Saturday, September 5, 2009

Comment homicide: David Anderson on Pat Buchanan

This is what David Anderson wrote when I challenged Pat Buchanan's The Unnecessary War as a shoddy rip-off of AJP Taylor's The Origins of World War Two:

His book is fine piece of scholarship in that it is meticulously sourced.

The problem is that just because somebody cites a source, doesn't mean that the source says what they imply it does. If it is difficult to get people to click through on links on the internet, just think about how difficult it is to get people to go look up specialized books in the library.

Pat Buchanan is a master of misattributing quotations, as evidenced with this statement about Winson Churchill in a recent public debate [which follows the argument of his book]:

The day he became Prime Minister in 1940, as the German army was breaking through in the Ardennes, Churchill directed his bombers not against Rommel’s Panzers, but Rhineland cities, in what your historian Paul Johnson calls "a critical stage in the moral declension of humanity in our times."

Coventry and the Blitz were war crimes.

But they were also reprisal raids for the terror bombing begun by Churchill.

Winston Churchill became Prime Minister of Great Britain on 10 May 1940.

The supposed attack on Rhineland cities he ordered that night was actually the Luftwaffe's own KG 51 bombing the German city of Freiburg by mistake. The first Royal Air Force attacks under Churchill occurred on the night of 11/12 May, and involved not indiscriminate bombing, but attempts to hit the roads, bridges, and railroads over and west of the Rhine River. These were the direct supply routes behind the German armies invading France, Belgium, and the Netherlands. The German town of Moenchengladbach was hit in these raids.

Churchill could not have directed his bombers ... against Rommel's panzers on May 10 because (a) the German armored breakthrough on the Meuse River would not happen until 13 May; and (b) high-level strategic bombers had virtually no chance of hitting a target like the seven fast-moving panzer divisions spilling into France, which were protected by enough fighter cover and anti-aircraft guns to eviscerate virtually everything the French Air Force brought against them.

As for historian Paul Johnson, he did write that systematic bombing of civilian targets marked a critical stage in "the moral declension of humanity in our times." He also wrote that it is impossible to figure out who--the British or the Germans--began the practice, and his criticisms of Winston Churchill in his book were based on a letter that he wrote to Lord Beaverbrook not in 1940 but in 1941, almost a year after the French campaign. In other words: Buchanan takes the Paul Johnson quote completely out of context when he uses it as if it were a critique of Churchill in May 1940.

So let's summarize the meticulous sourcing of one J. Patrick Buchanan in a passage just a few sentences long:

1) He is factually incorrect about Winston Churchill ordering unrestricted bombing of Rhineland cities.

2) He is chronologically incorrect about the timing of the German breakthrough on the Meuse River and whether or not Churchill could have even known about Rommel's panzers on 10 May at all.

3) He is on--at the very best and most sympathetic interpretation--dubious ground in claiming that the Blitz and Conventry represented German reprisals against British raids. In point of fact the Luftwaffe had employed indicriminate bombing as a matter of policy against the Poles in Warsaw in 1939 and the Dutch in Rotterdam in 1940. They needed no excuse of reprisal, and Churchill did not start the declension of civilized behavior.

4) He quotes Paul Johsnon completely out of context, using an analysis Johnson made about Churchill's policy in 1941 [well after the Blitz and Conventry], but retro-jecting it back into May 1940.

J. Patrick Buchanan, writing about World War Two, doesn't know what he's talking about, makes basic errors of historical fact, and--when the chips are down--essentially makes things up.


Perry said...

Impressive, Steve!!!

pandora said...

David's comments and posts could keep every sane blogger busy for years! ;-)

Anonymous said...


It is posts like this that makes your blogging great.


Steve Newton said...

A point to consider: blogging and political arguments like we have are one thing.

But in my professional life what I am is a military historian--especially a World War Two military historian. So what Pat Buchanan is doing is not only offensive to me in political terms, it drives me absolutely goat-f**king nuts to have somebody like David, who has no idea what he's talking about pontificate about Buchanan's integrity as a scholar.

David said...

I don't agree with you. You are mischaracterizing my statement. You said that Buchanan plagiarized when he did not. You now admit that he did in fact document his statements even though you disagree with his conclusions. In the same comment, I agreed with interpretation of the war. I just disagreed with your attack on Buchanan's intergrity.

Steve Newton said...

Quit acting like you cannot read.

You now admit that he did in fact document his statements even though you disagree with his conclusions.

Since when is quoting someone out of context documenting their statements?

Unfortunately, you seem to have trouble holding those with whom you agree to a very high standard of accuracy.