Churchill, Hitler and the Unnecessary War
|Author||Patrick J. Buchanan|
Churchill, Hitler and the Unnecessary War: How Britain Lost Its Empire and the West Lost the World, is a book by Patrick J. Buchanan, published in May 2008. Buchanan argues that both world wars were unnecessary and that the British Empire's decision to fight in them was disastrous for the world. One of Buchanan's express purposes is to undermine what he describes as a "Churchill cult" in America's élite and so he focuses particularly on how Winston Churchill helped Britain get into wars with Germany in 1914 and again in 1939.
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Buchanan cites many historians including George F. Kennan, Andreas Hillgruber, Simon K. Newman, Niall Ferguson, Charles Tansill, Paul W. Schroeder, Alan Clark, Michael Stürmer, Norman Davies, John Lukacs, Frederick P. Veagle, Correlli Barnett, John Charmley, William Henry Chamberlin, David P. Calleo, Maurice Cowling, A. J. P. Taylor, and Alfred-Maurice de Zayas.
Buchanan argues that it was a great mistake for Britain to fight Germany in both world wars, which he believes was a disaster for the whole world.
World War I
Buchanan accuses Churchill, then First Lord of the Admiralty, of having a "lust for war" in 1914. Buchanan follows the conclusions of Kennan, an American diplomat, who wrote in his 1984 book The Fateful Alliance that the 1894 Franco-Russian Alliance was an act of "encirclement" of Germany and that German foreign policy after 1894 was defensive rather than aggressive. Buchanan describes Germany as a "satiated power" that sought only peace and prosperity but was threatened by a revanchist France obsessed with regaining Alsace-Lorraine. He calls Russia an "imperialist" power that was carrying out an aggressive policy in Eastern Europe against Germany.
Buchanan argues that Britain had no quarrel with Germany before 1914, but the great rise of the Imperial German Navy, spearheaded by Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz, was a "threat to Britain" that forced the British to bring back to European waters the bulk of its Royal Navy and to make alliances with Russia and France. Buchanan asserts that a disastrous policy that "tied England to Europe" and created the conditions that led the British to involvement in the war.
On the other hand, Buchanan asserts that the greatest responsibility for the breakdown in Anglo-German relations was the "Germanophobia" and zeal for the Entente Cordiale with France of the British Foreign Secretary, Edward Grey. In assessing responsibility for the course of events, Buchanan asserts that the British could have easily ended the Anglo-German naval race in 1912 by promising to remain neutral in a war between Germany and France.
Buchanan calls "Prussian militarism" an anti-German myth invented by British statesmen and that the record of Germany supports his belief that it was the least militaristic of the European Powers. He writes that in the century between the Battle of Waterloo (1815) and World War I (1914), Britain had fought ten wars and Germany three. Buchanan points out that until 1914, German Kaiser Wilhelm II had not fought a war but Churchill had served in three wars: "Churchill had himself seen more war than almost any soldier in the German army."
Buchanan claims that Wilhelm was desperate to avoid a war in 1914 and accepts the German claim that it was the Russian mobilization of July 31 that forced war on Germany. Buchanan accuses Churchill and Grey of getting Britain to enter the war in 1914 by making promises that Britain would defend France without the knowledge of Cabinet or Parliament. Buchanan argues that the United States should never have fought in World War I, and that it was "deceived and dragged" into war in 1917: "Americans blamed the 'Merchants of Death' – the war profiteers – and the British propagandists" who created the myth of the Rape of Belgium.
Buchanan calls the British "hunger blockade" of Germany in World War I "criminal" and accepts the argument of British economist John Maynard Keynes, who wrote in his 1919 The Economic Consequences of the Peace that the reparations that were imposed on Germany in the Treaty of Versailles were "impossible" to pay.
World War II
Buchanan argues that World War II could have been avoided if the Treaty of Versailles had not been so harsh towards Germany. Buchanan views the treaty as unjust towards Germany and argues that German efforts to revise Versailles were both moral and just. Buchanan calls those historians who blame Germany for the two world wars "court historians" who he argues have created a myth of sole German guilt for the world wars. By contrast to his opposition to Versailles, Buchanan wrote that by the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, Germany had merely applied to that "prison house of nations," Russia, the principle of self-determination, releasing from Russian rule Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Ukraine, Belarus, and the Caucasus (largely modern Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan). Buchanan says that Hungary, which lost two thirds of its territory by the Treaty of Trianon, considered it a "national crucifixion"  and was embittered towards the Allies by it.
