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Jewish World Review Sept. 20, 1999 /10 Tishrei, 5760

Chris Matthews

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Buchanan's new book is a must-read -- WASHINGTON -- Most Americans see the appeasement of Adolf Hitler as the worst catastrophe of the 20th century. Had the West stopped the Nazi madman in 1936, when he marched into the Rhineland in 1936, or seized Austria in 1937, or even when he demanded the break-up of Czechoslovakia in 1938, the carnage of World War II might have been avoided.

Patrick Buchanan now offers an opposite reading of history. In his new book, this man who would be president argues that the century's greatest blunder lay not in appeasing Hitler earlier but in finally taking him on, when he grabbed for Poland in 1939. In Buchanan's view of events, the German dictator's territorial ambitions lay largely to the East. Hitler wanted the return of Danzig lost to Poland at Versailles. Beyond that, he wanted to destroy Soviet Russia.

Had the West not challenged Hitler 60 years ago, Buchanan argues, the Western democracies could have stood on the sidelines of this Nazi-Soviet struggle and cheered. The three-time Republican presidential hopeful offers this fresh perspective on the 20th century in , A Republic, Not an Empire a book he dedicates to the "Buchanan Brigades" who championed his failed attempts in 1992 and 1996 to win the Republican presidential nomination.

It is an important book that needs to be read, especially by journalists covering Buchanan's expected play for the Reform Party nomination.

Let me admit my bias: I take the conventional view of World War II.

I believe that the man who warned early against Hitler's rise, Britain's Winston Churchill, was the greatest man of the century. I believe that Neville Chamberlain's bowing to the Nazi mass-murderer at Munich in 1938 was a moral, military and political catastrophe. Had the British, French and Russians held together in defense of Czechoslovakia, the alliance would have had the upper hand against Hitler. His defeat would have been far less painful than the eventual world war that cost 50 million lives.

Buchanan argues that the Nazi "fuhrer" should have been allowed to grab back the German-speaking areas of Czechoslovakia and Poland. What business was it to the British? Why should people in England have cared if Hitler wanted some more living space to its east?

"If Germany intended no attack on France or the Channel ports, and Hitler's imperial ambitions were in the east, why was it Britain's duty to fight to the death?" he asks at century's end. "Indeed, If Britain had no vital interests in the Rhineland, Austria or Czechoslovakia worth fighting for, what was the vital interest in Danzig?"

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Buchanan ridicules the British decision in the spring of '39 to make war if Hitler moved against Poland.

"Many Britons have come to believe this was the greatest blunder of the century, an act of precipitous and ruinous folly.

"The British-French declarations of war impelled Hitler to attack in the West to secure his rear before invading Russia. The democracies of the West were thus overrun and occupied, the British army was thrown off the continent and the empire was ensnared in a war that led to its dissolution as 400,000 British went to their deaths.

Were Patrick Buchanan given the chance to rewrite these events, the British and French would have stood back, let Hitler march through Poland and eventually make war on Russia. Churchill would never have become prime minister. By relinquishing its "finest hour," and staying out of war, the British would have had the strength to protect their overseas empire in India, Africa and Asia.

As for us Americans? Buchanan assures us that Hitler had no malignant intentions.

According to the author, he viewed the United States as the rightful "mistress" of the Western hemisphere.

As I said, people should read this book.

JWR contributor Chris Matthews, chief of the San Francisco Examiner's Washington Bureau, is host of "Hardball" on CNBC. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


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©1999, NEA