essay,

    The best explanation for the causes of war since year dot and the rectification for it was given by Major Douglas.

    Here is a recording https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sw28HmmvNNs
    covered it here http://www.digitaljournal.com/article/317661

    Before you dismiss him and Social Credit out of hand like most Libertarians you might like to consider the alternatives in a society in which fewer and fewer individuals can generate more and more output, and the consequences of this for the people at the bottom.

    (I tried to e-mail Gottfried but the only address I could find, bounced).

  7. I totally oppose the Social Credit movement (and not just because of the anti Semitism of so many, but NOT all, of them – for example in Canada).

    However, I will say something in SUPPORT of them.

    They are out in the open – they support printing money (or whatever) and directly handing it out

    Those people (such as myself) who support lending being 100% from REAL SAVINGS (real savings alone) of course oppose the Social Credit movement.

    However, at least it is not dishonest and underhand – as the Central Banking system clearly is.

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