Buchanan thinks that Czechoslovakia should never have been created; it was "a living contradiction of the principle" of self-determination, with the Czechs ruling "Germans, Hungarians, Slovaks, Poles, and Ruthenians" in a "multi-ethnic, multilingual, multicultural, Catholic-Protestant conglomeration that had never before existed." Buchanan accuses Czech leaders Edvard Beneš and Tomas Masaryk of deceiving the Allies, particularly US President Woodrow Wilson, on the ethnicity of the regions that became Czechoslovakia. "Asked why he had consigned three million Germans to Czech rule, Wilson blurted, 'Why, Masaryk never told me that!'"
As a result of their humiliation at Versailles, the Germans became more nationalistic and ultimately put their confidence in Adolf Hitler. Buchanan writes that there was a "Great Civil War of the West" in both world wars and in which Buchanan contends that Britain should have stayed neutral in rather than upholding an unfair Treaty of Versailles. Buchanan damns successive British and French leaders for not offering to revise Versailles in Germany's favor in the 1920s while the Weimar Republic was still in existence and stopped the rise of Hitler.
Buchanan agrees with quotations of historians Richard Lamb and Alan Bullock that the attempt by German Chancellor Heinrich Brüning to found an Austro-German customs union in March 1931 could have prevented Hitler from coming to power. Buchanan criticises the Allies for opposing it and quotes Bullock regarding their veto as not only helping "to precipitate the failure of the Austrian Kreditanstalt and the German financial crisis of the summer but forced the German Foreign Office to announce on September 3 that the project would be abandoned. The result was to inflict a sharp humiliation on the Bruning government and to inflame national resentment in Germany." Buchanan argues that Britain, France, Italy, and Czechoslovakia all indirectly assisted Hitler's rise to power in 1933.
Weimar-era German leaders like Gustav Stresemann, Heinrich Brüning, and Friedrich Ebert were all responsible German statesmen, according to Buchanan, and were working to revise Versailles in a manner that would not threaten the peace of Europe, but they were undermined by the inability and unwillingness of Britain and France to co-operate. Buchanan follows the distinction made by German historian Andreas Hillgruber between a Weimar foreign policy to restore Germany to its pre-1918 position for some territorial expansionism in Eastern Europe and a Nazi foreign policy for which that was only the first step towards a larger programme of seeking Lebensraum by war and genocide in Eastern Europe. Since Buchanan argues that there was a moral equivalence between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, he maintains that Britain should have just allowed Germany and the Soviet Union to destroy each other and that Britain should have meanwhile awaited the course of events and rearmed fast enough to be able to fight if necessary. Buchanan argues that the "guarantee" of Poland in 1939 was impossible to fulfill but made the war inevitable. Buchanan calls Hitler's foreign policy programme more moderate than the war aims sought by German Chancellor Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg's Septemberprogramm in World War I. Buchanan contends that Hitler was interested in expanding into only Eastern Europe and did not seek territory in Western Europe and Africa. Moreover, Buchanan argues that once Hitler came to power in 1933, his foreign policy was not governed strictly by Nazi ideology but was modified ad hoc by pragmatism.
Buchanan writes that Benito Mussolini was committed to the Stresa Front of 1935 and that it was an act of folly on the part of Britain to vote for League of Nations sanctions on Italy for invading Ethiopia, as that only drove Fascist Italy into an alliance with Nazi Germany The British were highly hypocritical in seeking sanctions against Italy for the Italo-Ethiopian war as Britain had committed imperialism against other African nations in the 19th century. Buchanan notes that France, under Pierre Laval, agreed to Italy's right to conquer Ethiopia as the price of maintaining the Stresa Front, but Britain had what Buchanan calls a "sanctimonious" attitude for sanctions in defense of what Churchill, quoted by Buchanan, described as "a wild land of tyranny, slavery, and tribal war." Buchanan also quotes Churchill as arguing, "No one can keep up the pretence that Abyssinia is a fit, worthy, and equal member of the league of civilised nations." In early 1936, when the crisis over Ethiopia had pushed Britain and Italy to the brink of war, there occurred the remilitarization of the Rhineland.
