With a title like Churchill, Hitler, and the Unnecessary War, Pat Buchanan’s new book might seem designed to court controversy. But that’s not the case, at least not as far as I have been able to tell from the first 100 pages. For one thing, “Unnecessary War” is not Buchanan’s phrase, it’s Churchill’s. Buchanan was spurred to write the book by a letter he received from George Kennan after he sent Kennan a copy of A Republic, Not an Empire. Kennan agreed with Buchanan’s view in the earlier book that the British guarantee of Poland’s security “was neither necessary nor wise” (in Kennan’s words). The new book expands on that idea, among many others.
Geoffrey Wheatcroft reviews Churchill, Hitler, and the Unnecessary War, alongside volumes by John Lukacs, Nicholson Baker, and Lynne Olson, here. Wheatcroft is critical of Buchanan (“Although Buchanan’s argument isn’t stupid, it requires something like a historiographical sleight of hand, and is conducted backward, as it were”), but he isn’t romantic about Churchill:
Churchill led the way in cruel, brutish, and exterminatory war-making against women and children partly thanks to his uncompromising personality, partly thanks to what was seen as the logic of the situation. Three years after he hoped for “devastating, exterminating” attacks on civilians, he was shown blazing German towns filmed from the air, and exclaimed, “Are we beasts? Have we taken this too far?” And two years after that he tried (not very creditably) to dissociate himself from the destruction of Dresden by Bomber Command.
There’s much more of a Churchill cult in America than in his (and Wheatcroft’s) home country. A reconsideration of him is long overdue.