An empire after all

Pat Buchanan's book is a loopy and inconsistent piece of Catholic fundamentalism that betrays a weird and self-destructive sympathy for the fascist cause.

Topics: Religion, Catholicism, Immigration, World War II,

Here is what Pat Buchanan’s hero, the “Lone Eagle,” Col. Charles Lindbergh, wrote in the November 1939 Reader’s Digest under the heading “Aviation, Geography and Race”:

Aviation is a tool especially shaped for Western hands, a scientific art which others only copy in a mediocre fashion; another barrier between the teeming millions of Asia and the Grecian inheritance of Europe — one of the priceless possessions which permit the White race to live at all in a pressing sea of Yellow, Black and Brown … We can have peace and security only as long as we band together to preserve that most priceless possession, our inheritance of European blood, only so long as we guard ourselves against attack by foreign armies and dilution by foreign races.

The best air force, wrote Lindbergh (who had accepted a large and swastika-infested medal from Reichsmarshall Herman Goering himself) was the German one. Now take another look at the date on the article. It’s still springtime for Hitler, but autumn for Poland and, soon, France. Winter is not far behind, for other and lesser peoples.

The question to ask about Lindbergh is not whether he was a crackpot and a racist. The above screed, and his infamous speech in Des Moines (“The greatest danger to this country lies in the large Jewish influence”) make the exercise superfluous. No, the question is, Why is an “isolationist” or a neutralist licking the boots of Goering, or having his own boots licked? Also, why is he echoing the wild theories of a putative “master race”? Surely the whole point of Fortress America is precisely to stay out of European quarrels and avoid taking sides?

Certainly that is how Buchanan himself claims to view matters. In the opening pages of his new book, “A Republic, Not an Empire,” he speaks easily and positively about George Washington’s Farewell Address and Thomas Jefferson’s warning against “entangling alliances.” I must say that I had no idea, when I watched Buchanan flacking for Nixon in Vietnam and shouting for Reagan in Grenada and positively sobbing with ecstasy over Col. Oliver North (his Lindbergh surrogate) that he had been such a closet stay-at-home all along. It would certainly have been impressive if he’d said so at the time. But his latest effort is not presented as any kind of re-think or self-criticism. Rather, it shows how highly compatible the concepts of expansionism and racism are with the ideas of the parochial and the nativist.

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Here are two contrasting examples:

1) “Annexation of Texas, the Southwest, and California was Manifest Destiny, not imperialism.” (Page 122).

2) “In mid-March 1939 Hitler took a fateful step. He ordered his army into Prague and declared Czechoslovakia a Nazi protectorate. Poland and Hungary each bit off a chunk, and the Slovaks declared their independence … The injustice and folly of Versailles had now produced disaster.” (Page 258)

In the first example, American annexation is fine because, Buchanan says, it did not make Mexican citizens into a subject people (and because it was ordained by Heaven). In the second instance, he only just distinguishes between a possible German reunion with the Sudeten volk, for whom his heart still bleeds (far as they were from American shores) and a conquest and occupation of the whole of Czechoslovakia. Moreover, he blandly describes the Slovak puppet state, a contemptible subsidiary of the Third Reich, as having “declared independence.” The leader of that Slovak vassal statelet was of course Monsignor Josef Tiso, an ordained Catholic priest.

Having been accused by my critics of Catholic-bashing, and given that current anti-Catholic-bashing crusader Rudolph Giuliani remains one of the few prominent Republicans to have held his tongue on the subject of Buchanan — tongue-holding not being Mayor Giuliani’s everyday mode — I may as well say straightaway that Buchanan’s book is a loopy and inconsistent piece of Catholic fundamentalism and that this, and mainly this, is the reason for its weird and self-destructive sympathy for the fascist cause.

For example, the names Franco, Salazar, Mussolini, Pavelic, Horthy and Coughlin — the Vatican-sponsored clerical fascists — are almost entirely absent from the book. Yet Buchanan has spent a political career, and several essays in other books, defending all of them. A nativist Catholic sectarian is of course well within his rights to hymn local talents like Father Coughlin (and even Cardinal Spellman, though this seems to involve a relaxation of Buchanan’s position on gay rights). But how is it his business to decide the internal affairs of Spain, Portugal, Italy, Croatia and Hungary? Acid test: Buchanan demanded U.S. intervention in favor of the Croats in 1991 and opposed it for the Bosnians after 1992.

Another giveaway comes on Page 153, where Buchanan reveals that he’s been against the Spanish-American war all along: Playing a supporting role was the “black legend,” the “stereotype of Spaniards as blood-thirsty despots that Americans had inherited from their English forebears.” The Protestant press was up in arms over Spanish barbarities and wanted Catholic Spain driven out of the hemisphere in humiliation. “English forebears”? I thought that Buchanan was famous for wanting an Anglo-Saxon, or at least Anglo-Teutonic, immigration policy. But where he doesn’t “think with the blood,” he thinks with his sect. Nothing — nothing — could be more un-American.

I myself would vastly prefer a republic to an empire, which is why I wrote so much against the Buchanan-North campaign against Nicaragua and El Salvador — a campaign that knowingly involved imperialism abroad and subversion of the Constitution at home. It’s depressing to see liberal commentators — even some Nation contributors like Benjamin Schwartz and Christopher Layne — falling so easily for such demagogy and excusing Buchanan because he doesn’t like NAFTA or because he doesn’t care about Kosovo. The blunt fact is that the tradition of Lindbergh and Buchanan would not have kept America out of war, or innocent of overseas adventures. But it would have pledged a not-so-surreptitious neutrality to the other side in that conflict, and perhaps come by its empire that way.

Christopher Hitchens is a regular contributor to Vanity Fair, the Nation and Salon News.

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