Buchanan points out that Hitler regarded the Franco-Soviet Pact as an aggressive move directed at Germany and that it violated the Locarno Treaties, and he adds that Hitler had a strong case. Hitler employed that claimed violation of Locarno was a diplomatic weapon against which the French and the British had no answer.
Buchanan argues that Hitler's public demands on Poland in 1938 and 1939, namely the return of the Free City of Danzig to the Reich, "extra-territorial" roads across the Polish Corridor, and Poland's adhesion to the Anti-Comintern Pact were a genuine attempt to build an anti-Soviet German-Polish alliance, especially since Buchanan argues that Germany and Poland shared a common enemy, the Soviet Union. Buchanan claims that Hitler wanted Poland as an ally against the Soviet Union, not an enemy. Citing March 1939 by the British historian Simon K. Newman and Andrew Roberts, in his "The Holy Fox: The Life of Lord Halifax", Buchanan argues that the British "guarantee" of Polish independence in March 1939 was a deliberate ploy on the part of its Foreign Minister, Lord Halifax, to cause a war with Germany in 1939. Buchanan calls Chamberlain's "guarantee" of Poland "rash" and the "fatal blunder" that caused the end of the British Empire. Buchanan argues that Halifax and Neville Chamberlain had different motives for the guarantee. Without deciding between the various theories regarding Chamberlain's motivation, Buchanan recites several, including those of Liddell Hart, Newman, and Roberts.
Buchanan agrees with British historian E. H. Carr, who said in April 1939 about the Polish "guarantee": "The use or threatened use of force to maintain the status quo may be morally more culpable than the use or threatened use of force to alter it." Buchanan maintains that Hitler did not want a war with Britain and that Britain should not have declared war in 1939 on an Anglophile Hitler who wanted to ally the Reich with Britain against their common enemy the Soviet Union.
Buchanan accepts the picture drawn by British historian A. J. P. Taylor, who, in his 1961 The Origins of the Second World War, considered Polish Foreign Minister Colonel Józef Beck a frivolous and irresponsible man who was incapable of understanding the magnitude of the crisis that was facing his country in 1939. Buchanan argues that rather than offering a "guarantee" of Poland that Britain could not fulfill, Chamberlain should have accepted that it was impossible to save Eastern Europe from German aggression and instead set about re-arming Britain in order to be prepared for any future war with Germany, should it be necessary. Instead, Buchanan claims that the acceptance of Eastern Europe as Germany's sphere of influence as a quid pro quo for Germany staying out of Western Europe would have been better than World War II.
Buchanan argues that it was a great blunder on the part of Chamberlain to declare war on Germany in 1939 and that it was an even greater blunder on the part of Churchill to refuse Hitler's peace offer of 1940, thus making World War II in Buchanan's opinion the "unnecessary war" of the title. The title of course was borrowed from Churchill, who stated in his memoirs, "One day President Roosevelt told me that he was asking publicly for suggestions about what the war should be called. I said at once, 'The Unnecessary War.' There never was a war more easy to stop than that which has just wrecked what was left of the world from the previous struggle." Buchanan writes, "For that war one man bears full moral responsibility: Hitler.... But this was not only Hitler's war. It was Chamberlain's war and Churchill's war...." In Buchanan's view, the "final offer" made by the German Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop to the British Ambassador Sir Nevile Henderson on the night of August 30, 1939 was not a ploy, as many historians argued, but a genuine German offer to avoid the war. Likewise, Buchanan argues by citing F.H. Hinsley, John Lukacs, and Alan Clark that Hitler's peace offers to Britain in the summer of 1940 were real and so Churchill was wrong to refuse them.
Buchanan calls the Morgenthau Plan of 1944 a genocidal plan for the destruction of Germany that was promoted by the vengeful Henry Morgenthau and his deputy, Soviet agent Harry Dexter White, a way of ensuring Soviet domination of Europe, with Churchill being amoral for accepting it.
Buchanan even claims a moral equivalence between Churchill and Hitler. Buchanan suggests that there was no moral difference between Churchill's support for the compulsory sterilisation and segregation of the mentally-unfit before 1914 and the German Action T4 program. Likewise, Buchanan argues that the views that Churchill expressed about Judeo-Bolshevism in his 1920 article "Zionism and Bolshevism" seem not very different from Hitler's views about "Judeo-Bolshevism" in Mein Kampf. Buchanan attacks Churchill as the man who brought in the Ten Year Rule in 1919, which based British defence spending on the assumption that there would be no major war for the next ten years, and claims that made Churchill the man who disarmed Britain in the 1920s. Buchanan attacks Churchill as a inept military leader who caused successive military debacles such as the Siege of Antwerp, the Dardanelles campaign, the Norwegian Campaign, the Battle of Singapore, and the Dieppe Raid.
Buchanan claims that Hitler's ambitions were confined only to Eastern Europe and cites such historians as Ian Kershaw, Andreas Hillgruber and Richard J. Evans that Hitler wanted an anti-Soviet alliance with Britain. Buchanan maintains that British leaders of the 1930s were again influenced by Germanophobia, which led them to suspect that Germany was out to conquer the world. Citing John Lukacs, Buchanan maintains that Operation Barbarossa was not part of any long-range master plan on the part of Hitler, but it was instead an attempt by Hitler to force Britain to make peace by eliminating Britain's last hope of victory by bringing the Soviet Union into the war on the Allied side.
Buchanan argues that the Holocaust would not have developed the scale that it did without Hitler's invasion of Poland and then the Soviet Union, as he would not otherwise have been in control of most European Jews. Buchanan argues that if Churchill had accepted Hitler's peace offer of 1940, the severity of the Holocaust would have been greatly reduced.
With respect to the debate about German foreign policy, Buchanan refutes historians, such as Gerhard Weinberg, who argue that Germany wanted to conquer the entire world, and he instead contends that Nazi Germany was never a danger to the United States and that it was not a danger to Britain after the Battle of Britain. Buchanan points out that the "master plan to conquer South and Central America" that Franklin Roosevelt publicly endorsed was actually produced by British intelligence and that German sources reveal no evidence for its veracity.
Buchanan calls the British "area bombing" of German cities in World War II a policy of "barbarism" and quotes Churchill stating that its purpose was "simply for the sake of terror." In particular, Buchanan argues that the bombing of Dresden in 1945 was barbaric and that Churchill personally ordered it by quoting Churchill himself and Air Marshall Arthur Harris as evidence.
Buchanan believes that Churchill was largely responsible for "Western man's reversion to barbarism" in World War II and notes that generals like Curtis LeMay, when they bombed Japan, had followed the example set by British Air Marshal Harris in using "terror bombing" as a method of war against Gernany.; Buchanan quotes LeMay himself "We scorched and boiled and baked to death more people in Tokyo that night of March 9–10 than went up in the vapour of Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined."
Buchanan concludes, "We and the British fought for moral ends. We did not always use moral means by any Christian definition."
Endorsing the concept of Western betrayal, Buchanan accuses Churchill and Roosevelt of turning over Eastern Europe to the Soviet Union at the Tehran Conference and the Yalta Conference. Citing the Cuban-American lawyer Alfred-Maurice de Zayas, Buchanan calls the expulsion of the Germans from Eastern Europe, in which 2 million died, a crime against humanity "of historic dimensions" and contrasts the British prosecution of German leaders at the Nuremberg Trials for crimes against humanity while Churchill and other British leaders were approving the expulsion of the Germans from Eastern Europe.
Buchanan also writes that the United States should have stayed out of the events of World War II. However, because the United States insisted for the United Kingdom to sever the Anglo-Japanese Alliance in 1921, Japan ultimately aligned itself with the Axis and later attacked Pearl Harbor. Buchanan blames Churchill for insisting to the British Cabinet in 1921 to give in to pressure to end its alliance with Japan.
Buchanan concludes that if World War II had not taken place, the British Empire would have continued through the 20th century. Buchanan favorably cites the 1993 assessment of Alan Clark that World War II "went on far too long, and when Britain emerged the country was bust. Nothing remained of assets overseas. Without immense and punitive borrowings from the US we would have starved. The old social order had gone forever. The empire was terminally damaged. The Commonwealth countries had seen their trust betrayed and their soldiers wasted." Likewise, Buchanan blames British statesmen for bringing Britain into the war against Germany, which caused the economic ruin of Britain but also brought Communists to power in Eastern Europe and China in 1949, all of which would have been avoided if Britain had not "guaranteed" Poland in 1939.
Buchanan claims that for the most part, American leaders in the Cold War followed the wise advice of Kennan, who understood that a strong Germany was needed as an American ally to keep the Soviet Union out of Central Europe. The United states did not rush into unnecessary wars with the Soviet Union but instead waited patiently for the Soviet Union to fall apart.
Buchanan ends his book with an attack on George W. Bush and argues that just as Churchill led the British Empire to ruin by causing unnecessary wars with Germany twice, Bush led the United States to ruin by following Churchill's example in involving the United States in an unnecessary war in Iraq, and he passed out guarantees to scores of nations in which the United States has no vital interests, which placed his country in a position with insufficient resources to fulfil its promises. Buchanan expresses the view that just as Chamberlain's "guarantee" of Poland in March 1939 caused an "unnecessary war" with Germany in September, the current guarantees of Eastern European nations by the United States are equally unwise and require a declaration of war with Russia if a hostile regime ascended to power in the latter country and attacked Eastern Europe. However, the United States has no vital interests in Eastern Europe. Finally, Buchanan highlights the symbolism of Bush placing a bust of Churchill in the Oval Office as evidence that Bush's neoconservative foreign policy was influenced and inspired by Churchill.
The book has received mixed reviews. Canadian journalist Eric Margolis in the Toronto Sun endorsed Buchanan's study as a "powerful new book." Margolis wrote that neither Britain nor the United States should have fought in World War II and that it was simply wrong and stupid that millions of people died to stop the 90% German Free City of Danzig from rejoining Germany. Margolis accepts Buchanan's conclusion that the British "guarantee" of Poland in March 1939 was the greatest geopolitical blunder of the 20th century. Margolis wrote:
...Pat Buchanan challenges many historic taboos by claiming that Winston Churchill plunged Britain and its empire, including Canada, into wars whose outcome was disastrous for all concerned…. Churchill made the fatal error in World War II of backing Poland's hold on Danzig even though Britain could do nothing to defend Poland, Yugoslavia, or Czechoslovakia from Hitler's attempts to reunite million of Germans stranded in these new nations by the dreadful Versailles Treaty. Britain's declaration of war on Germany over Poland led to a general European war. After suffering 5.6 million dead, Poland ended up occupied by the Soviet Union…. Buchanan's heretical view, and mine, is that the Western democracies should have let Hitler expand his Reich eastward until it inevitably went to war with the even more dangerous Soviet Union. Once these despotisms had exhausted themselves, the Western democracies would have been left dominating Europe. The lives of millions of Western civilians and soldiers would have been spared."
American writer Anthony Gregory in a review on LewRockwell.com praised Buchanan's book as proving World War II was not a "good war." American journalist John Zmirak in a review in Taki's Magazine largely endorsed Buchanan's thesis, accusing Churchill of hypocrisy in spurning the alliance offers of "harmless" Wilhelm but instead accepting an alliance with Czar Nicholas II, whom Zmirak accuses of promoting the pogroms of Russia. Likewise, Zmirak accepts Buchanan's contention that Churchill was largely responsible for the harsh and punitive Treaty of Versailles. However, Zmirak disagrees with Buchanan's claim that the United States should have stayed neutral in World War II and accepts with John Lukacs that a war that ended with half of Europe being dominated by Stalin was preferable to a war ending with all of Europe being dominated by Hitler.
Jonathan S. Tobin in The Jerusalem Post gave Buchanan's book a negative review and suggested the author is anti-Semitic and representative of a "malevolent" form of appeasement. American writer Adam Kirsch, in The New York Sun, attacked Buchanan for using no primary sources, and for saying there was a conspiracy by historians to hide the truth about the two world wars. Kirsch acidly remarked if that was the case, Buchanan did not need only secondary sources to support his arguments. Kirsch accused Buchanan of hypocrisy for denouncing Churchill as a racist who was opposed to non-white immigration to Britain but demanding the same in the United States. Kirsh wrote that Buchanan's apocalyptic language about the West in decline owed more to Oswald Spengler than to American conservatives. Kirsch argued that Buchanan's heavy reliance on Correlli Barnett's 1972 book The Collapse of British Power as a source reflects the fact that both Buchanan and Barnett are two embittered conservatives unhappy with the way history worked out and they prefer to talk about how much nicer history would have been if Britain had not fought in the two world wars or the United States and Britain in Iraq. American classicist Victor Davis Hanson criticized Buchanan for what he sees as a pro-German bias and instead contends that the Treaty of Versailles was too lenient rather than too harsh towards Germany. In his blog, Hanson called Buchanan a "pseudo-historian". In another entry on his blog to respond to criticism from Buchanan's admirers, Hanson stated that he loathed communism but argued that Churchill and Roosevelt had no choice but to ally themselves with the Soviet Union. In the summer of 2008, Hanson appeared with Christopher Hitchens in the video series Uncommon Knowledge; they argued at length against Buchanan's thesis.
In a hostile review, the American journalist David Bahnsen called Buchanan's book an "anti-semitic piece of garbage" and accused Buchanan of being unique in that he posited the Holocaust as an understandable, if excessive, response to the British "guarantee" of Poland in 1939. British journalist Geoffrey Wheatcroft, in a review in The New York Review of Books, complained that Buchanan had grossly exaggerated the harshness of the Treaty of Versailles by noting that most historians think that Germany started World War I and that Buchanan's criticism of the British "area bombing" of cities in the war pays no attention to how limited Britain's options seemed to Churchill in 1940. Wheatcroft wrote that Buchanan cited right-wing British historians like Clark, Cowling, and John Charmley when they stated that Britain should never have fought Germany or at least should have made peace in 1940, but he ignored the wider point that Clark, Cowling and Charmley were making: they viewed the United States rather than Germany as the British Empire's main rival.
Hungarian-American historian John Lukacs, in a review in The American Conservative, compared Buchanan to David Irving and argued that the only difference between the two was that Irving uses lies to support his arguments while Buchanan uses half-truths. Lukacs commented that Buchanan cites the left-wing British historian A. J. P. Taylor only when it suits him; when Taylor's conclusions are at variance with Buchanan's views, Buchanan does not cite him. Lukacs objected to Buchanan's argument that Britain should have stood aside and allowed Germany to conquer Eastern Europe as Buchanan ignores just how barbaric and cruel Nazi rule was in Eastern Europe in World War II. Finally, Lukacs claimed that Buchanan has often been accused of Anglophobia. Luckas felt that Buchanan's lament for the British Empire was a case of crocodile tears. Lukacs concluded that Buchanan's book was not a work of history but was a thinly-veiled admonitory allegory for the modern United States with Britain standing in for the United States and Germany, Japan, and Italy standing in at various points for modern Islam, China, and Russia.
Conservative American journalist Christopher Jones attacked Buchanan in a review for saying that Hitler's aims in 1939 were limited to allowing Danzig to rejoin Germany when Hitler wanted to destroy Poland. Likewise, Jones criticized Buchanan for writing that the Czech people were better off as part of the Reich Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, ruled over by Reinhard Heydrich, than as part of independent and democratic Czechoslovakia. Buchanan claims that Hitler did not want a world war over Danzig and uses the lack of readiness of the Kriegsmarine for a war with Britain in 1939 as proof of that. Jones notes the German navy was in the middle of a major expansion, codenamed Plan Z, intended to prepare it to take on the British navy by the mid-1940s.
British journalist Christopher Hitchens, in a review in Newsweek, claimed that ignorance by Buchanan on the aggression of Imperial Germany and notes that Wilhelm openly encouraged Muslims to wage jihad against the Western colonial powers during World War I, conducting the Herero and Namaqua Genocide in German South-West Africa, and supported the Young Turks government while it committed the Armenian Genocide. Hitchens argued that Imperial Germany was dominated by a "militaristic ruling caste" of officers and Junkers who recklessly sought conflict at every chance, and that it was simply nonsense for Buchanan to write of Germany being "encircled" by enemies on all sides before World War I.
The main supporter of Buchanan's thesis in British conservative journalism and indeed mainstream British journalism generally has been Hitchens' brother, Peter Hitchens, who used to believe the mainstream view.
- Buchanan 2008, p. xix.
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